For the second year, San Fernando High School (SFHS) will hold Dia de los Muertos – A Day of the Dead Festival. The festival planned for Nov. 1 is in itself exceptional – held on an LAUSD school campus and uniquely welcoming the community and student artists from various schools as participants.
In addition to sharing the talent of SFHS students, Sergio “Checo” Alonso, a renowned SFHS music teacher and ethnomusicologist has invited student musicians, dancers, poets and visual artists from other schools to perform.
“It isn’t every day that a school opens its doors to the community and to other schools, all with the shared interest in remembering the dearly departed,” said Alonso.
Two stages will be set up – named after two iconic departed figures well known to the community, Ritchie Valens and Frida Kahlo – and performances will stretch beyond what may be expected with diverse artistic expressions to honor departed loved ones.
An orchestra will perform from Porter Middle School, a choir from SFHS, Folklorico dancers from Gridley Elementary, SFHS and Palms Middle schools. There will be an abundance of traditional Mariachi and other regional Mexican music performed by students from Haddon Elementary, SFHS and Mariachi Tesoro de San Fernando. Fremont High School will bring their pop rock band and indie rock music will be performed by Junis. Writers will share poetry and spoken word. A ceremony will be provided by Aztec Danzantes Elias Delgado and the ancient Aztec ball game Ullamaliztli will be demonstrated by ball players.
“In many ways, the Day of the Dead celebrates the lives of the living as much as it celebrates the lives of those that have moved on,” explained Alonso. “Unity, togetherness and family all come to the fore among people of diverse backgrounds who share a common bond in paying reverence to those who remain in spirit,” he said.
Numerous altars to honor the lives of loved ones will be set up.
Jacqueline Torres, SFHS art teacher, said the school community, especially students, are really excited about the event and have volunteered their time to help get ready for it. For many, it’s an opportunity to learn about the cultural tradition and actively contribute to it.
“It’s incredible. The enthusiasm is a testament to the importance of this cultural celebration,” said Torres, who specializes as an alumni of SFHS. Torres has said that she aims to be the art teacher that she wished she had in high school. She specializes in ceramics and her students have created calaveras and other meaningful artwork that is often utilized for this cultural event.
“Although ‘Hispanic heritage’ is celebrated from Sept. 15 through Oct. 15, I think there’s no more authentic moment to truly celebrate our heritage than through Dia de Muertos,” said Torres. “It certainly is most popularized in Mexico, but it’s observed throughout Latin America in diverse and beautiful ways,” she said.
“This designation to celebrate our heritage in this time is based on the independence of multiple Latin American countries taking place on Sept. 15 and 16 going back to the 1800s, while Mesoamerica has been commemorating their dead for 2,500 – 3,000 years. Indigenous people continue to honor their dead the way their ancestors have for thousands of years, and they’re often left out of the conversation when talking about Latin America.”
“SFHS students and staff have worked diligently and enthusiastically to assure that our guests will experience a cultural and community event that they will remember for a long, long time,” said Alonso. “The Day of the Dead Festival at San Fernando High is a wonderful way for students to learn about culture and community from the insider’s perspective,” said Alonso. “We aim to create a space where attendees are not passive participants but actively engaged in celebrating the lives of their loved ones.”
“I think organizing this event is a valuable opportunity to create community, it brings so many people together to work towards a common goal: of remembering and celebrating our dearly departed and reintegrating these important cultural traditions rooted in our ancient past. It gives our community a sense of identity, pride and value,” said Torres.