Students gathered to celebrate the dead Friday night at CSUN’s Chicano House among skulls, skeletons, candles and idols.
Since the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano/a de Aztlán (MEChA) chapter was established at CSUN in 1969, it has hosted an annual Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead festival to honor and celebrate the lives of those who have died.
Every year Dia de los Muertos falls on Nov. 2, but since this year that day fell on a Tuesday, the celebration was moved to Friday to make it a weekend celebration.
“Dia de los Muertos is not Mexican Halloween, it’s different,” said Jose Gomez, senior Chicano studies major and chair of MEChA.
Unlike Cinco de Mayo which Gomez said got its promotional hype in the U.S. and is the day in which Corona sells the most of its beer, Dia de los Muertos is not a well-known Latin American holiday but one of the most traditional with its roots going back to the Aztecs and Mayans who linked death to rebirth.
“It celebrates how we see death,” Gomez said. “We bring items the deceased liked or cherished, the Mexican tradition calls for adding religious figures, tequila bottles and such.”
The sentimental and in some cases practical items offered to the dead are artfully placed in or around a “nicho” or an altar composed of a wooden box, which is built in memory of those who have died. “Nichos” vary in appearance and will usually have photographs, food, water, and other earthly things the deceased enjoyed.
“Altars are done with ideas that spirits will come and look at what people brought,” Gomez said.
Several students from Chicano/a studies classes constructed “nichos” and over two dozen were displayed inside the dimly lit Chicano House.
“(In the U.S.) it’s not a norm to talk about death,” said junior Dulce Angel, 21. “That’s the big difference between the two cultures, to commemorate death in public.”
Angel takes a Chicano/a course that discusses death from different perspectives around the world.
It was in that class that Angel learned that “nichos” were meant for the souls of those being transported between death and rebirth.
A stage was built west of the Chicano House and chairs slowly filled with an audience as soon as the first band, Trio Aventura, started warming up their instruments.
There was also Ballet Folklorico, otherwise known as the Mexican Folkloric Dance consisting of fancy footwork and rich costumes from the different regions of Mexico.
Also performing were men and women of the Danza Mexihca group who wore feather headdresses, and carried noisemakers as they danced to the beat of the drums.
A large part of the celebration was centered on the different foods being served at the event. People gathered around enjoying corn on a stick with mayonnaise, crumbled cheese and chili powder, carne asada tortas, vegetarian tacos made from a soy base, and even lumpia, a Philippine dish.
Most of the food sold went towards fundraising for several on-campus organizations such as CSUN’s triathlon team and CSUN’s Bike Collective.
Also adding mass to the event were the many non-food vendors. Stands lined the grass left and right selling clothing, art, jewelry and other trinkets. A few of the vendors sold different things to fundraise for basic commodities in indigenous communities in Mexico and another sold art posters to help immigrant students go to school.
CSUN alumna, Leticia Hernandez, 25, received her B.A. in Chicano/a studies attended the event to represent Im: Arte, a non-profit organization helping immigrant students finance their education.
Hernandez displayed posters for sale and sold cupcakes.
Maricela Vazquez, part of the “Voces Indigenas” or Indigenous Voices organization from Mexico, was there with a partner selling clothes, arts and crafts, and jewelry.
“All the money goes back into the organization,” Vazquez said. “We’ve done health programs, built child cafeterias, and bilingual schools and even bought medicine for the underrepresented people in Mexico.”
“Voces Indigenas” also works with other global organizations from countries, such as Holland and Germany, to help battle injustice and poverty.
Much of the merchandise sold by Vazquez was made by indigenous artists from Mexico. The organization works two-fold by allowing them to continue carrying on their traditions through art.
The celebration carried on until about midnight when it was set to be over.