CORPUS CHRISTI–It is a clear and sunny day in downtown Corpus Christi; lines of people wait to buy a snack at the food stands while others gather around the make- up shops to get their face painted with traditional calavera designs
Dia de los Muertos is a Mexican holiday observed throughout Mexico as well as South Texas and around the world in other cultures. It focuses on remembering friends and family members who have died.
Corpus Christi is not the exception, and also takes part in this celebration since 2008.
“Dia de los Muertos is a day to celebrate the lives of those who have passed away. The Metzo Americans believed that it is the day that the portals open to connect the underworld and our [present] world,” said Marco Iniguez, senior lecturer in the Department of Language and Literature at Texas A&M-Kingsville.
Michelle Smythe, Executive Director at K Space Contemporary has been involved with the festival since its conception.
Smythe, along with her business neighbor from Axis Tattoos, decided to host a block party to celebrate Dia de los Muertos back in 2008 without knowing the tremendous impact that this festival would have in the community in the future.
Now the event attracts several thousand and takes time to plan. “We really kick it into gear about two months before, but even before that, we start in June or July,” Smythe said.
Live musical performances, art work and food preparation, is what takes this festival months of planning.
“We have three stages with music, our main stage starts out with cultural performances like Mariachi, Ballet Folklorico, Conjunto, Tejano and ends out the night with Latin influence; pop and rock,” she said.
As years have passed, this festival has grown in popularity in the community. Every year they have been surpassing previous year’s attendance and Smythe and the crew expects that this year will not be the exception.
“The first year we had 600, the attendance has either doubled or tripled every year since and last year we had an estimate of 35 thousand people,” Smythe said.
Breaking last years’ record was on Smythe’s mind, she said.
“We had more publicity this year than we’ve ever had and it’s a word of mouth thing, you know, tell their friends and get their friends to come out,” she said.
Men, women and small children were seen throughout the festival with their faces painted. The men’s faces were painted in black-and-white to resemble skeletons, while the women mixed a variety of colors and gave a more unique look.
“We have 14 face painters on side, vendors, they do both children and adults,” Smythe said. “It’s fascinating how many people have face paint and dressed as part for the Dia de los Muertos festival.”
The community involvement is of great importance and Smythe acknowledges that this festival wouldn’t be possible without the community support.
“In our exhibition we have lots of local artists, we have the piñatas which are made by children in our K through 12 schools as well as the altars and the teachers are involved as well,” she said. “The community has exceeded all expectations; we have a huge chunk of the community that’s involved, either they are performing on the stages dancing, playing their music or showing their talent,”
The festival is also an opportunity to remember those loved ones who have passed away.
However, there are also people who attend to have a good time in a safe and genuine atmosphere.
“I think that Dia de los Muertos offers the public or anybody a healthy way of acknowledging death, celebrating our loved ones, honoring their lives, and welcoming those spirits back for the day,” Smythe said.
The festival unquestionably brings different cultures together, because in every culture people remember their loved ones that have passed, she said.
“The people that come to the festival are all races, all ethnicities, people of all ages,” Smythe said.
Besides providing a fun environment having a good time and remembering the ones that have passed; the festival has impacted the down town businesses in a good way.
“I know that last year hotel and motel rentals were up by 25 percent during the Dia de los Muertos festival,” Smythe said “I mean , we are bringing 35 thousand people down town, that’s a huge economic impact for the shops and the businesses.”
People from all over the state come down to Corpus Christi and that definitely boosts sales for that specific weekend
As the day progresses the crowd is growing drastically.
Many attendees are dressed in typical authentic Mexican outfits and other are wearing catchy and scary costumes that resemble death. Performances are taking place simultaneously in the different stages as well.
Corpus Christi resident Margaret Rodriguez was among the thousands of attendees. She along with her two children attended the festival. Her daughter, dressed in a culturally colorful Mexican outfit, was one of the many performers at the Festival.
“My daughter performed with Chica’s Rock, an all-girls rock group dedicated to improving self-confidence through music,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez said her daughter’s performance as well as other performances relate to Dia de los Muertos in a special way because they are doing their performances to commemorate all who have passed away. “The performance related to Dia de los Muertos because November 1st is the celebration of angelitos (Little Angels), the children who have passed on,” she said “ There were Many Ballet Folklorico dancers, mariachis, a dance to La Llorana (The Crying Woman) by Theresa Saldivar. Los angelitos and los muertos were definitely celebrated.”
Rodriguez said that Dia de los Muertos festival is keeping Mexican culture alive by continuing the tradition here in the United States.
“For me Dia de los Muertos is remembering my grandparents and tios and tias (uncles and aunts), who have passed. Taking their favorite drinks and treats to their grave. Singing “Amor Eterno” (Love Forever) to them as well as sharing stories,” she said. Rodriguez also emphasized on the popularity of this celebration in Corpus Christi and the United States as a whole.
She said that the festival shows how culturally rich the city is, while many who are alive are so lost.
“There is a deep love for people in our Mexican traditions, one that we should continue to celebrate,” She said.
The festival, while common in Mexico, had its own unique flavor in South Texas. The smell of turkey legs being cooked never stopped. The smell seemed to follow everyone as they walked through the streets. Now the sun has set, but the celebration continues.