M.E.Ch.A. event honors the dead

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CSUN Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano/a de Aztlan celebrated its annual festival of Dia de los Muertos, also known as Day of the Dead, on campus Oct. 29.

Dia de los Muertos is a Mexican tradition founded hundreds of years ago to commemorate the spirits of the dead through art and dance by offering fruit and other gifts to the spirits. The celebration is held on Nov. 1 and 2, coinciding with the similar Roman Catholic celebrations of All Saints Day and All Souls Day.

“The night is a cultural event,” said Enrique Galan, senior Chicano/a Studies and political science major and concilio chair of M.E.Ch.A. “It is a Mexican tradition to honor the dead.”

The event showcased cultural bands, dancers in native Mexican costumes, poets, handmade jewelry, homemade food, and various art pieces dedicated to the dead.

The celebration began at 6 p.m. and ended after midnight.

“We planned for around 1,000 people to show up for the celebration,” Galan said. “(We) received funding from different organizations, including (Associated Students, Student Productions and Campus Entertainment, and the University Student Union).”

M.E.Ch.A. was allocated $2,000 in its annual budget from A.S. for the event. Additionally, A.S. SPACE contributed $3,500 in new funding last month. The USU also contributed $845. Galan said M.E.Ch.A was still totaling the final cost of the event, but he added that it would end up costing about $7,570.

“I contracted all the performers,” Galan said. “They are either current CSUN students, alumni, or work in the community.”

Eighteen dancers, from children to adults, performed a Mexican Aztec dance ante. The dancers were dressed in elaborate bright and black costumes with headdresses and shook maracas. A man in a native Mexican Indian dress led the circle of dancers with drum beats and shouts.

Galan said he also scheduled three bands to play for the night’s event: Fitter, a Chicano rock/punk band, Buen Star, a Spanish Latin Afro beat band, and the B-Side Players, which plays reggae Afro Latin jazz.

Guests wandered between the Aztec dancers and musical acts to the M.E.Ch.A. house, where an assortment of artistic displays were set up to honor the dead.

“There is art, nichos, altars, and photo displays,” Galan said. “There is an interactive video that was made by some of the students.”

Amanda Carlos had an elaborate display set up in the front room of the M.E.Ch.A. house.

“Mainly, my family is represented in the display,” Carlos said. “My grandmother and great grandmother came to California during the Mexican revolution. I also have a couple of Mexican revolutionaries represented, Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata.”

Most of the art displays were adorned with marigolds, brightly lit candles, crosses, fruit and pictures of those who have died. The fruit was left for spirits to eat.

At about 6 p.m., members of M.E.Ch.A. and others marched from Jerome Richfield Hall up to the M.E.Ch.A. house, carrying lighted white and purple candles.

“We have over 50 people in the march,” said Blanca Reyes, a sophomore Chicano/a Studies and Spanish major and member of the M.E.Ch.A. cabinet. “We do this because we want to keep the tradition for Mexico.”

Jesus Reyes, brother of Blanca and a history and Chicano/a studies major, came from Mexico with his parents and sister in 1988.

“For a lot of hardcore Catholics, they considered Dia de los Muertos as a pagan event,” Jesus said. “It wasn’t considered Catholic. But it is an indigenous tradition from the Aztecs and the Purepechas from the state of Michoacan. It began over 500 years ago before contact (with) the Spanish.”

Blanca and Jesus Reyes handed out the candles and participated in the march.

While Halloween and Dia de los Muertos coincide around the same time every year, the events are not traditionally related.

“It is ironic how on Halloween they come together,” Jesus said. “Dia de los Muertos has a much more historical context than Halloween. What we do is commemorate the dead by welcoming them and we believe they come back.”

Michael Sullivan can be reached at Michael.Sullivan.843@csun.edu.