Spanish Immersion Program During the Day of the Dead in Oaxaca

In the southern states of Mexico where indigenous people and their cultures thrive, the Day of the Dead is a very important syncretistic festival from October 31st November 2nd and is dedicated to the family and their deceased family members. I was glad I had chosen my Spanish immersion program during these dates.

Repetitive chanting solemn alternating with joyous song excitement of children running around all night vigils. Those were some observations of our visit to the cemetery of Xoxocotlan in Oaxaca that drew us in with a sense of complete disbelief and wonderment during our Spanish Immersion Experience in Mexico. I was experiencing the Day of the Dead, a traditional celebration in Oaxaca that would make my spanish immersion experience incredible!

All of our senses were alive that night as we very cautiously edged our way through the maze of hundreds of crowded tombstones, watching each step carefully along darkened and bumpy paths lit only by candles and the occasional camera flash from visitors.

Families were seated on the ground around the gravesites waiting out their overnight vigil with food, drinks, cigarettes, music and friends to keep them company. Our entry into the cemetery was no less than amazing, lit by candles and accompanied by a blanket of somber music being played.

The best part of my trip was that it was a complete Spanish immersion experience where I got involved in the culture. A week or two in advance of the 3-day festival, the families begin preparing for the actual return of their loved ones to the gravesite and I was there. Preparations include cleaning the grave to refresh the dirt and flowers around it and planting new flowers, making loaves of beautifully decorated pan de muertos (a special sweet bread) and other foods that their loved one enjoyed while alive, molding chocolate into shapes and constructing the altar.

The making of an altar is very personal, varying from one family to the next, built to display special items of remembrance of the deceased person in an attempt at bringing them back home once a year. No matter how modest the house is, everyone makes some type of altar. It may be as plain as a table with the loved one’s photo and offerings such as chocolate, pan de muertos and flowers or it may involve a more elaborate assemblage of several step-like platforms with all of these items plus miniature “calaveras” (skeleton figures) and more. The structures themselves are covered in a cloth sheet before adding personal items and bright gold marigold-type flowers called zempasuchil are added.

During my Spanish immersion experience I visited the open-air Abastos market in Oaxaca, there was a stand dedicated to making and selling all types of chocolate. Not surprisingly, this stand was one of the more popular stops for visitors and locals alike who would take their chocolate home to mold it into shapes for the dead. I remember watching the shop employees make the chocolate fresh for purchase. After buying some chocolate, it was handed to you still hot and in liquid form in a big plastic bag.

Later during the week, through the spanish immersion experience in Oaxaca I visited the market. We bought some chocolate for our host mother who used some of it for her altar and then watched as she prepared a homemade hot chocolate that she served to us every morning along with slices of pan de muertos and other typical Oaxacan dishes. She first placed broken pieces of the chocolate into a blue-glazed clay pitcher, poured in boiling milk and then used a wooden utensil called “molinillo” (similar to a honey dipper but larger) which, when the long handle was twirled back and forth between her hands, created a frothy layer on the chocolate. As she poured some chocolate into 2 mugs, she explained to us that the way we should eat the pan de muertos is by first dunking it into the chocolate. The combination of the sweet bread and warm chocolate was enough to make us happy for the rest of the day, thinking about the following day’s breakfast that would undoubtedly include chocolate.

All in all, my Spanish immersion experience in Oaxaca was unforgettable. Experiencing the Day of the Dead during my Spanish immersion program abroad helped me realize that it is not enough to learn the language, do a Spanish immersion program, live with a local family but the combination of all
these components that make you really learn the culture.

How to Grow Flowering Herbs – Part 1

Annual Flowering Herbs

Petunia- (Petunia spp.)

Petunias are tender flowering herbs that adorn the garden with a variety of striking colors such as, red, pink, white, violet or a mixture of white stripped with violet or blue.

They are more attractive when planted closely in flower beds forming a blanket of red or velvet blossoms. Petunias are mostly cultivated in pots or window boxes.

Soil Requirements.

The best soil where petunias are more adaptable is a well-drained, fertile, sandy loam soils.


