The faint smell of fresh cantina tacos from Palm & Pine Catering and upbeat mariachi music wafted through the air. Thirty tables decorated with marigolds and Mexican candies filled the Reitz Grand Ballroom as students of all backgrounds filled the room to celebrate Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead.
For three months, the UF Mexican Student Association worked in collaboration with the Office of Activities and Involvement to create a home away from home for students to celebrate Día de Los Muertos on November 2nd.
Día de los Muertos is a traditional Mexican holiday where relatives honor the spirits of deceased relatives. After death, people are believed to go to the Land of the Dead, or Chikunamictlan, from where they embark on a seven-year journey to their final resting place. It celebrates efforts to help the dead on their journey to their resting place and is celebrated on the first and second days of November.
The UF event featured food, music and activities for the university community to come together and celebrate the holiday.
MASA President Lucero Aguirre-Bolivar, a 21-year-old UF psychology major, said coming to UF as a first-generation student during the COVID-19 pandemic made it difficult to find community at the university. But MASA gave her a sense of belonging.
“The whole process of doing this event is worth it because I see people’s faces light up and how they relate to the event and how they come up to me and say, ‘This is like home’ or ‘This reminds me of what I do at home.’ , she said.
Mariachi Tapaiato, a mariachi band from Orlando, performed traditional music for the celebration. Near the entrance was a station for papel picado — cut paper — to create traditional tissue paper flags, which participants join together to create a line of unified flags. A face-painting station decorated students’ faces with Mexican designs, such as Katrina, the famous skull image used during recess.
Marigolds on each table are known in traditional Mexican culture to attract the souls of the dead to the ofrendas—offerings—that await them, which are placed on a long table with pictures of honored loved ones standing in the room.
Ricardo Martinez, a 20-year-old computer engineering student at UF, said for someone who was born in Mexico, being able to celebrate the holiday at the college helped him connect with his roots.
“I was afraid that I would be away from my people, my culture in college,” he said, “but seeing this event made me realize that there is a community here.”
MASA Chief of Staff Fernando Altamirano, a 21-year-old UF public relations major, told her the holiday symbolizes remembrance.
“It can be difficult because obviously you’re talking about people you haven’t been with in a while, but it’s great to be intentional about the good times and not look at it in a negative light,” she said.
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Peyton Harris is a freshman English major and news assistant for Alligator. She is also a member of Zeta Tau Alpha and spends her free time listening to Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers and binging on Criminal Minds.