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“Koonex, koonex, palexen,” children sang, as they chanted along in Mayan to a children’s song led by Gloria Arjona during Calaveras Literarias.

“What you’re saying in Mayan is, ‘Don’t be lazy, let’s dance, because death is coming, and we need to enjoy life,’” Arjona explained, noting that whether young or old, the song calls for people to be active.

Families gathered Sunday at the Newhall Community Center to sing songs like this one, called Calaveras Literarias in Latin American culture, a term that includes songs, stories and poems written to celebrate Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead.

Dr. Gloria Arjona hands out materials to a child attending the Calaveras Literarias event hosted by the Santa Clarita Public Library Sunday. October 10, 2021. Bobby Block / The Signal.

The event was held by the Santa Clarita Public Library through a REFORMA Noche de Cuentos mini-grant, which allowed the library to enhance its Spanish-speaking cultural programs through Hispanic Heritage Month, according to Librarian Morgan Lazo.

The library hopes programs such as this one help to continue the success of other outdoor programs held over the summer, Lazo said.

“They were a huge hit, so we wanted to keep some of that outdoor energy going,” Lazo added. “There’s several different departments of the library and the learning center, as well, that have been able to collaborate, so we’re really excited to be able to actually come out into the community again.”

Dr. Gloria Arjona leads the Calaveras Literarias event hosted by the Santa Clarita Public Library Sunday. October 10, 2021. Bobby Block / The Signal.

Calaveras Literarias are typically are written in metric verse with a rhyme scheme, which Arjona said have been rewritten through the years.

“These songs are very, very, very old, more than 500 years old,” Arjona said, “and the amazing thing is we put verses and they fit perfectly. So, we can change all these songs I’m singing today (because) they belong not to a sing author, but to the community, so we can add and take out, as long as it rhymes.”

Dr. Gloria Arjona leads the Calaveras Literarias event hosted by the Santa Clarita Public Library Sunday. October 10, 2021. Bobby Block / The Signal.

Through the event, Arjona shared with children the meaning of some of these Calaveras Literarias, using various literary mediums to teach them about the cultures and traditions of Latin America.

It was for this reason that Santa Clarita resident Evette Cabanillas brought her four children to the center, hoping they’d have the opportunity to learn some of their own cultural heritage.

“I’m Mexican, second generation, and my kids are half Mexican, half white, and so I wanted to introduce them to more of their heritage,” Cabanillas said. “We don’t really speak Spanish at home, so we want to start bringing in all the culture, and I thought this would be a way to do it. The kids are enjoying themselves.”

Dr. Gloria Arjona leads the Calaveras Literarias event hosted by the Santa Clarita Public Library Sunday. October 10, 2021. Bobby Block / The Signal.

After Arjona’s presentation, children had the chance to take on some of their own Mexican-inspired crafts and activities, making Dia de los Muertos decorations ahead of the upcoming holiday.

For more information about upcoming library events, visit SantaClaritaLibrary.com. 

Dr. Gloria Arjona leads the Calaveras Literarias event hosted by the Santa Clarita Public Library Sunday. October 10, 2021. Bobby Block / The Signal.