Every November for the past decade, Mira Loma has celebrated Día de los Muertos, a two-day festival celebrating the relationship between life and death. The celebration, which dates back to centuries ago in Mexico, is a valued aspect of Mira Loma’s culture.
Día de los Muertos’s festivities aim to reunite the living with their deceased family members through celebration, which is unlike any other event that involves honoring departed loved ones.
To honor passed family members, families prepare altars, also known as ofrendas, decorated with photos, favorite foods, beverages, marigolds, and other gifts. These offerings are believed to prompt or allow departed spirits to return from the land of the dead to their family. In addition to ofrendas and vibrant marigolds, skulls, known as cavaleras in Spanish, also play an integral role in Day of the Dead celebrations. In most cases, skulls display wide smiles and are portrayed in a way that laughs at death itself.
Día de los Muertos was first introduced to Mira Loma by Señora Margarita Sanders, a Spanish teacher on campus. The tradition started out as a small exhibit in her room and rapidly expanded to a festival held in the library. It wasn’t long before even the library couldn’t fit the festival, so the event began to take place in Mira Loma’s large cafeteria. Around this time, after seeing the spirit that was brought to campus because of the celebration, Señora Sanders became determined to ensure the events’ continuation.
Señora Sanders added a Día de los Muertos unit to her classes to help students comprehend the unique and gratifying perspectives of the event. The perspective contradicts the anglocentric ideology of mourning the deceased in its message, and thus promotes celebrating the cycle of life and death. Logan Reilly, a student, shares, “Oftentimes we think about our loved ones with regret and sorrow, but that’s not what Día de los Muertos is about, and that’s what I think makes it so great.”
“This holiday is meant to be fun and joyful,” Reilly continued.
Sanders herself shares, “I remember going to the cemetery as a child, not knowing exactly why we cleaned or painted our ancestral tombs. To me, it was more of a family gathering that brought a community together with song and dance to honor our loved ones. My nana would have us recite poetry or sing and dance for our family. Little did I know that this was a way to learn to cope with the unexpected deaths of the members in my family, my community, and extended world.”
The enormous growth of the event escalated beyond Sanders’ control, to the point where she couldn’t manage the event alone. With the continuous efforts of the Visual and Performing Arts, English, and Spanish departments, Sanders worked to introduce and inform the students about the history and importance of the festival. She also enlisted the assistance of students from Latinos Unidos and the Spanish Honors Society to run the event. Student volunteers help lead the celebration and contribute activities, artworks, and shows as well.
With the significant growth of the Latin American festival, Día de los Muertos even extended its influence to non-Latinx students. Another student, explained, “I am not a part of Latino culture, but I can learn to involve myself in these culturally enriched traditions and celebrations. I always [look] forward to learning about such [an] artistically expressive holiday and I am fascinated by these celebrations and values involving the remembrance of the dead.”
Being one of the state’s most diverse schools, Mira Loma’s annual celebration of the festival has spurred cross-cultural interaction between students and other communities. The vibrant celebrations help bridge the gap between students from different backgrounds by drawing them into the traditions. Students from different cultural backgrounds, regardless of cultural identity, get their faces painted, host activities, participate in celebrations, and watch cafeteria performances.
The honored tradition is far from homogenous, though. Several students employ different methods of commemorating the celebration. Common choices include, but are not limited to creating an altar, making a feast, playing music, and decorating ofrendas.
In the previous school year, Día de los Muertos was quite different. Despite all the hurdles and limitations, Mira Loma’s community honored the tradition in the safest manner possible. Some students participated in a drive-thru that taught about the festival’s traditions. Several others participated from home by creating artworks, sharing pictures, leading zoom presentations, and more. Mira Loma chose to celebrate the event through various websites and social media platforms as well.
This year, as the world starts to go back to normal, Mira Loma’s regular and vibrant celebrations are back with a few modifications.
The Spanish Honors Society treasurer, Annmarie Jessil, shares, “unlike previous year[s], we will be having the event outdoors to maintain social distance.”
Mira Loma will be offering two cultural experiences, the Guided Tour and the Self-Discovery Experience. There are also several new additions to the dance and musical performances. Alongside Mira Loma’s traditional Baile Folklorico and Baile Mixto Group, this year there will be a Modern Tango prepared for the event. Much credit is to be given to the club officers of the Spanish Honors Society and Latinos Unidos as well as choreographers Kasandra Camacho, Marisa Sanders, Dominick Bonilla, and José Herrera. In addition, this year’s celebration presents a new group of musicians and singers who will be sharing their talent with the community.
Additionally, the Spanish Honor Society will be hosting a walk-through event that spans from the D Wing to the F building. Viewers will be able to visit F3 to observe a presentation on the history of Día de los Muertos and its significance, which will be presented by various officers and members. Neha Suri, the club vice president, shares, “They will then be guided to the D wing for mariachi performances, ofrendas, sugar skull decorating, and a bunch else. The specifics will be told by the tour guides, who can be distinguished by their outfits, specifically their masks, on the day of the event.” The National Art Honors Society, for example, will be administering a station teaching people how to make Mexican tin art (hojalata).
This year, for the first time, Mira Loma will be displaying art from Dr. Frost’s History of America class as well. The Spanish Honor Society and Latinos Unidos also ensure that there will be projects from the various Spanish classes dedicated to the impact and the legacy of the Hispanic heritage in the history of California.
Unfortunately, due to the devastating past two years, entire communities are close to being completely deprived of celebrating. The exceptional dedication of all those involved in this event is just proof of the holiday’s importance and the resilience of the spirit that stems from the event. Señora Sanders says, “I hope that when I retire from teaching at Mira Loma, Día de los Muertos will still be celebrated.”
The robust drive of Mira Loma students and staff to honor this tradition, even when the world seems to be upside down, provides us with strong reassurance that the festival is here to stay.