With a splashy new Day of the Dead festival, San Antonio aims to become a world destination for the traditional holiday celebration.

Day of the Dead San Antonio 2019 will fill La Villita with events spanning Nov. 1-3, and include Coco- and Catrina-themed events Oct. 25 and 26 at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts and the Central Library, a 5K run through one of the city’s oldest cemeteries Nov. 2, and special exhibitions at the Witte Museum and along Houston Street near the new Frost Tower.

The hope is to establish an annual tradition on the level of Fiesta, according to Mayor Ron Nirenberg, one of several speakers at a Thursday news conference announcing the event.

“The city of SA is a city of faith, we’re a city of culture, we’re a city of tradition, and lord knows, we’re a city of parties,” Nirenberg said mirthfully to the crowd gathered in Plaza Juarez at La Villita.

The idea for the new festival began with Javier Ruiz-Galindo, an experienced event organizer and now president and CEO of the Day of the Dead San Antonio organization. Ruiz-Galindo brought his idea to Chef Johnny Hernandez, Founder and President of Grupo La Gloria, who said his role was to help get the whole city involved in the celebration. The Mayor and Visit San Antonio immediately got on board, Ruiz-Galindo said.

Jenna Saucedo-Herrera, a member of the Visit San Antonio board of directors, confirmed their excitement. When presented with the opportunity, “we immediately recognized how great it would be to leverage this celebration and to invite international visitors and an international audience to come celebrate with us,” she said. “Because that’s precisely what Visit San Antonio is all about. We exist to bring the world to San Antonio.”

Ruiz-Galindo testified to the growing popularity of the traditional Mexican holiday throughout the world, demonstrated by the popularity of the 2017 Pixar blockbuster Coco and Day of the Dead-themed celebrations in Moscow and France.

“We’re so grateful and excited that our tradition has become such a welcome event in global popular culture,” he said. “It’s a testimony to what culture and art are for, which is to communicate good ideas in a powerful and beautiful way.”

Hernandez recognized ongoing annual celebrations throughout the city, and asked for help in joining the new celebration. “I want you to think about participation and how you [can] help us spread the word of Day of the Dead San Antonio, because we want America to come and celebrate it here with us in San Antonio.”

Like Fiesta, Day of the Dead San Antonio will be a party with a purpose. Proceeds from the festival will benefit TeletonUSA Children’s Rehabilitation Institute on the northwest side, where Belen Ruiz-Galindo, spouse of Javier, has volunteered for five years. CEO Federica Soriano said the institute currently serves 500 children with disabilities and their families, but hopes the additional support will help a portion of the 1,500 families currently on the waiting list.

“For us it’s not only a fundraiser opportunity, but an awareness opportunity” for San Antonians to learn about their work, Soriano said. As for the festival, “I think it’s going to be a signature event for the city,” she said.

A new work of public art, commissioned from the Menchaca Studio in Mexico City specifically for the festival, stands as a testament to the importance of remembering one’s dead and the popularity of Latino culture: a 10-foot-tall Catrina version of pop star Selena, featuring over 2 million hand-placed beads, will greet festival-goers at the corner of Market Street and Alamo Street, placed on a custom altar.

Melodias de Mexico perform during the announcement of the Day of the Dead San Antonio at La Villita. Credit: Nicholas Frank / San Antonio Report

A list of announced Day of the Dead San Antonio events is below. Check the website for updates and further information.

• Coco Night
Friday, