By Maddison Cervantes
Toy cars and jars full of candy decorated the memorial of Gilberto Francisco Ramos Juarez, an 11-year-old Guatemalan boy who passed away in June. Two young boys, Andre Hernandez and Adrian Mariscal, hovered over Juarez’s shrine and performed the sign of the cross while discussing their part in decorating it in his honor.
On Sunday, Nov. 2, brightly decorated tables, including Juarez’s, encompassed by offerings and tributes for individuals that have passed away, surrounded the University of Nevada, Reno’s Joe Crowley Student Union’s ballroom. These shrines were one of the features of UNR’s fifth annual Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) celebration, hosted by the university’s Latino Research Center.
The ballroom was filled with a variety of guests: families, UNR students and children with painted faces. Attendees could indulge in crafts and food, dance performances of Mexican folklorico dancing, singing, poetry and an educational presentation on the background of the holiday.
Senior Diego Zarazúa attended the celebration of his Mexican roots, and was intrigued by the cultural diversity within the ballroom.
“Dia de los Muertos is a time to rejoice in the lives of those who were family or of importance to us by remembering their favorite foods, music and what made them happy through dance and poetry,” Zarazúa said. “Religious or not, it touches the beauty of being remembered once you are gone with celebration instead of grieving.”
Zarazúa added that, since death is something rarely spoken of in American culture, the Day of the Dead gives younger generations the opportunity to know more about their deceased family members in a celebratory atmosphere.
When the university began the event in 2009, it was much smaller and less diverse. The university’s celebration has since developed with traditional Mexican dance, authentic Mexican food, crafting activities and decor such as the customary painted skull, or calavera.
Iris West, assistant director of the center, coordinated the event and explained the growth of the celebration.
“The event was very small when it started, in the Joe’s theater,” West said. “But we have to find a bigger place because we add more festivities and more people want to come.”
Different forms of Mexican dance were performed during the event, along with mariachi music from Traner Middle School and Mexican poetry regarding the Day of the Dead.
West added that the event is inclusive for any kind of background. She explained that, although she is not Mexican, she is able to embrace and enjoy the culture with the rest of the community.
“The beautiful thing about this tradition is that you don’t have to be Latino to be a part of it,” West said. “It’s about family and your roots.”
Students from UNR Spanish courses and other members of the center volunteered to serve food and help organize the event.
Andrea Linardi de Minten, research assistant at the center, stated that the university’s Day of the Dead festivities are known throughout Reno, and that community members from all walks of life attend.
Linardi de Minten explained that she is originally from Argentina, and although the Day of the Dead is not celebrated there, she was honored to be welcomed into the Mexican culture along with her own through celebrations such as this one.
“The Latino Research Center is linked with the community,” Linardi de Minten said. “Although this kind of event is mostly known by the Mexican community, we want to bring it out to the rest of the university and community as well.”
Maddison Cervantes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @madcervantes.