In October fifteen hundred first- through eighth-grade students at eleven schools in Salt Lake City and six schools in Seattle made Guatemalan kites and learned about Day of the Dead kite traditions observed in two highland villages north of Guatemala City. Students created their kites from kits that the Drachen Foundation commissioned from villagers in Sumpango where, each autumn, giant kites (barriletes gigantes) to honor the ancestors are designed and assembled. Purchase of the kits not only directly supported the celebration of this kite tradition in Sumpango but also enabled USA students to work with an authentic design and materials in constructing their kites.
Salt Lake City sites included many schools serving children from Hispanic families. In Seattle about a third of the participants were children studying Spanish. Reactions ranged from a teacher's "I wish the PE teacher could see this; these kids don't even realize they're running!" to a student's 'That was the most fun school project I have done in a LONG time. The name of the tail was so cool, flecos, they're like birds in the sky." One assistant in a Seattle classroom for immigrant and refugee students, those who have arrived in this country within the past six months, offered a particularly heartfelt perspective: "This was such a wonderful experience for these students. In their home countries they were free, but when they arrive in the US what they mostly hear is 'No, you can't speak the language; no, you don't know how we do things here.' But when they flew their kites, they were so happy, and they were free again."
The Drachen Foundation's Guatemala project began in 2001 with a trip by administrator Ali Fujino and Drachen Foundation Kite Journal writer Ben Ruhe to photograph the tradition, interview participants, and establish contacts with kite makers. Read an account of their research. In 2002 the Drachen Foundation commissioned further photo documentation and in 2003 brought kite makers Federico Carranza and Luis Tejaxun to Seattle to present kite making workshops in schools and to display giant kites from their community at Seattle Center.
The Drachen Foundation seeks other schools and school districts around the country interested in presenting this project to students. Please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for teacher training opportunities in summer and fall 2006, and click here to review teaching materials available for free download or purchase.
Special thanks to Amy McDonald Sanyer of Brolly Arts, who, with the assistance of the Salt Lake City Library, presented the project in Utah, and to Diane Quinn, Director of Education for the Burke Museum at the University of Washington in Seattle, who welcomed kite making into her annual Day of the Dead training for teachers.