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Target - Latino Heritage Month

Grades 3-5: The Huichol Community of Mexico: Communicating with Symbols

Learn about the Huichol people of Mexico and the importance of community and nature in their culture. Discuss their importance in our own lives.


  • Students will learn about the Huichol Indians of Mexico through class discussion and reading The Journey of Tunuri and the Blue Deer, a book by James Endredy.
  • Students will design a visual story using personal symbols.
  • Students will make a Huichol bead painting using large paper shapes.
  • Students will create a Huichol-inspired class mural that reflects the themes of community and nature.

  Understanding the Visual Arts in Relation to History and Cultures
Na-Va.K-4.5  Reflecting Upon and Assessing the Characteristics and Merits of Their Work and the Work of Others
Nl-Eng.K-12.1  Reading for Perspective
Nl-Eng.K-12.4  Communication Skills

  • The Journey of Tunuri and the Blue Deer by James Endredy
  • Glue (tacky glue works best)
  • Paper cups or small paper plates
  • Tissue paper squares, about 1-inch x 1-inch.
  • Pencils with erasers
  • Poster board in assorted colors
  • Class Mural Image (provided)
  • Paintbrushes


(For reading The Journey of Tunuri and the Blue Deer)
Sacred: Something that is very important and treated as special.
Adventurous: Describes something unknown (like a trip) that can be dangerous, scary or fun; also describes someone who seeks what is dangerous, scary or fun.
Ripen: To become fully grown and ready to eat.
Lilt: To speak or move in a lively, cheerful manner.
Nourish: To help something or someone grow.
Embrace: To take in your arms and give a big hug. To accept someone or something with that kind of friendly feeling.    

(For creating the Huichol art project)
Texture: The way a surface looks and feels—bumpy or flat, rough or smooth.
Shape: A geometric form such as a square, triangle, cone, or cube.
Experience: Doing an activity, taking part in an event or meeting people, all things that help you learn something new.
Mural: A large picture painted directly on a wall, either inside or outside a building.


Days 1-2: Introduction/Activity(Introduction)

1. Review the Huichol Background Information and introduce the topic to the class by asking if they know where Mexico is in relation to the U.S. Show the countries on a map of North America.

2. Introduce the class to the Huichol people, emphasizing their strong beliefs about nature and their practice of communicating with symbols. Refer to Image 1 and Image 2 and to the Huichol Symbols Reference Chart .

3. Have your students practice taking notes, jotting down important ideas from the story in their notebooks. (Students should not write everything down word-for-word.) Next, ask a few quick comprehension questions. Finally, ask the students to think of examples that demonstrate their feelings about nature in the story. You might add that the pictures in the story are all handmade with yarn by the Huichol people.   

4. Have students read The Journey of Tunuri and the Blue Deer by James Endredy. This activity may be as simple or complex as the instructor would like. (The key to making this activity right for your grade level will be in the critical thinking discussion that the instructor leads.) Give students enough time to view the characters on each page and point out that these are actual details from Huichol works of art. Stop at the end of every page to ask comprehension questions and give students time to answer individually or as a class. Some questions to ask (in this order) include:  

  1. How did Tunuri get lost? How would you feel if you realized you were lost?
  2. Why do you think the Huichol chose the sun to be the father of everything on earth? Why is the sun important to things on earth?
  3. What did Brother Wind mean when he said that he gives the breath of life to all children?
  4. How many ways can Tunuri (and all of us) feel Sister Water? Name them.
  5. In what way does Mother Earth give life, food, shelter, and love to all beings?
  6. Why does Grandfather Fire tell Tunuri that he will never be lost again?
  7. If you were Tunuri, how would you describe your journey to the rest of the family?

Day 3: Reflecting on Community

1. After discussing the story with the class, explain to the students that the characters in the story and the ideas presented are what the Huichol people actually believe.

2. Have students write their thoughts about the Huichol people and their beliefs in nature in their journal, either in class or as homework. Remember to talk about community and how our community compares to the Huichol community.

For fourth and fifth grade: As an additional component, you may introduce a poetry writing activity. Choose one or two neighborhood poems from books such as Night on Neighborhood Street by Eloise Greenfield or Neighborhood Odes by Gary Soto. The poems in these books describe two different communities in two different places, but they have similar ways of describing them. These poems can be used as a model for students to write a poem about their own community. You may decide to focus on the use of descriptive language, or simply use this activity to have students further describe their community, comparing and contrasting it to the community of the Huichol.  

Day 4: Using Visual Prompts

1. Ask students to recall the story about Tunuri: "If you were only shown the pictures and not the words, would you still be able to tell the story?"

2. The Huichol use symbols in their art to tell stories. Explain to the students that they will create a colorful work of art, similar to the Huichol bead paintings, to tell their story as a community.

3. Distribute the picture of the sun detail from the New Awakening (Huichol Image 6 ), the mural on display at the National Museum of Mexican Art. Point out the details in this bead painting, asking questions about the colors and the additional images in the detail. What might this picture represent? Remind students about Tunuri and all of the characters he encountered so they may begin to create a new story based on these symbols and ideas.

Day 5: Creating a Visual Story

1. Take the Class Mural Image (provided) and describe the process the students will use. The image is divided into small sections that each student will work on individually, in the Huichol style. The following images show the mural as it will look when divided into 16 sections.  If you have more students in the class, then you can divide the image into smaller squares so that each student works on their own piece.

2. Distribute a 12-inch-square piece of cardboard to each student. Each student should work on an individual section and glue the piece of image he or she has to the cardboard. This will be the piece the student will work on.

3. Using the tissue paper squares, students will make paper balls, dip them in glue, and affix them to their image until it is fully covered. Make sure the students know the planned color scheme. For example, if the sun in the picture is supposed to be yellow, then the students should glue all the yellow tissue paper balls on the sun.

4. Lastly, give the finished poster time to dry and piece the whole image back together.

5. Wrap up by discussing how everyone made this beautiful picture together as a community. Why is this important? What would happen if we didn’t work together as a community? What would happen to the earth if we didn’t care for it?

Day 6: Making a Huichol Mural for the Classroom

1. Tell your students that they will now create a mural of their Huichol pieces by bringing all of the poster board squares together to create one large mural.  They should glue them to a larger poster board, forming a mural.  You can glue, tape or staple the larger poster boards together until all student pieces are included.

2. As a class, give the mural a title.  Display it prominently in the classroom, or better yet, in the hallway so the whole school can appreciate the work.

3. Have students write a full-page essay about the design and what it was like to work on the mural together. After they have finished, have students read their essays and/or talk about their experiences working on the mural or another community project.  

Extended Classroom Connections:

  • For an additional language arts activity, read When Animals Were People by Bonnie Larson, or The Tree that Rains: The Flood Myth of the Huichol Indians of Mexico by Emery Bernhard. These children's books give additional information on Huichol beliefs.  
  • Visit the Huichol Center online at www.huicholcenter.org and click on "Interactive Fun" for puzzles and coloring.

Huichol Images are details of:
"El Nuevo Amanecer/The New Awakening," 2003
Art direction by Santos Motoaopohua de la Torre de Santiago with assistance by Graciela de Santiago Gonzalez, Catarino Roblez Cocio, Felipa Molina Valdez, Mariano Carrillo Rolando and Guadalupe Carrillo de la Cruz.
Chaquira beads in campeche wax on wood,
94 ¾" x 118 ¾"
National Museum of Mexican Art Permanent Collection, 2004.7.1-80
Purchase made possible by Davis Bancorp.

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