FARMINGTON — A year and a half ago, Yesenia Pedrosa's father was deported to Chihuahua, Mexico.
Since then, Pedrosa's mother, Dorothea John, said she has been trying to keep her young daughter's Mexican heritage alive.
As part of that effort, John took her 3-year-old daughter to San Juan College's Día de los Muertos masquerade Friday night.
Various student groups, including the Hispanic Latino Center, the Native American Center and the All Great Accomplishments Value Equality, or AGAVE, club organized the masquerade.
John, who is Navajo, is raising Pedrosa to speak English, Diné and Spanish. She said it is important to preserve the young girl's culture.
"I just think it shapes her identity," John said.
She turned to her daughter and explained that Día de Muertos is one of the holidays her father celebrates.
John said she speaks to Pedrosa's father twice a day. She said when she spoke to him Friday morning, he was cleaning his father's grave in preparation for Día de Muertos.
Día de Muertos is a pre-Hispanic tradition in Mexico with roots in the ritualistic practice of beheading enemies and displaying their heads on altars, said Rosa Carmina, a San Juan College student ambassador. After the Spanish came to Mexico, the tradition mixed with Catholicism to become what it is today.
Now, on Día de Muertos, many Mexicans visit cemeteries and place brightly-colored flowers on the graves of their deceased friends and family. The holiday, which translates to Day of the Dead, takes place Nov. 1 to 2 each year.
"We believe the soul of the dead comes to eat with us and enjoy the party," Carmina said.
Carmina moved to the United States two years ago from Querétaro, Mexico. She started taking classes at San Juan College, including her first English class. Now she serves as a student ambassador and hopes to graduate with a nursing degree in the spring.
"It is important to conserve our culture because we are Mexican," Carmina said.
Carmina doesn't know if she will move back to Mexico, but, if she does, she said she wants to teach English to her people.
In preparation for the Día de Muertos masquerade, members of AGAVE, the Spanish club at San Juan College, spent Friday decorating and making food, including chocolate calaveritas, or skulls, made in the shape of painter Frida Khalo's face and a cake with both skulls and masks.
Brenda Mendez de Andrade, the coordinator for the college's Hispanic Latino Center, came to the U.S. to attend college. She later returned to the area to marry her husband.
Before coming to Farmington, she said she often set up an altar as part of Día de Muertos.
Mendez de Andrade grew up in Juarez. She said southern Mexico usually has larger Día de Muertos celebrations than Juarez.
"Since Juarez is a border town, sometimes it gets mixed with Halloween," Mendez de Andrade said.
In addition to giving Hispanics an opportunity to celebrate their culture, Friday's masquerade also provided an opportunity to reach out to people who weren't as familiar with the celebration or culture.
Tami and Gerald Jacquez received fliers about the event while at the Halloween carnival last week. They took their three children to the masquerade.
"We just thought it would be interesting to see what it's about," Gerald Jacquez said.