The faint smell of Palm & Pine Catering’s fresh cantina tacos and lively mariachi music wafted through the air. Thirty tables decorated with marigolds and Mexican candy filled the Reitz Grand Ballroom as students of all backgrounds filled the room to honor Día de los Muertos or Day of the Dead.
Three months in the making, UF Mexican-American Student Association worked in collaboration with the Signature Events Committee under the Student Activities and Involvement office to create a home away from home for students to celebrate Día de Los Muertos Nov. 2.
Día de los Muertos is a traditional Mexican holiday where relatives honor the spirits of deceased relatives. It’s believed that upon death, people travel to the Land of the Dead, or Chicunamictlán — from there, they embark on a seven-year journey to their final resting place. It marks efforts to help the deceased on their journey to that resting place and is celebrated during the first and second days of November.
The UF event featured food, music and activities for the university community to come together and honor the holiday.
MASA President Lucero Aguirre-Bolivar, a 21-year-old UF psychology junior, said coming to UF as a first-generation student during the COVID-19 pandemic made it hard to find a community within the university. But MASA gave her a sense of belonging.
“The whole process of having this event is made worthwhile by seeing people’s faces light up and seeing how they relate to the event and seeing how they come up to me and say, ‘this feels like home, or ‘this reminds me of what I do at home,’” she said.
An Orlando-based mariachi band, Mariachi Internacional Tapatio, performed traditional music to celebrate. Tucked toward the entrance was a station for papel picado — cut-up paper — to create traditional tissue-paper flags that members connect together to create a string of unified flags. A face-painting station adorned students’ faces with Mexican designs like the Catrina — a famous skull image used during the holiday.
The marigolds atop each table are known in traditional Mexican culture to attract the souls of the deceased to the ofrendas —offerings — that await them, which were placed on a long table with pictures of revered loved ones lining the room.
Ricardo Martinez, a 20-year-old UF computer engineering senior, said as someone born in Mexico, having a way to celebrate the holiday in college helped him connect to his roots.
“I was afraid I’d be away from my people, my culture in college,” he said, “but seeing this event made me realize there was a community here.”
MASA Chief of Staff Fernanda Altamirano, a 21-year-old UF public relations major, said to her, the holiday symbolizes remembrance.
“It can be difficult because obviously, you’re talking about people that you haven’t been with for a while, but it’s great to intentionally think about the good times instead of looking at it in a negative light,” she said.
Contact Peyton at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter at @peytonlharris.
Peyton Harris is a first-year English major and the News Assistant for The Alligator. She is also a member of Zeta Tau Alpha and spends her free time re-listening to Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers and binging Criminal Minds.