InterView – Rebecca Harrington

Rebecca Harrington
By Chris Murphy

Modesto is fortunate to have people in town that are super volunteers and really care about our community. These volunteers work hard to do something special and make things happen, Rebecca is one of those people. She has been active in the community throughout her life from Modesto HS, MJC to American GI Forum. She has worked for a local school district assisting families to understand how to help their children and as an advocate for women’s healthcare. I got to know Rebecca through her work with Patty Castillo Davis and the 100% free to the community event in Downtown Modesto, Día de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead).

As with so many of our local events, COVID-19 has played a hand in the cancellation of this years’ event. They had planned on moving the event to Lakewood Cemetery in Hughson, but that was not to be. I felt it was important to talk about this important cultural event in our city and county that is rich in the Latino culture. Many people will still celebrate and create Ofrendas (altars) on their own. There are those who may not partake of the same or any religion, they will find the celebration of Día de Los Muertos a fascinating blend of art and culture as the community pays reverence to honor their family and friends who have passed. There has been no time that this tradition holds more value than this past year.

We wanted to catch up with Rebecca, and despite many medical setbacks. She is still the driving force in our community, and we asked her to share why these events mean so much and why we should celebrate in our own way. Let’s get to know Rebecca.

ModestoView: What has driven you to continue to volunteer in our community and make a difference?
Rebecca Harrington: I started my road to volunteerism while a student at Modesto HS. I recognized a need to help those who felt they did not have a voice in the community. At the time we did this through community theatre group we created to share the Latino experience. I continued to help others throughout the years in background as I raised my family. Once my own children were grown, I took a more active role in the community by participating in local community organizations and work.

MV: Where did you grow up?
RH: I am born and raised in Modesto. My family came to Modesto in 1928, my father and his brothers all attended Modesto HS.

MV: What made you originally want to get involved in community service?
RH: My grandmother always reminded me to never forget where we I came from. My roots came from Mexico, where I traveled after graduating high school. She asked me to go to Mexico to see where she was born, learn to speak, read, and write Spanish well enough that I was asked what part of Mexico I was from. It was an eye opener to see why so many people immigrated from there to here, the United States.

MV: Why is Día de Los Muertos so captivating to so many?
RH: The basis of it comes from the celebration of All Saints Day and All Souls Day. The Mesoamerican culture of Mexico revered its ancestors, when the Spanish came to their country with the Catholic religion it morphed into something more which became Día de Los Muertos which is recognized by UNESCO.

MV: In years past, the altars downtown have been so elaborate, what do the altars mean and what purpose do they serve?
RH: It is the way to remember our loved ones who have passed from this physical world to the next world (heaven). We believe that they never leave us and are with us like a guardian angel. We recognize the signs, a butterfly, a hummingbird, or scent that brings them back to us in thought. The Ofrenda (altar) is a representation of who they were and the things they loved in life. The marigold is used to guide them back to this world, the food to feed their souls while here and the things they loved so they know we have not forgotten them.

MV: How important is it that Modesto and our surrounding areas embrace our different cultures?
RH: We all have roots to another country, in sharing our differences we find out how much we truly are alike. When we open our minds, we open our hearts and to each other. There is so much more to us all than what we live. Through sharing our cultures with one another, we are taking a virtual journey to other countries without leaving our home. For those who are not able to travel, we bring to them a glimpse of the world through sight, sound, music, and food.

MV: What has been one of our favorite memories from past Muertos events?
RH: The beginning, 2016 in bringing a free event to the community that many said it couldn’t be done. I love a challenge. We started out small, and the event took on a life of its own and in 2019 I believe we had well over 12,000 people attend the days long event. I love the vendors, music, ballet folkloric dancers, and the beautiful colors of the event. It’s a rush for me and that one day I completely forget what ails me and my soul is free from pain.

MV: How would you like this to evolve as we move forward and what can people do to embrace our cultures?
RH: I would like to see our many cultures bring their special events to the community of Stanislaus County and be a part of the local museum. So many have contributed to our community, and they have a story to share. It is through understanding that we become better neighbors to one another and to the future of our children.

MV: What impact did the Disney film Coco have on the recognition for Día de Los Muertos?
RH: The movie Coco brought Día de Los Muertos to mainstream America. Anytime Disney does a film, it reaches so many in a way that we could not do individually. The movie explained why we celebrate this day and that we should never forget out loved ones who have passed. They are as much a part of who we are even though they have left the physical world. Coco told us how important family is and should always be, it was by far one of the best movies made to share cultural traditions.

MV: Describe your ideal day in Modesto.
RH: My ideal day would be walking in downtown and seeing the many cultures in our community represented in a heritage center that celebrate who we were, who we are and who we will become in the future. A community that embraces and celebrates all of us no matter where our ancestors immigrated from.

MV: Beatles or Stones?
RH: The Beatles are my favorite, I love how their music style changed through the years, Love the White Album. I am also a fan of Queen, so many of their songs are timeless.

MV: How do people connect with your for future events?
Rebecca Harrington, email:<> and (209) 585-6590. We have many volunteer opportunities when we organize events. Student clubs that volunteered 4 hours and 10 students received a donation to their club and the amazing experience of giving back. It is an experience they will never forget. This event is 100% funded by sponsors and donations. American GI Forum is a non-profit organization, Veterans in Community Advocacy, helping Veterans and the underserved.

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About the Author:

Chris Murphy is the President and CEO of Sierra Pacific Warehouse Group and Publisher and Founder of ModestoView Inc. Chris worked globally in the cycling industry returning to Modesto in 1996. He is also the founder of the Modesto Historic Graffiti Cruise Route, Legends of the Cruise Walk of Fame, Modesto Rockin’ Holiday, the Modesto Music History Organization and co-founder of the Modesto Area Music Association. Chris is married to his artist wife Rebecca since 1985 and has two daughters Madison and Abigail, both graduating from Modesto High and UC Berkeley. He is lead singer and guitarist for his band, Third Party that donates their performances to non-profits.