A holiday procession included stops at altars and discussion of social issues.

Jeannine Aquino

Wearing a white skull mask with a black hood, Ivonne Montaño looked as if she was celebrating Halloween a day late.

But the first-year art and Italian student was celebrating another tradition: El Día de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead.

El Día de los Muertos is an Aztec tradition that celebrates the dead and honors the memory of loved ones recently departed.

It is a day to entice the spirits to celebrate with those still living with stories and offerings called ofrendas. These offerings usually consist of el pan de muerto (bread of the dead), sugar skulls, copal incense, candles and usually a favorite food or object of the dead. Ofrendas are usually placed on altars created by loved ones in their homes.

Sociology senior Rachel Martinez celebrates El Día de los Muertos to recognize that while people have passed on, they are still with the living in spirit.

“In the last eight months, I’ve lost two grandparents,” Martinez said. “It’s a chance for me to remember them in a more ceremonial way.”

Martinez was one of approximately 25 students who participated in a procession to honor the dead Tuesday. They carried a black cardboard casket to altars set up by the Multicultural Center for Academic Excellence, Chicano Studies and La Raza Student Cultural Center at locations about campus.

Each altar – decorated with colorful tablecloths, candy skulls, candles and food – featured a different theme that each University group thought was relevant to their particular cause.

The first altar visited by the procession belonged to the multicultural center. They discussed violence on the border of Mexico and the deaths of immigrants trying to make their way to the United States.

The second altar, sponsored by Chicano Studies, showed the impact of the war in Iraq on Latino communities.

“Latinos are disproportionately represented in the front lines,” Department Chair of Chicano Studies Louis Mendoza said.

“This takes away valuable resources from the community.”

The third and final altar visited by participants was in La Raza Student Cultural Center at Coffman Union. They discussed the challenges of educational access, citing in particular the “death” of the General College and the Dream Act, a bill that would have allowed undocumented students to pay in-state college tuition.

Mendoza said the three University groups decided to celebrate Día de los Muertos in this way not only to honor the tradition, but also to talk about issues relevant to the Latino community today.

Another common custom during El Día de los Muertos is to visit a loved one’s grave.

“It’s like catching up as if they were never gone,” Montaño said.

“It doesn’t have to be a sad day,” she said.

Lisa Sass Zaragoza, the outreach coordinator for Chicano studies, said El Día de los Muertos allows the dead to remain a part of the lives of the living.

“What I like about it is that it integrates death in life in a healthy way,” she said.