National Endowment for the Humanities Seminar
Peter J. Espinosa, EdD
Social and Behavioral Sciences
This lesson has been incorporated into the syllabi of three courses:
Introduction to Chicano/a Latino/a Studies (Saddleback College
as an example of fusion of indigenous and Spanish religious
Educational and Vocational Planning (Saddleback College
Psychology 140), as an introduction to time management with
different perspectives of time and death, and
Perspectives of Peace Studies (Saddleback College
to explore alternative perspectives of life, death, loss and grief.
Goal: To include and expand the perspectives of indigenous
people of the Americas across the curriculum.
Objective: To engage all students in developing a
comprehensive understanding of the Dia de los Muertos through a
classroom experience of the day.
Prior to the celebration of Dia de los Muertos in class:
Students will pick one of the text or Internet references listed.
Students will read and explain selected sections from
resources that explain pre-Columbian, colonial, and twentieth
century perspectives of Dia de los Muertos.
The instructor will teach students how to create an
ofrenda (an "offering": refers to the goods set out on the
At the celebration of Dia de los Muertos in class:
Students will bring artifacts for the purpose of building the
ofrenda in class. Artifacts include but are not limited to
food, soft drinks, candles, skulls, pictures of a known deceased
person or persons, flowers, and any other artifacts that reflect
the individual(s) being honored.
As soon as students set up their ofrendas, they begin a
journal for the day. The first entry in the journal is to express
the way in which they honored the death of the individual at the
time fo death and thereafter.
In class, after all ofrendas are assembled and initial
journaling has been done, turn off the lights and light
the ofrenda candles.
The instructor demonstrates how the dead are requested to
enter the room by sprinkling the petals of flowers from the
classroom entrance to the ofrenda.
The instructor will participate by bringing artificats that
reflect a particular person who has died (a relative who was born
in Mexico, or perhaps a famous Mexicano/a or Latino/a), and
explains artifacts reflecting the person being honored with an
explanation of significant historical events in this person's life.
Students may volunteer stories of the individuals they chose
to honor, including an explanation of the artifacts they brought
to give tribute to the deceased.
As students listen, they enter into their journals their
reaction to the presentations, and compare and contrast Dia de los
Muertos and how they celebrate the dead, and/or write their general
reaction to the experience.
The instructor solicits feedback from the students' stories
and reactions; summarizes, and brings closure.
Anderson, Nick. "Homage to the Dead." Los Angeles Times,
November 2, 1997.
Carillo, Dora, et al. The Days of the Dead: A Mexican
Tradition. Grupo Cultural Especializado. Mexico. 1996
Cleeland, Nancy. "Having Fun With Death." The Orange County
Register, October 29, 1997.
do Mexicans celebrate on the "Day of the Dead"? This is a
page in the site "Culture and Society of Mexico." It contains
several pictures, including a picture of an altar with an
ofrenda. The site is written and maintained by Victor
Mendoza-Grado and Ricardo J. Salvador.