Inlakech Cultural Arts Center Director Javier Gomez has been named one of the first recipients of the Jaguar Award, a community service award jointly given by Oxnard College and the Rio School District.
“It was created to recognize courage, perseverance, and the empowerment and enrichment of our community,” Gomez said to VIDA Newspaper.
Adding that Oxnard College student Elizabeth Hernandez was also given the award for advocating for student rights and services, Gomez noted the award’s association with the Day of the Dead.
“It promotes Dia de los Muertos to those of non-Latino heritage,” said Gomez, “so they can learn about who and what we are.”
The Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos) is a holiday traditionally celebrated on November 2. It originated in Mexico but is celebrated all over Latin America as well as Southern California.
It is believed that the souls of the dead return to visit their living family members on this day, which many people celebrate by visiting the graves of deceased loved ones and setting up altars with their favorite foods, drink and photos.
The day is used to remember those who have died; honoring the departed allows people to celebrate a life and share the dead person’s story; by sharing favorite memories, the person’s memory lives on.
Gomez noted that in contrast to Thanksgiving, which began as a celebration of the fall harvest by the living, Dia de los Muertos celebrated the harvest by bringing together both the living and the dead.
Gomez said he wasn’t seeking out recognition for his 41 years of teaching Mexican music and culture at Inlakech, which will soon be celebrating its 50th anniversary.
“I was surprised to receive it, I do what I do because it’s the right thing to do, not for awards,” Gomez said. “As an educator, I value the importance of being of service to our community.”
Gomez says plans for the coming year include Inlakech’s annual Cesar Chavez Walk on March 29, and a proposal for the City of Oxnard, to buy the Colonia house that Chavez’ lived in when he launched his campaign to help farmworkers 60 years ago.
“We’re going to ask them to convert it into a historical museum, so you can see how he and farmworkers lived and inspired a movement,” Gomez said to VIDA Newspaper.