Dia de los Muertos, meaning Day of the Dead, was celebrated by the University of Idaho Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA) Wednesday night in the International Ballroom of the Bruce Pitman Center.
The main event of the night was a slideshow presentation led by Vivian Gonzalez, OMA program coordinator. The slideshow highlighted not only the history of Day of the Dead, but also the different traditions and how they are celebrated.
“Altars are the most important part of celebrating Dia de los Muertos,” Gonzalez said. “The significance behind the altars is to commemorate and remember the loved ones who have passed away.”
Altars were on display around the ballroom — some made by individuals and others by different groups on campus.
The People’s Choice Award, voted for by attendees, was an award given to the altar that most impressed those in attendance. The winning altar was made by Liana Lopez, Andrea Lopez and Valeria Ramirez, which celebrated their great-grandparents.
UI senior Luis Aleman of Lambda Theta Phi said his altar commemorated the victims of the natural disasters in Mexico and Puerto Rico.
“For me personally, knowing that I actually studied in Puerto Rico last semester … it hit me on a personal basis because I was there. Puerto Rico is a place of life and resiliency,” Aleman said.
The altar shows a mural painted in East Harlem called “Soldaderas,” or “Warriors,” he said, and is made to mimic Frida Kahlo’s “The Twins.”
“And from Mexico, I grew up there, was born and raised there … it’s my people — I felt like I had to dedicate this to them,” he said.
Another award — most creative altar — was presented to the UI Women’s Center.
Gonzalez said that food, flowers, candles, pictures and guitars were some of the objects that people placed on their alters.
“Especially in Mexican culture, the belief is that the spirits are coming from the afterlife — so they are on a long journey to come to visit us on this day,” Gonzalez said. “We need to have water, we need to have food prepared for them. We like to prepare the stuff that they love.”
During the presentation, UI freshman Sam Clipper took the stage to read of “La Llorona,” or “The Weeping Woman.”
La Llorona is a legend that has been passed on for many generations, and is another way for people to talk about death and the afterlife, Gonzalez said.
The UI student dance group Sabor de la Raza performed two dances throughout the night. Michoacán folk dance “Danza de los Viejitos,” or “Dance of the Old Men,” followed the award ceremony, and the song “El Son de la Negra” brought the presentation to a close.
The latter half of the presentation focused on calaveras, or skulls.
“The skull has a uniquely positive meaning, very different from the skeletons and ghosts of Halloween,” Gonzalez said. “They are used not only as the basis for painting faces but also the shape of candy such as sugar skulls, and for many skeleton inspired decorations.”
While a calavera can refer to a human skull, it can also refer to a rhyming poem that shows we are not afraid of death, and instead we can laugh along with it and celebrate with it, said Mayra Deleon, another speaker at the event.
Associate Professor Lori Celaya then presented awards to those with the best calavera in her Spanish class. First place was awarded to Elizabeth Betancourt Medina for her calavera “Una Noche en la Cantina.”
After the final dance, the venue cleared out.
“I think it went really well, the turnout was great — we expected about 150, and it looked like it was around there, maybe even more,” Gonzalez said.
For students who may have missed out on Day of the Dead or are looking to participate in other events, there are many more opportunities present throughout the school year.
“We like to honor the different heritage months … for every heritage month we want to host a keynote event,” Gonzalez said. “In every aspect, we like to include the students who are part of that culture to share their experience, to share a little bit about themselves, and I think that is what makes these events so great. It’s a partnership.”
Max Rothenberg can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @m_rothenberg