Isla Vista’s local government and UC Santa Barbara campus organizations celebrated Día de los Muertos with several events late last week.
Día de los Muertos dates back to the ancient Aztecs and is celebrated annually in Mexico as a way to remember loved ones who have passed away. The dead are honored with ofrendas, or offerings, consisting of things such as flowers, food and art placed upon an altar
I.V. Community Services District (IVCSD) held a Día de los Muertos celebration on Nov. 1 in collaboration with the I.V. Recreation and Park District (IVRPD) at the St. George Youth Center.
The event included live performances by Mariachi Mexicanisimo, a traditional mariachi band; Grupo Tolteca Izkalotl, a group that studies the Toltec philosophy; and folklore storytelling with Mexican folk dance group Xochipilli de Santa Barbara to spotlight different community Mexican cultural groups, according to IVCSD General Manager Jonathan Abboud.
“IVCSD has a goal of promoting and supporting more cultural events in Isla Vista for all residents to safely enjoy and come together — we look forward to seeing community members of all ages there,” Abboud said in a press release.
IVCSD set up a community ofrenda at the event for guests to contribute with photos of their own loved ones. The ofrenda was decorated with candles, marigolds and fruits.
“Ofrendas are one of the central features of Día de Los Muertos and are presented as a way to help guide spirits of the deceased back to the living world,” the press release read. “In addition, the candles often displayed among the altars are meant to symbolize hope, faith, and remembrance.”
The event also featured various foods in honor of the festival including homemade ponche, also known as fruit juice, and tamales, as well as a taco bar set up by Super Cucas in I.V.
Also available at the event was an arts and crafts station with tissue paper, flower-making and calavera coloring sheets, as well as a lottery game.
“We are delighted [by] this tradition which allows people of Isla Vista to come together and celebrate that which means most: friends, family, and loved ones,” IVRPD General Manager Kimberly Kiefer said in the press release. “It is a day to remember and honor our loved ones.”
In collaboration with local campus entities, the UCSB Chicanx/Latinx Cultural Resource Center hosted its tenth annual Día de los Muertos celebration on Nov. 2 on the front lawn of the Student Resource Building (SRB).
Since its first occurrence in 2014, this annual event has become a tradition for the Latinx/Chicanx community in UCSB and in the greater I.V. area.
This year, the celebration was collectively led by the Chicanx/Latinx Cultural Resource Center, El Congreso de UCSB, Student Engagement & Leadership, Latinx UCSB Network Association, Resource Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity, Educational Opportunity Program, Sigma Alpha Zeta, Sigma Lambda Beta and the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.
Director of Civic and Community Engagement and Isla Vista Liaison Viviana Marsano, who attended on behalf of the Latinx UCSB Network Association, said the event has become an unexpected success since its first inception.
“Immediately [the event] exploded, it became this huge event with other departments, some student groups and our cosponsors,” Marsano said in an interview with the Nexus. “We advertise it a lot but at the same time, people already know about it.”
Marsano said the collection of campus entities convene yearly to put on the Día de los Muertos celebration largely for students who cannot return home to celebrate with their own families.
“I think the main goal is, as I said, the sense of belonging for a lot of Latinx students who are here. They are away from home, they must be missing family and the people who are gone,” Marsano said.
The event began with a public acknowledgment of Chumash lands that critiqued UCSB’s investments in projects that impact Indigenous communities, such as the Thirty Meter Telescope, and called for the protection of Indigenous land and peoples.
Following the acknowledgment, attendees were invited to try the provided traditional Día de los Muertos foods, including pan de dulce, aguas frescas and tamales. Also included was an ongoing silent auction of various donated art, artifacts and jewelry, with all proceeds going towards scholarships for undocumented UCSB students in collaboration with Undocumented Student Services.
Community members were further encouraged to observe the traditional altars set up inside the SRB to honor family members who had passed on.
“Traditionally, people will put other things like food and drinks, things that the people you’re remembering enjoyed in life, but it really depends,” Pre-Law and College of Letters & Sciences Academic Advisor Miguel Moran-Lanier said.
“People celebrate in different ways, there’s no single way of celebrating. Different communities, different parts of Mexico, different parts here — they do things slightly different,” Moran-Lanier said.
For some students, this on-campus tradition is their first opportunity to celebrate the annual holiday.
“My family doesn’t really celebrate this and I don’t have an altar in my house. So, for me, being able to be in an organization that creates an altar here is really powerful,” fourth-year sociology major and El Congreso de UCSB member Luna Moreno said.
Moreno said this sentiment is likely shared with other Chicanx/Latinx students at UCSB, emphasizing the art of setting up an ofrenda to honor the dead.
“To the students, a big part of this is the altar-making. The [SRB] hosts eight to nine different campus organizations, and they’re allowed to display an altar inside the [SRB] all week long,” Moreno said. “It’s a really great way for students to get involved because they’re allowed to kind of put their own personal touch into the event.”
Moreno said the altars can also be dedicated to non-Chicanx/Latinx individuals and non-family members, saying that this act of honoring those who have passed on is central to the holiday.
“The past two weeks, different congresistas have been bringing together photos from their loved ones, or photos from martyrs across Latin America as well as in Palestine, and it’s just been a really touching thing not only to be a part of the actual creation of the altar but also to just see all of the people that are touched by the individuals who are on all of the ofrendas that are inside,” Moreno said. “Just being able to see altars that aren’t mine is also a really powerful thing because it reconnects us both to our culture and also to the people around us. It reminds us that everybody has a story.”
A version of this article appeared on p. 1 of the Nov 9. 2023, print edition of the Daily Nexus.