Día de los Niños (Children’s Day) is about more than just play

Día de los Niños may be Arlae Alston’s favorite celebration of the year. Which is saying something, considering she’s not a child.

In Mexico, when she was a little girl, Alston’s school celebrated Día de los Niños (Children’s Day) with games, music, decorations, and even a little candy for students. Teachers put time and effort into planning an event to make their students feel special.

It was better than Christmas, remembers Alston, who is Puente’s Family Engagement Project Manager. It’s the only day of the year where children don’t have to live up to adult expectations. They can just be.

“Día is not just a day for celebrating children, but to honor the fact that they exist as whole human beings,” Alston says. “It’s saying to them: children, you matter. And when you see adults sending that message, there are no words for that. It’s special.”

Now Alston gets to plan Puente’s annual Children’s Day, a free celebration Puente that is proud to present this Friday, April 28 from 6 to 8 p.m. at Pescadero Elementary School. The head-spinning list of children’s activities conforms to the event’s special theme, a “books and science family night.” These include a science station created by volunteers at Stanford University; a playground from the Half Moon Bay Library; and art projects galore, including book-making, kite-making, face painting, crafting cool grocery bags out of recycled t-shirts; and a traditional Mexican Lotería.

Children from the Tonantzin Ballet Folklorico (sponsored by Puente in Pescadero and ALAS in Half Moon Bay) will present a special dance, representing the traditions of different states in Mexico. There will be live music and, of course, an enormous potluck. Grandparents, uncles, and aunts come – not just parents – and everyone brings a dish to share with their neighbors. The tables will creak under the weight of homemade entrees and desserts.

Local families run the activity stations, and outside groups are eager to pitch in.

It’s a true community event, united in celebrating the next generation.

“So many people come, and it’s because we all care about children,” says Rita Mancera, Executive Director of Puente. “This event is definitely one of the highlights of the year.”

Most kids are 13 and younger, but everyone is welcome – Anglo and Latino students, children in the local public school district as well as homeschooled kids and students who go to schools outside Pescadero.

“Regardless of the color of your skin, everyone has been a kid and everyone can celebrate together,” adds Mancera.

Some communities have summer fairs. Puente is adding twist to Día in the spirit of gearing up for summer. Families who attend will be able to enroll their children in swimming lessons at the nearest YMCA, along with the local Girl Scouts chapter, the La Honda-Pescadero Unified School District Panther Camp, and other summer programs.

Since 1924, Día del Niño, or the Day of the Child, has grown as an annual celebration throughout Mexico. There is pride and empowerment in an event that celebrates the essence of a worldwide tradition – -and one that is celebrated by many South Coast residents from Mexico. In 1997, a group of librarians helped popularize Día de los Niños in the U.S. in conjunction with the theme of family literacy. The first the Día de los niños/Día de los libros (Day of the Book) events were held in Texas and New Mexico.

Puente brought Día to the South Coast in 2009 and it has been a success since it began. Last year drew 200 visitors — at least half were children. It’s a chance to come and play, receive books and school supplies, share a meal – and plant a seed about the delights of reading and science.

Basically, “everything is free, it’s fun, and it’s messy. There’s no pressure,” Alston says.

The timing of Children’s Day is important this year. With the current political climate, many children now bear the burden of worrying whether their parents are going to be deported. This is a way for Puente to demonstrate its continuing commitment to the entire community, regardless of legal status, amid all the stress and uncertainty.

One encouraging sign: for the first time this year, local mothers were the force behind Día. They formed an event planning committee and helped Alston put the whole day together. The same mothers will be staffing many of the activity stations this year, also for the first time.

“I think that when you come from a different place by celebrating people’s holidays, you make people visible,” says Alston. “You don’t have to hide; you know it’s okay to be you.”

Support Puente’s Coastside Gives campaign on Thursday, May 4, 2017. Your support will allow Puente to serve more youth with our Employment and Leadership program, as well as more families on the South Coast with vital services. This is a One Day fundraising campaign initiated by East Bay Gives taking the place of the very successful Silicon Valley Gives campaign that ended in 2016. Your donations to this campaign will be matched dollar for dollar, doubling your support to help Puente move its mission forward. You can schedule your donation in advance of May 4, 2017 at https://www.eastbaygives.org/puente — it’s easy and secure!

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