Identity is Latino group's focus

By Sara Bruestle | Nov 07, 2012
Photo by: Sara Bruestle Julieta Altamirano-Crosby, the Hispanic liaison for Olympic View Middle School, looks at various memorabilia in a Day of the Dead, or Día de los Muertos, display in the school library on Nov. 1. The day honors the memories of deceased loved ones. The display was made through the collaborative efforts of the Hispanic Family Group.

At the altars were old photographs, sugar skulls, candles, colorful flowers, traditional breads and other memorabilia gathered to remember the dead.

On Nov. 1 and 2, the new Hispanic Family Group at Olympic View Middle School celebrated the Day of the Dead, or Día de los Muertos, a Mexican holiday that honors the memories of deceased loved ones.

The group decorated two altars in the school library – one for children they’ve lost, the other for adults – as a tribute to the holiday and to share their culture and traditions with Olympic View.

The celebration is a centuries-old tradition that originated with the Mayans and Aztecs.

“The idea is as long as people remember their loved ones, then they don’t really die, because their memory is still there,” said Peggy Munoz, Spanish teacher at OV.

“We thought this would be a nice way of bridging cultures in our school,” she said. “Hopefully this will be the first of many displays and, who knows, many cultures, to really show the colorful amounts of culture that we have at Mukilteo now.”

The Hispanic Family Group was established in October to unify Latino or Spanish-speaking families who have students at Olympic View and help them connect with the school and the Mukilteo School District. The Day of the Dead celebration was a part of that.

With the group’s help, this was the first time that the holiday celebration left the Spanish classroom and was shared with the school. Students and staff were invited to add to the display.

“It’s cool because many students have started to be involved in these things,” said Julieta Altamirano-Crosby, the Hispanic liaison for the school. “This is a multicultural fusion going on.”

Already, the new group has met three times. The families talk about school issues, how they can become more involved in the school system, get answers to their questions, and support their students so they can be more successful.

The hope is that they will meet at the school at least once a month, maybe more. Another meeting is scheduled for Nov. 15.

“The parents are so enthusiastic,” Munoz said. “Many of them said this is the first time that they’ve felt included. That’s really exciting.”

A lot of Spanish-speaking parents said they come to Olympic View knowing that no one will be able to talk to them – or they don’t come at all.

There are 99 Hispanic students at OV, out of a total of 784.

For many of them, culture and language have created barriers to success in school. They stop speaking Spanish at home. The students and their families lose their sense of self.

“If you don’t know the language, it’s really difficult to understand the ins and outs of the education system and to support [your] children through school, on to high school and on to college,” Munoz said.

Altamirano-Crosby moved here with her family from Mexico three years ago. She knew some English, but could not speak it 100 percent.

When she started working as an interpreter for the school district soon after, she noticed that many parents weren’t speaking Spanish with their children – because everywhere else they speak English.

With the loss of their native language, she said, they are also losing a lifeline to their kids.

In her research, she found that only 43 percent of Hispanic students in Washington state graduate from high school.

She said many, starting in middle school, turn to drugs, get pregnant or join a gang, where they feel they belong.

“Identity is so important, because if you lose that – I know who I am, I know where I come from, I know where I’m going – if you don’t have that, you are nobody. You are lost completely,” Altamirano-Crosby said.

“We need to work with our kids, we need to talk to them. Don’t lose the native language, don’t lose the tradition.”

She is on a mission to “rescue Spanish.” She was the one to contact the school about starting a Latino group for families.

So far, the Hispanic Family Group has decided they want ESL and computer classes for themselves and to start teaching their students how to read and write Spanish as a group. They are getting other ideas from a similar group at Voyager Middle School.

“We’re going to see what we can do to close that gap,” Munoz said. “Whenever parents and the school team up, it’s a benefit to the school and the students.”

Altamirano-Crosby said the Day of the Dead display is only the start.

“The families have the connection now,” she said. “They are showing to the rest of the people our little piece from Mexico. It’s right here, our culture. Culture is so important for everyone.”

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