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The mood was festive during lunch time Thursday at Indio College where students and faculty celebrated Mexico’s Independence Day.

Papel picado, elaborate tissue paper banners with traditional cut-out designs and a large Mexican flag draped over the walls of the function room.

The students danced like “La Chona “, an extremely popular song from northern Mexico, screamed through the speaker system.

Others played lottery, similar to bingo, in the hope of winning lollipops.

“It’s important to have our own day to celebrate our own culture,” Eighth-grade student Rashel Sandoval said, adding that she was happy her school is hosting the event. “It shows that they care enough to show respect.”

Later Thursday evening, Sandoval will continue the celebration at home with his parents from Mexico. On September 16, she says they usually eat chili in nogada, a traditional dish that celebrates the colors of the flag.

But this afternoon was the first time Sandoval got to celebrate the holidays with his school friends, some of whom didn’t know the importance of the day. “I’m proud to share what I know about this,” Sandoval said.

September 15 marked the start of National Hispanic-American Heritage Month, and Indio Middle School has a program planned to celebrate the culture of its student body, which is 93% Hispanic.

“We intend to celebrate our culture and our people,” said Principal Elizabeth Hartman, who herself enjoys learning about Hispanic heritage. “It’s the children who educate me,” she said.

Over the next month, daily classroom sessions at Indio Middle will include lessons on the 21 Spanish-speaking countries. The reading passages will focus on Hispanic themes and famous artists from Latin America.

Erica Valenzuela, a Spanish teacher, plans to talk about Mexican painter Frida Kahlo.

“A lot of the students come from Mexican families, and most didn’t know about Mexico’s Independence Day,” said Valenzuela, wearing a Mexican national football shirt. “I love that they want to go home and connect with their parents about the holidays.”

Between the games of loteriaFifth grader Jesus Gomez said: “I am delighted to celebrate because today means so much to my parents.”

Some noted that the celebration and thematic classes show that schools have come a long way in showcasing diversity and inclusion.

ASB director Jen Ramirez grew up in schools in the valley. She never had such a chance to celebrate her Mexican-American heritage at school, she said, until she headed to Cal State University in San Bernardino.

“It is important for children to realize that their heritage is important,” said Ramirez.