Living & Dead Visit a Celebration

Dia de los Muertos at Berkeley City College

By Nina M Cestaro

On Nov. 1 and 2, 2017, a large crowd with a mariachi band, colorful six-by-four foot altar, card games, and fresh made tamales, juice, pan dulce (sweet bread) and horchata from Mi Tierra in West Berkeley, celebrated Dia de los Muertos in the atrium of Berkeley City College.

One reason for the the Latinx Leadership and Cultural Club’s participation in this week’s events was to present Latinx students with opportunities to step up and experience leadership and community, said Paula Torres, President of the club.

“In El Salvador, as in Mexico, the things one does on Dia de los Muertos are visit the grave sites, bring photos and clothing, dress up, bring their favorite foods and/or flowers and celebrate the life of their loved ones on the other side,” said Alexa Montalvo, political science major at Berkeley City College, soon to transfer to San Francisco State.

“The altars,” according to Ricardo Mora, vice president of the Latinx Leadership and Cultural Club, “are representative of the communication between the living and those who have passed on. The ancestors come and take a taste of the sweets or rum and go back to the other side and by so doing, spark the memory within the living of what’s important in life. That’s why we put flowers, colorful objects and candy on the altars — to bring the loved-ones in spirit closer — and offer them something like thanks, since they gave us life.”

Mariella Miranda Thaning, the club advisor, was present and encouraged students to speak names of their beloved who have passed into the spirit world, and asked for a moment for the eight victims who were killed in the Manhattan terrorist attack two days ago. Thaning is a part-time Communication Studies instructor at Berkeley City College, as well as at Cuñada College in Redwood City, and also advises the Latinx Leadership and Cultural Club in their activities and beyond. She sees her role as mentor to nudge students to stretch beyond their comfort level, take back the reigns of their lives and speak up in classes. She said,”I love this kind of event, which looks simple and harmless, but is really a way for me to contact students who have had invisible identities for so long to come into a more empowered sense of self and community, and be able to speak to anyone in any context. It’s about building bridges.”

Thaning illustrated a story about how her mentorship helps people like Ricardo M., who was extremely shy upon first meeting and now picks up the microphone and leads the electric chairs games, and speaks up in his classes with no problem.

There were at least 120 people who attended both Dia de los Muertos events, and BCC Voice asked about students’ motivation to attend.

Second-year engineering student Leo Chan said, “I came because when I heard the music, I had to come down and check it out.” He said he really appreciates the way these activities promote unity among people from different cultures and make learning about another culture possible.

Shyhab Mughish, a business major and student originally from Yemen, said, “I was in the Muslim Student Association and heard the music and feel like it’s an interesting and unique event to attend. We don’t have anything like this holiday in our culture.” He said overall it was an enjoyable event and that he would do it again and would tell people to come next year.

Christine Aliziga was studying in the Learning Resource Center on BCC’s first floor when she “heard the Mexican music calling her name and decided to check it out. I love events that let people gather, hear music and eat.” She said the number of attendees exceeded her expectations.

Christobal Marin, Latinx Leadership and Cultural Club member, was present. “It was a huge success with the piñata, the dancing, and the hundred or so people who attended.”

John Williamson, media major and sophomore at Berkeley City College, said, “If I had grown up with the belief that the dead are divinely invited to come visit once a year, then death wouldn’t have been such a big deal.”

Maya Kashima, President of the Intercultural Union of BCC was present and came to speak at the invitation of the Latinx Leadership and Cultural Club, because it’s important to see other cultures and give mutual support she said.

At the top – The Living and Dead were free to come and take treats from the altar at the Dia de los Muertos festival at Berkeley City College, Nov. 1 and 2, 2017. Photo: Nina M Cestaro

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