Photo by Ruth Saravia

Ofrendas are decorated altars that honor and recall the lives of those who have passed. CSUN students decorated this community ofrenda outside the campus Chicana/o House for Dia de los Muertos, Oct. 30, 2015. 

California State University, Northridge Chicana/o Studies professor Yreina D. Cervantez and the students in her “Days of the Dead” course will co-host two events in honor of Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) — a Mexican holiday that honors the memories of their deceased loved ones and ancestors.

The first event, Noche de Ofrenda (Night of Offering), is a personal gathering where people visit the ofrendas — culturally decorated altars that are spiritually offered to their ancestors. The students decorate the ofrendas with flowers, candles, incense, food, drinks, personal items and share stories and eat food with one another.

The event will take place on Thursday, Nov. 2, from 6 to 10 p.m. and is located on the north-side of campus on Plummer Street in the Chicano House at 18111 Nordhoff St in Northridge. Before meeting at the Chicano House, there will be a procession gathering at 5:30 p.m. at Jerome Richfield. Attendees will walk together across campus to the Chicano House.

“The ofrenda is an offering to the spirits that have passed on,” Cervantez said. “It’s a sacred time where we invoke our loved ones to return from the spiritual realm to the earthly realm and have communion with the living.”

Día de los Muertos is a Mexican tradition that is commemorated on All Saints Day — a celebration of all Christian Saints — and All Souls Day — a holiday that is dedicated to the prayers for the dead — is celebrated in various ways throughout Latin America. Día de los Muertos is now widely celebrated in California and throughout the U.S. Since the holiday has become popular over the years, Cervantez said, Noche de Ofrenda is important because it offers a place of vigil in contrast to the holiday’s commercialization and appropriation.

“Connecting them [the community and students] to the essence of what Día de los Muertos is, and having that night of reflection and contemplation counters the commercialization and commodification of the celebration,” Cervantez said. “You have to have a balance between contemplation and celebration.”

The second event is the Department of Chicana/o Studies’ 35th annual celebration of Día de los Muertos on Friday, Nov. 3, from 6 p.m. to 12 a.m. in the Chicano House. The celebration will include music, dancing, mask making, face painting, vendors, food and an art exhibition from the community and students. The exhibition will include artwork from CSUN’s printmaking classes which are taught by art professors Rosalie Lopez and Curtis Taylor.

In addition to both events, members of MEChA, the Queer Collective and CSUN’s Students for Quality Education created an altar that will be on display in the Sierra Hall breezeway.

Día de los Muertos is very empowering for the students,” Cervantez said. “They say it’s another way for them to think about life, death, mourning and regeneration, it’s a really beautiful, cultural and spiritual ritual that they feel connected to.”

During the semester, the students in Cervantez’s course learn about contemporary Chicana/o and Mexican traditions, as well as different cultures’ beliefs, traditions and practices for coming to terms with death. The students also study artistic expression related to the holiday, to create art and prepare the Chicano House with altars and decorations.

The Chicano House is a cultural space that is an extension of the Chicana/o Studies Department and created by students in Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlán (MEChA), an organization that promotes Chicana/o unity and empowerment.

“The Chicano House has become a sacred place for the students on campus,” said Cervantez. “It’s a comfortable environment and it’s an alternative space where they feel a sense of community here on this campus. The Chicano House is a space that keeps us grounded within the institution and connects us to community.”

Both events are sponsored by the Department of Chicano/a Studies and organized by the students in MEChA, Cervántez, her students and Chicana/o Studies faculty and professors Lara Medina, Avilés-Rodriguez, Peter Garcia and Xochitl Flores-Marcial.

The events are free and open to the public.