ELAC students honor dead with altars at VPAM

blessing dance—Aztec dance group, Circulo Ajolote bless the exhibit with a traditional dance at the VPAM. CN/ Luis Castilla

By Luis Castilla

The East Los Angeles College Chicana/o Studies Department honored the lives of distinguished Latinos with altars for the 16th Annual Día de Los Muertos Altar Exhibit in the Vincent Price Art Museum.

The Day of the Dead celebrates the lives of the dead and insures that the Mexican tradition is passed down to the next generation.

 Students enrolled in Chicano Studies 54 created altars for Lupe Ontiveros, Lalo Guerrero, Selena Quintanilla, Jose Montoya, Gilbert “Magu” Lujan, Carlos Almaraz, Annette Cardona, Anthony Quinn and Ritchie Valens.

Angelita Rovero, Chicano Studies professor, said she worked with her Saturday class on the altars for 10 weeks prior to the exhibit’s opening.

“Día de Los Muertos is really a celebration of life, not of death,” Rovero said. “We try to honor legends in Chicano history. These are people who have made marks in Chicano culture itself.”

The altars were blessed by Circulo Ajolote, a traditional Aztec dance group.

Normally, altars are offerings to the dead. These altars are adorned with things the dead enjoyed in life. Each altar in the exhibit is unique. Every detail down to the colors used, are specific to the person the altar is for.

Rovero said most things on the altar are hand-made by the students. “Día de Los Muertos has become very commercialized, and it’s very sad,” Rovero said. 

“These students put a lot of effort and hard work into their altars.”

Anthony Quinn’s altar, created by Natalie Hernandez, Emily Valdez, Britney Fabian and Melissa Avila, incorporates a shoe-shining kit, alluding to the fact that he used to work as a shoe-shiner.

“At the end, you get an appreciation for the artist,” Avila said.

Family members of those honored in the exhibit worked with the students to complete the altars and visited the exhibit during its opening reception Saturday.

remembering the dead—Kate Alvara, Itzel Chavez, Dora Gomez and Maribel Toro worked with Richard Ontiveros, son of Lupe Ontiveros, to create her altar. CN/ Luis Castilla

Elias Ontiveros, son of Lupe Ontiveros, has made an appearance at the exhibit every year his mother is honored with an altar. “I come every year so that I can stay connected and so that the students can connect with me,” Ontiveros said. “My mother always lent her time to children.”

Dora Gomez, who worked on Lupe Ontiveros’ altar, said Elias Ontiveros helped them with their altar by providing information about some of the photographs used. “It was very meaningful for us to be able to keep in contact with him,” Gomez said.

Naiche Lujan and Risa Lujan, son and daughter of Gilbert “Magu” Lujan also visited their fathers altar. 

“It’s so special to see his story and his life inspire new generations,” Naiche Lujan said. “They (the students) captured a lot of motifs of his life.”

Naiche Lujan said he has visited the exhibit every year, except for last year, when the exhibit was held in Pierce College.

“I think it’s really important that we’re still involved and connected with the community,” Naiche Lujan said. “There’s a huge benefit to being able to see his work.”

Francisco Rodriguez, chancellor of the Los Angeles Community College District, said he was proud of the work the students did. 

“Es un orgullo (it’s something to be proud of),” Rodriguez said. 

“Día de Los Muertos is an extension, a manifestation of our culture, and we need to continue that tradition. The fact that we have this exhibit here at ELAC is perfect,”

The Día de Los Muertos Altar Exhibit is free to the public and will be on display in VPAM’s Community Gallery until Dec. 6.

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