Student Council honors the dead with ofrenda

By Adan Villa, Reporter

On November 1 and 2, the Student Council of West Chicago Community High School, led by senior member Itzel Martinez, made an ofrenda in the Commons  to honor those who have passed on the Day of the Dead.

For those who do not know, November 1 and 2 marked Dia De Los Muertos,  a celebration that allows many people to remember and honor their loved ones who have passed. An ofrenda is a memorial, usually made at one’s home, that features pictures of friends and family who are no longer with the living. This year, for the first time ever,  the Student Council created one.

Assembling the ofrenda took approximately three weeks, as decorations had to be ordered. In particular, the ofrenda had to include cempazuchitl, traditional marigolds that have a pungent odor to attract the dead and help them follow the scent to the offerings. Student Council members also made sure to include papel picado, a variety of candles, classic lotería cards, and sugar skulls.

The completed ofrenda in Commons. (Photo by Itzel Martinez)

Because parent/teacher conferences were held on October 28, Student Council had the opportunity to set-up the ofrenda in advance. Martinez explained, “It took four hours because we needed to construct and figure out the boxes and how to put on the fabric. We were short in fabric, so we went to ask Mr. Exner, the art teacher. He saw we needed something big in the middle, like a portrait, to fill in the blank space. So, I told him that La Catrina (Lady of the Afterlife) would be perfect. He drew that with so much color and effort, it completed the ofrenda.”

The ofrenda included pictures of many famous Hispanic celebrities, such as Selena, Jenni Rivera, and Ritchie Valens, all of whom have passed, but also “people the whole student body would appreciate and recognize,” such as Kobe Bryant and Tupac. Students were also able to bring in pictures of their own loved ones so that they could be honored as well. 

Alongside the ofrenda, Student Council members also sold pan de muerto from Parra’s Bakery, a family-owned business in West Chicago, and hot chocolate, made by Student Council volunteers. Proceeds were donated to the Pilsen Alliance, an organization formed to help grow leadership among young minorities living in Chicago’s lower west side.

According to Martinez, “I wanted to make the donation to a Hispanic based organization to fit the cultural theme and help our community.  We had the help from Mrs. Haas to know what organizations were legit. We had three to choose from: international, national or local based. The seniors wanted to do something local here, right next to us, [in] Pilsen, Chicago IL. It seemed as a cool organization helping in community development, education, and immigrant families. It’s a community just like ours right here in West Chicago. It was a perfect fit.”

Student Council members sell hot chocolate and pan de muertos to sophomore Samantha Gomez. (Photo by WeGo Activities)

The Pilsen Alliance has been very active this year. The group worked to provide vulnerable populations (the elderly, homeless, etc.) with relief during the pandemic, and just sponsored a housing fair to promote equal housing opportunities for all.

Martinez said, “My inspiration was the ofrendas in Pilsen, a large Mexican community in Chicago. We took a field trip there freshman year in my Native Spanish class. The ofrendas were big, beautiful, and authentic, and vivid with colors celebrating the life of our loved ones who have passed away. I noticed in the school there was not much celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, nor Mexican Independence Day. I thought it would be so cool to celebrate Dia de los Muertos in school, since I have never seen any sort of celebration for Dia de los Muertos on such a scale.”

Pilsen is a Hispanic-dominant community in Chicago. Every year, community members assemble a huge ofrenda, and so bringing such a relevant part of the Hispanic culture to West Chicago Community High School, whose population is nearly 70% Hispanic, was important.

Senior Nicole Dominguez said, “It was really cool. I liked how they involved our culture at the school.”

For Martinez, “It was an amazing process seeing people being a part of the celebration and being excited and appreciating the celebration overall. It was a success, the ofrenda was amazing. I saw people gather around to see what was on it, and I saw people taking pictures of it as well.

Martinez added, “I heard a lot of positive commentary from classmates saying it was beautiful. There was a lot of positive commentary from staff as well. I even saw a staff member on facetime showing someone the ofrenda through her phone. I am a senior, so I hope that student council will follow through and produce this celebration again with new and better ideas and make it their own [in future years]. It is something that can’t just stop here: it’s up to the younger students to want to pursue it again. It’s important WEGO makes this a tradition.”

So many people gathered around to see the ofrenda, some seeing one for the first time ever. Student Council, with the support of Activity Director Marc Wolfe, AVID teacher Nick Kempski, and Social Studies teacher Chris Lukas, was also able to donate $247 to the Pilsen Alliance. Hopefully, WEGO’s Student Council can continue honoring Hispanic culture, and make the ofrenda a yearly tradition, one that represents such a beautiful holiday.