Review of Axe Bahia: The Power of Art in Afro-Brazilian Metropolis at the Fowler Museum

The Fowler Museum, located at UCLA is now displaying a three-part exhibition based on Brazil’s African history and cultural heritage. Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA is surveying Latin American and Latino art. It is also collaborating with various art institutions all over Southern California. Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA is presenting Southern California with significant art exhibitions about the ancient world and pre-modern era. Its exhibits range from topics about the luxurious goods in the pre-Columbian era to Latino artists boundary crossing practices. “Axé Bahia: The Power of Art in Afro-Brazilian Metropolis”, one of the three exhibits, will be showcased from September 24 to April 15, 2018. The Axé Bahia exhibit’s curatorial team was led by Patrick Polk, Fowler’s curator of Latin America and Caribbean popular arts, in corroboration with other co-curators such as Roberto Conduru (a professor of art history and theory at Rio de Janeiro State University), Sabrina Gledhill (a Brazil-based scholar of Bahian history and culture), and Randal Johnson (a Spanish and Portuguese professor at UCLA).

The exhibit factors various pieces of work from modern and contemporary artists like Mário Neto, Rubem Valentim, Pierre Verger, Rommulo Conceição, Caetano Dias, Helemozão, Heráclito, and so on. It explores distinct cultural identities of Salvador, Bahia as well as the complex issues of race and cultural affiliation in Brazil with Afro-Brazilian art from the mid-20th century to present times. The exhibition also investigates how art including sculptures, paintings, photographs, videos, and three-dimensional works are expressed to shape and broaden Bahian identity and experience.

Some of these visuals portray a strong and provocative response to slavery and present forms of discrimination. Caetano Dias, a Brazilian visual artist built Delirios de Cathrina (The Ravings of Catherine), a contradicting artwork made out of wood, metal, sugar, ox blood, and resin which differentiates the pleasant taste of sugar to the pungent bitterness of sugarcane production in Brazil. The Ravings of Catherine includes a merge of two distinct tables, one made out of wood and the other of blood. The table made out of wood incorporates metal into its composition, it is a worn down white rectangular work table where the enslaved labored. The table made out of ox’s blood is round and extremely detailed, contrarily it is where slaveholders ate. The piece also includes a large amount of African dismembered human heads made out of sugar. The heads are placed underneath the worker’s table and spread out among the museum’s floor to indicate the exploitation of slaves in large colonial farms.

A student observing and taking in the different images on the Códice piece by Jose Cunha at Fowler Museum on November 3rd. Photo credit: Laura Sandoval

The Axé Bahia exhibit also displays Jose Cunha’s collection of painted canvases called Códice (Codex) on the museum’s wall. In order to comprehend Cunha’s work, it must be read from left to right and bottom to top. The collection has 21 panels each depicting the central beliefs of Candomblé and Umbanda, two different Afro-Brazilian religions. The canvases portray mythological tales and historical events of orixás (saints) and other supernatural beings. The 13th panel is of Tempo, a personified figure of time and the seasons. Tempo’s canvas is a multi-colored painting that associates him with the Earth’s 4 elements (earth, water, air, and fire), its seasons (spring, summer, fall, and winter), natural geographical features, and the stages of human life.

The Axé Bahia exhibit gives visitors the chance to learn about the importance of the culture in Salvador by showing off a broad spectrum of creative Afro-Brazilian practices as well as the history of Latin America. With this exhibit, Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA brings awareness to a complex set of issues about the current relations in the Americas and Southern California’s altering social and cultural infrastructure.

Golden Kingdoms: Luxury and Legacy in the Ancient Americas at the Getty Center

Although gold is a highly cherished metal in contemporary society, this was not always the case for ancient Americans. At different points in history; feathers, shells, jade, textiles, and so forth were as much, if not more than valuable to ancient Americans. Depending on the native peoples, the curators of Golden Kingdoms: Luxury and Legacy in the Ancient Americas believe that additional materials were also thought to be greatly fitting for the production of luxury.

