Last year, Joscelyn Paniagua celebrated Día de los Muertos with her family eating pan de muerto and drinking champurrado at the Calvary Cemetery in Los Angeles.
Now, Paniagua, a first-year criminology major at Long Beach State, is celebrating at home with her family. On Halloween night, they printed out photos of their loved ones passed. They bought decorations, candles and flowers to adorn the altar.
This year, how people celebrate the holiday is affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
“Most people, I don’t think they understand the concept behind it. It’s a day that your relatives, the dead, come back,” Paniagua said. “Most people think it’s just the candles and flowers, but there’s actually specific flowers you have to buy. You have to put their favorite foods.”
Pan de muerto is a traditional dish for the celebration that is placed on the altar as an offering to the dead. It is typically accompanied with champurrado, a Mexican hot chocolate made with corn flour.
The celebration of Día de los Muertos dates to the Mesoamerican time period, when Aztec and Mayan civilizations lived on what is now known as central Mexico and parts of Central America. It is a tradition that remains strong even though it has evolved over the years.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, Patricia Amezcua, a Spanish professor at CSULB, would organize Día de los Muertos events by creating large altars that students could participate in building and decorating.
Amezcua said that her home has never been without an altar to celebrate her dead. This year, she is also going to display her altar outside for her community to see and be familiarized with.
“What the meaning of the Day of the Dead is that it is a celebration to celebrate the circle of life, the challenges in life,” Amezcua said. “For these cultures, that was not the end. They didn’t see that as the finishing of the life of an individual. That was the continuation.”
This year, Amezcua and Mayra Moreno, a graduate student part of the Spanish credential program and president of The Spanish Club at the Beach, are hosting the club’s first celebration for Día de los Muertos on Nov. 6.
The virtual celebration for Día de los Muertos was planned as an alternative to the traditional celebration.
Amezcua will begin with a brief history of the celebration to inform students that do not celebrate. An open forum will take place for students to discuss their ways of celebrating. Día de los muertos is celebrated culturally different across Latin America, Moreno said.
“Some of the students, they don’t celebrate,” Moreno said. “They don’t know, because they move here, or their parents are from a state in Mexico that they might never celebrate it. So, it’s not in their tradition to celebrate.”
Students that attend can show their altars, or ofrendas, and skull face paintings for a chance to win prizes.
“The Day of the Dead is an extremely important celebration for Latin America, because it connects us to our roots, it reaffirms our identity, regardless of where we are living,” Amezcua said. “Regardless if we are in COVID or not, everyone should celebrate their dead.”