Día de Los Muertos celebration honors pandemic deaths

Mi Comunidad hosted the "In Tlanextli Tlacopan," a group of Aztec fire dancers that performed a ceremonial Día de Los Muertos blessing that resonated drum vibrations throughout Valley's campus.

By Annette M. Lesure, Staff Writer

A Dia de los Muertos event took place on Nov. 2 at Valley College in front of the Student Services Plaza. (Photo by Jeremy Ruiz/The Valley Star)

A Día de Los Muertos celebration held on Tuesday in the Student Services Plaza honored the loved ones of Valley College students and staff that passed away during the pandemic that lacked proper memorials due to COVID restrictions.

Originating in Mexico, Día de Los Muertos celebrates loved ones that have passed away and transitioned to ‘Mitclan,’ the place where the dead reside. Their legacies are honored with altars adorned with marigolds, food, drinks and traditions that the departed once enjoyed. The holiday is celebrated all over Latin America with colorful skeletons, skulls and traditional costumes ranging from mariachis to brides. Many paint half of their faces which represent the duality of life and death.

(Photo by Ava Rosate/The Valley Star)

"I think [the holiday] is important because oftentimes we see death as a bad thing. Because of colonization and this colonial mindset we have adopted because of European invasion, we look at death as something scary," said Alex Ojeda, acting associate dean of Student Equity. "For us, it's something to celebrate because we know they are not gone. For our people, death wasn't scary because they knew they were transitioning to join their ancestors."

Mi Comunidad is a Valley College Latino support group composed of staff and faculty. It translates to 'my community.' The group is run by Valley faculty and staff from various departments to bring support and awareness to the Hispanic community. In previous years, each participating department created its own altar for the holiday.

"This year, we decided to scale it down and do a community altar remembering and honoring those we lost during the pandemic," said Raquel Sanchez, student engagement coordinator at the office of Student Life. "Whether it was due to COVID or not, you still couldn't honor them the same way with services so we wanted to honor everyone.”

(Photo by Ava Rosate/The Valley Star)

Valley students and staff brought religious mementos and photographs of lost loved ones both young and old, with one student honoring four family members. They placed food, coffee, and other family keepsakes on the large communal altar that was decorated with marigolds and had incense purifying the surroundings.

As music and Aztec drums filled the air, celebrants came together by sharing culture and talking about their deceased loved ones.

"My parents taught me about Día de Los Muertos when I was little. Every year we put up an ofrenda (offering) to remember our loved ones," said Valley student Brenda Castillo, who plans on continuing family traditions with her children. "The enchiladas rojas I made are a family tradition from my grandmother's famous recipe.”

The holiday begins every year on Nov. 1, known as El Dia de los Inocentes, which honors children who have passed away, followed by All Souls Day on Nov. 2.