Dia de los Muertos is a holiday unlike any that exists in the U.S. Because it’s close to Halloween, many might think the two holidays are similar, but they’re incredibly different.
Dia de los Muertos, which translates to Day of the Dead, is an ancient indigenous holiday that celebrates the lives of people who have died. This three-day celebration invites the spirits of the dead to visit you and help celebrate life. The most important thing to remember is that this is a celebration. It is not meant to be mournful or sad, but instead, Dia de los Muertos should be a party. That’s why you see beautiful bright colors, hear cheerful music and see so many people smiling.
At the Noche de Altares Dia de los Muertos event Nov. 2 in the Attallah Piazza, my cheeks hurt from smiling so much. I had never celebrated this event with friends, because most of my friends at Chapman are not Latinx or Chicanx. To see beautiful altars in the Piazza, candles, picture frames of the people that we miss and people eating pan dulce and drinking champurrado – and all at a predominantly white university – gave me a feeling of belonging and community that is something I’ll never forget.
The last time I spent Dia de los Muertos with my family was the year before I came to college. We brought plates of food, coolers of beer and drinks, flowers and music to the cemetery where my grandpa and a few cousins are buried. We ate my grandfather’s favorite meal and poured Tecate beer over his grave so that he could celebrate with us. We jammed on the radio to music that he would love to listen to. Juan Gabriel, a famous Mexican singer, filled the cemetery along with the laughter of my family as we told stories about my grandfather.
Later that day, we saw another group celebrating across the cemetery, and they immediately felt like family. They had brought a group of mariachis to play for their loved ones, and sent them over to us. The mariachis asked what my grandpa’s favorite song was and they played it for us as my grandma danced on his grave, his favorite beer in her hand.
Smiling so much my face hurts, seeing the Attallah Piazza lit up with my culture and watching my grandma dance tipsy on top of a grave with happiness in her heart – this is what Dia de los Muertos means to me: culture, family and happiness.
I am so thankful I finally found that here at Chapman.