Entrance to “Golden Kingdoms” at the J. Paul Getty Museum on Dec. 17, 2017. Photo credit: Amara Higuera Hopping

The Golden Kingdoms exhibition takes visitors through a progression of time, starting with the earliest works bore from the south of Peru and finishing with the latest artworks from Northern Mexico. It follows the growth of art in luxury in the Americas around 1200 BC to the early sixteenth century when European colonization took place. As previously stated, the exhibition primarily focuses its attention to the fact that ancient Americans, unlike European conquerors, did not find gold to be the most valuable material. Golden Kingdoms, located at the Getty Center, was co-curated by Kim N. Richter from the Getty Research Institute and Joanne Pillsbury from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The exhibit consists of numerous masterpieces from various lenders. A large amount of these fine masterpieces include jewelry, cups, plaques, ceremonial tools, funerary masks, and so on.

This show is a part of the Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, which is an expedition of Latin American and Latino art led by the Getty. Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA will take place from September 2017 through January 2018 at over 70 different institutions all across Southern California.

Several works demonstrated in the exhibit were handed down over generations and sent to great lengths as funerary backgrounds, heirlooms, and votive offerings. These works were not only used as a means by which ideas became interchanged throughout time, but were also made and utilized to inspire sacred power among those who used them. Instead of creating tools and weapons made of their culture’s most prized materials, craftspeople in the ancient Americas often created luxurious objects for rituals and coronations. The narrative and the name of the exhibition draws attention to the gold element, but the objects displayed in the show and the enlightenment that comes along with them is a counter-narrative. Jade, feathers, and turquoise were among the most highly valued materials in Mesoamerica. Jade, instead of gold, was the most treasured material to the Olmecs and the Maya, and as for the Incas feathers and textiles were valued more so than anything else.

Museum visitor photographing ear ornaments of the Lord of Sipán dated around AD 640-680 at the J. Paul Getty Museum on Dec. 17, 2017. Photo credit: Amara Higuera Hopping

Conceivably, the most eye-catching pieces of work in the exhibit are not made of gold, but of other substances due to their color and radiance. These masterpieces, made of priceless metals and supplementary substances, influence visitors to reimagine the value of different materials. Encouraging the public to question widely accepted narratives about Latin America is the basis of which Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA is founded upon. It aims to showcase to the public what has yet to be seen as well as raising awareness to complex and controversial issues throughout the Americas by providing insight to the values of different cultures.

Radical Women at the Hammer Museum

“Barrigas” (1978-1983) by Johanna Hamann (1954-2017) in the “Mapping the Body” Theme at the Hammer Museum’s Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960–1985 Part of Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA. Image Credit: Israel Cedillo

As part of the Pacific Standard Time initiative, the Hammer Museum is one of the 70 participating institutions that had the opportunity to host the Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960-1985 exhibition this past fall 2017. This showcase, curated by Cecilia Fajardo-Hill and Andrea Giunta, radicalizes the way we perceive self exploration and self worth through pieces like that of Johanna Hamann whose work of art, “Bellies,” stirs emotions in the eyes of the beholder with its raw context of decaying tissue. The majority of the pieces in Radical Women manage to captivate the mind of the visitor through elements of crudeness and nudity, provoking the viewer to wonder how bold the artist had to be in order to recreate an idea so revolutionizing in a time period that marginalized these groups of women.

What the exhibition has done is that it has placed Latinx women from 15 different countries at the forefront of the museum’s face. This shift from being marginalized to being the center of attention allows the women to receive the praise that has been neglected for decades. The artists showcased in Radical Women have encountered cultural marginalization and gender stereotypes that have tried to confine them in the traditional Latin American household role. But through means of expression (paintings, videos, installations), these women have broken the chain that once forced them to live up to those expectations. Their work demands that viewers contrast the difference between the patriarchal view of women — in regards to beauty and role in society — and that of their own.

Ultimately, the exhibit voices for the women who remain in the shadows, unacknowledged and undermined.

When visitors first enter the exhibition, they don’t know what to expect other than works of art that are meant to symbolize reconciliation of cultural identity and pride like the video work by Victoria Santa Cruz “Me gritaron negra (They shouted black at me)” from 1978. But Radical Women is much more than that.

