Mini-altars, big celebration

By By Ana Breton

By Ana Breton

It was simple.

A small, white piece of paper folded like a triangular stand made at the last minute-besides the three red paper flowers taped on it, it was hardly decorated.

In the middle, the paper sign read, “En memoria del abuelito de Omar, que se murio anteayer en Mexico.”

Below, the English translation: “In memory of Omar’s grandpa who died (the) day before yesterday in Mexico.”

This sign of remembrance was placed in the Union lobby with about 50 other homemade mini altars created by first graders at Jackson Elementary School.

The altars were made in commemoration of the “Dia de los Muertos,” for which the students celebrated the lives of those who have died by making altars with food, pictures and other mementos.

The Day of the Dead is mainly celebrated in Latin America and occurs Nov. 1 and 2.

Since his grandfather died on Oct. 31, however, 5-year-old Omar Santiago was forced to make a simple, last minute altar.

Making the altar was a way to not only connect with his grandfather, who died in Mexico, but also to help Omar learn about his own culture, said Elida Santiago, Omar’s mother.

“It’s important for him to remember his hometown traditions,” she said.

Elida Santiago moved to the United States from Jalisco, Mexico, 10 years ago.

When she was living in Jalisco, a state located on the west coast of Mexico, Elida Santiago celebrated the Day of the Dead by putting her deceased family’s favorite foods on their graves.

This year, besides helping Omar make his grandfather’s altar, Elida Santiago had a chance to teach her son about life and death.

“I taught him that it’s like a birthday for the dead,” she said.

Theresa Martinez, associate dean in the sociology department, said it is important for children to be taught that death is just another part of life.

“A lot of kids hear about death from the news, but it’s almost disrespectful to ignore that they see it or to believe that they don’t understand it,” she said.

The ways other cultures celebrate death is just as important, Martinez said.

This year’s altars were made as a school project by more than 100 of the dual immersion Spanish/English students at Jackson Elementary School.

The students were brought to the U to learn the history of the holiday and to see their mini-altars on display.

Several U students also helped the elementary students as part of Adelante, a partnership program with the elementary school and the U’s college of education.

Shontol Torres Burkhalter, a volunteer with Adelante, said it was important for the kids to learn their own culture because Latino/a history is not taught at the school, which has an 80 percent Hispanic student body.

“It’s not only a dual immersion for the language, but also the culture,” said Burkhalter, junior in health promotion education.

The altars will be on display in the Union until Nov. 3.

Mike Terry

Maria Martinez, coordinator of the Adelante program, displays student Tyler King’s mini-altar Thursday that he helped make in memory of a classmate who moved away.

Mike Terry

Jackson Elementary School students Arely Navarro, Erika Banda and Chris Navanick look at mini-altars in the Union lobby made by their classmates and U students for the Dia de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead, a day when relatives can remember and honor those who have passed on.