For at least one autumn weekend, the nation will come to know San Antonio as “Spiritlandia.” At least that’s the hope of organizers of the Day of the Dead San Antonio river parade and festival.

In an announcement to media and city dignitaries Wednesday morning at La Villita, Chef Johnny Hernandez unveiled the new branding for the festival he first introduced in 2019. After the coronavirus pandemic necessitated a virtual celebration in only its second year, the parade returned as an in-person event in 2021.

This year, the event will be broadcast in a combined television and online streaming format with national partners NBC LX and Peacock, which along with Telemundo channels, will reach an estimated 100 million U.S. viewers, according to organizers.

The Oct. 27 river parade will be featured in a Nov. 1 primetime broadcast that will introduce audiences to San Antonio’s music, heritage and culture, said David Chavez, CEO of Kansas-based content creator Ingeñuity and producer of the broadcast. Actor Mario Lopez will be among the show’s hosts.

“November 1, we’re about to put San Antonio on the map,” Chavez said. “And we’re going to put a lot of Hispanic faces in a one-hour incredible show.”

Mayor Ron Nirenberg credited Hernandez and his team of partners, co-workers and volunteers as “taking our culture to the world,” and said San Antonio is the ideal host for a nationwide Day of the Dead celebration.

Chef Johnny Hernandez, left, speaks with Mayor Ron Nirenberg during the Day of the Dead San Antonio announcement on Wednesday.
Chef Johnny Hernandez, left, speaks with Mayor Ron Nirenberg during the Day of the Dead San Antonio announcement on Wednesday. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

“There is no city in the country that better honors our traditions, our complex histories and our ancestors than San Antonio,” Nirenberg said, acknowledging that the broadcast might help generate significant interest in the ancient Mexican tradition.

“To know that there are now going to be millions of Americans who get to see San Antonio through that vantage point is something incredible,” Nirenberg said.

Among dignitaries in the audience were George and Catherine Cisneros of performance troupe Urban-15, whom Hernandez credited with helping bring authentic local culture to the festival.

Asked what the national attention will bring to San Antonio, Catherine Cisneros said, “it will show our country what a beautiful, deep and profound city that we are because we have been here since the beginning. This is not just the United States, we are a continent, and there are no borders.”

Scholar Ellen Riojas Clark also signaled the festival’s potential for highlighting cultural unity. “Día de Muertos is a perfect thing to share with everybody in the Americas, not just the United States but all of the Americas,” she said.

She said that the festival gains its power from its beginnings as a family celebration. “It’s the beginning of unity,” Clark said. “Families are universal.”

The Day of the Dead San Antonio river parade is scheduled to kick off Oct. 27 at the Arneson River Theater, with festival events running through Oct. 30 in La Villita. Proceeds from ticket sales to the live parade event will benefit the Rey Feo Consejo Educational Foundation.

Senior Reporter Nicholas Frank moved from Milwaukee to San Antonio following a 2017 Artpace residency. Prior to that he taught college fine arts, curated a university contemporary art program, toured with...