The Student Union Building at South Puget Sound Community College was filled with a festive spirit Saturday. Brightly-colored papel picado (ornately cut paper) decorated the windows, guests sported faces painted like skulls and upbeat music boomed through the space.
Nonprofit CIELO had teamed up with the LatinX Student Union at SPSCC to host a public Día de los Muertos celebration. CIELO board member Karlah Tanori said the decision came out of the current political climate and a desire to give Thurston County’s Latino population a safe place to celebrate the Day of the Dead. She said she hopes the visibility of the event will foster understanding and tolerance.
“With the racist political climate, we thought it was important to open our doors this year,” Tanori said.
Saturday’s event was split into two parts: a family-friendly event noon-5 p.m. and a fundraiser 7 p.m.-midnight.
In addition to being a safe place to celebrate, the event teaches people who aren’t familiar with Mexican culture about Día de los Muertos. Tanori said that contrary to what many people believe, it’s not a “Mexican Halloween.” It’s a way for people to honor deceased loved ones and their ancestors.
She said it’s one of her favorite traditions because it dates to before Mexico was colonized by the Spanish. Traditionally, celebrations were throughout August. Different days would honor various types of people, such as mothers who died in childbirth and soldiers.
But with the arrival of Catholicism, the celebration was moved to coincide with All Saints Day, and Día de los Muertos now is celebrated Nov. 1 and 2, Tanori explained.
The celebration is based on the idea that there are three stages to death, she said. The first is when someone’s eyes stop seeing and their heart stops beating. The second is when a person is no longer visible in the physical world, when they’ve been cremated or returned to the earth. The third is when there’s no one left to remember them.
Día de los Muertos is a way to prevent that third stage from occurring, Tanori said.
“It’s a day of remembering and honoring so that no one is forgotten,” she said.