The exhibition gives women of color a platform to demonstrate the normality in seeing their everyday hard-work go unnoticed. A great example is Lourdes Grobet’s “La Briosa” because as the mother (assumed) feeds a baby milk in an apron, she hides her identity with a luchadora mask. Her work in the household is implied by the apron she wears, often reminding us of our own Latin American mothers who cook and clean for us. Their hard-work can sometimes go unnoticed by how accustomed we are to always having them in the household. Truly, they are the people who work the hardest but never get recognition, hence why she wears a luchador mask.

“Cama” (1974) by Feliza Bursztyn (Colombia, 1933-1982) at the Hammer Museum’s Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960–1985 Part of Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA. Image Credit: Israel Cedillo

Most of the artists in Radical Women attempt to present the most natural representation of Latin American women. Some of the pieces stay in the lines of Lourdes Grobet’s, while others expand the idea of self-exploration through freedom of sexuality. “La Cama” by Feliza Bursztyn is an installation in the erotic section of Radical Women. This metal framework is covered completely by a satin cloth, leaving it up to the imagination of the viewer of what happens in a bed. Many of the reactions to this piece included laughter and shock. It was one of the many works of art that demanded that women be allowed to explore their own sexuality free of judgement.

These three pieces, “Bellies,” “La Briosa,” and “La Cama” were by far some of my favorite pieces because they were able to provoke a reaction from me and from the other visitors. All together, these three pieces best represent the exhibition Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960-1985.


The Ladder of Hope Through the Eyes of an Immigrant

It’s easy to vocalize our artistic ideas but it’s even harder to make these ideas become a reality, no matter how large-scale they may be. Therefore, I crave to hear those stories of struggle, like that of Crescendo screenwriter/director Alonso Alvarez-Barreda-in which one is not driven by success or appearances but rather their own will to inspire others.

One might say that the American Dream is dead, but I’d like to believe that whether you are an immigrant or a struggling artist, life hands us opportunities to rise above. We are handed gifts and talents that people are waiting to witness and if by grace they do, our messages should be used in a way that ignites our fellow brothers and sisters in solidarity.

Thus, Alvarez-Barreda extends to us an invitation to cruise with him on his imaginative journey full of emotional highs and lows, realistic characters, and inspiring stories of hope that leave us pondering at the film’s close.

We are led into a world of cinematographic perspective that many directors don’t typically experiment with and we can’t help but feel that the characters were more than mere actors fulfilling their role.

Alvarez-Barreda’s characters come alive because his stories encapsulate the human experience and every feeling of sadness, joy, and pain that we have ever felt in our lifetime. Rather than leave us to dwell in the emotional turmoil that each character comes to face in his films, we realize that with every pain comes beauty, growth, and wisdom.

When looking at his work and the projects he has created one tends to overlook the taxing process required in writing and directing.

Alvarez-Barreda, as well as countless others, were not handed the opportunities on a silver platter, nor did they idly wait for the opportunities to arise. They were forced to create a new path for themselves, however scary it might have been.

Therefore, rather than take two film school rejections as an answer, Alvarez-Barreda decided to leave his hometown of Tampico, Mexico for Los Angeles, California. It was here where he would shadow his long-term mentor, Alejandro Monteverde, who later inspired various short films and projects.

Alvarez-Barreda recounts his experience and life’s unexpected pathway.

“I did try to pursue a film career in Mexico. I applied to two film schools at the time and I got rejected…I wasn’t accepted, I didn’t pass the test. It was clear to me that I had to do something. I had to try elsewhere. And life and circumstances led me to meet somebody who became my mentor and gave me the opportunity to come to the United States. After a film I did that was successful in the film festivals the opportunity arose to come to the United States which was [still] a dream of mine,” he said.

