Olga Gomez's cousin Horacio Medina died three years ago at the age of 20 in a car accident. She thinks about him often, and wants him to know that.
"I wanted to do something to remember him," said Gomez, 19. "Make him be a part of everything that's going on."
She brought his picture to place on an altar built Thursday by Western Nevada Community College's Latino Students Club in honor of Day of the Dead - or Dia de los Muertos - today.
"It's our tradition, and a day to celebrate together in Mexico," Gomez explained.
According to Mexican tradition, Dia de los Muertos is a day in which the living and dead commune. People typically observe the holiday, which coincides with All Souls Day, by visiting cemeteries and building personal altars for their loved ones, piling them with offerings - or ofrendas - usually including their favorite food and drink as well as photos and other memorabilia.
Angel Luna, visiting art professor at Arizona Western College, helped the students from the Latino club erect the altar to their loved ones in the lobby of the Bristlecone Building.
It coincides with Luna's exhibit "Milagros y Muerte (Miracles and Death)" on display in the adjacent gallery.
Throughout the month, students and other visitors can add to the Dia de los Muertos display by coloring illustrations and writing personal messages on them to hang around the altar.
Erik Llamas, 19, president of the Latino club, said it's a good way to share cultures with the rest of the school.
"They can learn about us and tell us about their customs," he said. "It's good for them to know how we feel about it."
Luna also traced the history of Dia de los Muertos, through historic works of art up to modern-day, cross cultural celebrations.
He said images of skeletons playing the guitar, dancing or taking a shower are often used to poke fun at death. And because there are no lips left on the face, he said, the image of the skull always appears to be smiling.
"Death is often doing funny things," he said. "Because death is going to happen to all of us. Rather than be afraid of it, celebrate it. We're all going to become a smiling skull."
Gomez brought a cup of Ramen noodles as an ofrenda to her cousin.
"He loved it," she said.
Fabiola Castillo, 18, said she believes the ofrendas lure the dead back.
"I think they do come," she said. "We call them over with the stuff we bring."
But it's not the spooky hauntings of Halloween, she said.
"I don't think it's creepy," she said. "I think it's beautiful."
Dia de los Muertos at Nevada State Museum
Nevada State Museum will celebrate Dia de los Muertos 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Nov. 10.
The family celebration of life through death will include various aspects in the museum, 600 N. Carson St.
This eighth annual museum observance of Dia de los Muertos will feature ofrendas, videos, crafts, songs, dance and special exhibits.
Jesse Ortiz will present aspects of Latino cultural heritage through dance in two 45-minute Aztec performances, the first at 1 p.m. and the second two hours later.
Admission is $8 for adults, but museum members and children 17 and younger are admitted without charge.