Celebrating Día de los Muertos the CSUMB way

Sugar skull workshop at VPA

A sugar skull-making workshop at the Visual and Public Arts building | Brent Dundore-Arias

October 27, 2023

By Walter Ryce

Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a traditional holiday that is observed in Mexico, Nov. 1-2, to commemorate and celebrate departed family members and loved ones. 

It combines indigenous traditions with Catholic influences, and involves cultural touchstones such as skeletal face-painting, altars called ofrendas, pastries and sweet breads, marigold flowers, paper decorations called “papel picados,” and epitaph poems or “calaveras literarias.” 

The Visual and Public Art department is hosting Dia de los Muertos events to commemorate the holiday. 

“Our annual Día de Los Muertos event includes a processional, large­ scale altar, Aztec dancers, Baile folklórico, traditional Mexican refreshments (pan dulce and chocolate caliente), club, sorority and fraternity altars, and student artwork,” said Hector Mendoza Anguiano, associate professor in VPA. 

The main celebration is a large community altar and wall of remembrance memorial in which students and community members are invited to add photos of loved ones who have passed. 

Students will be participating in sugar skull and papel picado workshops leading up to Nov. 2, and a Día de los Muertos art exhibit with calavera face painting. 

“[The holiday] is specifically important to me because it is part of my cultural identity and upbringing,” Anguiano said. 

The new El Centro Center for Latinx Student Success is also putting on events for Día de los Muertos.  

"Día de los Muertos is about honoring loved ones who have passed away, and making peace with the eventuality of death by treating it familiarly, without fear, and instead with an opportunity of reflection and appreciation of the time we had with those family members,” said Betsaida Solis, a liberal studies project outreach coordinator who is on the El Centro Advisory Committee. “I use this time to share stories with our younger family members, about their aunts and grandmas they didn't get to meet."

She said that the holiday comes from the rituals of the pre-Hispanic peoples of Mexico, led by the Aztec goddess Mictecacihuatl, known as “Lady of the Dead." 

El Centro invites people to bring photos and cherished items to their ofrenda in the Student Center, Building 12, to commemorate departed loved ones. 

On Wednesday, Nov. 1, 5 - 7 p.m., they will screen a production of “La Muerte Baila,” described as a musical journey through the afterlife.

On Thursday, Nov. 2, from 4 - 6 p.m., El Centro and the MAESTROs Project team up on a calavera face-painting activity at the Student Center, Building 12, Room 125. 

That last activity serves as a good segue to the VPA Día de los Muertos celebration 5 - 8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 2, across Inter-Garrison Road at Building 70. It typically draws 350 to 400 people. 

For further exploration of the holiday, Anguiano suggests books such as “Día de los Muertos: A Cultural Legacy, Past, Present and Future Catalogue” or “El Corazon De La Muerte/Altars and Offerings for Days of the Dead,” which tracks how the celebration has changed over time in the United States. And for a family- and kid-friendly immersion, the Pixar/Disney movie “Coco.”  

Schedules and information about CSUMB’s Día de los Muertos events are online