When Park Center Senior High School (PCSH) scholars in a Spanish Heritage class had the option to host a Dia de los Muertos event to share this cultural tradition with their school community, they jumped at the chance, putting on a two-day event Nov. 1 and 2 that other classes could visit.
Students from the class or with a personal connection to Spanish heritage volunteered at the exhibit. The student-planned and student-run event featured activities such as frame decorating, paper flower making, card writing, masks, hand painting, a photo booth and Hispanic snacks/candy.
The school’s popular Spanish Heritage classes are designed for students who speak Spanish in their homes. Teacher Valerie Neri said it functions more like a language arts class than a class to learn the language, with a focus on reading, writing, ideas and culture. She said participation ranges from first generation students who are just learning English, to second generation students and those whose dominant language is English.
“I learn so much about the culture from these students,” Neri said, adding that the Dia de los Muertos event is not mandatory for them to put on; rather, they chose to take on the project to share this part of their culture with the wider PCSH community.
“It’s fun to watch them coalesce as a group and get better at delegating, being independent, making decisions, and seeing a problem and fixing it,” Neri said. “It’s a great project to help them realize that they have power and a voice.”
PCSH junior Giselle Gonzalez Martinez headed up the event’s planning committee. She said she has taken on leadership roles in the past and wanted to help her class and be a leader that allowed everyone to have a say in the process.
She said lining up all the small details and coordinating everyone were the most challenging parts of putting on the two-day event.
“Dia de los Muertos is not like Halloween, and it’s not like a funeral,” she said. “It’s a celebration and something you do to honor people who have passed. It has color; it’s not dark and gloomy.”