Houston’s neighborhoods have been home to rich, and growing, local traditions of celebrating Día de los Muertos – from MECA’s annual event, which has taken place for over two decades, to events at the longtime Casa Ramirez Folkart Gallery, at the East End’s Magnolia Park, and at Karbach Brewing.
But this year marked the City of Houston’s first official Día de los Muertos celebration, bringing wider attention and a larger public stage to the traditional Mexican holiday (November 1 and 2), which is a time to remember and honor deceased loved ones.
The city’s inaugural festival and parade took place this past Saturday, November 6, at downtown’s Sam Houston Park.
City Councilmember Robert Gallegos, who initiated the idea and guided the creation of the festival, called the turnout “tremendous.”
Gallegos served as Honorary Chair and Grand Marshal of the Parade. The event was produced by Mauricio Navarro, a former Houstonian and President of the Navarro Group, which also founded a successful Día de los Muertos festival in Dallas.
The Houston Chronicle reported that the City of Houston expected the festival to draw more than 40,000 people. Houston Arts Journal reached out the Mayor’s Office of Special Events for a crowd estimate, but has not received a number.
Elizabeth Sosa Bailey was in attendance and said she saw “thousands of people” there. She and her mother, artist Ruth Sosa Bailey, participated in the parade – riding in Ruth’s award-winning art car, “Imagine.”
“In one car, we represented a lot,” said Ruth Sosa Bailey.
According to Elizabeth Sosa Bailey, “we had the three generations with my abuelita, Gertrudis de Sosa [in the front seat]; my mother, the artist at the helm; and myself in the back seat with our friend April Lucero and her toddler son, Uriel.”
“It’s so exciting to see Houston embracing this aspect of our Latin culture, beyond Latiné families,” said Elizabeth Sosa Bailey.
Michelle Ferrell, a designer and illustrator, made her own costume inspired by a Frida Kahlo painting, she said in a tweet. Ferrell attended the festival with her Tia, Lenora Sorola-Pohlman, co-chair of the Mayor’s Hispanic Advisory Board.
The festival provided time to reflect on the losses of the pandemic, as well as the fresh losses of the previous night – during which eight people died at the Astroworld Festival, shocking Houstonians and the rest of the country.
“I certainly want to us to remember those individuals who died, you know, last night at the NRG Stadium at the Travis Scott concert,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner in an interview with ABC 13 at the parade. “So we want to remember them, and then we want to uplift their families.”
Mayor Turner also noted that about 3500 families in the City of Houston have lost loved ones to COVID.
“This is one of those moments where we stop, we reflect, we remember, we honor them, and the same time, we celebrate their lives,” he said.
Officials said that this was the first of more Día de los Muertos festivals to come.
“It will simply get bigger and bigger and bigger,” said Mayor Turner. “You know, we say that we are the most diverse city in the country. Well, this parade will help us give even added meaning to that.”
You can watch a video of the parade here (via ABC13).