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Wednesday, June 7, 2023

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An altar will go public to coincide with the traditional Día de Los Muertos or Day of the Dead celebrations, Nov. 1 and 2. (SDSU) An altar will go public to coincide with the traditional Día de Los Muertos or Day of the Dead celebrations, Nov. 1 and 2. (SDSU)

Día de Los Muertos at SDSU: The Struggle For Autonomy

As altars celebrating the holiday begin to appear in San Diego, SDSU has built its own in Love Library.
By Nandi Maunder

For over eighteen years, San Diego State University has celebrated Día de Los Muertos in conjunction with both the Chicana and Chicano Studies Department and the Latinx Resource Center. 


Rooted in indigenous culture and the arrival of Catholicism in the Americas, Día de Los Muertos is a distinct cultural celebration designed to strengthen the connection between the living and those who have passed on. 


Invoking the memory of loved ones and bringing their favorite foods and items—renews those relationships each year, preserving them for generations to come. Though primarily celebrated in Mexico, similar festivities are held in other parts of Latin America and by Chicano communities in the United States. 


An altar was assembled on the first floor of Love Library across from the Chicanx Collection earlier this month. It will go public to coincide with the traditional Día de Los Muertos or Day of the Dead celebrations, on Tuesday, Nov. 1 and continue through Nov. 2


“Each year the altar is dedicated to our loved ones who have passed away and to a sociopolitical issue that we consider critical and essential to reflect on,” said long-time Chicanx studies Professor Norma Iglesias Prieto. “This year the theme is the struggle for autonomy. Some of my students will make small objects honoring the memory of leaders who have given their lives in defense of autonomy.”


Keeping with tradition, for two days, ofrendas (offerings), often built in homes, community centers, schools, and any other places where people can gather and celebrate together feature vibrant marigolds, candied skulls decorated in bold, colorful designs paired with photos of loved ones on an altar. These altars honor the dead and invite their spirits to return to the living world, and celebrate with their families for one night.  


“This is not a scary thing. This is not Halloween,” said Elisa Mendez-Pintado, a first-year graduate assistant at the Latinx Resource Center, “It's a very joyous holiday, I want people to come and I want them to experience joy. We are celebrating our loved ones, we are not sad when we are doing this — we are happy, excited to have them visit us in spirit.”


The altar in Love Library will also feature a brief guided lesson on the history of Día de Los Muertos, personal testimonies, music, and other festivities. 


“At CCS and LRC, we understand that making the altar is always a collective work that creates and strengthens ties with our students and the SDSU community,” Prieto continued. 


The altar will be open for the whole of SDSU to come and honor their loved ones in the Día de Los Muertos tradition. 


“I think people should expect joy,” added Miriam Castañon, the current acting Director of the Latinx Resource Center.



SDSU Imperial Valley will also host a Día de Los Muertos celebration on Wednesday, Nov. 2 from 5.-7p.m in the Quad.