Woodland Community, UC Davis Students Celebrate Día de los Muertos Together

Telpochkalli dance group performs at TANA's Dia de los Muertos 2017

Telpochkalli dancers honor current and past lives in ceremony

Nov. 9, 2017 — As the scent of sage and smoke filled the small room, Maria Sin looked out to the audience of Woodland community members and UC Davis students, smiled serenely and continued to hold the burning stick of sage above her head.

Sin is a Native American woman whose great-great-grandfather was the chief of the Klikitat tribe. She performed a traditional smudging ritual to bless the space and kick off the annual Día de los Muertos celebration hosted by the UC Davis College of Letters and Science’s Taller Arte del Nuevo Amanecer (TANA).

TANA is a collaboration between the Department of Chicana/o Studies and the Woodland community. TANA’s small art studio and exhibit space is home to art programs that engage both UC Davis students and the greater community of Woodland, particularly its youth.

"It's important to have spaces where we can provide those resources to have these kinds of celebrations that reflect the community,” said Drucella Miranda, TANA’s manager and the event’s organizer.

And on Nov. 4, TANA did just that: the small center was filled with families, children and students, all celebrating Día de los Muertos, a Mexican holiday that celebrates and honors the dead.

“People are kept alive through memories,” said Sin, as she looked to the community-made altars that stood behind her.

Each altar was created by a Woodland community member to honor family, friends and loved ones – including pets – who passed away. Photographs, candles, flowers, sugar skulls and other items were placed on altars lined up against the entire back wall of the center, creating a colorful backdrop for the evening’s performances.

After Sin offered hugs to audience members and completed the blessing, the Sacramento-based dance group Telpochkalli performed a series of dances originating from Mexico City. The group donned Native American headdress and traditional dress, and explained that dance is a “form of prayer.” The movements and footwork are all purposeful and meant to honor and give thanks for current and past lives.

Following Telpochkalli, a group of Woodland High School students performed ballet folklórico, a traditional Mexican dance. Even from the back of the room, the performance could not be missed, as the girls spun and lifted their long, brightly colored skirts to the music.

The final performances of the night combined spoken word and improvisation. Ike Torres and his friends are Sacramento-based spoken-word poets. Their performances touched on race and culture and the need for self-expression. The crowd quieted as Torres finished his final poem. “Remember this event,” he said, “and keep it in your heart.”

At the end of the night, the space was still buzzing with chatter and laughter. Families and students continued to eat and talk to each other, and everyone was encouraged to explore the space and appreciate the artwork and altars. Some of the art created by UC Davis students and Woodland community members was also sold that night.

“I'm really, really happy,” Miranda said. “The altars turned out great, the space came together, and everyone's having a good time. To me, that's worthwhile."

Story by Jeanette Yue, feature writing intern and double major in communication and psychology, with minors in sociology and writing.
Photo by Beijo Lee, video/photography intern, majoring in cinema and digital media with minors in communication and writing.

Read more about how the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at UC Davis held a special Día de los Muertos celebration on the campus in memory of Spanish lecturer Francisco X. Alarcón and the victims of the natural disasters in Mexico and Puerto Rico.