Day of the Dead celebrated at BC

Maryann Kopp

The Bakersfield College MAIZE Club brought the celebration of the Dia de Los Muertos to the BC campus from Oct. 29-Nov. 2.
Several altars were set up at the Campus Center and were decorated with pictures, candles, flowers, herbs, food, water, stuffed animals, and other relics to celebrate the departed.
Signs were displayed on some of the tables, educating passersby on what was on display. As one part stated, “Contrary to popular opinion, this holiday celebrates the lives of those who have passed on. This is a day of happiness, not one of sorrow.”
“MAIZE’s emphasis is on traditional, pre-Columbian events, like Dia de Los Muertos,” said MAIZE club member Jesse Ibarra. “What we’re honoring is a day that goes back to pre-Columbian history, before the Roman Catholic church had even stepped foot into the Americas. Back when, even before the Aztecs, the people would hold several days to remember their dead.”
According to Ibarra, altars would be constructed and decorated with the belongings of ancestors to the respective families.
Part of the belief was that the offerings laid out would be enjoyed by the spirits who were being honored, whether it was by partaking in the food and drink offerings or others.
M.E.Ch.A secretary Eva Fuentes explained that she makes food offerings at her Dia de Los Muertos altar at home and that this is her second year doing so.
“I started celebrating el Dia de Los Muertos just last year because, before then, I didn’t know too much about it,” said Fuentes.
“I had saw some things about the holiday on TV, and in books, and it fascinated me, so I decided to follow the tradition,” Fuentes continued. “I just put a Native-American twist on it.”
M.E.Ch.A club president Ana Vega was able to break down some of the dynamics of the holiday and explain how the festivities at BC reflected more traditional ones.
“My family celebrates for a week, from Oct. 28 to Nov. 2nd,” began Vega. “Every day represents different individuals and their coming to earth.”
She went on to explain that each day is different because they relate to different types of death. The first day is for those who have passed due to accidental deaths, assassinations, or suicides, the second for “babies who never got to see the light,” and the third is natural causes.
Following those days, according to Vega, is one day that is more child oriented and then another which is more adult oriented.
“That day is when people start bringing lots of food and drinks,” said Vega. “In particular, a favorite dish or drink of the departed.
“We also have music playing because this event should be lively. It is not a time to mourn, really, just to celebrate that they were here with us.”
According to Vega, the Aztecs used to celebrate this time for the entire month of August, where they would perform dances for the visiting spirits.
“When the Spaniards saw it, they wanted to eliminate it,” Vega said. “They thought it was pagan and too wild, so they tried to eliminate it, but they couldn’t.
“They made two special days, Nov. 1st and Nov. 2nd, or All Saint’s Day. But that is more Spanish influenced.”
While some altars had lit candles to guide the spirits back and others had the special “flower of the dead” (cempasuchitl or marigolds), which has a bright color and heavy scent, to lure them back, all were welcome to observe and enjoy the altars on campus.