Alicia Vera/The New York Times

Models at Vogue México's third gala celebrating Día de Muertos, also known as Day of the Dead, at the Numismatic Museum in Mexico City, Oct. 27, 2022.

November 2, 2022

Reuniting With the Dead: Cornellians Celebrate Día de los Muertos 

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Originating in Mexico, Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a holiday traditionally celebrated on Nov. 1 and 2. The celebration rekindles connections between the living and the dead as families gather to reminisce about their deceased relatives.  

Latino communities came together on campus to celebrate the lives of the dead in a variety of ways. 

The Latino Living Center, located in Anna Comstock Hall, hosted a special Café con Leche, an interactive and educational tradition that takes place every Friday at 6:30 p.m. 

“During this Café, we learned about the history of Día de los Muertos,” said Residence Hall Director Adriana Lima. “We also [explored] its significance in various Latinx communities as well as similar holidays in other cultures.”

Residents of the LLC also set up the annual ofrenda, which is an offering table with pictures of loved ones who had passed and some of their favorite snacks. The community gathered at the ofrenda to speak of experiences with the holiday while carving pumpkins and painting sugar skulls.

“We’d love for more people to get involved with the process of setting up the ofrenda for Día de los Muertos,” Lima said about hopes for future celebrations. “Even if you haven’t grown up doing it, it’s a great chance to be a part of something that acknowledges those we’ve lost. In the future, it would also be great to possibly hold a traditional Día de los Muertos dinner or parade.” 

Being able to celebrate Día de los Muertos freely on a college campus provides students with the opportunity to share special cultural traditions with their peers. According to Lima, expressing one’s background is a reminder to take pride in one’s heritage and feel a sense of acceptance on campus. 

Meanwhile, some students are adjusting to celebrating Día de los Muertos in their new environment. Maria del Refugio Boa Alvarado, grad, a first-year Ph.D. student in development studies, said her experience celebrating the holiday away from her homeland, Mexico, for the first time was special.

“I find [celebrating away from home] very special,” Alvarado said. “I really do believe that [our deceased relatives] come to visit us on these days, so they are here with me.” 

To honor the lives of those who passed, Alvarado assembled her own celebration in her Ithaca home. 

“I put together a small [display] where I had candles, flowers and pictures of my loved ones,” Alvarado said. “I also added the [items] that they used to like, such as rum, Pan de Muertos (a sweet bread) and fruits on the table.”

Alvarado also proceeded to include the community around her in the celebration, as she invited her housemates to show pictures of their deceased relatives and tell stories. 

Despite having welcomed it in different ways, those who celebrated Día de los Muertos agreed that the sharing of traditions associated with it serves as an important building block to cultural diversity and acceptance among Cornellians. For this reason, many students who celebrated the holiday away from home viewed the change in environment as an opportunity to spread their traditions to new people and places.

“[Celebrating on campus] is incredibly important because Día de los Muertos is a holiday that isn’t contained only in Mexico,” Lima said. “It is celebrated and honored where the people who recognize its significance are.”