Students Celebrate Dia de los Muertos with Altar Display


Members of the CSUSM community set up colorful altars to honor those who have died at the annual Dia de los Muertos Celebration on Oct. 31.


Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (M.E.Ch.A.), a student organization, hosted the event at Kellogg Library Plaza.


The altars, or ofrendas, each had individual touches but there were objects common to many of them. Bright orange flowers, called cempasúchil, were strewn on the ofrendas and on the ground adjacent to them. The ofrendas also displayed pictures of those who have died, both loved ones and famous people of Mexican heritage, such as painter Frida Kahlo and writer Gloria Anzaldúa.


Food such as bread and fruit was placed on the ofrendas, said to provide nourishment for the dead upon their arrival. There were also plenty of vibrantly decorated calaveras, or skulls, which are one of the most iconic symbols of Dia de los Muertos. 


Aromatic sage incense wafted through the air as students browsed the displays. As students viewed the ofrendas, they had the opportunity to learn more about the traditional Mexican celebration by speaking with those who set them up. In Mexico, Dia de los Muertos is not a day of mourning. Rather, it is a day to celebrate and welcome the dead, who are seen as an important part of the community. 


“We’re not allowed to cry on the first of November and the second of November, the day of Dia de los Muertos, because it makes the road for them slippery and difficult. So do not cry when you’re remembering your loved ones,” said Daisy Reynel-Pereyna, president of M.E.Ch.A.


Consistent with the celebratory mood, a DJ played upbeat Latin music, and some students even started dancing in the plaza. 


There was also pan dulce, burritos and a sugar skull decorating station during the celebration. 


Angela Flores Sanchez, a student of anthropology professor Dr. Bonnie Bade’sANTH 325 class,  came with her class to visit the Dia de los Muertos Celebration. Dr. Bade and the students of ANTH 325 had set up their own ofrenda for the event. 


“I put [a picture] of my uncle and my great-grandmother and my grandmother,” said Sanchez, “It’s nice. I’ve always heard of the offerings and altars but this is the first time that I’ve actually been able to participate in it, which is cool.” 


In addition to ANTH 325’s ofrenda, several groups from around campus participated in the display, including M.E.Ch.A., the College Assistance Migrant Program, Project Rebound, the Latino Alumni Association and the DREAMer Resource Office. 


The DREAMer Resource Office’s ofrenda looked a bit different from the other altars. Instead of photos of a deceased person, there were several vivid-colored paper butterflies with a name written on it. 


“Each butterfly represents a person who lost a life in…an immigrant detention center,” said Fina Espino, a program specialist at the DREAMER Resource Office. 


“There’s a lot of different [countries] represented here; Honduras, El Salvador, Mexico, Russia, Cameroon, they’re from all over the place. These are the ones [who have died] from January 2018 until now,” Espino said, further noting that there were 19 butterflies in all.


M.E.Ch.A. is on Instagram and Twitter @mechadecsusm, and they meet weekly in the Latin@ Center Tuesdays 4-6pm.