Spanish classes win grand champion ofrenda, honor El Paso victims

Junior and Spanish IV student Madeline Shadduck glues flowers she made in class on the arch of the ofrenda while setting up at the museum.

A table meticulously arranged with tissue flowers pays homage to individuals’ photos encased in glass and wood. A sophomore, 15. A great-great-grandfather, 90. A veteran and husband, 60. Twenty-two deaths with hundreds of victims. After three months, their lives and personhoods are honored from among vibrant paper skulls and a rainbow of color.

Spanish IV and V classes placed first out of 115 entries at the Panhandle Plains Historical Museum’s annual Day of the Dead ofrenda contest Tuesday, Oct. 22. The competition highlights students’ takes on the traditional ofrenda, which is an altar honoring the dead. The classes’ ofrenda centered around the victims of the El Paso Shooting, which occurred Saturday, Aug. 3 at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas. The Washington Post compiled a list of victims and their stories available here.

Families make an alter as a form of encouragement to have the souls come back from the afterlife.

— Rubi Perez, Spanish teacher

“‘El Paso Strong’ is what we’re calling it,” Spanish teacher Rubi Perez said. “There were 22 victims, and we wanted to bring awareness because of that. The students are learning about the culture, and it was significant to us because we hold the language and culture so dear to our hearts. We need to bring awareness to communities.”

Perez said the holiday, observed Nov. 1-2, is a celebration of the dead.

“Families make an altar as a form of encouragement to have the souls come back from the afterlife,” Perez said. “On the night of Nov. 1, families gather at the cemetery. They sing, they dance, they have tons of food and provide food for the souls as well. They cover the cemetery with all of the items and have a celebration all night and going into the next night. They are celebrating the time that night to be together as a family again.”

Students worked on the ofrenda for several weeks in class.

We focused on each individual person, their occupation, their backstory and different things in their lives.

— Hailey Casarez, 11

“It was definitely a long process, and everybody helped,” Perez said. “We had a couple students who made the arch, and then we all made the tissue flowers. Our skyline is super important because the star on it is really famous. We also made a skirt to go around the table. It was just constant for a couple weeks, and we were working on it non-stop.”

Each student researched two of the El Paso Shooting victims and brought objects to represent them.

We focused on each individual person, their occupation, their backstory and different things in their lives,” said junior Hailey Casarez, a Spanish IV student. “We did things around them that represent them as a person. One of them liked to play soccer, so we had a soccer ball. One of them was an iron worker so we had an iron rod. We wanted to make an arch so that it stands out from the other ofrendas, and we wanted to have a painting in the background to show El Paso instead of just writing it. We spent a lot of time building, constructing and putting everything together.”

Casarez said they chose “El Paso Strong” as the theme because of its relevancy.

“It was something you wouldn’t expect to happen,” Casarez said. “It was kinda scary and to think something like that could happen to an everyday person–while going to Walmart–it is crazy. I think it helps us come closer to the Spanish culture and closer together, especially when someone dies. So, to be able to create that was cool, and it was a moving experience.”