University of Colorado Boulder students and community members gathered in Kittredge Central to celebrate Día de los Muertos on Nov. 2. The United Mexican American Students organization (UMAS) and the CU Boulder chapter of the Sigma Lambda Beta International Fraternity hosted the event.
The event featured a presentation explaining the history of the celebration from Charlie Candela, the treasurer of UMAS and a junior at CU Boulder. After the presentation, attendees played games, participated in face painting and sugar skull decorating and shared memories of loved ones during a candlelight ceremony.
UMAS and Sigma Lambda Beta host this celebration each year to create a space for Chicanx and Latinx students to celebrate on campus.
“We’re an organization that’s there to be recognized and make sure our people’s voices are heard,” Candela said.
UMAS started in 1968 as an effort to increase enrollment and retention of Chicanx and Latinx students in Colorado and later formed a coalition with the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlán (MECHA). UMAS y MECHA has since helped create various programs on campus and continues to advocate for Chicanx equality through education and community building.
“[I was] looking for a space on campus or people on campus that I could relate to just because we go to a PWI, predominantly white institution. Especially during COVID, it was really hard to find people that you can relate to,” Brittany Gutierrez, a CU Boulder junior and member of UMAS said. “UMAS has always been that safe space.”
Día de los Muertos, which translates to “Day of the Dead,” is a holiday celebrated in Mexico and other Latin American countries, in which people celebrate the lives of loved ones who have died by creating an altar.
Families often build altars together, placing photographs of loved ones, marigolds, the favorite foods of those who have passed and candles on different levels.
UMAS members built the altar featured at the event just before the event began.
“UMAS, to me, is like a family, and you usually set up an altar like a family, so it was very special,” Gutierrez said.
Several attendees brought photos of loved ones to place on the altar. The photos of six former UMAS members killed in car bombings in Boulder in the 1970s sat near the top of the altar. The altar also included six graduation stoles to commemorate the lives of those six student activists, known as Los Seis, who died before they could graduate from CU Boulder.
The event also served as a place for students to have fun and build community. Several students decorated sugar skulls, got their faces painted by Sigma Lambda Beta members and participated in games like musical chairs.
“I always like a good game of musical chairs,” said Michelle Valdez, a senior studying integrative physiology and psychology at CU Boulder. “Plus, one of the people I was with was competing in it, and he got pretty far too, so I was proud of him.”
The celebration finished with attendees gathering around the altar and holding small battery-powered candles while some shared stories and memories of loved ones who had passed. The ceremony gave attendees time to remember those they’ve lost and reflect on the positive impact those people had on their lives.
Valdez, who has Peruvian and Mexican heritage, said she was glad she attended because it gave her an opportunity to celebrate the event, which her family doesn’t participate in.
“Día de los Muertos has always been something that’s super meaningful to me,” Valdez said. “I wanted to delve a little bit into the Mexican side and see what the celebration was all about.”
Contact CU Independent Breaking News Editor Celia Frazier at Celia.Frazier@colorado.edu