Petunias are propagated by seeds sown in germinating trays or seed boxes and later on thinned and planted in pots or beds.

Plants in full bloom may be brought inside the house for a day or two but should be exposed to full or partial sunlight to maintain normal growth.

Cock’s Comb – (Celosia argentia cristata )

There are two types of cock’s comb like; dwarf and tall or medium height varieties.

There are as many colors of the rainbow as there are cock’s comb varieties. Most often, the dwarf varieties are planted in group as low borders, while the taller varieties serve as background and foundation planting.

Thee flowers stalks vary in size where the taller ones have bigger clusters.


Cock’s comb are easily propagated by seeds either by direct seeding or transplanted singly by seedlings.

When direct seeding is applied, you should do the thinning to avoid overcrowding of the plants.

Marigold – (Tagetes erecta)

Marigold, a native of Mexico is a member of the sunflower family is a hardy annual, bushy, producing flowers with raised centers of golden-orange petals gradually turning to reddish-brown in the outer petals.

Soil Requirements.

Marigold thrives best in a light loam soil with a good drainage and exposed to full sunlight.


Propagation by seeds is the only method to multiply marigold. They are easy to grow although they seem to disappear in most gardens.

Balsam or Touch-Me-Not – (Impatiens oppositfolia, I. glandulifira )

A native of Africa, balsam or touch-me-not derived its name from its characteristics where the fruits when touch at ripening stage burst even just upon a slight contact.
They have a striking beautiful flowers ranging from pink, white, purple, and red double petalled which resembles the rose flowers.

Soil Requirements.

Balsam usually prefers rich fertile soil with abundant sunlight.


Balsam can easily be germinated by seeds. The seeds easily germinate when touch to the ground.

Carnation – (Dianthus caryophyllus)

Carnations are lovely, double-fringed, fragrant flowers. They are favorites as cut flowers, for borders and beds.

Good as potted plants, carnation, when planted properly blooms 5 to 6 months. They may last for more years if you’ll properly care them and fertilized properly.

Soil Requirements.

The best soil for carnation is a well drained and rich in organic matter soil with a cool climate and enough supply of solar radiation.


Carnation is propagated by seeds sown in germinating trays or seed boxes before they are transferred to individual pots or plots when planted in the field.

Verbena – (Verbena hortensis )

An excellent ground cover because of its compact habit of closely massed of flower heads.

There are three colors of verbena such as, red, purple, and white flowers which are attractive when planted in group as ground cover.

Soil Requirements.

Verbena grows best in a well drained, fertile soil and enough supply of sunshine in high altitudes during its growing period.


It is propagated by seeds when planted in temperate countries. However, they can also be propagated by cuttings where, you have to include the rooted portion of the stem to make a sure growth development.

Periwinkles- (Vinca minor)

Known as chichiricas or tropical periwinkles, they have a white or lavender flowers and said to have medicinal values.

They are excellent as border flowers, flowering hedges or foundation plants along bases of walls, fences and buildings.

They are attractive because they flowers the whole year round. You need less attention in replanting them since they grow vigorously.

The only attention you’ll make is to continuously pinch the tips to keep them bushy and busy producing flowers.

Soil Requirements.

Periwinkles grows in any type of soils especially in a well drained rich in organic matter soil medium.


Propagation by cuttings is ideal for periwinkle but they multiply even faster when grown by seeds.

They prefer to bloom abundantly when exposed to full sunlight, though they also produce flowers in partial shaded areas, but not as good when planted with open sun exposure.

Bachelor’s Button – (Cyntaurea cyanus )

Belongs to the Amaranth or Colitis family, bachelor’s button is also known as butones, butonisan or botoncillo and is relative of cock’s comb, Joseph’s coat and cucharita.

Their flowers varies from purple which dominates of all varieties to white, pink, and orange colors.


The methods used in propagating bachelor’s button is by seeds. They multiply fast and are easy to reproduce.

Perennial Flowering Herbs

Star cluster- (Pentas lanceolata )

A native of Africa, this flowering plant is a newly introduced to the Philippines.

