Dia de los Muertos: a personal experience

Dia de los Muertos: a personal experience


Face painting outside the cultural centers

Hundreds of people from different backgrounds came together for the 18th annual  Dia de los Muertos at Cal Poly Pomona to celebrate with lively festivities and raise money for DREAM scholarships.

The event is put on by the Cesar E. Chavez Center for Higher Education along with other groups on campus, including Associated Students, Inc.

Every year since coming to Cal Poly Pomona, I have looked forward to Dia de los Muertos, as it is easily one of my favorite events of the year. The last two years I was unable to go because I had class for most of the time, so this was actually only my second year I was able to attend and I wanted to go all in.

I went to the Cesar Chavez Center to paint sugar skulls and make papel picado a few weeks before, which was a part of the first ever community altar set up. As a writer for Gas Creative Group, I also wrote about the event for ASInside to help promote it not only because it is sponsored by ASI, but because I want people to know what it is like and be encouraged to take part.

Getting my face painted, seeing people of all ages perform a traditional Aztec dance, squishing into a photo booth with friends, eating a delicious bacon-wrapped hot dog, seeing familiar faces, experiencing the many performances and learning from others about their favorite aspects of the day all made it special.

One of my favorite parts of the night was seeing the Ballet Folklorico dancers perform traditional Mexican dances with their faces painted like skulls, or calaveras. It was so exciting for me to see them perform because I had practiced with them once earlier in the quarter and recognized that they were performing the same steps we had worked on.

In some ways, Dia de los Muertos reminds me of other cultural celebrations, including the Irish and Scottish fairs I have been to, although I know there are many differences. What is great about Dia de los Muertos at CPP is that it brings so many people of different experiences and cultures together.

Taiko drummers performing on the Bronco Commons stage

So many people felt the same way. One father I talked to, Diego Ordonez, who was there with his two very enthusiastic sons, eight-year-old Dylan and five-year-old Joshua were glad to be able to come and have fun.

“It’s a good thing for the community because you meet people of several cultural backgrounds and a lot of the people are happy with this event,” Diego Ordonez said.

The Day of the Dead celebration originated with the Aztecs in Mexico and has continued as a day of celebrating ancestors and honoring the dead as well as a way for people to partake in celebrating history and tradition of Mexican culture.

Celebrating the past and honoring the dead is not only a part of Dia de los Muertos, stemming from Aztec culture, but also a part of many cultures. There were many altars set up with a different significance to each that were lit up with candles and people sharing about those they were honoring.

Altar at Dia de los Muertos

I wanted so much to honor my own family by bringing photos of people in my life who have died, especially my dad and two grandpas, but I didn’t get photos collected in time to place them on the community altar that was offered for the first time this year.

Seeing the other altars and learning from them, especially the one honoring LGBT community members and another honoring those who have died at the border of Mexico and America did enrich my understanding.

When I talked to Lorena Marquez, who put on the event as coordinator of the Cesar E. Chavez Center for Higher Education, she told me that one of her favorite parts of the event is seeing alumni coming back, especially because she is an alumna herself and helped put on the event as a student.

“When I see alumni coming back I think that that for me is definitely huge because as an alumni I know I put in a lot of time and energy [into the event] as a student leader, so seeing alumni come back is kind of the best part,” Marquez said.

Face painting outside the Cesar E. Chavez Center

This year, the event did get more direct competition with other Dia de los Muertos celebrations in the area, which could have changed the crowd a bit. For the last 17 years, the event has been held on a Thursday, but for the first time this year that was changed and it was incorporated into the First Friday event series.

It was really cool for me to see many people I have interviewed for stories, whether for ASInside, The Poly Post or a class assignment. At one point I recognized the voice of a man speaking into a microphone before I turned to see that it was the owner of A Mic and Dim Lights Poetry lounge in Pomona, who I interviewed for a story on another performer at the event, spoken word artist Judah1. It made me feel so much a part of the community.

It was also really good to see so many families, especially those with young children, many of whom were somehow connected with CPP. One of my favorite parts of the night was seeing young kids getting their faces painted. One mother, a woman named  Angelica Arevalo, was holding one of her three-month-old twins as she told me she graduated from CPP and has been coming to the event for years. Now she gets to share the experience with her children.

“I want to feel connected with the tradition and teach the new generations about it,” Arevalo said.

Hearing her say that re-affirmed in me the desire to come back again and again over the years, especially when I have my own family.

Although this is my last year at CPP, I will definitely be coming back to campus for Dia de los Muertos and seeing those familiar faces to take part in the tradition.

For more photos check out Gas Creative Group’s Dia de los Muertos photo set on Flickr here.