His dream of pursuing film in the United States eventually flourished into several years of dedication, persistence, and faith. For how can one pursue “passion projects” without practicing these very core qualities? One’s ideas would fall short, which is what makes a storyteller such as Alvarez-Barreda so inspiring. He actively took risks and with perpetual reminders that he had bills to pay and projects to pursue, he was put to the test and forced to survive.

“When I first got here I was basically living on people’s couches for a couple years, taking little jobs here and there. I came here with a tourist visa originally so I couldn’t apply for regular jobs…that was hard. I had to most of the time find investors from Mexico who were willing to support me or fund me for X amount of time…committing to them and turning in scripts for my projects that they were supporting so that was kind of like the key that helped me survive otherwise I don’t know what I would have done,” says Alvarez-Barreda.

As an immigrant, the constant flow of emotions that surround one become difficult to combat. What if your bills aren’t paid on time? What is happening at work and how long will I have my job for? What if they deport me? How much longer will I be able to work in California? And most importantly, who will catch me if I fall?

Everything can crumble in a matter of minutes, yet what still looms in the back of one’s mind is “I must continue on with my passion.”

While it may seem to one that is losing hope that their career might not follow in the direction that they wanted, Alvarez-Barreda remembers to tell himself that more than ever today minorities have access to opportunities in the field.

They are given opportunities to shine a light on their non-white perspective and experiences and for that now is a “great time to be Mexican.” It’s a time to use diversity to our advantage because “the industry is receiving a lot of heat for always hiring white Americans,” says Alvarez-Barreda.

With the rise of Mexican filmmakers such as Alejandro González Iñárritu, and with the ever more diversifying film industry, the American audience is ready for diversity in the theater and we are ready to experience stories told from the eyes of those from another part of the world.

As Alvarez-Barreda reinforces, our backgrounds and experiences are essential in shaping our individual mindsets.

“Being Mexican/Latino is my essence, it’s who I am. I feel like one, my experiences growing up and coming from a different country are perceived by a different brain-a different mentality, a different lens if you will. So that obviously gives you a different voice, something that’s new, a different perspective on the way you tell your stories. That’s always great because I have a different pool of ideas and emotions to tap into,” he says.

His intuitiveness allows him to understand human struggles and how they affect others like himself. It is these themes that he wishes to portray in his films.

Rather than fill our minds with negativity, it is essential that instead we expose ourselves to the messages of positivity and uplifting scenarios that encourage us to thrive in a world that is not always on our side.

We are an impactful and astonishing species and it’s that very idea that Alvarez-Barreda strives to lace through his films.

“[My] messages are useful. I like to tell stories that help people relate to one another, to be more human. That doesn’t necessarily mean that there is no tragedy or drama, life is exactly that, but it’s how you react to that. It’s how you choose to move forward. So a lot of the stuff I write is the harshness of life and difficult situations. I write characters that somehow find a way out of it through hope and perseverance and believing that there is goodness in people…that everything with worth in this life requires sacrifice,” says Alvarez Barreda.

For this reason, healthy messages are evermore necessary in a society where negativity and aggression often overpower. It’s a matter of what messages we invest our energy into and how we truly reflect on what those messages mean to us all.

Universal messages are more often than not the most personal messages and for that Alvarez-Barreda’s films are highly relatable and emotionally driven.

By communicating with the audience through his films he assures us that although taxing at times, our life circumstances are not always permanent. “It’s okay to go through things in life” he says. “But you have the opportunity to change the outcome of your life…the human spirit is probably the most amazing thing in the world…it is unbreakable. [My] stories celebrate the triumph of the human spirit,” says Alvarez-Barreda.

Alvarez-Barreda, despite viewing the world through a lens marked by struggle, maintains his resilience. As an artist, I find this both hopeful and comforting.

With our artistic mediums, regardless of how idealistic they may sound, we will continue to push forward with our passions because it is our messages that reach the hearts of others.

Forget the acclaim, the fortune, and the recognition because, as Alvarez-Barreda says, “what we define as an accomplishment is a rather loose concept.”

“How do you measure an accomplishment?” he asks. “Is it the one that you get told that people like the most? Or is it the one that has more technical quality? Film is a statement…we make films to share with somebody, to share with an audience. Through true story telling we can find commonalities and realize again that we are humans…that we are powerful, and that we have the chance to change our lives.”

