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PHOTOS: Dia de los Muertos Festival at Waterloo Park honors the dead with Mexican tradition

David Esparza attended the Dia de los Muertos Festival dressed as La Catrina. (Christina Garcia/Austonia)

In flower crowns and Calavera face paint, Austinites gathered at the new Waterloo Park for what might be a new tradition for Dia de Los Muertos in Austin.

On the eve of the Mexican holiday that runs Nov. 1-2, thousands came together for festivities, including Mariachis playing, folkloric dancing and vendors selling handmade goods. The new Dia de los Muertos Festival was put on by Waterloo Greenway and Frida Fridays, an organization dedicated to uplifting Latin creatives with a monthly art market.

Dia de los Muertos is a long-time Mexican holiday of remembering and honoring the dead in celebration. Often it includes traditions—some seen at the festival—like decorating an ofrenda, otherwise known as an alter honoring departed loved ones; wearing face paint like a Calavera, or a sugar skull; and eating foods like pan de muerta.


The festival opened with a traditional dance originating from San Luis de La Paz, Guanajuanto, led by Danza Azteca Guadalupana de Austin at 2 p.m.

A steady drumbeat announced the start of the festival from a block away and created a pulse for the Danza Azteca Guadalupana, who stomped rhythmically with shells on their ankles and long feathers radiating from their crowns. After welcoming the spirits of the dead with their hypnotic performance, the dancers took photos with the crowd.

Gloria Salgado and Fatima Garcia have been dancing since they were seven years old and two months ago, respectively.

After the opening dance and a DJ performance, Vanessa del Fiero and her all-women mariachi group, Mariachi Las Coronelas willed their show to success despite sound issues.

The Mariachi Las Coronelas took the Waterloo Stage just after 3 p.m.

Austin-based comedians Roxy Castillo and Vanessa Gonzalez attended together, watching the mariachis. "I was watching the mariachis and I started crying, seeing people who look like us and hearing beautiful female voices that are just so strong while we're with the community," Castillo said.

Austin-based comedians Roxy Castillo and Vanessa Gonzalez attended the festival. Gonzalez said her mother makes an ofrenda every year.

Chanting through a bullhorn and ripping through the sunny day with raucous drums and brass, the Austin FC supporting band, La Murga, made a Verde scene with the audience chanting along and waving huge FC flags in Verde and black.

Like seen at all Austin FC home games, La Murga brought their high energy and flags to Waterloo.

The Ballet Folklorico de Austin swirled their skirts in colorful rainbows of ribbon, stamping patterns of traditional dance and song.

Audiences stood above and below Ballet Folklorico dancers as they swirled their visually-sumptuous skirts.

More at the festival

Heading south from the amphitheater, past the lines for food trucks, sugar skull decoration stations and a playground, a small plaza featured a strikingly beautiful altar to the dead against stacked limestone. As mourners arranged orange marigolds and framed photos, an hourly meditation guided a handful of people. Contigo Wellness owner Diana Anzaldua's yogic trataka practice gently instructs practitioners to focus on a lit candle's flame, unblinking, until tears form.

The altar gathered Mexican pan dulce, water, small candles, and photos of loved ones. The tradition welcomes spirits back to the living world.

At the Moody Amphitheater lawn, visitors shopped in a small marketplace offering wares and treats as diverse as tiny keychain bottles of Chamoy (a tasty condiment made of pickled fruit) and luchador masks (masks worn by Mexican wrestlers).

Stephanie Tijerina sold jewelry and her own homemade Besito Chamoy, a brand of mango, watermelon, and pickle chamoy.

Muralist Carmen Rangel painted throughout the event. A former Frida Friday committee member, Rangel explained how Frida Fridays began to promote businesses owned by women of color and expanded to focus on marginalized people including queer and trans community members. "I'm painting people who are part of Frida Fridays, who put on and support the events, especially in the last two years since the pandemic," Rangel said.

Rangel's muralist work can be seen at the Lamar bridge underpass.

While not everyone wore their Day of the Day fits, Austinite David Esparza was one that wore the traditional La Catrina outfit. The La Catrina has become an icon of the holiday.

David Esparza said this was his first time decorating a traditional hat.

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