Children from across the Santa Clarita Valley received an after-school surprise when they entered the Newhall Community Center and saw a colorful constructed Día de los Muertos altar.
The city of Santa Clarita hosted a Día de los Muertos celebration Thursday as part of its after-school program, which is open to all students who are ages 5-12. The city’s program offers homework help, after-school programs and activities such as the Día de los Muertos celebration.
“It is Hispanic Heritage Month, and so we are trying to work with our kids to expose them to different traditions that happen within the Hispanic community,” said Cynthia Muir, the community services supervisor for the city.
In Mexico, Dia de los Muertos is usually celebrated Oct. 31 through Nov. 2. It’s a time for people to honor and remember their loved ones by building colorful and bright altars filled with photos, food and the favorite things of those who have died, according to Muir.
City staff created a Disney’s “Coco”-themed altar, and they invited Old Town Newhall Library staff to read Día de los Muertos-themed books. City staff wrote up an explanation of Día de los Muertos that would be easier for the children to understand.
Raquel Barba, a fourth-grader at Peachland Avenue Elementary School, occasionally attends the city’s after-school program. She said she likes the staff and they help finish her homework.
“(The altar) I think it looks really cool because they based it off ‘Coco,’” Barba said.
Irma Salazar, a recreation leader who works the front desk, has worked for the city and its after-school program for about 10 years. She also did a large part of the work for constructing the “Coco” altar.
“More than anything I love working with kids,” Salazar said. “I come from a home where we put altars ourselves. It’s a way of knowing and remembering our past.”
By setting up an altar, and placing little things that loved ones enjoyed for that one night, when they come back, makes them feel welcomed and overjoyed to see they are not forgotten, Salazar added.
“Even though they are no longer here with us, they’re still present in our hearts and our minds,” Salazar said.
Muir said a lot of people don’t know about this tradition, and it was important for them to highlight Día de los Muertos. She added the city offers other avenues to expose its residents to other cultures.
The city is preparing for its upcoming Halloween carnival on Friday, and an artist exhibit showcasing various cultures in December. Muir said they want the community to participate in any activities, programs or signature events the city or community leaders organize at the center.
“We just got our center back,” Muir said. “We want to bring back the community back to its center.”