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How to celebrate Day of the Dead in Austin

Parade, exhibits and music fill October cultural calendar

Nancy Flores
Natalie Mandujano, 8, left, and America Lara, 7, wait for the start of the grand procession at the Viva La Vida Fest in downtown Austin in 2018. It featured a grand procession, educational and hands-on art activities, a celebration with traditional foods and music and a low-rider exhibition. [JAY JANNER/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

When the Mexic-Arte Museum last month asked Austinites to contribute photos, messages and other symbolic mementos for a special Day of the Dead altar honoring the 22 people killed during the El Paso Walmart mass shooting, support from the community poured in.

Austinites volunteered their time, talent and treasures to create a moving altar now on display at the museum through Nov. 24 as part of its 36th annual Día de Los Muertos and Community Altars Exhibition.

The holiday, which can be traced back to pre-Columbian days, embraces the circle of life and each year the museum celebrates Day of the Dead with a festival and parade as well as with a popular exhibit featuring vibrant altars in memory of loved ones. This year, more than a dozen community altars honor the lives of everyone from Mexican revolutionary leader Emiliano Zapata to trailblazing local heroes who we will miss.

Upon entering the museum, visitors will be struck by a mural resembling the Franklin Mountains that surround El Paso. A Chihuahuan desert sunset illuminates the white crosses that represent the shooting victims. Signs with messages saying “#fronterastrong” and “Hate will not divide the borderland” are peppered between the candles, flowers, balloons, loteria cards, portraits and records that sit at the mural’s feet.

“After the initial shock and pain, El Paso and Ciudad Juárez have come together to stand against hatred and racism, and to use its unique mixed vibrant culture to cope and heal together,” reads the altar’s description.

Another significant community altar pays tribute to Ballet East Dance Company founder Rudy Mendez, who died in May. Mendez trained and mentored hundreds of youths over the decades and had been inducted into the Austin Arts Hall of Fame. A celebration of his life earlier this year brought together the arts community for a tribute featuring dance performances and more at the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center. His altar features photos from his youth, travels, performances as well as programs of many productions he brought to life.

Although not an Austinite, accordion master and internationally renowned musician Celso Piña often rocked Austin stages. Piña passed away this summer, leaving behind a noted musical legacy. Best known for his cumbias, he earned the nickname “accordion rebel.” Piña’s altar includes a large mural featuring his name. A wall-mounted television plays a video interview with the warm, fun-loving artist.

The exhibit also features Día de Los Muertos-inspired art from the museum’s permanent collection as well as mojigangas, large festive sculptures from the museum’s Viva la Vida parade are also on display. Make sure to check out the back of the museum for an art installation by the museum’s artists in residence Yocelyn Riojas and Jerry Silguero, whose work shines a light on the struggles of immigrant children.

Swing by the museum Monday through Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Friday and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays noon to 5 p.m. Admission is $7 for adults, $4 for senior citizens and students and $1 for children ages 12 and under. Visit for more details.

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Viva la Vida parade

After you get a taste of the Día de Los Muertos altars, check out the city’s largest and longest-running Day of the Dead event— the Viva la Vida Festival and Parade from noon to 6 p.m on Oct. 26.

A grand procession kicks off the festivities on East Sixth Street between IH-35 and Red River Street and will travel west toward the festival location at East Fourth Street and Congress Avenue. Live music, floats, dancers and more make up the spirited parade that brings together traditional and contemporary cultural elements including a tribute to the holiday's pre-Columbian roots.

The free festival includes four areas that’ll feature music, art activities, face painting, a low rider exhibit, costume contests, food and artisan vendors. A special altar installation will give guests the chance to leave an offering for their loved ones. Learn more at

Style by Frida

She’s inspired art, T-shirts, movies and pretty much whatever else you can imagine. Artist Frida Kahlo’s popularity has hit the stratosphere and the pop culture icon’s legacy continues to inspire new generations.

On Oct. 4, Kahlo’s influence on style will be celebrated at the Austin Central Library with the free event Style|Muse featuring Frida Friday ATX, a monthly cultural space that brings together women of color vendors and artisans. The event, which runs from 6 to 9 p.m., in the library’s first floor special event center, will explore several Latino-inspired styles.

Style|Muse will feature an artisan market as well as Latino-inspired live art fashion models and tableaus. Don’t forget to swing by the interactive art and selfie stations.