CHSS display honors those who came before us

November 01, 2019 / by / 0 Comment

Brooke Ovitt, a senior, had never seen a Day of the Dead display before helping put one up in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences lobby.

By Mike Kilen
GCU News Bureau

To Joy Ramirez, November 1 sparks thoughts of her uncle.

“He owned a strawberry farm in California and at his funeral, instead of a bunch of flowers, there were bowls of strawberries,” said Ramirez, a senior who volunteered to construct the College of Humanities and Social Sciences’ Day of the Dead display on the third floor lobby of Building 16 at Grand Canyon University.

To observe Dia de los Muertos (the Spanish translation), Ramirez will put up a photo of her uncle and a box of strawberries.

At GCU, the altar is a way to introduce all students to other cultures and consider a day with special meaning — to remember those friends and family members who have died and celebrate what they meant to them.

“In Mexico, they look at the positive aspects of their lives instead of being grief stricken,” said Ramirez, one of the student volunteers from Spanish class.

“I’m from Mexico, where it is two days — the first day to remember the children (Nov. 1) and second day to remember adults (Nov. 2),” said Noe Vargas, Assistant Dean of CHSS. “There, people take flowers to cemeteries or get together with family and remember their favorite food or jokes or sayings.

“We always remember the people before us and what they gave us.”

The display at CHSS included paper skulls, candles, bread, religious iconography, flowers, drinks, candy and other items that hold symbolic meaning.

The skulls represent people who have passed, sugary candy the sweetness of life and bread and drinks for hungry and thirsty souls who are attracted to the altar.

The holiday has been celebrated throughout Mexico and parts of Latin American for centuries and has become intertwined with Catholic traditions, according to Smithsonian Magazine.

“For me, it’s a beautiful opportunity to celebrate what a lot of people from Arizona and throughout the Southwest will be celebrating,” said Dr. Sherman Elliott, Dean of CHSS. “A lot of students come up and bring a picture of a family or just stand around the altar. It’s very peaceful.”

Photos of loved ones began to appear soon after the Day of the Dead display was finished.

By midmorning, photographs of loved ones were wedged between the symbolic items.

Students will have a chance to learn more about the tradition depicted in the animated movie “COCO,” which will be shown in Thunderground at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

The movie is where Ramirez learned of Dias de los Muertos.

“My grandma is from Mexico and she didn’t bring it to America,” she said. “Then we were watching ‘Coco’ and my mom said, ‘That’s what we used to do.’ “

Ramirez asked her mom why she didn’t to it here, so last year they began the tradition at home.

Others had not heard of the meaning behind the holiday until they helped put the finishing touches on the display Friday morning.

“I’m from New England. This is the first time I have seen an altar,” said Brooke Ovitt, a senior.

She said it reminded her of the people she has loved who died and what made them special.

“My grandmothers meant a lot to me,” she said.

Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at or at 602-639-6764.

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