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For those who attend Salt Lake Community College, the school is known for welcoming people of different cultures and backgrounds, and with representation comes celebration – such as with Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead).
The school’s Día de los Muertos celebrations took place Nov. 1 and 2 at the West Valley and Taylorsville Redwood campuses. During the holiday, widely observed in Mexico and by those of Mexican heritage, colorful altars decorated with photographs, food, beverages, papier-mâché and marigolds tell the story of kin and serve to invite their souls back to the land of the living.
“It’s not really [about] focusing on death; it’s [about] focusing on the person’s life … If you lost someone, and you have beautiful memories with that person, it’s [about] remembering those memories,” said Idolina Quijada, site services manager at the West Valley Center.
SLCC’s annual celebration of Día de los Muertos dates back many years, but according to SLCC Dream Center Manager Brenda Santoyo, the events once looked very different from what school groups put on now.
“When I was a student at the college, between 2012 and 2016 … it looked very different and kind of looked like it was an altar competition … sponsored by the Latinos club,” Santoyo said. “I competed, but it didn’t feel right to do a competition for altars.”
When Santoyo took on the role of manager of the Dream Center, how the school celebrated Día de los Muertos started to change. The center, which helps undocumented students navigate college life at SLCC, is situated at the West Valley Center and now acts as a key organizer of each year’s celebration.
“The first couple of years, it was [centered] more around sugar skull workshops, and this last year is when we started adding all the performances,” Santoyo said.
In the past two years, event organizers have invited mariachis and traditional dancers to perform. This year, they invited dancers from Hawaii to honor the victims of the August 2023 Maui wildfires.
SLCC students are also involved in planning and hosting event activities through volunteering. Psychology major Alex Arrieta volunteered for the first time this year and called these kinds of cultural events “very important.”
“I think the more community we have, the better,” Arrieta said. “I’m just a number; my voice is small, but if we are together, it can be very loud.”
For community member Letty Molina, a key aspect of holding events such as the Día de los Muertos celebrations is the union of cultural diversity.
“It is very interesting and of much value, [these] kinds of activities, because it doesn’t matter what country we are from,” Molina said. “The important thing is that we are uniting and understanding other cultures.”