image-cunha immigration project
Aracely Valencia decorates a box paying homage to the singer Jose Jose in preparation for the Day of the Dead festivities. Kyle Ludowitz / Review


In less than a month, a group of Cunha Intermediate School students turned a $7 thrift store bookcase into a colorful ofrenda, or an altar, covered with orange and yellow paper marigolds, tea light candles, handmade frames featuring Latino artists and leaders, and decorative skeletons and calaveras, or skulls. 

Día de Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, has its origins in ancient holidays that have carried to the present day. It’s observed on the first and second days of November as a time to honor relatives who have passed on and welcome their spirits back for an annual celebration.

The students are part of Cabrillo Unified School District’s Migrant Education program, an after-school educational opportunity. The students chose someone to write a biography about and created art to put on the ofrenda. It will be displayed at Ayudando Latinos A Soñar’s Día de los Muertos festival from 4 to 8 p.m. on Friday at Mac Dutra Plaza, where a few students will read their essays. 

Student teacher Brenda DeJesus Acosta, who supervisors and tutors the students, praised their creativity and hard work.

Karen Yoselin Gutierrez Meza celebrates Day of the Dead with her family, especially since her grandma died. She feels closer to her grandmother during the holiday when they put her photo on the ofrenda. For the project, Meza chose to write about Selena Quintanilla-Pérez, an accomplished Mexican American singer whose tragic murder at the age of 23 cut short her career. 

“I really like her music,” said Meza, who planned to decorate a frame for the artist’s photo with flowers. “I chose flowers because I feel like she really liked flowers.”

Putting items that a deceased person loved in life on an ofrenda is a common tradition. Giovanni Lopez is creating a house out of cardboard, replicating the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo’s “casa azul,” or her blue house. Lopez chose Kahlo after seeing her portrayed in the movie “Coco.” Lopez also celebrates with his family each year. 

“I feel like everybody I’ve lost comes down and visits us,” he said. 

Another student, Andres Orozco, is also creating a cardboard model of a place important to the person he chose to write about. Orozco’s father enjoys listening to Joan Sebastian, known for singing while riding a horse at rodeo events, which is why Orzoco is creating a rodeo arena complete with paper stands for the altar. 

Multiple students, including David Cruz, chose the famous  Latino American civil rights activist Cesar Chavez. 

“I chose him because he had a lot of courage and gave courage and liberty to people,” Cruz said.

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