As students put together their final touches on their marigolds and sugar skulls for the PCC community altar, Spanish rock music beamed throughout the quad.
PCC was brought to life with the two-day celebration of “Dia de los Muertos” on Nov. 1 and 2, hosted by the vice president of Cultural Diversity of Associated Students Kiely Lam, the Cross Cultural Center, the Puente Project, and CLAVE.
“Dia de los Muertos” is a traditional Mexican holiday to celebrate the deceased. The name itself translates to the “Day of the Dead” in Spanish.
On this holiday, Mexican families build altars of their deceased loved ones. They are bountiful with decorations such as flowers, sugar skulls, candles and foods such as fruit or salt. All of these offerings surround a framed picture of the deceased person the family is honoring.
Lam is part Mexican, but admits she does not celebrate this holiday often. Putting this activity together, especially with organizations that focused on the Hispanic and Latino culture, such as CLAVE and the Puente Project, allowed Lam to honor the traditions of one of her cultures.
“I don’t go all out as much as I would like to but my dad and I try to participate in events in our communities as much as we can,” Lam wrote in an email to staff. “Doing this event this year and learning more about my culture was also my way of celebrating.”
To start festivities with that tradition, students spent their Tuesday afternoon sharing smiles and conversation while turning tissue paper into handmade marigolds, the flower of the dead, and decorating sugar skulls to put in front of Campus Center for PCC’s own altar.
While some decided to stop by simply because the scene appeared interesting, others came to pay their respects to family, friends or celebrities that have passed away recently.
“Two years ago I had a friend that passed away from cancer, I’m doing this in his honor,” student Todd Wooton said while applying the finishing touches to his skull.
Along with their marigolds and sugar skulls, students got to customize picture frames for those they wished to commemorate.
The crafts were so appealing to the students that extra tables were set up during the event to accommodate the sudden crowd.
“It’s pretty cool that skull decorating was an option,” student Brandy Murry said. “It’s fun to decorate.”
Participants had the choice of keeping the final product or placing it on the altar that was colorfully decorated with skeletons donning sombreros, marigolds, and “papel picado” (cut paper) banners.
“The goal is for it to be a community altar,” Cross Cultural coordinator Emily Roh said, who was overseeing the festivities.
After completing an art piece, students were rewarded with raffle tickets which were exchanged for traditional Mexican food like tamales, horchata, and agua de jamaica. The dark sky and cold weather were not enough to keep students from enjoying the delicious yet cold refreshments.
As students got their fill of art and food, they made their way to the vendors selling art and jewelry inspired by the celebration. Goodlife Roots, a collective of many different artists’ works also had their tent in the quad. Products ranged from baseball t-shirts to coffee mugs. They featured deceased celebrities of the Mexican community such as singer Selena Quintanilla and painter Frida Kahlo. Art students and professors also had their own vendors where students sold their own art to raise money for the school’s art department.
By 2 p.m., only a few sugar skulls were left from the initial 125.
The festivities continued Wednesday afternoon with all vendors in the quad and concluded that night with a movie screening of Disney’s “Book of Life,” provided with free churros and hot chocolate. Lam was pleased that this event specifically caught the attention of students who take night classes since campus events usually happen during mornings and afternoons.
“I chose ‘Book of Life’ because it was a relatively new movie that, I felt, captured [the] vibe of how vibrant this holiday should be and more of a celebration,” Lam said. “Also, it’s a movie that can appeal to people of all ages.”
Some students were able to relate to the two-day festivities with their own culture of how they celebrate death.
“Throughout the movie, I was able to learn the history behind Day of the Dead and how similar it is to my culture. In the Chinese culture, we have the Qing Ming festival. It is a day in April where we go to visit graves of our relatives and pay respect to them,” student Andrea Ng said. “On this day, we believe that they come back to visit us so we lay out their favorite food, clean their tombstone, and burn ‘paper currency’ so that they can use it in the world they’re currently apart of.”
The altar has been taken down, but what will always be around is PCC’s concept of diversity. Forty-nine percent of the Lancers are Hispanic/Latino, but the altar, movie night, and vendors were crowded with students of all cultures. No marigold or skull was labelled with the race of the student who made it, because that didn’t matter. What mattered most was the unity of cultures that came to recognize one.
“Obviously, I couldn’t learn everything about the holiday in one Disney movie. I’m not even an expert after this two-day celebration,” said Roh. “However, I learned more about something that may not be a part of my culture, but is something that some students may have grown up on. And that sort of interaction is one of the best things that happen at these cultural events at PCC.”