Identities and histories preserved with ofrendas

Myah Gomez, freshman educational studies major, and Deanna Villagran, coordinator of student engagement and leadership, decorate the ofrenda in the Campus Center on Oct. 28. An ofrenda is an altar built to remember and honor people who have died during the annual celebration of Dia de los Muertos. / photo by Kim Toth
Myah Gomez, freshman educational studies major, and Deanna Villagran, coordinator of student engagement and leadership, decorate an ofrenda in the Campus Center on Oct. 28. An ofrenda is an altar built to remember and honor people who have died during the annual celebration of Dia de los Muertos. / photo by Kim Toth

Kamila De La Fuente
Assistant Editor 

A profound overview of Dia de los Muertos was followed by the construction of the altars or ofrendas on Oct. 28 from 1 to 2 p.m. in the Ludwick Sacred Space. It was presented by Jose Miguel Hernandez, a junior educational studies major, and Christian Bracho, an associate professor of  teacher education. 

Dia de los Muertos celebrates the spirits of deceased children on Nov. 1 and adults on Nov. 2.

Bracho works with Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer Alexandra Burrell as a faculty diversity liaison to support diversity projects on campus. He works additionally on the Hispanic Serving Institution Task Force.

“I’m always invested in bringing more events to campus where people can see themselves and see their heritage,” Bracho said. “It’s about community, family, and connecting with the ones you lost and making space for it.”

Grief is often seen as a quiet, private affair that is not usually shared. 

“Dia de los Muertos allows for making grief public, making it seen and manifested versus trying to hide it or make it this secret thing that you go through on your own,” Bracho said.

Bracho said that the tradition is about wanting to create a space to honor your loved ones, create symbols of them, and then show other people who they were, untold stories about them, and to continue remembering them – keeping their memory alive. For him, it is a beautiful way to remember our departed loved ones rather than a tragedy that we face on our own. 

“Building an ofrenda is a creative artistic process, and I love changing it every day,” Bracho said. 

He said he usually builds his altar a week in advance of the holiday and adds to it each day, connecting more with it each time. 

“I love sitting and experiencing this living thing,” Bracho said. “Seeing the candles flicker and smelling the strong scent of the marigolds.”

Bracho said for Latin Americans who have been cut off from their identities and histories, it is important to preserve them by telling their stories now. He said that this tradition is a way of resisting the erasure of their histories. As an educator, he believes that telling stories teaches people things and that the best way to educate is to humanize each other.

A calavera, also known as a sugar skull, and other offerings are included on the ofrenda inside the Ludwick Center on Oct. 28. An ofrenda is an altar built to remember and honor people who have died during the annual celebration of Dia de los Muertos. / photo by Kim Toth
A calavera, also known as a sugar skull, and other offerings are included on the ofrenda inside the Ludwick Center on Oct. 28. An ofrenda is an altar built to remember and honor people who have died during the annual celebration of Dia de los Muertos. / photo by Kim Toth

“Today, for example, getting to tell the story of my family was a chance to teach people about a culture that maybe they didn’t know about, that’s easier to understand than reading a book,” Bracho said. 

Burell said the historical and cultural context that Hernandez and Bracho provided in the session adds value to her understanding about this tradition, as her own personal grief process looks a little different. 

“I am open and wanting to learn more about how I can intertwine some of these historical and cultural components into the way I acknowledge and remember my family and loved ones,” Burell said.  

Jessica Molina, sophomore criminology major, was drawn to the event coming from a Hispanic background herself and felt connected to the tradition. She attended to see what other new things she could learn about the holiday. 

“My favorite part was coming together and being able to build the altar even though we’re all from different cultures,” Molina said. “It was really interesting to see how we were all able to put it together.” 

She said she gained a lot more knowledge about how different regions in Mexico prepare their food offerings for their loved ones and the science behind it. 

Hernandez’s grandmother, Paula Hernandez Garcia, who was visiting from Oaxaca, said she appreciated the style in the community-built ofrendas. She said they reminded her of the various ways the altars are prepared in Mexico. 

 Kamila K. De La Fuente can be reached at kamila.delafuente@laverne.edu

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Kamila K. De La Fuente, a senior creative writing and communications major with a concentration in public relations, is a staff writer for the Campus Times.

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Kim Toth is a junior photography major and a staff photographer for the Campus Times and La Verne Magazine. Her work can be found in Instagram at @kim_t_photos and @kimberlytothphotos.

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