Who are Film’s Addicts, Maids, and Gardeners?

While watching films and television, I’m often reminded of my youth and the days when I seriously considered acting as a career. It seemed as if drilling myself in classes and auditions would suffice but the fact that always loomed above me was my Colombian identity and my non-ambiguous look. My acting coach never failed to remind me that my acting destiny lied in rolls such as maids, newly arrived immigrants, or exotic female figures.

“It’s the reality,” he told me. “It’s what the public will expect of you right off the bat.”

However, I thoroughly question if this is a reality.

It may be an Anglo American’s perception of reality, but for millions of other Latinos like myself, it is simply a stereotype. A stereotype that continues to transcend onto the screens that lie before us when purchasing a ticket to that Oscar film or wasting several hours binge watching an enthralling television series. Thus, a rather intense feeling of discouragement and frustration falls upon me in paying an approximately $12.00 entrance fee when Latinos like us are continuously misrepresented.

It’s clear to me and the Latino community that not all Latinos are outlandishly comedic, law-breaking vagabonds, nor individuals that are destined to toil in the fields, tend to one’s housework, or sustain your next drug fix.

Rather than solely relying on my perspective in what I claim is the unfair truth within media stereotypes, I realize that there must be a larger representative voice within American society. It’s not solely Latinos that are conscious of our misrepresentation but rather other minorities that bear witness to the stereotypes that plague our screens. Being that minorities are subject to misrepresentation on the part of their respective communities be it Asian or African American, they are able to comprehend the over exaggerated portrayals of Latinos on screen.  “It is not necessarily holistic,” stated Emma Halanaka, a fourth year Biology major at University California Los Angeles. “I feel like I can relate to other races/minorities that we view negatively.”

It is undeniable that Latinos have made strides in achieving substantial roles in film and television such as Sofia Vergara from Modern Family and Benicio del Toro — who most recently stars in Sicario, thus revealing an increasing inclusivity of others who are not the ethnic majority in film/television. It shows that the media recognizes minority communities and are creating a space for us on a screen that was once dominantly Anglo centered. And while we acknowledge that we are more accepted today than years prior, Latino actors have yet to rise to the same caliber that we regard America’s star players.

This is not to say that Latinos are not as capable, but rather that Hollywood’s whiteness generates more material that revolves around “white life”, thus requiring white actors, and diminishing the opportunities available for talent worthy Latinos.

There are a plethora of Latinos that deserve to be applauded for the talented individuals that they are yet they are obligated to take a back seat and accept the limited spectrum of characters allotted to them. We are thus subject to watching actors that don’t necessarily reflect who we are in a way that we can relate to. It is true that there are Latinos that are criminals and Latinos that are our maids-like there are criminals and house workers who are White, Black, and Asian- but not all Latinos take on these rolls in society.

We are doctors and we are engineers. We are architects and we are artists. We contribute just as much to the beauty that makes our society go round as our Anglo neighbors. And it is who we are as well as our skills and talents that deserve to be put on blast for the public to see because it is conducive of true American society and culture.

We are not just one people but rather a body of individuals that have come from different walks of life, different backgrounds, and different cultures. We walk amongst the streets of Los Angeles all the way to the streets of Queens, and the streets of Miami. We contribute to the various new flavors that color our pallets and we offer something new and fruitful to the majority that might be unfamiliar with us. We are aware of our presence amongst the ethnic majority and it is this presence precisely that must be reflected before us on our screens because I can guarantee that we are here to stay and called to be heard. Yet, with the large population of Latinos that reside in the United States we have yet to see true stories of these individuals and substantial, accurate roles by way of the media.

“The entertainment industry is a business,” expressed Josh Zuniga, a fourth year sociology major.  “The entertainment industry cares less about art.”

The media does care less about art and more apparently about filling the theaters’ seats. The idea of making a quick dollar with little regard for accurate portrayals or quality storylines overrules a Latino’s reality. It is through these inaccurate portrayals that further propel stereotypes outside of the theater and reside in the minds of those who are ignorant to our truth.

