Students wishing to immerse themselves in the rich trapping of the grim and macabre need look no further than the department of Chicana/o studies, where Yreina Cervantez teaches a rather unconventional class on Dia de los Muertos.
According to Mexican lore, each year on the second day of November the seals which bind the souls of the deceased to their afterlife prisons weaken, allowing those who still reside in the land of the living the ability to communicate with loved ones from beyond the grave.
‘The Souls of those who have passed on, we don’t just remember them, but the belief is that they do truly come back to partake and celebrate with the living,’ said Cervantez. ‘That’s an essential part of the celebration. You welcome the spirits back.’
The Day of the Dead, as it is called in the English tongue, is widely celebrated throughout Mexico and parts of Latin America, but it’s been gaining popularity in the United States as well.
Cervantez teaches CHS 308, which is comprised of two unique segments in the form of lab and lecture, and the approach Cervantez takes with this forum is to keep things loose.’ ‘We start out with more diverse cultural traditions of celebrating death and ancestors and then we go into more of the Mesoamerican and Mexican and contemporary Chicano traditions of celebrating the Day of the Dead,’ said Cervantez, who added that she teaches the class with Lara Medina. ‘Her class meets up with my class and we go over some of the readings of the Day of the Dead and different traditions.’
In addition, Cervantez strives not only to keeps students involved in her class, but also as active participants in the Day of the Dead festivities.
‘On Tuesdays it’s lecture and on Thursdays it’s art making, so the class is both lecture and art studio,’ said Cervantez. ‘The art projects are related to the festivities and the celebrations or Day of the Dead.’
As part of the tradition associated with the Day of the Dead, it’s common to dress up as calacas, which are skull-like beings similar to the characters found in the movie, ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ and the popular Lucas Arts computer game, ‘Grim Fandango.’
Another important custom is to bring the expired parties being remembered some of their favorite food and drink to graveyards or altars where they can be shared with loved ones. The ghastly gala is all about having fun with distant friends and relatives, and on November 7, CSUN will host its very own festival of the dead right here on campus.’
Students in Cervantez’s class work together to arrange some of the artwork used for the event.
‘We learn a lot about the culture, and what they do when people die,’ said Laura Arledge, student enrolled in Cervantez’s class. ‘We do a lot of readings and articles and it’s a pretty interesting class.’
But you don’t have to be enrolled in the class to attend the Day of the Dead celebration. Anyone wishing to come out and experience a night of supernatural merriment is welcome to attend the event, which will be held at the Chicana/o house from 6 p.m. to midnight this Friday.’ There will be live music, food and even novelty vendors.
‘I’m going to be making sugar skulls,’ said Wendy Pizano, one of the student vendors who will attend the event. She will be selling them for five or $10, and will have some blank ones for can decorate their own.’
Sugar skulls are white chocolate skulls that can be adorned with various types of candy or flowers to achieve a certain artistic look. Marigolds are the flowers most commonly associated with Day of the Dead, they are used to adorn the alters of the deceased.
‘The Day of the Dead is not just to remember but to welcome back the spirits, so that the spirit of those loved ones is always with us,’ said Cervantez.’ ‘It’s so that we don’t forget.’
As the name implies, Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, celebrates the lives of friends and family who passed away recently or not so recently.’
-Day of the Dead is celebrated on Nov. 2 every year.
-Alters of various shapes and sizes are built to honor the dead.
-Celebrations can be traced back to indigenous peoples in Mexico, such as the Olmec Zapotec, Mixtec, Aztec, Maya and Tonac.
-Aside from the United States and Mexico, there are similar festivities celebrated throughout Latin America, Asia and Europe.
-Mourners place decorative figures, pastries, candies and pictures on altars to commemorate the life and loss of a loved one.
-CSUN organizes an event every year surrounding Dia de los Muertos. This year the event will fall on Friday, Nov. 7. starting with a procession to the Chican@ House at 6 p.m.’