Día de los Muertos


San Jose Mercury News

October 23, 2017

San Jose: Day of the Dead celebration honors ancestors

The procession has been going on for two decades, but organizers said they’ve recently seen a surge in popularity.


SAN JOSE — A snaking procession with frenetic, feathered Aztec dancers for a head and a somber mariachi outfit for a tail wound through downtown San Jose on Sunday, honoring ancestry and tradition in the 20th annual Dia de los Muertos procession and party.

And make no mistake, the atmosphere was upbeat albeit reverent and not exclusive to the Mexican holiday. The Aztec dancers were joined by a taiko group, Chinese lion dancers, Middle Eastern belly dancers, a Filipino ensemble and a host of spectator-participants of all stripes underneath black-and-white death’s head make-up.

“When I first saw a Day of the Dead event, it was in San Antonio more than 30 years ago,” said Robert Robins of San Jose, “and I didn’t know what was going on. I thought it was a bunch of skull-worshippers. Weirdoes. We didn’t know any better, we were just a bunch of white people.”

Robins said it was visually striking, but once he learned about the meaning behind the Halloweenesque displays the Day of the Dead became something much more poignant.

“It’s not political, just spiritual,” he said. “You see so many people with these elaborate shrines; it really is a beautiful thing.”

Arlene Sagun of the San Jose Multicultural Artists Guild that puts on the event said it has steadily grown over the years, but that it’s snowballing as of lately. They did a Facebook social media push this year and logged more than 8,000 followers, and on Sunday she estimated that about 500 people either joined the parade or the festivities that followed at San Jose State University.

Participants were urged to wear muertos apparel, and bring photos or other offerings for a community altar. Those who came unprepared could get a quick makeover by one of the face-painters in attendance, or purchase Day of the Dead apparel and memorabilia.

Magali Gonzalez, who has been doing traditional Day of the Dead dances for half of her 27 years, was bopping along the parade route with her 4-month-old daughter, Cuauhtli, nestled in a sling on her chest. While Cuauhtli may have been the youngest dance troupe member on Sunday, Gonzalez said it wasn’t her first boogie.

“This one is a dancer,” Gonzalez said. “She’s been dancing since she was in my tummy.”

Xochitecpatl, another feathered Aztec dancer who goes by one name, said that while interest may now be escalating, it’s a tradition that’s “nothing new” for those who delve into their roots.

“It’s something that’s been around for thousands of years,” he said, “but now more people are starting to learn more about our culture.”

The 40-year-old from Salinas said it’s welcome attention from all corners.

“Underneath the skin, we are all skeletons,” he said. “And to celebrate death is to celebrate life. If you love the people who are living you need to love the people who have died. Otherwise, you have nothing to celebrate.”


20th Día de los Muertos Procession and Festival


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Photo credit: Reynaldo Barrioz and Nanzi Medrano