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Palisades World Language School students celebrate Day of the Dead, remembering those who have died. 

COURTESY PHOTO: PALISADES WORLD LANGUAGE SCHOOL - An ofrenda is an altar that displays photographs and mementos of those who have died. It is meant to honor their lives and memories. When visitors walked through the front doors of Palisades World Language School last week, they were greeted by a table decorated with vibrant colors, food and countless photographs of deceased loved ones.

The students of Palisades were celebrating Dia de Los Muertos, otherwise known as Day of the Dead — a holiday that celebrates life and death. The tradition is primarily commemorated in Hispanic cultures and intends to show love and respect for family members or loved ones who have died.

"Day of the Dead is really important in the Hispanic culture, but particularly in Mexicano culture because they believe this idea that if we can celebrate those who have passed on and keep their memories alive … they've never truly passed," said Abbey Otaño-Haffner, a Palisades Parent Teacher Organization member who helped organize the celebration

During the Day of the Dead celebration, individuals commonly build an altar called an ofrenda that honors those who have died with photos and artifacts that represent that person, like a favorite food.

"It is a beautiful way to remember and celebrate those who have passed on. A lot of children got pictures of animals that have passed on, or grandparents," Otaño-Haffner said.

On Tuesday evening, Nov. 2, students and families gathered at school for an outdoor, masked event. The ofrenda was moved outside, and the group participated in several activities. One station for the students was skull painting, which intends to make skulls less scary and rather a symbol of beauty.

Another event was a gallery walk. For the past couple of weeks leading up to the event, students have created posters that illustrate skeletons doing funny activities such as skiing or going to the theater. The parents were able to walk and observe the students' creations.

"What was so cool is during the event, you would hear little pockets of kids gathering around to show their friends a picture of a grandparent that had passed or an animal. And then they tell the stories. That's the thing that it's intended to do is to keep this memory alive and to celebrate rather than to grieve," Otaño-Haffner said.

Families also received pan de muerto, which means "bread of the dead."

"I was so happy to see parents, grandparents and children coming on Nov. 2 to celebrate Día de Muertos together at Palisades. Building community and celebrating the life of our loved ones through memories and mementos," Susana Parodi, a kindergarten teacher said in an email.

However, the event was more than a celebration. For some Lake Oswego residents, it created a sense of belonging.

"Since the World Language School has opened, we have had a lot of our Hispanic families being really excited about being with other Hispanic families because they are a minority in the district. So there was so much Spanish being spoken not just by the families, but by the kids to each other. ... I think it's this pride of self that's going to help these families," Otaño-Haffner said. COURTESY PHOTO: PALISADES WORLD LANGUAGE SCHOOL - Students at Palisades World Language School experienced a traditional Day of the Dead celebration. They painted skulls and honored their late loved ones.

Maria Krekoria, a fourth grade teacher, is a first-generation immigrant from Sonora, Mexico. She reflected on her family celebrating Dia de Los Muertos with ofrendas and decorating family tombs at the cemetery with flowers, food and candles.

The immersion school opened its doors at Palisades only a couple of months ago. This event was just one of the ways the staff is teaching students "language and culture competence," according to Krekoria.

"It is important for our students at Palisades World Language School to celebrate the values of family unity and community as they learn about the Hispanic culture. Learning another language and other people's cultures enhances our understanding and appreciation for diversity, empathy, equity and inclusion," she said.


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