Southeast Missouri State University student publication

El Día de Los Muertos: a celebration of life in death

Monday, November 6, 2017
Photo by Rachael Long

A celebration of the dead took place in the University Center Ballroom when students, staff and faculty took part in El Dia de Los Muertos on Nov. 2.

Traditional music and artwork were on display while the 40 students, faculty and staff in attendance colored sugar skulls and made flowers to place on an altar in memory of their late loved ones.

Oscar Sarabia, a student from the University of Guanajuato currently studying at Southeast, said the holiday is an important part of Mexico’s culture and music, dancing and decoration are a staple of observance.

El Dia de Los Muertos has been celebrated since before the Spanish arrived in central Mexico in the 16th century. However, according to Cecilia Larson a part-time instructional specialist at Southeast, this is only the second year it has been celebrated on campus.

Larson is the English instructor for the 11 exchange students from Mexico currently living at Cheney Hall. She said last year’s event was in a much smaller space and she was grateful for the spacious ballroom this year.

Larson baked a traditional sweet roll called pan muerto, or “dead bread,” for the event. She grew up in southern Mexico before receiving her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Southeast and said a visit to her native country during the first days of November is a truly unforgettable experience.

Campus Life’s Dollars for Innovative Campus Events (D.I.C.E.) made the event possible this year, assisting with the funds that paid for a large spread of food, refreshments and decorations, according to Southeast professor Debbie Lee-DiStefano.

Another visiting Mexican student Daniel Gonzalez said deceased loved ones come to visit with the living on this sacred day. He said La Calavera Catrina, or the sugar skull, is an icon for El Dia De Los Muertos in the same way that a jack-o-lantern symbolizes Halloween. The image was created in the early 1900s and has been a tradition since.

Southeast Junior Anahi Gamboa has family in Cozumel, Mexico, and said this was her first time celebrating El Dia De Los Muertos in the United States, but her relatives take part every year. She hand painted a flower pot with a Catrina Calavera design to place on the altar in memory of a loved one.

Staff custodial technician Eric Ralfs said although he is not Hispanic, he believes the holiday is sometimes misrepresented in the states. He said it is a way to remember the dead and celebrate the fact that they lived rather than grieving for the loss.