Gloria Torres has been celebrating Día de Los Muertos most of her life.
And Austin’s pride in and embrace of the centuries-old Mexican holiday tradition is one of her favorite things about the city, she said.
“I am Mexican and for us, this day is a joyful day, a day of celebration,” said Torres, who is originally from Guanajuato, Mexico, and has been living in Austin with her family for eight years. “Guanajuato is very traditional and goes all out for this celebration. And in our family, we put up an altar every year. That’s why I love that Austin, my new home, celebrates something that is so close to my heart.”
Torres and her family were among several families who attended Mexic-Arte Museum’s annual Viva la Vida! Día de Los Muertos celebration Saturday in downtown. Torres and her husband, Juan Chevez, dressed as a Catrina and Catrin, skeleton figures, for the event.
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The Day of the Dead is celebrated Nov. 1-2. Altars and offerings — typically set up at people’s homes, churches or other public places — honor and celebrate the lives of loved ones who have died. The altars are typically decorated with marigold flowers, candles, the deceased’s favorite dishes and drinks, colorful sugar skulls and papel picado, or banners.
The Mexican holiday tradition most recently made its way into the mainstream media after it was popularized in the 2017 Disney-Pixar animated film “Coco.” Thousands of tourists from Mexico and the United States in recent years have flocked to towns in Mexico such as Oaxaca and Pátzcuaro, where entire communities come together to celebrate the holiday.
But in Austin, Día de Los Muertos has been celebrated by the community at Mexic-Arte Museum for nearly four decades.
This is the museum’s 38th Día de Los Muertos celebration. Before the coronavirus pandemic, the museum hosted a parade downtown with thousands of people in attendance. In the past two years, the celebrations turned to virtual events and smaller-scale events such as Saturday’s art exhibit.
Sylvia Orozco, the museum’s director and co-founder, said every year the community looks forward to the celebration, no matter how big or small.
“I look at it as a success that we have been able to contribute to the promotion and education of this beautiful tradition that is known throughout Mexico, Latin America and all over the world now,” Orozco said. “I’m proud. We’re proud that Mexic-Arte was one of the leaders and trailblazers in bringing this celebration to Austin.”
More events: Where to celebrate Dia de los Muertos in Austin, both in-person and virtually
The event Saturday featured an art exhibition, a display of large parade props called Mojigangas, a display of Bike Zoo Butterflies, pan de muerto for event attendees, an interactive art mural and papel picado art kits for children. The museum also offered a virtual version of the event Friday on its website.
This was Laryssa Guardiola’s first time celebrating Día de Los Muertos. Guardiola learned about the holiday about five years ago, and Saturday’s event has inspired her to build an altar at home for deceased loved ones, she said.
“Especially for my Uncle Jesse,” Guardiola said. “He was like a dad to me and passed away when I was 13. He spoiled me with junk food and candy, so I’d put that on the altar for him.”
Other Austin residents who have been celebrating the holiday for a few years are passing it on to the next generation.
Brooke Maudlin took her 4-year-old daughter, Lucia, to the Día de Los Muertos event Saturday.
“I am Mexican-American and it’s important to me that my daughter learns about this tradition. This is my favorite time of the year,” Maudlin said. “We’re lucky that we live in Austin and we have these events. And even if you don’t go to events, you can go to cemeteries and see people celebrating this. It’s a real celebration; it’s part of the culture here.”
Austin American-Statesman reporter Natalia Contreras can be reached at 512-626-4036 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook, @NataliaECG.
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Austin Dia de Los Muertos 2021 celebrated at Mexic-Arte Museum