An evening of celebration – Dia de Los Muertos

Being led by vibrant trails of marigold petals, at least 250 students, faculty and CSUMB family members gathered at the Visual and Public Arts (VPA) buildings to honor the 26th annual Dia de Los Muertos celebration. The event took place on Nov. 2, and was filled with expressive dance, moving speeches and other fun festivities that celebrate the tradition of Dia de Los Muertos. 

Dia de Los Muertos (The Day of The Dead) is a high-spirited celebration of ancestors and those who have passed away, widely celebrated in Mexico. This tradition has been celebrated at California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB) for many years. 

In VPA building 70, there was a monumental ofrenda (an altar which is built to honor loved ones) that displayed offerings and photographs of CSUMB students’ family members and friends who have passed, some of which date back to the late 1800s. The ofrenda, along with several other smaller yet powerful ofrendas and artworks, had attendees in awe. 

“I celebrate [Dia de Los Muertos] every year because I’m a Chicana person,” said fourth-year Jacque McKay. With a calavera-painted face, McKay said “I really enjoyed the dancing, I thought it was a really beautiful homage to such a rich culture. Because CSUMB is a Hispanic serving institute, I think it’s really important that we make space for the various cultures that students bring to the table.”

Those who attended the event were welcomed with chocolate caliente (hot chocolate) and pan dulce (sweet bread). There were also several face painters who were painting colorful calaveras on those who wanted to partake in this tradition. Face painting is seen as a way of honoring the dead on Dia de Los Muertos.

However, the main attraction which drew in the whole audience, and those passing by, was the baile folklórico and Aztec dance. The baile folklórico dance was put together by the Spanish club at CSUMB, and included several traditional Spanish songs, one of which being “La Llorona.” The dances were elegant and exuberant. 

One third-year student who was checking others into the event, Monce Navarro Carpio, explained how they “didn’t get to connect with a lot of [family members] – let’s say my grandmother or my great grandmother and great grandfather – who were Indigenous, so I take this day to remember them and to remember their knowledge that was passed down.”

The celebration was bursting with joy, applause and gritos, all of this was possible thanks to an abundance of campus organizations who came together to celebrate. This list includes the VPA program, El Centro, MAESTROs, undocu-otters, the Otter Student Union and the Otter Cross Cultural Center. Approximately 45% of CSUMB’s student body consists of Latinx-identifying individuals.

“We are a Hispanic serving institution, and this event totally correlates with serving underrepresented communities – we are surrounded by agricultural communities, I myself am a product of those communities,” said Hector Mendoza Anguiano, a professor in the visual and performing arts department who spoke at the event.

Anguiano continued, “We got this amazing beautiful community gathering to honor our people who have passed… I love [Dia de Los Muertos], but I think one of the things that I appreciate a lot is teaching young minds – my students who come from different backgrounds and different ethnicities – about this very special [holiday].”

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