jervin
Wednesday 21st , 2015
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Kidspace, like many public institutions in the Southwestern United States, will be acknowledging two holidays as October transitions into fall: Halloween and Dia de los Muertos. Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead, is a holiday that originated in Central and Southern Mexico.  It grew up out of the melding of the Catholic All Saints Day and All Souls Day with the Indigenous traditions of honoring the dead. Those who celebrate Day of the Dead believe that the gates of heaven are opened at midnight on October 31 and the spirits of all deceased children and then adults come down to enjoy festivities that are prepared for them. In homes and town centers beautiful altars (Ofrendas) are decorated with candles, flowers, food, toys and treats to refresh the weary spirits on their long journey to the world of the living and back again. Unlike Halloween, where skulls and ghosts are creepy things out to give you a fright, in the context of Dia de los Muertos, these same elements are meant to give comfort and remind us to treasure the memories of good times we had with those we have since lost.

In a state that was once part of Mexico and where about a quarter of the population speaks Spanish at home, it is no surprise that the popularity of such a tradition is on the rise.  It speaks both to a growing desire to connect with older traditions as well as filling a place in an American culture that does not have many traditions that help us acknowledge and process death. This is one of the reasons why I am so excited to be helping to put together a Dia de Los Muertos celebration here at Kidspace.  In a multicultural workplace in a vastly Hispanic community, it seemed like it was about time to acknowledge that part of us. 

Dia de los Muertos means a lot to me, and this is why; As the great majority of Americans know, being multicultural (myself: Scottish, Native American, Mexican) often means one simultaneously has knowledge of many different customs but limited understanding of them all.  So while my family was aware that the holiday existed, we didn’t really observe it. We basically lit a small parcel of candles in front of some photos on November 1st and called it a night.  It was not until I got into college that I met a group of young people who were very much like me, part Latino and part (insert any number of secondary, tertiary or quaternary identities here) who were also trying to make sense of the mish-mash of cultures that they found themselves growing up in, that I really got to appreciate what the holiday meant to me.  That is because instead of celebrating the holiday with our families, we celebrated it together sharing traditions and stories about the people we missed.  I began to understand what this holiday meant to my friends and me.  Celebrating the holiday wasn’t so much about us bringing a little bit of home into our dorm rooms, it was more about us establishing the home that we wanted to make for ourselves and our kids, one where we embraced the whole of ourselves Mexican, and …well whatever else we were as well.

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My Beautiful multicultural family.

In the next coming weeks, my nieces (who are Scottish, Native American, Mexican, German, Japanese and Spanish) and I are going to be elbow deep in a huge bowl of white sugar and meringue powder.  I can show them how to mold and hollow out the skulls to be decorated with brightly colored royal icing. We will go through our photos, one by one, and I will tell them about all the beautiful people they never got a chance to know, as we slide them into frames on the oferenda. The thing I like about the Day of the Dead is that it grew up out of a mix of cultures, just like I did. 

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My friends and I at the CSU Fresno Pow Wow, these are the people who taught me the beauty of embracing all aspects of the cultures that made me.

There are many public celebrations of Dia de Los Muertos around the L.A. area starting now and running through early November.  Here at Kidspace we will be celebrating on November 1st with kid-friendly crafts, music and activities. We will be building our own ofrenda where visitors can add pictures of their deceased loved ones.  For those of you who don’t think the wee ones can stay up late for a visit to the local cemetery or city center this is a great way to celebrate with your kids.  That bit of self-promotion aside, I do encourage our readers to take this day to appreciate the beautiful diversity of our community and our traditions, wherever they come from, because that is the kind of home I want to make for my family.

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Jenna Ervin, Science Specialist, has been with Kidspace since 2013. Raised in the Sierra Nevadas, she has previously worked in Yosemite National Park as a Naturalist Guide. She currently oversees the programming for the Kidspace exhibits Imagination Workshop and Galvin Physics Forest.