Social justice altars address inequality for Día de Los Muertos


Photo by Carrollyne Aasen-Reporter

The Latin American Student Organization has an altar in the Samuelson Chapel for students to contribute items to.

Carrollyne Aasen, Reporter

To celebrate Día de los Muertos, the Sarah W. Heath Center for Equality and Justice and the Center of Cultural Engagement and Inclusion at California Lutheran University organized social justice altars created by the Black Student Union, the Latin American Student Organization and various student groups at Cal Lutheran. These altars are in the Student Union until Nov. 4.

“They are not just diminished to what the news has set up,” said junior Leroy Stoneham, secretary of BSU in a Zoom interview. “This is still a human being that you are seeing on this altar who has a mother, who has a father, who has a family.”

Director of the CEJ Dr. Cynthia Duarte said in a Zoom interview Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a cultural tradition in Mexico and is usually personal within families or local churches to honor and celebrate their loved ones who have passed. Additionally, she said she created this Día de los Muertos celebration at Cal Lutheran based on the public ritual of Día de los Muertos and social justice altars in Boyle Heights, Los Angeles.

“This is a hands-on way that students can be actively involved in a cultural tradition, but as well as explore an issue of inequality that exists in the United States,” Duarte said.

Sophomore Millennia Gamez, secretary of LASO said in a Zoom interview that in addition to LASO’s altar in Samuelson Chapel, the club also put an altar in the Student Union. Gamez said this altar celebrates and honors those who have passed in ICE detention centers and those who are still there. 

“There are a lot of people in there being detained and without any voice, so even in our small school, we can still do something for them,” Gamez said. 

Stoneham said the BSU created a social justice altar to honor those who were victims of gun violence.

“We’re reminding the world that like just because this case has moved on, doesn’t mean we have forgotten that this person we know was killed or anything that has happened,” Stoneham said.

He said that these altars create a bridge of connection because there can be a commonality in the social justice issues throughout different communities.

“They are windows into seeing the issues that are happening in our world that need to be addressed, and I think the more people learn about them, the more they can help and learn,” Stoneham said.

In addition to the altars in Samuelson Chapel and the Student Union, there is also an altar created by the Latinx Employee Group in Pearson Library.

Librarian, Head of Undergraduate Instruction and Outreach Yvonne Wilber said, “We are allowing them to gift us with their culture and their presence and that is important for us to remember because we live in a reciprocity where we learn and grow from our interactions with one another.”