16th Annual El Día de los Niños at Goodman Community Center
A Transitioning Tradition
The El Día de los Niños Committee: Sitting - Rissel Sanderson
(l-r), Fabiola Hamdan, Michelle Garcia, Sara Shatz Standing -
Eunji Lee, Rosario Angulo, Lucia Ledesma, Bridget Rogers Not
Present - Veronica Vega, Amy Christianson, Ryan Estrella, Lacey
Viloria, Monica Caldwell, Terry Weaver, and Karime Perez

By Jonathan Gramling

El Día de los Niños — The Day of the Children — is a tradition celebrated throughout Latin
America. The day highlights the children and their needs and raises them up in the eyes of the
community. Dane County’s celebration was born out of tragedy some 16 years ago.

“At first, it was targeted to get key resources to parents because about 16 years ago, we were
facing a critical point in Dane County, especially in Madison, where we didn’t have quality and
affordable child care for, specifically, our Latino community and our community without
documentation,” said Fabiola Hamdan, now the immigration specialist for Dane County. “Then
we had a tragic incident where this three-year-old drowned in a hotel pool while her mom
worked at the hotel. We decided that we wanted to really get in touch with all of the agencies
that are providing services. And we created the Latino Children & Families Council, not only to
ask them to serve on behalf of the Latino community, but also to offer our services. As you
know, Teresa Tellez-Gíron is the vice-chair of the Latino Children & Families Council. She
worked for Child Protective Services, so she knows in great detail all of the needs that we
have.”
They decided to start out small at the Salvation Army Community Center, expecting 80 people to show up. But if you build it to meet a need, they shall come.

“We had over 200 people come,” Hamdan recalled. “We had some safety issues because we were not equipped to work with such a large group. After that, we
went to the Labor Temple on S. Park
Street. After a while, that became too small. Then we went to a soccer club that had an indoor field in Oregon. And now we are
at the Goodman Community Center. One of the things about the center is that it is growing, is huge and has so many different programs for youth especially. And we
want the Latino community to get acquainted with what is going on in this building and come and take advantage of these programs. Goodman is fantastic about
giving us almost the entire building for our festivities.”
On May 18, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., the Goodman Community Center will be
transformed into a festival grounds with hundreds upon hundreds of Latino
children and their families filling up the buildings and grounds with laughter and
the continuous whirl of motion. It will
be a child’s amusement park.
“As always, we’re going to have all of the activities geared towards the
children,” Hamdan said. “There will be information booths. We’re going to have
resources and delicious food like tamales provided by the Latino Academy. We’ll
have goodie bags. The Latino Chamber will provide a photo booth. We’ll have an
open mike for the kids to perform. That’s what Rissel Sanderson of Play and
Learn does. She gathers all of the kids who want to sing or dance or show their
traditional outfits from their home countries. At the end, we always have the
Parade of Nations when we all proudly say good-bye to another celebration by
carrying the flags from our home countries. We also hope that many authorities
come to meet and mingle with our Latino population.”

For most of the 16 years, Hamdan has headed up the effort that includes long-time
financial supporters and over 100 volunteers each year. Hamdan is ready to pass
the reins to someone else or a coalition of groups to keep this vital tradition
going.

“I became the first immigration specialist for Dane County,” Hamdan said. “This
job entails a lot of direct work with clients who are facing immigration
deportation or detainment. As much as I love doing this event — it’s fun,
especially the day of — I just can’t stretch myself enough. I’m going to step aside.
I’m still going to help with the fundraising piece. But we have the Latino Academy
with Baltazar and Centro Hispano with Karen Menendez Coller. Plus we have
members of the Latino Children & Families Council who will be helping with it. It’
s going to be a transition. We’re going to work hard to make sure this tradition
continues.”

El Día de los Niños must — and will — carry on for the sake of the children.