Thursday, July 3, 2008

Montgomery Elementary and crossing haunted lagoons

I visited Montgomery Elementary in Davis before the end of the school year. We had assemblies and a mask making workshop. I was in awe with the skeleton masks the kids designed! Ribbons and pompoms where some of the favorite decorating material and were used so creatively that I couldn’t keep my mouth closed.

And so here are some questions sent to me from the third graders.

What is your favorite book you've made?
It is hard for me to choose a favorite book I have made. Some of them gave me unforgettable experiences, like Harvesting Hope: the Story of Cesar Chavez, a book that keeps making me friends with people who work and honor the legacy of Chavez. And I love Just a Minute with its birthday party theme, just like the cumpleaños I used to celebrate with my family in Mexico. Little Night is a book that reminds me of things my mother used to do and play with me when I was a child. This was a challenging book for me to paint due to its dark and yet colorful quality, and so I especially appreciated the satisfaction it gave me, after all my work and sweat, to do a good job. And Los Gatos Black is a celebration of the many things I used to be afraid of when I was a child, including witches, werewolves, el Coco, and la Llorona. Have you ever been afraid of la Llorona? I have!
My newest favorite is Just in Case, the sequel to Just a Minute. In this new book Sr. Calavera back comes back to the land of the living for this year’s Grandma Beetle’s birthday party. For this occasion—and in his quest to be on time—Sr. Calavera comes riding a bicycle decorated with tassels and bolitas, just like the bicycle I had when I was a child.

What is Señor Calavera supposed to be?
To me Sr. Calavera is a candied skeleton. The inspiration for this character was the Mexican sugar skulls children eat during the celebration for Day of the Death. These sugar skulls are always very colorful with lots of icing decorations. That is why Señor Calavera has decorations on his face, arms, and knees.

Why did you swim across the haunted lagoon?
I swam across the haunted lagoon because I didn’t want to be left behind inside haunted waters! This is how it happened:
When I was growing up in Mexico, my sisters and I became competitive swimmers. Our coach was a very creative person, and he constantly devised trainings that were very out of the ordinary.
For this particular training, the swimming team traveled to a youth camp at the edge of the famous Catemaco Lagoon. Catemaco is beautiful, hot and jungle-like, but it is also known for being land of witches and magical things. In the middle of the lake there are some tiny islands, one with herons, another one with monkeys. North of Catemaco, in the Monte Cerro Blanco, it is said that an annual meeting of witches and healers is held every March.
Our team consisted of my two younger sisters, two other girls, about four boys, and I. We all climbed into a small boat and took a short ride past one of the first islands, before my crazy coach made us jump into the water. “I’ll wait for you on the other side,” he said pointing at the direction where we were supposed to head towards. All I knew was that I needed to start swimming or else I would be left behind alone inside the dark waters of the Catemaco Lagoon. Some of the boys were already swimming ahead. At first I couldn’t even see the shore at the other side. We girls stayed together as a group for most of the swim. But we all, boys and girls, swam cutting through on one side of the lagoon; it is a huge lagoon (28.01 square miles) and it would have taken forever had we swam across the middle. It took us over two hours to reach the other side.

Maybe another I’ll tell you another time about the time our crazy coach made us swim to an island in the sea.

Where was Señor Calavera trying to take Grandma Beetle?
Hmmmm, where do YOU think?

Finally, here are some drawings from the letters I received from Mrs. Carol Stuwart’s 6th Graders. Look at the many interpretations of Señor Calavera!

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