Activity 1. Comparing El Grito de Dolores and Cinco de Mayo
This activity introduces two important dates and events in Mexican history. Students will research and discuss the basic elements of El Grito de Dolores, September 16th, and Cinco de Mayo, May 5th. The goal is to help students understand what the holidays are commemorating and which important events took place on each occasion, but also to emphasize the historical differences between the two holidays.
Begin the activity by asking if there are students in the classroom who have celebrated these holidays either in Mexico or in the U.S. Ask them to describe how they celebrated with their friends and family. Ask how their family interprets each holiday, how it has significance in their culture, and what it means to them now.
If students are not familiar with these holidays, ask them to look at the historical background to Mexico's Independence Day celebrations. Students can also find more information on Mexican Independence on the EDSITEment-reviewed U.S.-Mexican War documentary website.
Be sure that students note that when Father Hidalgo led the Indians and the "mestizo" forces against the Spanish, he used an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe as a revolutionary banner. This helps to demonstrate the link between religion and politics in Mexican history.
Next, ask students to view the following pictures from the EDSITEment-reviewed Getty website of Mexico's Centennial Celebration held in September, 1910. The questions that follow each picture can be used to generate class discussion.
Leading the Independence Day Parade, Mexico City (September, 1910)
- Why are these men wearing military armor from the 16th century? What do they represent?
Indian Parade, Mexico City (September, 1910)
- Why is it important for Indians in their traditional dress to be a part of Mexico's Independence Day parade? What part did the Indians play in the struggle for independence from Spain?
Emperor Montezuma, Mexico City (September, 1910)
- Why do you think the famous Aztec ruler Montezuma is part of the Independence Day celebration? What do you think he represents to Mexicans?
Centenary Celebration, Mexico City (September, 1910)
- This is the Centenary Celebration of Independence, and it is also the year the Mexican Revolution started. This was the first Modern Revolution of the twentieth century.
- In the festive lights on this building, why do you think the word "Libertad" (liberty), placed below the date 1810, has been paired with the word "Progreso" (progress) below 1910, when the picture was taken? What is the significance of the placement of the word "Paz" (peace) in the middle, between the other two?
Finally, conclude this activity by asking the students to consider the following questions:
- Which of the two holidays, El Grito de Dolores or Cinco de Mayo is similar to the Fourth of July in the United States?
- Which of the two holidays appears to be more popular in the United States?
- Do you think Cinco De Mayo has become more popular in the U.S. than it is in Mexico?
Activity 2. Dia de Nuestra Señora De Guadalupe
The story of Dia de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, celebrated on December 12th, recounts the moment in the history of Mexico and the Roman Catholic Church when the Catholic faith entered into the hearts of the Mexican people. At first the Spanish missionaries encountered difficulties converting the indigenous people. According to tradition, it was not until Juan Diego, an Indian peasant farmer, was blessed with the vision and later the image of the Virgin Mary and brought evidence of his miraculous vision that the Church began to take a firm hold on the Mexican people.
The goal of this activity is to help students understand the significance of this appearance of the Virgin Mary in the form of an Indian maiden, not only in a religious context but also in a historical context. Begin by directing students to explore the Our Lady of Guadalupe: Patroness of the Americas website, accessible from the EDSITEment-reviewed Latin American Network Information Center. They should pay particular attention to the pages devoted to Juan Diego and to the apparitions and the images of Our Lady of Guadalupe. They should also examine some of the images of the Basilica that was built as a shrine to the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Note that this site also includes some online videos of the image and the Basilica.
When they have explored the historical context for the holiday, ask them to look at some further information on the holiday celebration on the MEXonline website.
After students have become familiar with the story of Juan Diego and the appearance of the Virgin, ask them to consider the following questions about this important Mexican holiday:
- What sort of man was Juan Diego?
- Why do you think the Virgin Mary appeared to him?
- How do you think Juan Diego perceived the image of the Virgin Mary?
- Why was it important that the Virgin Mary resembled the indigenous people in Diego's vision?
- How do these images of Our Lady of Guadalupe respond specifically to the Mexican-Catholic faith?
- Why do you suppose Father Hidalgo used an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe as a banner during the Mexican revolution of 1810?
- Do you see a link between the significance of the Virgin of Guadalupe and the Revolution?
- Can you think of any holidays celebrated in the United States that are similar to the Dia de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe?
Activity 3. An altar for Los Muertos
This activity introduces students to the dedicative altars that are made on El Dia De Los Muertos. This holiday, celebrated on November 1st and 2nd, All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day, can be compared in some of its aspects to the American celebration of Halloween, or All Hallows' Eve. But there are some distinctive differences in the practices and customs of the Mexican holiday that should not be missed when students look more closely at the celebration of the Day of the Dead.
Again, this is an opportunity to ask if any students in the classroom have ever celebrated this holiday. This is an effective way to begin to dispel some of the pre-conceived notions the holiday may give rise to. Mexico's celebration of these special days dedicated to the departed are merry and festive days that allow for visits with deceased relatives and loved ones. On this day, Mexican people believe that the dead walk among them joining them in festival and eating the treats that are left for them.
One of the most distinctive features of the celebration of the Day of the Dead is the altar where family members leave their offerings or ofrendas, the goods set out on the altars, consisting of flowers (both real and paper), pictures, pastries, treats, and possessions of sentimental value. The altars themselves are intended to commemorate the deceased relative and welcome them home again.
The goal of this lesson is to encourage students to enter into the spirit of the celebration and to understand the significance of the altars and the offerings to departed loved ones and relatives. The MexicoConnect website, accessible from the EDSITEment-reviewed Latin American Network Information Center, has a page of links dedicated to the Day of the Dead which students can explore to learn more about the celebrations and traditions of the holiday. Among the best resources are the following:
Additional images of Day of the Dead celebrations are also available:
After reviewing the above sites and others on MexicoConnect, ask the students to design a mock altar of their own using some of the images and ideas they have collected from the MexicoConnect web pages. For this activity you may want to divide the students into groups and have each group design decorations of flowers, skeletons, or skulls; compose a poem; find recipes for candy or pastry treats; or suggest other appropriate activities based on their study of the websites. When students have finished designing their altars and planning their celebrations, ask each group to discuss the significance of their offerings and decorations.
- What significance do these decorations have for the dead and the living?
- How is death perceived in this tradition?
- What is the tradition celebrating?