Bring out your dead

Día de los Muertos celebrations are being held throughout the city this week, and though the public events began at Centro Cultural de Aztlán in 1977 and at the Instituto Cultural de México shortly thereafter, the festivity’s roots go deep into Mezoamerican culture. After the Spanish conquistadores and their missionary allies failed to eradicate the indigenous harvest festivals of Central America, they took the more effective route of co-opting the holiday by incorporating the annual event into the Christian calendar as part of All Saints’ Day. It is also known as All Hallows Day, hence our celebration of the night before as All Hallow’s Eve, or more familiarly, Halloween.

All Saints’ Day is held in the Southwest as remembrance to Los Innocentes, dead children. The following day, November 2 is All Souls Day, acknowledged as Día de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, celebrated with Aztecan zest, featuring images of skulls — calaveras.

This week there will be parades and a host of events sponsored by nonprofits in many neighborhoods, but in Mexico and in small towns from California to Texas, this has long been a time of processions from the church to the cemetery. It is a time to remember lost family members, and before leaving ofrendas of flowers, food, and candles, a clean-up and tending of the burial grounds takes place. At home, altares are made of offerings, photographs, and, perhaps, candy skulls.

Co-founder Jamon Vaquez y Sanchez first brought neighborhood altares to Centro Cultural de Aztlán in 1977 as part of a more public expression of cultural remembrance, placing the works in a gallery setting while encouraging people to gather to celebrate the holiday in the nearby park. In HemisFair Park there have been remembrances of Día de los Muertos since the first days of the Instituto in 1968. But Urban-15 co-director George Cisneros recalls that it was after the arrival of director Tita Valencia in 1978 that the Instituto invigorated the celebrations by bringing professional makers of altares from Oaxaca, Mexica, to SA to present their craft. Urban-15 joined the festivities soon after. The international drum and dance group, says Cisneros, still “think of ourselves as a dancing, moving altar.”

Mask-making workshops, mariachi performances, and a host of other festivities are open to the public.

Here are a few:

October 26-November 4
La Villita Celebrates Día de los Muertos

October 28
Dance with the Dead, Texan Institute of Cultures, Halloween dance masquerade

October 29
Mask-making workshop and history lesson at Traders Village

October 29-30
Día de los Muertos at Historic Market Square

November 1-2
Urban-15’s Carnival de los Muertos, Instituto Cultural de México

November 2
Mariachi Las Altenas, Día de los Muertos, Historic Aztec Theatre

November 2
Día de los Muertos Community Celebration, The Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center

November 3-5
SAY Sí’s 5th Annual Muertitos Fest


A calendar for this year’s events is posted at

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