Multicultural Center celebrates Dia de Los Muertos

Juan Casas, Courier Staff

Casa Latina along with the fraternities and sororities of Lambda Theta Phi, Lambda Theta Alpha, Gamma Phi Omega and Alpha Psi Lambda at Western Illinois University celebrated Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m last Friday at the Multicultural Center.

The event was open to the public. An educational lecture was held at the opening of the event to help shed light on what exactly is Day of the Dead for the Latinx community. There was also a guest performance by the newly formed Mariachi del Oro, a special dance performed by Tradicion dance club and other activities were also provided. These consisted of face painting, an art exhibition presenting over half a dozen oil canvas paintings done by a Latinx artists depicting Day of the Dead and traditional latinx games like lotteria, Mexican bingo. Traditional authentic Mexican cuisine like beans, rice and tamales along with many other variations of platters like Mexican hot chocolate were also provided free of charge.

The event opened with a presentation by Jesus Gonzales and Jennifer Coss on the definition, history and purpose of Day of the Dead within the Latinx culture. “This day is celebrated amongst the Latinx Catholic religion, it is not a sad time but a time to celebrate life, and remembering those who have passed and honoring our loved ones,” Gonzales said.

“The purpose of Day of the Dead is to come together with the spirits of the dead, the dead being our beloved friends and family, to let them know that they are not forgotten and that their loved ones on Earth still care about them,” Coss said. “It is way of keeping a connection between loved ones alive, though they may be physically separated from us due to their death.”

Gonzales went on to explore in detail the history behind Day of the Dead, of the Spanish conquest of Latin America and the subsequent waves of death brought down upon Mesoamerica by Spanish Europeans. In order to remember their passed loved ones, the Mesoamerican indigenous people held onto this custom of honoring the dead that predates the birth of Christ by tens of thousands of years. Yet, coincidently enough, the Mesoamerican holiday of remembrance just so happens to fall on Nov. 1-2, which in the Roman Catholic Church is also considered and celebrated as All Saint’s Day. This day is followed by All Soul’s day.

Although this celebration is popular all throughout Latin America, it is the most prominent holiday in the Mexican state of Oaxaca, and is considered to be its origination point. Coss went on to describe how exactly the Day of the Dead is celebrated. She explained that this holiday is a very colorful one, with family of the deceased visiting their final resting places. They then decorate them with pictures and photos of the deceased, as well as candles, flowers, sugar skulls and toys for children that passed away. Papel picado, is colored paper that is cut into various shapes and designs aimed to signify the wind, and the happiness of the festival, as well as many other personal items that belonged to the dead when they were still living.

Overall, the purpose of the decoration is to remind the living family that the dead are always present and that instead of it being looked at as the end, it is seen as just another chapter and this helps families cope with the loss of their loved ones.

Following the description of how Day of the Dead has always been celebrated, Coss went on to depict how it’s celebrated in contemporary society. In Mexico City, there is a parade held annually in honor of the religious holiday. Also, there were two short video clips shown from the Disney movie “Coco” and “The Book of Life” depicting what Dia de Los Muertos is like. Following the presentation by Gonzales and Coss, there was a moment of silence observed in honor of all our loved ones who are no longer with us.

After the presentation was  completed, there was a performance by Tradicion dance club, where four dancers dressed in traditional black and white Mexican attire, dresses for the females and button up dress shirts for the males, as they performed their tap-dance style routinewithout a glitch to the sound of traditional mariachi music. A roar of cheers erupted from the crowd.

Following the performance, Mariachi Del Oro went before the audience tocast their debut performance. Mariachi is the traditional form of music that has longstanding ties to the agricultural communities of rural Latin America, specifically Mexico. This form of music could be said to be close kin to traditional American country music. The songs performed by Mariachi Del Oro are renown in Mexican music and amongst Latino audiences. The first song was of “El Rey,” “(The King,)”, which depicts the common life of a man who, with or without money, has alwayslived his life to the fullest. It is a depiction of struggle and of finding one’s own way through life. The second song performed was dos arbolitos, two little trees, which aims to depict how there are things that are beyond our control. How God placed two little trees together and that no one or anything could stop them from growing up together. It is a depiction of life and how there are things that cannot be changed or foreseen.

The second to final song played was one of the oldest in mariachi, so old in fact thatit has no lyrics and is only the hum of the mariachi musical instruments, reminiscent of traditional European classical music like Beethoven’s “Symphony 1.” The final song performed was a very famous one, one created by renown Mexican musical composer Jose Alfredo Jimenes, in the first half of the 20th century, “Canta Canta Canta,” (which means “Sing, Sing, Sing”). Considered one of the greatest mariachi songs ever created, it aims at uplifting the hopes, encouraging singing and helping remove sadness through song and dance.

Following the mariachi performance, there where games held of loterria, face paintingand many other traditional Latinx-Mexican activities. Overall, the event was a huge success, with the audience being very respectful and engaged, while also ensuringthat there was never an empty seat. Day of the Dead, was indeed celebrated successfully at Western last Friday.