More than one hundred children pointed and screamed with delight Tuesday as the Nickelodeon character Sponge Bob Square Pants squeezed his way through a wall of Latino families and children in the Mercado Central on Lake Street in South Minneapolis.
A Spanish-speaking emcee read out the numbers of winning tickets as lucky boys and girls received bikes, stuffed animals and pinatas full of candy. And yes, a large cake was enjoyed by all. What was this special occasion? Dia de los Ninos: the Day of the Kids.
Enjoyed by millions of Mexican children, Dia de los Ninos is a holiday for playing games, eating a special meal and cake with families. Here, in Minneapolis, where the population of Mexican immigrants is growing, so is the number of children who continue to celebrate their special day on the last day of April. Why celebrate children? Aracely Zagal, owner of Dulceria la Pinata, a candy store in the Mercado, says it simply:
“I love this day,” she said after cutting a huge sheet cake decorated with clowns and balloons. “This is the day that says we love them (the children).”
Zagal has been here for 15 years and has owned Dulceria for 14. She loves celebrating Dia de los Ninos and knows that many families miss the traditions and customs back home but manage to set aside time from two and three jobs to spend it with their kids.
Derek and his mom Ellie were also part of the celebration at Mercado. He goes to Folwell School Performing Arts Magnet, and loves media and art. Ask him what he will do on a holiday especially set aside for kids and “Play my video games all day” is the answer, delivered with a smile. His mom said it is important for her son to be a part of his culture and tradition.
Dia de los Ninos wasn’t just celebrated in the Mexican community. On the North side of Minneapolis at Sumner library, artist Paulino Brenner told over 50 small school children a story about a boat that traveled all over the world. Their small hands constructed the paper boat as they sang along to this sweet little song:
I am the boat
I am the sea
I sail to you
You sail to me
Dia de los Ninos has become a focus of nation literacy campaigns, and many of the kids at Sumner Library were Somali and Latino children from a nearby school. The event was part of Hennepin County Library’s Dia de los Ninos/Dia de los Libros-Day of the Kids/Day of the Books event. It’s been going on for over ten years, says Latino outreach coordinator Marcela Sanchez. Hennepin County library wants to bring in Latino culture to their sites and elevate their culture and create bi-lingual events to get more and more families to enjoy the libraries. That’s important, says Sanchez.
“It’s a great way to see children of different backgrounds and different ethnicities come together for an event. We see the families mingling together and nobody wonders where they’re coming from or what kind of immigration status they have. That’s not what is important. Public libraries are for everyone,” she said.
Dia de los Ninos is a small cultural event that seems miles away from the politics of immigration and the debate that is set to begin any day in Washington, D.C., over the legal status of people who have come to the US to work or support their families back home. But many immigrant parents — whether they are here with or without proper documentation — have their kids’ future on their minds on the Day of the Children. This year, the holiday may have been a bit brighter with this week’s action in the Minnesota Legislature, where the Path to Prosperity Act won approval in the State Senate. Minnesota’s immigrant parents, perhaps, are able to breathe a little easier knowing their children may get access to an affordable college education.
What is Dia de los Ninos? It’s about kids — everybody’s kids — and whether they have a chance to succeed and have a better life.
Sweet, even without the candy.