Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead)
Corpus Christi, Texas

October in America brings anticipation for the night when kids as well as adults can change who they are by putting on a costume that will either scare or get a laugh out of family and friends. Not much thought really goes into this festive occasion. This is not true for our Hispanic brothers and sisters who proudly call America their new home. Many first, as well as second and third generation of Mexicans embrace the end of October with a rich cultural celebration called Dia de los Muertos, which simply means Day of the Dead. This traditional holiday starts the same day as Halloween and concludes on November 2nd

This Mexican holiday is a three-day celebration where families gather to remember their deceased loved ones.  This holiday blends traditional Aztec beliefs and rituals with Christian ideals as well. It is believed that during this time that deceased loved ones come back to be with their families. Altars are built to honor loved ones who are no longer here. The families put the favorite foods, drinks, photos of their loved ones and anything else that the dead may have liked to entice them to come back during this time.
It’s also common to see altars created for well-known celebrities such Elvis, Marilyn Monroe and even Dr. Seuss.

At the sixth annual Corpus Christi Dia de los Muertos Street Festival we had an amazing opportunity to document this holiday with Marisol Jimenez and her family. Originally from Veracruz, Mexico the family celebrates in both Corpus Christi and Veracruz. For two months leading up to Dia de los Muertos they practiced a traditional dance that they would perform as a group during the Dia de los Muertos festival sponsored by K Space Contemporary, a non-profit organization that is dedicated to presenting and promoting contemporary art in South Texas as well as Axis Tattoo. At the festival artists from around South Texas had booths set up to sell their original artwork that is inspired by Dia de los Muertos. Belinda Edwards and Michelle Smythe started this festival in Corpus Christi in 2008. During that time the festival has grown from about 600 guests in the first year to roughly 18000.

The festival officially began with a ceremony to bless it led by a Native American, Larry “Running Turtle” Salazar. He led traditional songs that honor the dead and played with his drum circle. His inclusion in this festival demonstrates how Dia de los Muertos has a growing appeal across religions and nationalities.  Some of the artists that were present included Al Molina (http://fineartamerica.com/profiles/al-molina.html) whose character Bella Muerte is both beautiful and dark. The local artists added to the festival with their unique masks, skulls and paintings.

At the festival you will see elaborate face painting s of the hallmark look of a skeleton. These painting and masks can range from simple to quite elaborate. Costumes were also very common and those who dressed up were more than willing to take pictures with the festivalgoers who stopped them.

The first night we met up with Marisol she joined with twenty plus members of her family to practice their dance for the last time before the festival. It was a hot and humid night but that did not stop the family as they did their entire routine, which lasted nearly thirty minutes. In the dark on the oil-stained driveway with other family members watching they performed with a zest and determination that you would expect to see from disciplined athletes. Marisol described to us how much this holiday means to not only her but for her entire family. But for Marisol its extremely personal, she dances for her recently deceased father and uncle.

Before the big night we met up with some family members while they were working on creating am altar that would be brought to the festival. Creating this alter was a family affair as those who were there were helping in some way. Everything about this holiday is full of love and all about family.

The night of the festival we joined Marisol as she made her way through the crowd to join her family for their performance. It was as if we were walking with a celebrity as festivalgoers kept asking to have their picture taken with her. No question everyone was admiring her traditional attire that made her stand out from all of the people who were dressed with skeleton faces and face paint.

Dressed in costumes including traditional wooden masks from their native Veracruz, Marisol and her family performed this same dance in front of a crowd of hundreds at the festival. The family danced just as hard and inspired as they did during their practice the night before with only a few family members watching. The passion with which they performed with was something to be admired.

There is no way you can attend such a culturally rich gathering without asking yourself why I have I not gone to one of these before. It is clear the Hispanic community really has a special way at looking at death and more importantly remembering loved ones each year.

To learn more about KSpace Contemporary, Axis Tattoo and more from the story, here is a list of links