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Students fly kites to honor the dead

Mayan tradition pays homage to ancestors on Day of the Dead

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 19 2005 9:10 a.m. MDT

Guadalupe Schools students Alejandro Munoz, left, Angelo Trujillo and Shyloh Johnson discuss their Guatemalan kites, a Mayan tradition.

Michael Brandy, Deseret Morning News

Guadalupe Schools second-grader Cindy Gonzalez has never seen her grandmother but knows she looks just like her. The woman her father remembers as "Cookie" died in Mexico many years before Cindy was born.

But Tuesday, Cindy made a kite to honor her grandmother and send her a message: "I love you, and my dad loves you."

Cindy is one of hundreds of students in Salt Lake School District who learned to make Guatemalan kites, a Mayan tradition used in celebrating the Dia de los Muertos, Day of the Dead, on Nov. 1.

Brolly Arts, an organization aimed at providing art opportunities in schools with ties to the international kite community, sponsored the Guatemalan Kite Residency project.

Although the Day of the Dead is observed by many Latin countries, two Mayan Indian villages in Guatemala celebrate by flying huge kites they design to commemorate dead relatives.

They believe on that day spirits of the ancestors get to come back and visit for 24 hours. The festival includes the lighting of candles, graveyard visits and a feast.

Families in the highland villages of Sumpango and Santiago get together six weeks before the holiday to start crafting large kites — some up to 40 feet wide — to display and fly on the Day of the Dead.

The kites are flown to honor the deceased and were originally used to send a "telegram" to their ancestors. They also serve as a symbol to promote peace and tolerance.

Amy Sanyer, director of Brolly Arts, and artist-in-residence Greg Kono visited about 10 schools in Salt Lake City to deliver a lesson in culture and art.

Brolly also provided kite kits for each of the students, who were able to craft and design their own kites out of tissue paper, string and bamboo — the same materials used to make traditional kites.

Sanyer asked students to choose someone to honor with the kite. Many chose a parent, "even though they're not dead," said D'Angelo Jimenez, a Guadalupe second-grader.

"In Guatemala, death is not scary or awful, and they teach you to live well so when you pass on you will be remembered with love," Sanyer told students. "Remember to make the most of the life you have now."

Vicki Mori, Guadalupe's director, said it's important for students — especially in areas and schools with a lot of diversity — to learn about many different cultures because it helps promote understanding.

According to Sanyer, the activity also was designed to integrate both the social studies and math curriculum through learning geometric shapes and measuring.

Brolly Arts also coordinated the "Contours" festival last year. That project, which drew local and international artists together, taught students about the birds of the Great Salt Lake through making kites that resembled a number of local birds.


E-mail: terickson@desnews.com

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