Children’s faces, painted like skulls. The warm, familiar aroma of authentic Mexican food. An altar exploding with vibrant colors, created with one intention: to honor the dead.
This was Cal Hills last Friday, November 2, where people came out in celebration of Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead.
Although many people think of the Day of the Dead as a kind of Mexican Halloween, it isn’t even in the same ballpark. It comes in at around the same time as Halloween, which probably plays a large part in the confusion, but Dia de los Muertos is truly a time of honoring deceased loved ones, while also celebrating the powerful forces of life and death.
“It’s a cultural celebration that occurs the world over,” said Gerry Lopez, an Early Childhood Development Coordinator for the Milpitas Unified School District (MUSD). “A lot of Asian cultures do something like this. And like here, the Latinos do it…Some call it a religious event, but it’s not. It’s more of a traditional cultural event; we memorialize our dead, which means we commemorate them.”
Lopez motioned toward a large altar at the top of a flight of steps, which he noted symbolized a journey to the afterlife. In front of the altar was a station, where people could stop by to answer questions on sheets of paper about who they wanted to remember, what memories they had of them, and what they’d learned from them. The papers were then taken and hung up behind the altar.
“We don’t just want to eat, do the pinata, have food, do face-painting and flower-cutting; we want them to see this as a valuable holiday,” said Lopez. “Where we remember those who came before us and all the things they taught us.”
Parents from all different schools — Randall, Weller, Spangler, Milpitas High, and Cal Hills — helped to put together the first-ever Dia de los Muertos event. And they certainly don’t intend for this to be the last.
The group is called Padres Unidos (Parents United). It formed around four years ago, bringing Hispanic parents in the district together to volunteer and plan various cultural events. Parents in the group credit Norma Morales, MUSD’s Community Latino Liaison, for starting it up.
“At first, they started meeting and doing things like, having workshops. Two years ago, I became the Parent Engagement Coordinator. And I said rather than having workshops, let’s have these great cultural celebrations,” said Lopez.
This past February, they put on the Tamale Festival, which proved a huge hit.
And in March of 2019, they hope to keep the celebration going by hosting a multicultural festival to engage Milpitas’ diverse community.
“I feel very motivated, planning events like this,” said one of the parents from Padres Unidos, gazing out at those celebrating around her. “I feel like the school district really cares about us and our culture.”