Remembering loved ones, celebrating life

By Molly Burke

Youngstown State University community members gathered for a Día de Muertos celebration from 5 to 7 p.m. on Nov. 1 in The Hub at Kilcawley Center.

Día de Muertos, also called Day of the Dead, is a holiday celebrated by many Latin American cultures and is most often observed Nov. 2. 

Student Activities and the Hispanic Heritage Month Committee collaborated with math professor Alicia Prieto Langarica to coordinate the free public event. Prieto Langarica said the holiday is a day of remembrance for loved ones who have passed away.

“Day of the Dead is celebrated very differently in many Latin American cultures,” Prieto Langarica said. “Before the Spanish influences, we thought it was a day where all of our loved ones would come back from the dead and we could celebrate with them. It’s not like a mourning sad kind of day but more celebratory.”

One Día de Muertos tradition is honoring passed family members with a three-tier altar called an ofrenda. The Hub’s stage was made into an ofrenda where anyone was welcome to place photos of their loved ones or display their favorite items. 

Prieto Langarica said the altar was dedicated to the late Carol Bennett, former assistant provost for the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. 

      Photo Courtesy of YSU.

“We’re dedicating the altar to Dr. Carol Bennet because we lost her this year and we all love her so much,” Prieto Langarica said. “[I’m placing] her books and her plants and some of the foods she used to eat all around the altar for her because we’re hoping that she comes and visits today.”

The Hub was decorated with flowers, sugar skulls, candles and los papeles picados, colorful paper with cut-out shapes. Attendees could paint sugar skulls, listen to music and watch spoken word poetry performances while sipping on Mexican hot chocolate and eating pan de muerto, a sweet Mexican bread and staple of Día de Muertos.

Prieto Langarica said taking part in the event’s coordination allowed her to help the YSU community understand the difference between appropriation and participation when it comes to Día de Muertos. 

“Cultural celebrations like this, in which you get to immerse in somebody else’s cultures — they’re very important so that we distinguish between copying other cultures and participating in other cultures … and then honoring other cultures,” Prieto Langarica said. 

History professor and program coordinator Brian Bonhomme sang an acoustic selection of music at the celebration, including songs in Spanish. He said universities should make efforts to educate students about different cultures.

“It’s important for universities to open students’ eyes to and provide access to all sorts of different people and cultures,” Bonhomme said. “I hope [guests] go away having a greater appreciation for what the Day of the Dead is and what it isn’t.”

Claudia Zacharko, owner of Piccadilly Parlour Victorian Tearoom in Canfield, was among the crowd at the celebration. Zacharko said she honored her parents by putting some of their favorite things on the altar.

“I wanted to remember my dad and my mom. Something I would do with my dad was have tea parties when I was a little girl … I brought his favorite tea,” Zackarco said. “It’s hard to lose loved ones, it really is, but when you have them in your heart and you remember beautiful things that they taught you, you want to celebrate that. That’s something important.”