October 31, 2008
By Pablo Jaime Sáinz
When it was time to decide what activity she wanted to do in order to meet the senior project requirement at Clairemont High School, Dayeli Diaz said she chose the Dia de los Muertos exhibition because it was a cultural event.
“I wanted to take the opportunity to emphasize and promote my Mexican culture,” Diaz said. “It’s not only about getting the credits in order to graduate. It goes beyond a simple requirement and it takes a cultural meaning for me.”
Besides Diaz, five other seniors of Mexican origin at Clairemont decided to focus their required senior project on Dia de los Muertos. This is the first time that the school encouraged students to select the holiday as an opportunity to complete their community service requirement, which includes documenting their experience of putting together an event and also writing a reflective essay.
“I wanted other students that have never heard of Dia de los Muertos to learn about our traditions and culture,” said Jacqueline Hernandez, another senior that participated in organizing the exhibition.
Spanish teacher Ramón Torres has organized the Dia de los Muertos exhibition at Clairemont High School for 21 years. In addition to having all of his Spanish classes participate in the event, he said he gets the whole school involved with the project. He invites all teachers and staff to bring their students to his classroom and enjoy the Calacas as well as the food.
“It has become a community event at Clairemont High,” he said.
For Clairemont vice-principal, William Laine, it’s important that the school has a requirement like the senior exhibition project because it not only encourages students to learn about their own cultures, but it gives them skills they will need after graduating from high school.
“It’s a good aspect of our school,” he said while having a taste of all the Dia de los Muertos food that students brought to Torres’s classroom a recent morning. “This helps students become productive members of society. Besides, we all enjoy events like these very much.”
The exhibition is placed in the back of Torres’s classroom. It includes all sorts of calacas and Dia de los Muertos items that he has been accumulating for the past 20 years. On the altar, Latino and other American and Mexican heroes, such as Cesar E. Chavez, are paid tribute.
Torres is also a senior advisor, mentoring seniors and helping meet the requirements they need in order to graduate. This year, he required that the six seniors participating in the Dia de los Muertos exhibition contact local media outlets to cover the event so that the community-at-large could learn more about the traditional holiday.
As one of her tasks in the project, Diaz contacted several local newspapers and television stations to come and cover the Dia de los Muertos exhibition at Clairemont High.
Torres said La Prensa San Diego is the first media in 20 years that took the time to celebrate this important holiday and cultural event at the school.
And at a school where the majority of the student body is of Latino origin, it’s important to promote Mexican culture and its traditions, something that in the past hasn’t been fully explored on campus, said Karina Campos, a Spanish teacher and MEChA advisor who was visiting the exhibition this week.
“It gives students pride to be sharing their culture with non-Latino students,” she said. “It’s important to promote multi-culturalism in a school that’s more than 50 percent Latino.”
The Dia de los Muertos exhibition, that will remain open through November 8 at Clairemont High School, has been an enriching experience for the group of six seniors participating this year.
“It has helped me develop my language skills as well as to learn to work with others as a group,” said student Luz Robles. “It has made me a more responsible person.”