Grand Rapids celebrates Dia de los Muertos

GVL / Archive

GVL / Archive

Mary Racette

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Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) traditions were kept alive through multiple celebrations held throughout the Grand Valley State University and Grand Rapids community. GVSU held an event on the Allendale campus at the Frederik Meijer Honors College, as did several businesses around Grand Rapids.

At 6 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 1, students gathered around an ofrenda (offering/alter) to learn the history and cultural significance of Dia de los Muertos’ music, food and traditions. This information was presented by the Coordinator for the Latin American Studies Program, David Stark, along with the featured artists of the event. Singer Gabriel Estrada brought the traditional sound of Dia de los Muertos to campus as he explained and performed Mariachi music to the audience.  

During the event, students were invited on stage to share how their family celebrates the holiday. 

“I am delighted to hear students share their personal stories about how they celebrate the Dia de los Muertos and what it means to them,” Stark said.

Roli Mancera, the artist of the ofrenda, provided an interactive learning experience for the students to participate in preparing the ofrenda. Students were guided to help place items on the altar and they were encouraged to write the name of a lost loved one on a sticky note to place on the ofrenda.

After the introduction of the holiday’s cultural significance, students were offered a chance to taste a traditional Dia de los Muertos meal, including authentic tamales sided with rice and beans and paired with Horchata and pan de muerto, or “bread of the dead.”

Professors from the Latin American and Latino/a Studies department encouraged their students to attend the event. Some professors even brought their night classes to the event and students from their earlier classes received an extra credit point for attending. 

“The students have the opportunity to see how it really is,” said Spanish Professor Wendolyn Ruiz Peña. “It might influence them to fall in love with Spanish and want to know more about the culture.” 

While the event provided an opportunity for students to experience an important cultural tradition in Mexico, it also gave the members of GVSU’s Latino community a place to practice traditions as they would in their home countries. 

“The department was very careful to keep the details and maintain everything like how it should be,” Peña said. “Foreign people like me can go there and feel like we are home.”  

Stark said he was very pleased with the event’s turnout and added, “This helps students learn more about cultural diversity and makes them more aware of life beyond our immediate surroundings.”

Outside of campus, the Grand Rapids community was invited to celebrate Dia de los Muertos at various locations, including the Grand Rapids Public Library and Donkey Taqueria in Eastown.  

Donkey Taqueria hosted a family event on Nov. 1 with face-painting and live music from bands Súbele & Cabildo

Ofrendas were displayed at the Grand Rapids Public Library from Oct. 27 to Nov. 4. Families were invited to celebrate Dia de los Muertos on “Family Days,” Oct. 30 and Nov. 4.