What is Day of the Dead?


Linda Shannon-Hills

Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a celebration of life and death. While the holiday originated in Mexico, it is celebrated all over Latin America and in Tucson with colorful calaveras (skulls) and calacas (skeletons).

Join us for Thursday Talks on Tuesday, October 30 to learn how the Day of the Dead started and the traditions that make it unique. We will also talk about the All Souls Procession held in Tucson on Sunday, November 4. It is perhaps one of the most important, inclusive and authentic public ceremonies in North America today. The procession had its beginnings in Tucson, Arizona in 1990 with a ceremonial performance piece created by local artist Susan Johnson. Johnson was grieving the passing of her father, and as an artist, she found solace in a creative, celebratory approach to memorializing him. Says Johnson, “From the beginning, it was different people’s ethnic groups, different cultures, but also it was all these different art forms put together.”

After that first year, many artists were inspired to continue, growing the procession into its modern incarnation. Today we find ourselves organizing well over 150,000 participants on the streets of downtown Tucson for a two-mile long human-powered procession that ends in the ceremonial burning of a large urn filled with the hopes, offerings and wishes of the public for those who have passed.

After our discussion and photographs, we will show the movie Coco. This animated story of a young boy who wants to be a musician and somehow finds himself communing with talking skeletons in the land of the dead. This movie draws heavily on Mexican folklore and traditional designs which compliments the story of the Day of the Dead as well as the All Souls Procession. The movie has catchy music, a complex but comprehensible plot and bits of domestic comedy and media satire. Being a Pixar film, Coco is also building toward emotionally overwhelming moments so stealthily that you may be surprised to find yourself wiping away a tear.

Join us on Tuesday, October 30 at 4:00 p.m. until 6:00 p.m.