Monday, November 9, 2009

Crowds turn out to celebrate day of the dead

By Steven Kreytak

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Latin sounds of Mary Welch y Los Curanderos filled the air on Fifth Street downtown Saturday as Leonor Banos-Stoute danced elegantly through a crowd, her trademark flower-filled clay jug balanced comfortably on her head.

Banos-Stoute, a Cedar Creek restaurateur, is a regular at Austin street festivals, where she sells delectable tamales and often dances joyously.

But Saturday's celebration put on by the Mexic-Arte Museum to commemorate Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, was special for Banos-Stoute, as it reminded her of the traditional celebrations of the dead in her native Oaxaca state in Mexico.

"I really enjoy this every year," she said.

It was the 26th year the museum held its celebration centered around one of Mexico's most important holidays. It is usually observed on November 2 by friends and family members who build altars with their departed loved ones' favorite things, such as food and beverages, pictures and flowers. This year's gathering, called Viva la Vida Fest, featured Latino music, dance, food and drink and art on a temporarily closed section of Fifth Street between Congress Avenue and Brazos Street, adjacent to the museum. A procession of people with their faces painted and in forms of traditional dress made its way from Plaza Saltillo in East Austin to downtown at 6 p.m. Charanga Cakewalk was the musical headliner.

Inside the museum, there were altars built in the styles of various regions of Mexico. On the street, there were larger altars made with colored tissue paper and papier-maché. Among the displays were various depictions of skeletons, including one with eight larger-than-life skeletons playing musical instruments.

Several nonprofits attended, including the Maya Exploration Center, whose members were hoping to elicit donations of used laptops for poor students in Yajalon, Chiapas. More information on the program can be found at

Museum Executive Director Sylvia Orozco, who helped found the original festival, said the event gets bigger every year. She said she expected that by the end of the day, thousands of people would have participated.

She said the festival originally was attended only by members of arts groups, and organizers spent much of their time explaining that it was a celebration and not a time for mourning. Now, many people understand the holiday, which is regularly observed in businesses and schools, Orozco said.

"It shows the impact of the Latino culture on the U.S. culture," she said. "It's a celebration of our life and our past."

Photo by: Larry Kolvoord / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Edgar Jimenez leads dancers from the St. Edward's University Ballet Folklórico group down Comal Street during in the grand procession of Viva la Vida Fest on Saturday. To celebrate Dia de los Muertos, participants painted their faces and wore traditional dress.

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