The Joy of Diversity at HOLA

By Carla Juarez, Development Assistant


We honor our loved ones, our culture, our life on Dia de Los Muertos.

Aromatic fresh fruit and bright orange flowers decorate the altar that stands in the entrance of HOLA’s lobby space. It’s Dia de los Muertos. On any other day, this space is used as a waiting room and reception area, occupied by parents, toddlers, students, volunteers, or prospective donors entering into HOLA’s world for the first time. On Dia de los Muertos, however, this space is filled with the memory and love for those people who are no longer with us. HOLA students, families, and staff gather together to celebrate life. The marigolds that sit all around the ofrenda (altar), the pan dulce (sweet bread) laid carefully around the photos of loved ones gone, the papel picado (cut out tissue paper) are all special symbols that signify the importance of tradition and identity to the families that come to HOLA. As one mother of a SmartStart elementary student put it, “HOLA es como un segundo hogar,” or “HOLA is like a second home.” Another mother of a PAT high school student, who has been attending programming since he was an elementary student, mentions the feeling of inclusion makes her and her son feel right at home.

HOLA provides the space to gather as a diverse community, to exchange traditions, and celebrate together, from old and young. Students feel empowered and proud to see their Latinx heritage thrive at HOLA.


The celebration encompasses the building of an altar, bursting in an array of color and a fruity sweet aroma, and a procession followed by a feast. The altar, built in honor of the dead, is filled with their photographs. Hours before the procession begins, a group of mothers move excitedly about the kitchen in preparation for the banquet that HOLA students will soon enjoy. They slice conchas and other pan dulce as they set HOLA’s lunch table with plates of tamales, hot chocolate, champurrado, and gelatin. Outside, more parents and children arrive, filling the halls as they wait in line to get their face painted like the traditional calaveras (skeletons) by our HOLA staff.


Everyone gathers outside the garden to begin the procession, which signifies the path the dearly departed will take at night as they enter our world. Each person with marigolds in hand begins to sing “De Colores,” a traditional Mexican folk song, and it sounds beautiful and uplifting. One by one, they enter through HOLA’s doors to leave their marigolds in the form of a cross in front of the altar. They are paying their respects as they end their song.


One parent notes that although they don’t have an altar built at home, they were happy to see one at HOLA, and to be able to participate with their children so that their tradition stays alive in the next generation. Dia de Los Muertos, is not just a holiday in the Latinx community, but a way to celebrate and remember loved ones who have passed on. It transcends borders, time, and generations. The celebration is a mesh of indigenous practices with Spanish and Catholic influences, one that is celebrated in various ways throughout Latin America. For the families, it is important that they take an active role in building the altar together, connecting with passed loved ones once again.


The evening settles down with a large feast, while students gather at the lounge to watch the film Coco, which stars Anthony Gonzalez, a YOLA at HOLA student. Mesmerized by the animated characters and music, there is a quiet happiness that envelops the students. And this time they don’t need to sing or talk to be connected; they merely experience this moment together.


November 6, 2018