Under the oppressive and omnipresent junta of invisible invaders, tradition struggles to find ground where it can persevere. As the pandemic’s reign burns through the calendar year, cultural holidays are faced with either scurrying for shelter or risk being caught in its gaze. Now that its turn has come, Dia de los Muertos celebrations in San Antonio are refusing to stay in the grave.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that our centuries-thickened cuerpo cultural refuses to take things lying down— though by no means does that make any act of defiance any less admirable. SAY Sí is one of many organizations that curates festivals every year and must now adapt their program or bust; this year, like many others, they decided to go digital.
“this inventive and earnest connection, in concert with its others, SAY Sí successfully transcends the constraints of medium and approaches a real manifestation of community—”
Navigating a Virtual Festival
But in its usual incarnation, Muertitos Fest is a sprawling affair, drawing thousands of people and occupying many galleries, performance areas, and vendor spaces. Translating the entirety of an event self-described as “one of San Antonio’s most comprehensive Día de los Muertos celebrations” into a device-screen experience is a creative challenge, to say the least. Prudently, Say Sí has given itself some breathing room by expanding its programming into a month-long experience.
Muertitos Fest 2020: Amor y Esperanza divides its programming between the copia of presentations that is already accessible and those scheduled for release in the weeks to come, such as craft-focused workshops and live performances.
There are virtual tours by folk art collectors, who guide you through their homes full of artesania with uniquely personal touch. Oaxacan printmaker Alberto Cruz, who designed this year’s event’s motif and branding, enjoys a special visiting artist space of his own as well.
In place of aisles of outdoor stalls, the festival features an online mercado of locally-based vendors. The listings lead to everything you’d otherwise expect to find: original artwork and curiosities; seasonal pantry delights; traditional clothing and hand-worked jewelry.
Alongside professional counterparts, the Student Gallery showcases works of middle and high school students in SAY Sí’s programs. Their projects in papier-mâché, repujado (embossed metal), and papel picado reflect an endearing and rarified level of personal story told through form.
All the pieces on display in the Student Gallery seem to be available for purchase as well, supporting the young artists and making for an opportunity for a certainly one-of-a-kind gift.
One of the most novel additions — and one that perhaps most inventively marries tradition with technology — is the online ofrenda. At this virtual community altar, visitors can light a candle for the dear departed, sending it to float with others like it into an intangible sea.
In translating this simple but sacred act, Muertitos Fest 2020: Amor y Esperanza drives its message home. At every step, there was every chance that this would only ever be just another website featuring Dia de los Muertos bric-a-brac. However, this inventive and earnest connection, in concert with its others, SAY Sí successfully transcends the constraints of medium and approaches a real manifestation of community— a clear victory for tradition versus the virus, a tree still standing against a flood that knocks many others down.
Upcoming Dia de los Muertos Workshops
Work out some cabin fever by getting creative, either by yourself or with your quarantine-mates. Many of the workshops require materials supplied by those attending, so keep that in mind if you plan on participating. We have a full list of information on that here.
|The Ofrenda: Mini Matchbox Nicho||Nov. 1|
|Calaveras y Calacas: Face Painting||Nov. 8|
|Monarchs & Marigolds: Crepe Paper Art||Nov. 15|
|El Alimento: Creating a Family Recipe Book||Nov. 22|
Upcoming Video Performances
If you miss any of these performances, don’t fret. While they premiere weekly, they seem to stay on the site for duration of the festival.
Kalpulli Ayolopaktzin – Thursday, Nov. 5
Kalpulli preserves the ancestral Anahuac traditions through dance, healing, and community outreach. Their performance this year is “Journey to Mictlan,” depicting the legendary Quetzalcoatl’s quest to create our world from the remains of the one before.
Los Nahuatlatos – Thursday, Nov. 12
The punchy and local favorite Xicano-indigenous band occupies the second week’s video performance. Los Nahuatlatos have opened for the Grammy-Award-winning bands Los Texmaniacs and La Santa Cecilia, besides winning numerous accolades of their own. Check out their latest album, Jamás Inquietos.
Guadalupe Dance Academy – Thursday, Nov. 19
The Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center dancers are bringing their sweeping folklorico ensemble to the third week of Muertitos Fest, just one performance of many in their busy Dia de los Muertos production season. Also on deck for them this month: “La Vida de los Muertos,” a musical story of the underworld, performed in collaboration with Mariachi Guadalupe. If you missed their Nov. 1 performance, don’t fret: you can watch it here.
Can’t get enough? Centro Cultural Aztlan is also hosting a virtual exhibit this year. Watch their presentation here; the quality of videography and production is eyebrow-raising, and it’s very well done overall.