In 2016 Dr. Vanessa Rodriguez de la Vega and Professor Luis Lombilla hosted the first Missouri State University (MSU) Day of the Dead festival in the Siceluff Library. They intended it to be a simple event that exposed students to a longstanding tradition in Hispanic culture. They had no idea this small demonstration would blossom into an event that attracts individuals from all over the Springfield area and beyond.
Rodriguez de la Vega serves as the event coordinator and has taught at MSU since 2014. During her own graduate studies in Texas, she remembered participating in Day of the Dead celebrations herself and wanted to honor those traditions here at MSU.
“This is a wonderful way of showcasing Hispanic tradition.” —Dr. Vanessa Rodriguez de la Vega
To her surprise, the festival began attracting attention from community members.
“Some of the Hispanic people from the community showed up with traditional garb and face paint to partake in the celebration,” said Rodriguez de la Vega.
The following year brought an even bigger crowd. In 2018, the event moved to a larger space in the Plaster Student Union to accommodate the large turnout.
By 2019, an estimated 900 attendees gathered from the region. Schools from areas like Branson and Camdenton traveled to join in the festivities.
MSU students and faculty have volunteered at the festival, assisting with activities like poetry readings and supervising activity stations. Even local groups, like Grupo Latinoamericano, have gotten involved.
Participants have enjoyed “pan de muerto,” a traditional sweet bread; crafting sugar skulls; and learning about “cempazuchitl” or marigolds. They’ve also had the opportunity to design their own miniature altars to honor their deceased loved ones.
Rodriguez de la Vega is excited for this year’s festival. She hopes this event will expose people to the rich history of the Day of the Dead and that crowds will enjoy traditional performances, sample cuisine, and participate in crafts.
The 2022 Day of the Dead Festival will take place Thursday, November 3, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the PSU Ballroom. To learn more about the event, visit the Facebook page.