We want to be able to enter a movie theater, watch a Latino actor, and think to ourselves, “Wow, what a great performance. I’m proud to be Latino and I’m proud that this individual reflects who we are in an accurate manner.”

We want to be comfortable walking out in public knowing that most of our American counterparts recognize the depth behind our cultures and peoples, and that we are beyond the stereotype that Hollywood tries to sell to us.

Who we are cannot be bought and if our representation can be, I want my $12.00 adult admission to go further than the seat in the theater. I want it to travel all the way to Colombia, to Cuba, and circle back around to Mexico. I want it to travel to the ears of our ancestors so that they may feel pride that we are being represented for the beauty and truth that we are. I can taste our time coming soon but the seed grows from honest hands, and it’s those honest hands that must plant it within the soil that is Hollywood.

Night of the Blaxican

Now that we got yo undivided attention ????:@murderhim #TheUnderworld #WHORUNTHEUNDERGROUND

A photo posted by AFRO INDIGENOUS ON TONGVA LAND (@elmemoblaxicano) on


The vinyl sits in a crate on a table next to the disc jockey’s LP player. Speakers on each side exert a forceful sound which reverberates through the swaying bodies wishing to remember—to dance like no other for this night.

This is the Night of the Blaxican.

Also named the “Kickback for the Ghetto,” the proclaimed party movement that occurs on select Friday and Saturday nights — with locations announced through Instagram — has had an exponential rising in both popularity and relevance for the generations of Raza wanting to experience a lost era spanning from the 60’s to the early 90’s. A time where our parents and their parents lived for themselves, this party was una noche de recuerdo in the City of Watts on Grape Street.

People roll in nonstop, dressed to impress, the style a mixture and in limbo between Pachuca/o and contemporary fashion.

These lost souls, la Raza, occupy this space filled with color. Its music is oldies, but goodies; it’s nostalgic of a time where Rucas y Vatos partied the night away—the Brown and Black energies coalesce for a sense of community, of a space for Chicana/o oldies memory.

Entering through an alley, the disco rainbow lights penetrating in all directions in ecstatic motions, the sounds of surface noise from spinning records, you get the warm feeling of home. In the Soul, Funk, and Doowop, from the G-Funk of Snoop Doggy Dog to “Lookout Weekend” by Debbie Deb, the music is the conduit to a transcendental sense of belonging—all of us Brown and Black folk belong in this space.

El Memo Blaxicano—a growing community activist of South Central, Los Angeles, self-identified Afro-Indigenous—is the creator and head of Night of the Blaxican. The life of the party, Memo is a colorful personality as he has a deep love for both his community and gente.

As a social media personality, the growth of this House Party has reached unprecedented numbers, giving fame to this local community organizer as he provides a space for anyone willing to dance. He is passionate for his gente, and he speaks of the streets in a fervor of spiritual connection to Brown and Black unity.

Night of the Blaxican, Memo’s cultivated project, voices the emotional attachments to the hoods some of us grew up in, but more the life some of us never lived and choose to remember—we consider the barrio life, the life of Vatos and Rucas, and we dig deep in community memory a life still here along side us.

And when will this house party movement stop? When will the DJs stop spinning 45s and long LPs? When will the bottles stop cracking, the smoke start clearing, and the sweat begin drying? Will the Night of the Blaxican ever stop? Will it continue forever, as we reminisce of the past for a daring present, for a future filled with oldies?

Who’s to say when this party movement will stop? All we can draw from it are the powerful energies hoping to create something from nothing, to provide an accessible space for gente of all ages and economic standings.

Night of the Blaxican is a testament to Brown and Black familia in Communities of Color, and it will remain in local history as a night to remember, always.


UCLA Students Keep Dia de los Muertos Tradition Alive

Bad weather conditions did not stop UCLA students from celebrating Dia de Los Muertos.