They are an attractive herb with a cluster of red, star-like flowers. Although there are pink, white and lavender varieties, the red is considered the most attractive.

Star cluster becomes shrub reaching a height over seven feet as it develops woody tissues through the years of its growth.

To produce a continuous blooms the whole year round, you have to cut the flower stalks after the flowers have fallen down.


Propagated usually by young cuttings ( the hard or matured stems generally do not develop roots).

Anthurium – (Anthurium andraeanum, A. spp. )

Anthurium,also called flamingo flower because of its showy, waxy bract of flaming, deep red or pink color, often mistaken as the flower, is gaining popularity as a cut flower or potted plant.
When used as cut flower, anthurium lasts for as long as one month which explains why it’s expensive and prized by many florists.

There are a hundred varieties of anthurium scattered in the Philippines, but only a few are truly attractive accepted by florists.

Proper care and watering of anthurium is advised to enhance a continuous flower blooms.

Soil Requirements.

Anthurium thrives best in a well drained rich, sandy loam soils.

They usually favors in a cool climate and high elevations, like Baguio and Bukidnon. However, they can be made to flower just as beautifully in greenhouse or controlled environment.


Propagation is usually done by dividing the suckers or shoots, including some roots.

The newly propagated plants must be placed under the shade until they have recovered and new shoots developed.

You have to avoid anthurium exposure to the noon day sunlight. They are intolerant to too much heat of the sun.

African violet- (Saintpaulia spp.)

A native of Africa as the name implies, also known throughout the world as Saint Paulia by gardeners, this flower plant is loved by many because of its soft, waxy leaves and flowers that stays the whole year round in different shades of blue, white, pink, and purple colors.

This plant loves the morning sunlight. They dies easily when exposed to extreme heat and too much water.

African violets can be grown successfully when grown in pots as well as on screened window boxes.

They can also be grown in greenhouse of which they produce more attractive flowers.

Spanish flag – (Gonioplectus hispanus )

Spanish flag also known as canna or bandera espanola are ideal when you want to establish a new garden and an instant supply of flowers.

They are in handy, bearing a profusion of attractive colored flowers within a few weeks.

Their flowers are numerous from streaked to just plain white, cream, pink, deep red, purple, tangerine, lavender or sometimes a combination of two or more colors.

Spanish flag have numerous hybrids. You can select from among the hybrids you think attracts your interest or plant all them if you wish a colorful flowers in your garden.

If you want to maintain large, continuous flowers the whole year round, you have to cut the stalks which have flowered since they’ll compete for food with the rest of the developing plants. These stems will eventually dies anyway.

Soil Requirements.

Spanish flag grows best in rich, friable, sandy loam to loam soils. However, they also grow well in clay loam soil.

Generally, they produce attractive flowers when planted in an open field with abundant supply of sunlight.

But there are other hybrids that shows an excellent flowers even in partially shaded areas.


The easiest way to propagate Spanish flag is by separation of rhizomes which multiplies easily.

However, seeds may be used in propagation but it will take a long time to bear flowers compared to those propagated by rhizomes.

Red Billbergia- (Billbergia spp. )

A member of the pineapple family, red billbergia have a strikingly beautiful red or pink flowers which blooms during the months of May, June, and November in Luzon, Philippines.

They grows well in partial shade or full sunlight.

Soil Requirements.

Billbergia thrives best with a mixture of soil, ground charcoal, moss and other medium used in planting orchids.


They can be propagated by separation or by division of the young shoots which comes out after the flowers have wilted and the old plants have died.

Camia- (Hedychium philippinense K. Schum. )

Camias are shade loving plants to which they can be grown under trees. Their flowers are white with a fragrant scent which makes them favorite as cut flower and also for corsages or bouquets although they doesn’t stay fresh very long.

Their flowers are numerous during the rainy season and the plants gradually die as the dry season sets in. However, the rhizomes send out new shoots again once the rain starts to pour in.

You should prune the stems which have flowered just above the ground level to induce more flower blooms.

Camias have a cousin called the yellow camia or India Ginger which produce yellow flowers and a native of the Himalayas.

Soil Requirements.

