Story by Lydia P. Robles
Photos by Ralph Freso
GCU News Bureau
Students stopped to adorn the altar with butterflies, relics, notes, photos and other bright decorations Monday to honor loved ones at the Día de los Muertos display table in front of the Lope Shop.
It was the opening of the Day of the Dead celebration, which continues through Tuesday at Grand Canyon University. According to the traditions, the monarch butterfly symbolizes the return of souls for this annual holiday.
The Latino Student Union and a new club, the Canyon Dreamers, collaborated to share the Latino culture with students and staff.
Leo Quintero, Latino Student Union advisor, said the goal is to provide an inside look into Latino culture for students who may not be aware of this tradition.
“I’ve always been grateful that GCU allows us to do these things because some people do have their opinions about holidays being cultural or religiously biased,” he said. “But at the end of the day, it’s about respecting people’s beliefs and understanding that when something is important to someone, it is great to be able to celebrate with them even if you don’t share the same beliefs.”
The Latino Student Union and Canyon Dreamers collected song requests that later were played along the nearby Promenade. Students were invited to dance or sing along to music that reminded them of those who have passed away.
Latino Student Union President Jonathan Valdez sees Día de los Muertos as a day to celebrate life rather than death.
“The event is about remembering and honoring those of the past and doing it in a way that doesn’t bring about sadness or grief,” he said. “This is more of a celebration of their life and the inheritance that they’ve left behind.”
Rodrigo Ramirez, President of the Canyon Dreamers, wanted to create a safe space for students who are faced with adversities.
“There is this stigma around people who are undocumented or have limitations that makes them feel they are hitting walls sometimes or that there’s nothing beyond those walls — but there is,” he said. “In my life there has always been this fighting spirit, and there are a lot of people who have this fight to keep moving forward.”
Although the deceased may not be here in physical form, their memory and lessons are very much alive in the hearts of students.
For Ramirez, Día de los Muertos is about celebrating the life and memory of his grandparents. Although his grandmother passed away before he was born, her fight is part of her legacy.
“Despite everything coming against her and against all odds she always came through, she always said that, ‘So long as I live, so long as I do,’” he said. “Whenever situations got hard financially, she always made money and did what she could to move her family to a better place or a better situation.”
By the end of the day, the display was crowded with photos of the deceased, butterflies and objects meant to commemorate the lives that passed on.
The final touch: a path of marigold flower petals.
The Latino culture believes that the fragrance and path of flowers guide souls from their burial place back to their family.
The bright hues of yellow and orange replace the dark colors that are typically associated with the idea of death. What is usually a somber event is made a celebratory holiday through Día de los Muertos.
“It’s not that people forgot about the people they loved,” Ramirez said, “but today they took the time to remember.”