UCLA Professor Martha Ramirez-Operaza, in collaboration with UCLA’s Chicana and Chicano Studies students, organized a Dia de Los Muertos event that took place this past Sunday, October 30th, at the Social and Public Art Resource Center historic headquarters in Venice Beach, California.

“Dia de Los Muertos” is a festive holiday celebrated in Mexico and in various parts of the United States where there is a strong sense of Mexican heritage. For many, November second is often viewed as a day of celebrating–rather than mourning–the dearly departed. It is believed that on this day the spirits of the ancestors will visit the altars and enjoy the ofrendas, which consist of food and other objects with sentimental value that they enjoyed during their lifetime.

More than ten colorful altars representing different regions of Mexico surrounded the Social and Public Art Resource Center. Pictures of the departed, sugar skulls, papel picado and flores de cempasuchil (Mexican Marigold) were some of the various ornamental elements used to decorate the altars.

The event began with a ceremony traditionally carried out to invoke the spirits to join the celebration followed by ten minute presentations by UCLA students at the altars, where they explained the significance of Dia de Los Muertos and other special traditions.

The attendees were able to enjoy the traditional pan de muerto, champurrado, and ponche, among other typical Mexican dishes.

For many, Dia de Los Muertos highlights the idea of community. Hector Sanchez-Perez, a fifth-year Biology student at UCLA, cherishes the strong sense of community that such a significant celebration brings, which is strongly encouraged by Professor Ramirez-Operanza. “[Professor Ramirez-Operanza has] is really driving home the theme of the community.” Professor Ramirez-Operanza is often called “temachtiani,” which according to Sanchez-Perez, means “teacher of great things”—a testament to the respect and admiration she has garnered from her students and the wider UCLA community.

Similarly, Sra. Maria Conde, a participant of the event, believes that community is very important. “Visitar a los amigos que tienen sus ofrendas puestas, poner la mia y visitarnos unos con otros es mi tradición favorita,” Sra. Conde said.


Individuals of all ages, who commemorate the spirits, have traditions that make this day even more special. Some people like setting up the altar and ofrendas, others making sugar skulls, or simply the idea of honoring their loved ones.

For third grade  Broadway Elementary student Karla Gonzalez and fourth-year UCLA student Veronica Martinez, the experience of setting up an altar is at the top of their favorite Dia de los Muertos traditions. “The best thing about making an altar is honoring the person that has passed away and most importantly, making this event be about the celebration of life, and having a happy connotation to death rather than the darkness [and] sadness typically associated with death, ” said Martinez.

“My favorite tradition of Dia de Los Muertos is when you make the altar, because I like setting up pictures of people who passed away and setting up the food,” said Gonzalez.

In many cultures, the skull represents a sign of death. For Dia de los Muertos, this holiday symbol can turn into a fun and creative activity. For Zac Reyes, a second-year political science major at UCLA, face painting of the half-skull continues to be his favorite tradition.

“[The half-skull] is supposed to show the quick transition between life and death,” said Reyes.

Likewise, Rosa Contreras, a second-year student at UCLA, enjoys the sugar skull and face painting aspect of the festivities because she “really likes being creative.”

UCLA educators and students understand the importance of maintaining tradition alive. By conducting the celebration of Dia de los Muertos every year, they continue to preserve the memory of their beloved while informing others about the beautiful customs of this significant day.

Dia de los Muertos at Hollywood Forever

On Saturday October 29, many gathered at Hollywood Forever Cemetery to celebrate its 17th annual Día de los Muertos festival.

Dia de los Muertos originates from indigenous cultures and continues to be practiced today within families and across communities. It is a day in which both death and life are simultaneously celebrated, exhibited perfectly with the setting and celebrations that took place at the venue.

Hollywood Forever is the only cemetery that allows for a Día de los Muertos festival to occur on its grounds. This yearly festival began as a way to celebrate the holiday while bringing communities together. Modern visuals and traditional altars created by the Latina/o community bring tradition and the contemporary together.

This year’s theme, “El Arbol de la Vida,” filled the venue with excitement and vitality.

