Centuries-old customs bring local middle and high school students to NKU


Samantha Hayden

Mayra Guzman (center), NKU junior psychology major, talks with volunteers at the Oct. 11 Day of the Dead Celebration. The celebration, part of Hispanic Heritage Month, brought local students onto campus to learn about the historic holiday.

Latin music bounces from the walls of the Northern Kentucky University Student Union Ballroom while local middle and high school students take a journey back through history. Masks, flowers and gifts, like piñatas and colorful banners, crowd tables of students visiting NKU to learn about the annual celebration of the Mexican-Spanish holiday, Day of the Dead, which is celebrated on November 2.

On Oct. 11 over 200 students studying Spanish at Holmes High School and Campbell County High School participated in a session of gift making, a presentation on the history of Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, and a tour of NKU’s campus.

Diane Maldonado, administrative assistant for NKU’s Latino Student Affairs Department, said that the events were organized and hosted by the department in recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month that runs from Sept.15 through Oct.15 and represents a celebration of ancestors.

“Souls are coming back to visit their loved ones,” Maldonado said. “We are teaching them how and why the souls are celebrated.”

Many of the local students in attendance are not of Latino or Hispanic descent, but they are studying Spanish and learning about many of the Hispanic customs in their classrooms, according to Maldonado.

Amy Henriksen, a Spanish teacher at Campbell County High School, said that it is a good experience for the students to be immersed in the culture by interacting with Hispanic and Latino students who attend NKU.

“Many times students don’t think what they are learning is real,” Henriksen said. “By coming here they get to see that it is real and that what they are learning is real world.”

Andrea Padilla, a Spanish teacher at Holmes High School, said she and her colleagues are thankful for being on campus.

“It is a great opportunity for inner city kids to be exposed to a college campus,” Padilla said. “For many of them it is the first time and may be the only time they see a college campus before they go to college themselves.”

Dana Coronado, a NKU studentvolunteer who was teaching students how to make some of the gifts, said that many people think it is a sad thing to celebrate the dead, but that it really is a positive experience.

“It is a way of celebrating people’s lives and remembering them” Coranado said.

During the gift making sessions, lively Latin music filled the student union ballroom. Students moved through the room gathering art supplies while rotating from station to station learning different ways to make symbolic alter gifts.

Coronado was teaching a group of Holmes High School students how to make a picado, a modern-day way of creating colorful images to decorate shrines in honor of the dead.

Picado involves cutting brightly colored paper into images of skeletons doing crazy things like riding bicycles or sitting on graveyard tombs and its origin dates back to the 1500s when the Aztecs decorated gravesites of loved ones.

According to www.eiteljorg.org, many of the decorations for celebrating The Day of The Dead are a way of making a connection with the spirits of loved ones. Colorful regal-like clothing worn by skeletons, specifically a well- known skeleton in Mexican and Spanish history, Catrina, also represents a symbol of joy and an acceptance that no one can avoid death.

Deja Turner, a 10th grader at Holmes High School said she was enjoying learning about the Spanish custom.

“It’s new,” Turner said. “We don’t usually get to do stuff like this.”

Even though most of the images looked more like snowflakes, Maurissa Brown, a 10th grader at Holmes High School, was still working on her picado, but was really proud of the piñata she made earlier in the day.

“I have the best piñata,” Brown said.

The students interviewed said they were looking forward to lunch and then a tour of the campus.