Centro Cultural Aztlan’s Old Día de los Muertos Celebration Adds a New Twist

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Scott Ball / Rivard Report

A woman celebrates Día de los Muertos in 2015.

After 42 years, San Antonio’s original public Day of the Dead celebration is hitting the trail.

The decades-old observance of Día de los Muertos will be renamed Día De Los Muertos on the Old Spanish Trail. The festival expands Centro Cultural Aztlan’s annual Nov. 2 daylong event to include participating businesses up and down Fredericksburg Road, from the Deco District H-E-B at Hildebrand Avenue to 5 Points Local on North Flores Street.

The expansion was made possible through a grant from the Texas Commission on the Arts (TCA), which in September announced a $20,000 grant to designate a stretch of Fredericksburg Road as an Old Spanish Trail Cultural Corridor.

The money is intended to help attract new visitors to the area, said Malena Gonzalez Cid, executive director of Centro Cultural Aztlan. Another benefit is in keeping with the center’s longstanding tradition of supporting arts and culture along the Fredericksburg Road corridor, which holds the densest concentration of artists in the city, Gonzalez-Cid said.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Malena Gonzalez Cid, executive director of Centro Cultural Aztlan

The event name refers to the historical Old Spanish Trail, designated in 1919 to promote automobile tourism along a route from St. Augustine, Florida, to San Diego, corresponding generally to the route of Interstate 10. Due to a push from San Antonio business owners, the trail ran right through the heart of San Antonio.

Before seeking the interest of modern-day businesses along the corridor, event organizer Deborah Keller-Rihn said she did what Centro always does: focus on the artists. Active as an artist in the area for many years, Keller-Rihn was invited by the cultural center to helm the expanded event. She began by inviting 33 artists to participate, with each receiving a small fee and a participating venue in which to dedicate a Día de los Muertos altar installation.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Event organizer Deborah Keller-Rihn

“What I did was try to link different artists with different businesses along the corridor, make it make sense as far as which artist would be put where,” she said.

Artist Adan Hernandez will creating an altar at the family-owned The Hut Diner in honor of Erin Rios Castro, who worked there and was a victim of domestic violence at age 19. Maria Castro, who is not related, will also make an altar honoring victims of domestic violence, at the Vogue College of Cosmetology, and other altars will address such serious issues as the deaths of children crossing the Mexico-U.S. border, family separations, and bicyclist deaths in San Antonio.

“There’s a lot of sadness, but when you’re doing an event about death, these things come up,” Keller-Rihn said. However, she pointed out there will also be lightheartedness and joy befitting the traditional Mexican celebration.

Artists Kim Bishop and Luis Valderas will team up to build a banner installation at the Cool Crest mini-golf course, and windows in the Woodlawn Shopping Center will feature altars dedicated to three San Antonio personalities who died this year: jazz musician Jim Cullum, Canary Islander Dr. Alfonso Chiscano, and former mayor Lila Cockrell. Others will honor grandparents and ancestors, and an altar by Marcy Gutierrez will highlight a moment of history on North Flores Street, where Venustiano Carranza stayed with other Mexican revolutionaries before becoming president in 1917.

Kristin Uriegas-Reyes will participate as both artist and business owner, creating an altar to her dog Tallulah at the Hello Tallulah boutique named for the beloved pet.

Altar installations at business venues will be open from noon to 5 p.m. The annual procession begins at 5 p.m. at the Deco District H-E-B, and make its way to Centro Cultural Aztlan for a festive celebration at 6 p.m. with music and traditional pan de muerto and ponche de frutas. The annual “community-driven” artist exhibit Altares y Ofrendas will be open in the gallery, featuring artists from the neighborhood.

The public is welcome to dress up for the procession and join in, Keller-Rihn said. While there will be solemn moments, she promised that Nov. 2 will be “a celebration of life, and a joyful attitude honoring your ancestors. There is a spirit of fun.”

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