Traditional Dia de los Muertos altars were set up along the steps of the University Union Plaza honoring those who have recently deceased. Sophia O'Keefe | Mustang News

Vibrant colors and cheerful music filled the University Union (UU) Plaza Nov. 2 for the Día de los Muertos event hosted by the MultiCultural Center (MCC).

“It’s important to see different cultures celebrated and Día de los Muertos being a huge celebration within the Latinx community. I think it’s important for students to see themselves, see their culture celebrated on a campus that is all about promoting diversity and inclusion,” MCC Student Retention and Community Engagement Coordinator Beya Montero said.

Día de los Muertos, which spans from Oct. 31 to Nov. 2, is traditionally celebrated on the Catholic holiday All Saints’ Day and dates back to pre-Columbian times, Montero said.

The holiday allows people to remember loved ones and celebrate their lives, rather than focusing on their deaths. A central part of the holiday is creating intricately detailed altars for those who have passed.

Altars and traditions

Twenty-seven campus organizations built altars and many took the opportunity to highlight deaths in underrepresented groups.

The MCC hosted an altar for victims of white supremacy, according to Arelly Ocampo, civil engineering junior and co-lead for the Día de los Muertos event.

“We just felt that in today’s politics, there has been an increase in the victim population that’s coming because of white supremacy,” Ocampo said. “So we wanted our student body to make sure [they know] ‘Hey this is happening and it’s something that is affecting us,’ and it is something we want the school to know that we are not okay with.”

Altars also celebrated the lives of victims of violence toward the LGBTQ community and even celebrities.

“For Día de los Muertos we are wanting to both honor people that we love that have passed on as well as, because we are here at a university setting, kind of do some education,” Chicanx Latinx Faculty Association co-founder and Associate Dean of Liberal Arts Debra Valencia-Laver said.

The Chicanx Latinx Faculty Association won the altar contest for Best Altar. The altar was dedicated to Cal Poly faculty and staff members who passed away and struggled with diabetes. According to Valencia-Laver, diabetes is the fifth highest killer in the Latinx community.

In addition to the altars, ancestors are celebrated through traditional dances and music. Danza Azteca, a youth folklórico group, and Cal Poly Imagen y Espíritu Ballet Folklórico performed traditional dances at the event.

“It is really about moving away from the darkness of death and into this beautiful celebration of life and light with the colors and community,” Montero said.

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