Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a Mexican holiday that celebrates the lives of loved ones who have passed. The celebration begins on Friday and lasts until Nov. 2. In honor of the holiday, several festivities will take place within the Davis campus and community.
Festive activities often include creating altars, preparing dishes that symbolize life and displaying belongings of the deceased. Davis Day of the Dead celebrations will allow the community to partake in such traditions while also incorporating art as a medium for remembrance. Thus, many Davis events for this holiday also feature poetry readings, live music and other creative works.
Francisco X. Alarcón, a UC Davis Spanish lecturer and Spanish for Native Speakers Program supervisor, explained to MUSE how art ties into the holiday.
“Art, poetry and music are essential components of the syncretic celebration of Day of the Dead,” Alarcón said.
There will be two celebrations on campus. The first is a dedication to the community altar and takes place in Sproul Hall on Wednesday, from 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. The night will also include poetry readings, live music by Mariachi Cielito Lindo and refreshments.
The second event takes place in Hart Hall on Thursday, from 5:30 to 9 p.m. There will be dance performances, poetry readings and hands-on activities, such as altar making. The evening also features a panel of speakers discussing present-day issues in Central America.
Alarcón will be participating in poetry readings at both campus and community events. He said that his interpretation of the holiday’s moral – which is to celebrate life – features in his poems.
“I will be reading from a new book of bilingual poems Borderless Butterflies (Mariposas sin fronteras) that focuses on the awesome journey of the monarch butterflies and on the migrant experience,” Alarcón said. “I am planning to read my poem titled ‘My Dead,’ which exemplifies [the] notion of bringing life to our dead in our memories.”
The Davis Cemetery will also be hosting a Dia de Los Muertos celebration on Nov. 2. Like the other nights, the event will feature altar displays, dance performances, speakers, poets and live music.
David Campos of Davis band Zapato Viejo will be providing live music for the cemetery’s celebration. Campos said that he hopes his music will provide a way for people to connect emotionally with their ancestors.
“Music touches upon deep and rich sentiments that were shared by those [who] have passed,” Campos said. “Music is also a powerful vehicle to keep our culture vibrant and alive.”
The Davis Cemetery coordinated with Woodland Community College’s (WCC) Ethnic Studies faculty to put the celebration together. Melissa Moreno, WCC ethnic studies professor, is a main representative of the event. Like Campos, Moreno said that she hopes the celebration can expand Davis culture.
“These kinds of celebrations – honoring life and death together – can teach us about concepts of humanity, community and encourage us to create intergenerational supportive webs of relationships in our everyday lives,” Moreno said.
This year’s celebration will be the Davis Cemetery’s fourth time hosting a Dia de los Muertos ceremony.
“In the U.S., it was uncommon to celebrate it in cemeteries until recently, [circa] the 1990s,” Moreno said.
However, Dia de los Muertos continues to grow in Davis and beyond. The spread of the holiday not only unites communities of all kinds but also transforms a time of mourning into one of optimism and appreciation. The celebrations allow people from all over to honor loved ones together, in hopes of creating a supportive, comforting environment.
“The Day of the Dead celebrates everyone,” Moreno said. “For those honoring a loved one during Dia de los Muertos, they might experience a sense of community that is different from holding a more private or secluded ceremony of life.”
Photo by Shazib Haq