Don’t Call it “Mexican Halloween”

The Washington State University Vancouver student body celebrated Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, today, with help from the Spanish club. The event, held on Nov. 18 in the Firstenburg Student Commons, was open to any student looking to have a good time, enjoy a free meal and, perhaps, learn something about a very historic Latin American holiday. The colorful decorations and upbeat music might have seemed incongruous with the frequency of skulls in the decoration, but club leader Kim Takenishi explained that the Day of the Dead was not a celebration of death at all, but that it was about life, happiness and positivity.

The festivities began with Maria Lee-Lopez, Instructor of Spanish language and culture at WSU Vancouver, explaining the historical roots of the day. The holiday stretches back to ancient Mayan practices, which once took place over eight days. Each day was to honor a different type of deceased person – the old or children, for example – by leaving them a gift such as their favorite food or the skulls of enemies defeated in battle (hence, where the tradition of decorative skulls comes from). The spirits of the deceased, who had moved on to another plane, were allowed to return to the material realm on this one day to partake in the offerings people had given them.

WSU Vancouver student Cesar Moreno reminisced on his childhood in Mexico City, saying “I remembers members of my family setting up altars for family members who passed away. For my grandfather, my grandmother would put out a shot of tequila and his favorite food.”

Students enjoyed a free taco bar for dinner, followed by an event that was not exactly traditional Day of the Dead fare: a hula hoop contest. Hula hoop champion Marie Almquist was interviewed after her victory, saying “I came here because I’m interested in good food, good music and I wanted to learn about Dia de los Muertos. I know there’s a lot of misconceptions about the holiday; how it’s ‘Mexican Halloween,’ so I wanted to learn more about what it actually means.”

Other than food, fun and games, people who wanted to learn more had access to a variety of traditional Mexican decorations for Dia de los Muertos, which Lee-Lopez and the Spanish club explained the significance of.

For those students who wanted to learn more about this often-misunderstood Latin American holiday, the Dia de los Muertos celebration gave them an opportunity to dispel some of the misinformation they had received. And for students who were just looking for an event to get together with fellow students and meet new people, the Spanish club helped them do that, too.

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