Celebrating Day of the Dead
An interview with Friends Spanish Teacher, Maria Gamboa, by Lou Bendrick
Tell us a little about yourself: What did you do previously and what brought you to teach Spanish at Friends School?
My family is from Mexico. I came to the USA to do my Ph.D. in Chemistry. When I was doing a post-doctorate at the University of Illinois I met my Polish husband, Krzysztof, and we decided to stay here in the USA. When we got our daughter, Monika, I decided that I wanted to take care of her at home. With the passing of the years, I changed careers and decided to teach Spanish, a career that I enjoy profusely.
For those who don’t know about Day of the Dead, will you explain what it is and why it is celebrated?
The Day of the Dead is a celebration to honor our ancestors. Its origins reside in the Mayan culture. However, with the coming of the Spaniards, the traditions from both sides got mixed and developed the Day of the Dead the way we celebrate it nowadays. So, in Mexico people go to the cemetery to clean the tombs of their beloved people who are not with them anymore and sometimes they stay in the tomb to talk, eat, drink, and sometimes even sing, talking about the person(s) and remembering the good times. In the evening, people go to a special Mass offered for the deceased. At home, people set “altares,” which are tables nicely ornamented to call and honor the spirits of their ancestors.
Where did you grow up and what were your family’s Day of the Dead traditions?
I grew up in several parts of Mexico. We did not visit the tombs of my relatives because they were in other States. Some years we set “altares” to remember our grandparents and we used to go to Mass to pray for their souls.
What are your traditions now?
I passed the traditions to my daughter, although we do not celebrate it formally at home. However, I enjoy talking about it at school and sharing the traditions of my country with my students.
What is your favorite part of this holiday?
All of it! When I teach it to my students, I enjoy comparing and contrasting it to Halloween. Also, I like the idea of colorful skulls, so as to say that we are not “afraid” of the dead but consider it as part of life.
Will you be doing anything special in your Spanish classes to celebrate?
Yes! This is a collaborative project between Art and Spanish classes. From 3rd to 8th grades, I explain the differences between Halloween and the Day of the Dead. We talk about the altars and what elements should be included in them. The students plan to make an altar (this year 3rd and 5th) and the whole school (K-5) contribute to make the elements in Art class. In 6th to 8th grades, students make colorful skeletons from paper rolls. Also, 4th and 6th grades go to the Museum in Longmont where there is a special exhibition about the Day of the Dead (although this year it got cancelled because of the weather.)