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Celebrating Día de Los Muertos through Art and Literature

09 November 2023

Community members at Nightingale Elementary dressed in traditional Mexican clothing, painted their faces as Calaveras, and carried photos of loved ones who have passed away for a Walking Ofrenda. 

Nightingale Art Educator, Mr. Serment, Speaking to School Community

A sense of pride for the community’s Hispanic heritage was palatable at Florence Nightingale Elementary, located in the Gage Park neighborhood, as families attended the school’s Day of the Dead Literacy Night.

To kick off a night filled with storytelling, arts & crafts, and other fun activities, school community members dressed in traditional Mexican clothing, painted their faces as Calaveras or skeletons, and carried photos of family or friends who have passed away, then filled the streets surrounding the school for a Walking Ofrenda. This activity was a unique version of the traditional creation of an altar, which is built during the holiday to honor the dead with offerings, such as a loved one’s favorite food. 

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Ricardo X. Serment, an art teacher at Nightingale, has been working to create this event since he first came to the school in 2018 after working as a museum educator at the National Museum of Mexican Art.

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“Día de los Muertos is a holiday to celebrate our loved ones who have passed on, and I wanted to create that celebration here at Nightingale since we are a primarily Latino community,” says Mr. Serment. “I’ve had this idea for the past five years. I wanted students to experience all the things that I’ve learned about this celebration while  working at the National Museum of Mexican Art, which include the origins and the history of this holiday.” 

With help from his colleague, Jain Baren, and the school’s administration, Mr. Serment brought his idea to life last year. With help from his students, he created and hand-painted giant, puppet-like Calaveras and cardboard cutouts of traditional offerings, including Mexican-sweet bread, candles, and orange marigold flowers that are believed to help guide spirits back home to their families during the holiday.

What makes this event special is its emphasis on community and family. Mr. Serment believes that acknowledging Nightingale’s presence outside of the school building by marching down the surrounding streets is a way of showing how “the community is a part of the school, and the school is a part of the community.”

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The celebration continued as families were brought inside the school building to partake in activities like Zumba dancing, creating papel picado, and playing Loteria. Students were also able to listen to stories told by staff, and had the chance to meet Monique Maldonado, author of the children’s book “The Looking List.

“It’s very important that students understand and know their cultural identity and where their ancestors might have come from, whether it’s their parents, grandparents or great-grandparents,” says Mr. Serment. “It’s important to make that connection to the past and to carry those cultural values and traditions so that the students can make it a part of their identity if they choose to. But as educators, we first have to expose them to this opportunity so that they can learn and experience  it themselves.”

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