The University of San Francisco celebrated Día de Los Muertos with authentic, aromatic food, engaging music which enticed all to join in, and live, memorable performances by various groups, faculty, staff, and students.
Día de Los Muertos is a long-standing tradition in Hispanic culture with roots in Aztec and other indigenous group’s histories. During the 16th century, the Aztecs practiced a festival in the summer similar to the one we know today. Under the guidance of Mictecacihuatl, one of their goddesses, the Aztecs celebrated and remembered their loved ones that had passed. When the Spanish came to their region, bringing Christianity with them, the celebration changed. The Spanish, who viewed the festival as a form of paganism, decided to move it to the same day as All Soul’s Day, a Christian celebration on Nov. 2 commemorating deceased loved ones and baptized Christians, in an effort to make it more of a Christian holiday. This mixing of cultures gave birth to the modern holiday known today as Día de Los Muertos.
The event, which took place on November 2 in Fromm Hall, began with the crafting of papel picados (paper banners) and paper flowers by anyone who wanted to try making these traditional adornments that were used to decorate the walls. “I love all the handmade decorations,” said senior Aja Wiley, “they give the room so much life and energy.”
Shades of red, blue, yellow, orange and more set the backdrop to the live performances that began as scheduled. The group “Spiritual Notes” opened up the night with their performance of “Shine My Light,”, followed by a short intermission where people were able to try traditional food, such as beef or cheese tamales, served at most Día de Los Muertos celebrations. The performances continued throughout the night by different people, including Andrés Flores, a famous musician and luthier (someone who makes stringed instruments) from Vera Cruz, Mexico. Not only was there music, but also traditional dances from those present, including performance by María de la Rosa, a resident artist at the La Peña Cultural Center in Berkeley. As the evening progressed, the performances became even more lively and prompted people to join in the festivities.
“One of the main reasons why I started organizing this event here at USF was because I wanted people to understand Día de Los Muertos and to be able to experience a traditional Día de Los Muertos festival,” said Cassandra Millspaugh, an adjunct professor of the Department of Modern and Classical Languages. Millspaugh’s intensive Spanish class performed a popular song titled “Colas” at the event. “I’m so glad I had the opportunity to perform,” said Jackie Isbell, a sophomore and one of Millspaugh’s students, “It was nerve-wracking but really fun at the same time.”
By the end of the night, most people were up out of their seats dancing and socializing with each other, and truly enjoying themselves. “You really feel a sense of family and community,” said Wiley, “That’s the exact vibe I’m getting from the food, art, music and the people here.”
“It’s a day that everyone can come together and celebrate as a family and community,” Sharon Thompson, a senior, mentions. “They make death beautiful and celebrated,” adds Isbell.
Events such as this one not only bring the Hispanic community together, but also educate those about their traditions. “It allows me to participate in Hispanic cultural activities and get a deeper appreciation of the culture,” said junior David Garrett.
“One of the main reasons why I started organizing this event here at USF was because I wanted people to understand Día de Los Muertos and to be able to experience a traditional Día de Los Muertos festival,” said Millspaugh.
This is the second Día de Los Muertos celebration being held here at USF and it is going to become an annual event. “Next year, I want to focus on the altar and its creation,” said Millspaugh, “My dream is to find a central location on campus where we can make the altar during the event and have it be really participatory.”
When asked why she felt that it was important to have student involvement at these types of events, Millspaugh said, “Many people nowadays are timid and shy when it comes to dancing or singing in front of others and I just feel that it is really important to help everyone become more comfortable with themselves, and this is the perfect festival for it.” As the evening progressed, the performances became even more lively, which prompted students to leave their seats and dance or play instruments, such as the tambourine or guitar.
“Everyone participates in some way,” said Millspaugh, “And by doing so, it becomes a part of us all and belongs to everyone. I just want to be able to bring the community to the university.”
Photo courtesy of Racquel Gonzales/Foghorn