Day of the Dead in Rural Mexico: A Unique Community Event

By Bruce Rossley

When interns with the Rural Education Institute of Mexico trooped out to the community of La Palma on Saturday, they were heavily laden with candles, bunches of marigolds, cherished photographs, and other offerings for the dead. Mothers and children from the community were already hard at work raking leaves and building altars when we arrived. It was November 1, and they were preparing for our annual Day of the Dead celebration.

By five o’clock, papel picado hung from the fence, and trees and the children’s faces were painted like catrinas. Despite the biting wind, local families streamed in with offerings for the altars and pots of steaming tamales. Visitors from San Miguel also began to arrive. Sipping atole to stay warm, they contemplated the altars or checked out the exhibition of student photography displayed inside. Our Day of the Dead event occurs annually, but this year was special because of the beautiful student artwork for sale. This fall, children in both La Palma and Jalpa took fascinating photographs of their communities. We printed and displayed them at the event, allowing kids the chance to show off their work to their families and providing an interesting glimpse into our programs and their participants.

While our Day of the Dead event doesn’t boast the most elaborate altars or exciting entertainment, it offers a unique opportunity for Rural Ed, the community, and visitors from San Miguel to come together and celebrate as one. We would like to sincerely thank all those who attended for their support, and we hope that in spite of the cold night, you enjoyed the warm welcome of the La Palma community.

As Mexico has become the second largest economy in Latin America, there remains a stark inequality in the country’s education system. Youth in rural Mexico simply do not have the same opportunities as their urban counterparts. The problem is partly financial (there are few high schools in the campo, and the government does not provide transportation for rural children to attend urban schools), and partly cultural (in rural areas, literacy rates are low, and education is not always a priority). The Rural Education Institute of Mexico exists to help fill this gap and to give children and youth living in rural areas the incentive and means to continue to high school, and beyond.

Our skilled interns are invited to work in rural community centers, offering diverse educational programs. We build libraries and help children improve their reading skills. Children learn art, drama, and English, among other subjects, and are taught to use computers that we supply. We also provide opportunities to youth so they can meet the costs of going to high school—about US$300 per student per year—by awarding scholarships. For more information about the Rural Education Institute of Mexico, please visit our website at or call us at 415-124 1357.


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