CSUN Cultural Center celebrates Dia de los Muertos

altar surrounded with orange flowers, pictures, and offerings
Outdoor altar Photo credit: Christine Martinez

The CSUN Cultural Center transformed into a night of remembrance on Friday for MEChA’s Dia de los Muertos celebration.

Traditional Catholic velas, or candles, lined the yard of the Chicano House, inviting visitors inside where rooms were adorned with altars in memorial of past ancestors.

Outdoor altar
One of the outdoor altars Photo credit: Christine Martinez

Ofrendas, or offerings, of food and Aztec marigolds enclosed pictures of deceased loved ones while whiffs of incense permeated throughout the house, creating a ghostly feeling as visitors walked between the rooms.

Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a traditional Mexican celebration that takes place over the course of three days starting on Oct. 31, or what is celebrated in the United States as Halloween, and extends until Nov. 2.

Aside from the altars inside the Chicano House, the courtyard was rimmed with different vendors selling food like taco plates with rice and beans and concha ice cream sandwiches.

Much of the other vendors were reminiscent of what you could find down in Olvera Street, selling handmade items like jewelry and artwork, clothing and various trinkets adorned with calaveras.

A live painting was done by artist RahAzul. His style could be categorized as something one would see painted on murals in East L.A. — bright and bold colors that portray his Chicano identity.

“I incorporate things that are meaningful to me and play with the images,” RahAzul said.

RahAzul said he’s been painting every passed lifetime that he’s had, but in this lifetime, he’s been painting for four years.

It’s with these sentiments of being transcendent throughout different times really binds what Dia de los Muertos is all about. It’s a blurred division of life and death and the belief that death is not to be feared because our spirits never really leave anyway.

Throughout the night there were different performances such as an Aztec troupe that blessed the ceremony and the stage with traditional dances and rhythmic drums. Mariachis performed and corridos were played, creating a dance floor between seats in the performance area and as people went back and forth between vendors.

Aztec dancers
Aztec dancers bless the celebration Photo credit: Christine Martinez

It was pleasantly surprising to see families come to the campus on a rather chilly Friday night. Despite the morbidity that death connotes, Dia de los Muertos is meant to be a big celebration, so parents and kids alike were running around getting their faces painted and decorating sugar skulls.

At one point in the middle of the night, there was a call from the emcees of the evening to call out the names of any deceased loved ones. As people in the crowd began to exchange each of the names, it was as if they were apart of the ceremony all along and in the spirit of the holiday — it was completely welcomed.