By Laurie Merrill
GCU News Bureau
The coconut custard was for a favorite aunt, the peanut butter cups for a beloved brother and the sweetened bread for a dear grandmother.
These were among the favorite treats of departed loved ones that Grand Canyon University students, staff and faculty Thursday placed on an elaborate altar created especially for Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead.
“We want to promote cultural awareness,” said Kayla Fonseca, an administrative assistant in the Office of the Dean of Students and advisor to the Latino Student Union. “It’s an opportunity to explore and understand people of another culture.”
The Nov. 2 tradition is characterized by an altar covered with photos of departed loved ones and plates of their favorite dishes. Serving purple juice called agua de jamaica -- made from the hibiscus flower -- is also part of the custom.
“It’s a time to celebrate our loved ones who passed away,” said Samantha Santos, a freshman communications major who twirled to display her traditional, multi-colored dancing dress.
For several years, organizers have created an elaborate food- and flower-laden altar on the third floor of Building 16, near the College of Humanities and Social Sciences faculty offices.
A party on Wednesday featured pan dulce (pastries), hot chocolate and a viewing of “The Book of Life,” a film that teaches the meaning of Dia de los Muertos.
“The holiday coincides with a Catholic holiday but was merged with ancient beliefs of honoring deceased loved ones,” said Leonardo Quintero, Latino Student Union president and Diversity Committee member. “It’s a celebration of the life they lived, and it is a huge party welcoming the memories of those who have passed.”
The festive gathering from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday was a time to share information about the tradition as well as to attract passersby with stories, juice and sweets.
Though Dia de los Muertos falls two days after Halloween, Fonseca said, the two holidays are not connected.
Traditionally, some family members visit and clean the graves of their dead relatives then enjoy a meal consisting of the favorite foods of the departed. The idea, Fonseca said, is to share love and memories.
“It’s all about honoring and welcoming our loved ones who passed away,” Fonseca said. “We talk about the lives they lived and their impact on us.”
Rachel Robinson, a member of the Sociology and Social Work Club, was serving agua de jamaica alongside a gaggle of friends gathered at a gaily decorated table on the Promenade.
“It’s a great opportunity to remember the dead,” she said.
It was also a great way to socialize, as she and others called and waved to nearby students and invited them to try the treats.
This year, the collaboration between the two clubs made Dia de los Muertos bigger and more interesting, said Dr. Nóe Vargas, Assistant Dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences and Latino Student Union advisor.
“It allows students to look into a culture and learn more about it,” he said.
Contact Laurie Merrill at (602) 639-6511 or [email protected].