The day began at noon with altar exhibits, folklorico, Aztec dances and rituals, arts and crafts, and an abundance of musical performances. The event was filled with a multitude of people dressed in their very best costumes and Catrina attire to celebrate, remember, admire and enjoy Día de los Muertos, their ancestors, and loved ones.

As people entered the event, they were greeted by a multitude of food, flowers and other excited patrons. Alongside the cempazuchitl filled pathways were altars created in remembrance of family members, friends, and poets.

Among the musical performances was a special tribute to the late singer, Jenni Rivera. The musical tribute to Jenni Rivera created anticipation among the crowd as the stage was closed off from the public’s view to prepare for the surprise. The crowd waited anxiously as the screen revealed a hologram of the singer performing “Cuando muera una dama.” Fans revelled in surprise as they Jenni Rivera’s voice.

As the night continued, the beautiful Tree of Life performance by Long Red Feather narrated traditions of Dia de los Muertos. The performance depicted Aztec mythology of the underworld and life through dance.

Mexican singer Julieta Venegas arrived to an excited crowd. The singer, known for her bold accordion, took the stage alongside her band. The set opened up with “Esperaba,” a song off their latest album Algo Sucede. Julieta Venegas’ contagious charisma and dance moves moved through the crowd. The singer’s setlist consisted of other new songs, among them “Ese Camino” and “Buenas Noches, Desolacion.” Old favorites such as “Limón y Sal,” “Eres para Mí,” and “Amores Platónicos” were also performed. Julieta Venegas’ funky folk tunes resonated throughout the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

As the singer and musicians walked away at the end of their set, the crowd chanted in unison for an encore. After a couple of minutes filled with praises and chants, the musicians appeared on stage for a final song. The singer finished off her set in an upbeat tone with a fan favorite, “Andar Conmigo,” a single off of her Grammy nominated album, Si. All across, fans joined in singing along with the artist.

After the last verses were sung, Julieta Venegas and her band gathered at center stage to take a final bow marking the end of Hollywood Forever’s musically infused Día de los Muertos festival.

On The Hill: Dia de los Muertos

Hand crafted paper mache flowers, yummy sugar skulls, and numerous altars of deceased celebrities adorned Covel Grand Horizon on The Hill Sunday, October 30th.

The event was in celebration of Dia de los Muertos. Organized by the Chicano/a residential floor, they showcased student artwork and hosted live entertainment with their overall theme of Day of the Dead.

According to Catholic beliefs, Dia de los Muertos kicks off the month of November that is dedicated to the souls of purgatory where believers pray for their dead.

Dia de los Muertos is influenced by Mexican indigenous culture and Spanish Catholicism. The holiday is observed on November 2nd and it provides an opportunity for family and friends to honor and commemorate their deceased loved ones.

The holiday is not one marked by sadness but is filled with joy as people remember their loved ones with music and food. Families often remember their dead by setting up altars with offerings of the dead’s favorite objects. People celebrate by making sugar skulls and decorating graves with colorful flowers and by spending time with their deceased loved ones.

Despite being held early, the Dia de los Muertos on event on the Hill, was a complete success. Attendees had the option of making sugar skulls, paper-mache flowers, or just sitting down and enjoying pan de muerto.

There were also altars of deceased celebrities, such as singer Selena Quintanilla-Perez and actor Cantinflas, and paintings related to el Dia de los Muertos for people to admire.

Additionally, there was was a Day of the Dead themed photo booth for people to have their pictures taken. This gave many the opportunity to model the festive face paint offered at the event.

After an hour, UCLA’s Grupo Folklorico took the stage and performed for 30 minutes. They danced beautifully to traditional Mexican songs.

Mariachi de Uclatlan followed Grupo Folklorico. They filled the room with their vibrant music and wooed the audience.

Among the UCLA students attending the event was second year biology major Eveline Garcia. She said her favorite part of the event was watching the performances because the dance performances “depict how the celebration itself brings an uplifting mood rather than a sad mourning one.”

The event created a sense of community on the Hill and welcomed students to celebrate their loved ones while learning about Dia de los Muertos.