The best soil for camia is sandy or clay loam with sufficient amount of moisture.


Camias can be propagated by division of the rhizomes or root stock. They are planted at a distance of half a meter apart directly in the field which have been properly prepared.

Common Words – The Spanish Word ‘Hay’

One of the most common words, Spanish word ‘hay’, is a small but powerful expression. Spanish speakers use it daily and therefore adding it to your repertoire is a must if you want to speak real Spanish.

So…how do you use this simple Spanish word to communicate effectively?

A. This one Spanish word, hay, is equivalent to both the singular there is and the plural there are. This is great, as you only have to learn one word for two expressions!,

It is pronounced like the English ‘eye’ or ‘I’.

Here is how it works. Just add the ‘hay’ in front of the noun or noun and its adjectives that you want to talk about.

1. Hay un libro. – There is a book.

2. Hay dos libros. – There are two books.

3. Hay un carro rojo. – There is a red car.

4. Hay carros rojos. – There are red cars.

5. Hay pan. – There is bread.

6. Hay flores. -There are flowers.

B. Better yet, when speaking Spanish, all you have to do is change the intonation of your voice to make it into a question. When used in a question, ¿Hay? means ‘Is there?’ or ‘Are there?’

Check this out:

1. ¿Hay un libro? – Is there a book?

2. ¿Hay dos libros? – Are there two books?

3. ¿Hay un carro rojo? – Is there a red car?

4. ¿Hay carros rojos? – Are there red cars?

5. ¿Hay pan? – Is there bread?

6. ¿Hay flores? – Are there flowers?

Just a reminder: When speaking, the intonation of your voice indicates a sentence or a question, but when writing Spanish, remember to use the two question marks to indicate a question.

C. Just add two more common words, Spanish ‘si’ for yes and ‘no’ for no. Now, you can communicate in both positive and negative answers to these questions, using basically the same vocabulary. Look how easily a few simple Spanish words can be combined to grow your speaking power!

1. Question. ¿Hay un libro? Answer Si, hay. – Yes, there is.

2. Q. ¿Hay un carro rojo? A. No, no hay. – No, there isn’t.

3. ¿Hay carros rojos? Si, hay dos carros rojos. – Yes, there are two red cars.

4. ¿Hay dos libros? No, hay cuatro libros. – No, there are four books.

5. ¿Hay pan? No hay. – There isn’t any.

6. ¿Hay flores? Si, hay muchos. – Yes, there are lots.

D. Now add another couple simple Spanish words like ‘cuántos’, ‘hoy’ and a number, like ‘diez’. This allows you to start making longer and real conversations.

Q. ¿Hay libros? A. Si, hay.

Q. ¿Cuántos hay? – How many are there?

A. Hoy, hay diez. – Today, there are ten.

E. The common Spanish word ‘hay’ is very valuable and a must when speaking Spanish. So, how are you going to instill this useful little word in your brain?

One of the best ways to learn a new word is to use a trick or help to instill it in your memory.

1. Using mnemonics is one way to accomplish this. (A mnemonic is a rhyme that helps you remember both the pronunciation of the Spanish words and their English meanings.) They jingle the new words into your memory.

Hay means ‘there is’ or ‘there are’. It is pronounced like the English word ‘eye’ or ‘I’.

So, to help you remember try this:

Imagine a Cyclops saying, “There is something in my eye!”

Or (Hay) I noticed that there are oranges.

2. Or you can try and embed it in your memory with:

When you eye something, you know that it is there or you wouldn’t be able to eye it.

3. Or another way is to remember a small phrase-something that has a special meaning to you.

For example: If you are really into hamburgers, try and remember. Hay hamburguesas. (There are hamburgers.)

As you can see, one of the most common words, Spanish word ‘hay’, can be used as ‘there is‘, ‘there are‘, ‘is there‘ and/or ‘are there‘. Using it will let you begin making real sentences and questions immediately. Different people have different ways of learning, but I hope this helps you grasp some of the uses of ‘hay’ and instills it in your memory. Common words in Spanish, like ‘hay’, are priceless when learning to communicate effectively in Spanish.