Students and educators from Santa Ana Valley High School participated in the 4th annual Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) themed celebration, Valley de los Muertos, on November 1, 2017 outside the high school auditorium.
Hundreds of people purchased food, got their faces painted and watched as students from across the Santa Ana Unified School District (SAUSD) performed mariachi music, ballet folklorico dancing and more.
The steps leading up to the auditorium were turned into a giant altar decorated with colorful altar boxes created by students in memory of their deceased loved ones.
This year, a special altar decorated with photos, candles and marigolds was dedicated to Eliazar Arroyo, a Valley student who recently passed away after battling leukemia.
Johnny Sanchez, a senior at Valley High School, helped choose the items for his altar.
“I feel honored to be able to do this and to be a part of something that honors someone who brought so many smiles to us,” he said.
Rigo Maldonado, a ceramics teacher at Valley who was integral in starting the annual gathering, said the goal of the event is to teach students about the meaning and symbolism behind a holiday that is growing in popularity in mainstream culture.
Students learn how to build traditional altars, how to make traditional Pan de Muerto (Bread of the Dead), "and what it means to have a duality of life and death," he said.
"For me it is a celebration of life,” he said. “We are celebrating the people who meant a lot to us, whether it be family or friends or people in our community."
Dia de los Muertos is celebrated on November 1. Although marked throughout Latin America, it is most strongly associated with Mexico, where the tradition originated.
Dia de los Muertos honors the dead with festivals and lively celebrations, and recognizes death as a natural part of the human experience. The dead are also a part of the community, as it is thought that on this day they awaken from their eternal sleep to share celebrations with their loved ones.