UK Happenings

Celebrate Dia de los Muertos

A candlelight vigil held in celebration of Dia de los Muertos in 2020.
A candlelight vigil held in celebration of Dia de los Muertos in 2020. Pete Comparoni | UK Photo.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Oct. 28, 2022) — While Latinx/Hispanic Heritage month has come to a close, the Wildcat community can get ready for a campus favorite and signature program that continues to honor the life of those who came before us and the lives of those who are no longer with us — the Day of the Dead, or better known as Día de los Muertos.  

What is Día de los Muertos?  

Día de los Muertos celebrations begin Oct. 27 and follow a series of days meant to piece together an altar of memories of our loved ones and the lives they lived on Earth. The celebration culminates on Nov. 1, which kicks of Native American and Alaskan Native Heritage Month, and coincides with All Saints Day in the Catholic tradition. Día de los Muertos is not a "Mexican Halloween," but a syncretic holiday that is celebrated all over the world. This observation is not unique to Mexico, contrary to widespread belief; in fact, this holiday is known with different names, such as in the Philippines where it is known as Araw ng mga Patay or All Saints' Day (Undas) celebrated on Nov. 1. In other countries influenced by colonialism, they do not have a specific name or date for Día de los Muertos, but they still honor their loved ones that passed on to the next life. 

On Nov. 1 at the University of Kentucky, the annual Celebration of Life will be hosted by the Omicron Zeta Chapter of Sigma Lambda Gamma National Sorority Incorporated, in partnership and collaboration with the Martin Luther King Cultural Center, the Latino Student Union, the Office of Student Organizations and Activities, the Latino Law Student Association andUK eSports. The event is sponsored by the Inclusive Excellence Grant offered by UK’s Office for Institutional Diversity. 

Doors open at 5:30 p.m. and the program will begin at 6 p.m., with a vigil to commemorate the lives of loved ones. After the vigil, participants are encouraged to join the community effort and build our Big Blue Ofrenda — the campus altar — and add pictures of their loved ones, a letter written to them in the afterlife, their favorite snacks and more. The Big Blue Ofrenda will be built during the event and placed on display in one of our most frequented areas at the Gatton Student Center social staircase.

Attendees will be able to write letters and engage in other crafts, like papel-picado, mask making or get their face painted. Attendees can also expect an authentic dinner and traditional pan de muerto — dead bread to try and take home to add to their altars. There will be music, dancing, fellowship, arts, crafts and more.

People from the UK community and greater Lexington are invited to attend the celebration. This year, the program will be held at the Gatton Student Center, in various locations throughout the building. The majority of the program will be held on and around the social staircase in the heart of the Gatton Student Center, with the vigil occurring right outside the building, in the Courtyard of Champions. 

Naomi Rojas, vice president of programming for the Omicron Zeta chapter of Sigma Lambda Gamma, is excited to carry the torch and continue the tradition set forth by chapter sisters and UK alumnae:

Coming from the Taíno tribe in Guantanamo, we never celebrated Día de los Muertos. However, I am glad that coming to this university I have been able to learn about diverse cultures which we all share," Rojas said. "Día de los Muertos is not a Mexican Halloween. It is a native indigenous practice that is influenced by colonialism, and naturally traveled to be celebrated all over the world in various ways, but with the shared purpose of celebrating the beauty of life after death.”

Rojas, a Cuban American, emphasizes that this program will continue to align with the Latinx/Hispanic heritage theme of highlighting the Caribbean and Afro-descendant and indigenous foundations and influences. All integral pieces and influence colonialism had on the holiday and modern-day countries all over the colonial world who continue to honor their ancestors in a multitude of syncretic ways. 

The Cultural Center invites people to stay tuned for programming after Día de los Muertos. For example, Tapas & Topics, a signature program that provides a "taste" of culture, will be themed this year around interfaith, specifically highlighting faith, religion and spirituality in the post-colonial world, and the November installment will center syncretism and discuss the beauty of culture on religious observations and practices (Día de Los Muertos, for example.) Check out Tapas & Topics throughout the year. 

For information and guidance on how and when to begin an altar at home, attendees can contact the MLK Cultural Center or the Omicron Zeta Chapter of Sigma Lambda Gamma National Sorority Incorporated to provide tips. 

For any questions or accommodations, please contact Latino Student Community specialist at the MLK Cultural Center at Ruth.Gonzalez@uky.edu.  

Follow the MLK Center @UK_MLKCenter, Sigma Lambda Gamma @UK_Gammas, Student Organizations and Activities @ukgetinvolved, Latino Law Student Association @ukllsa, Latino Student Union @lsu_uk, and UK eSports @ukyesportslounge.

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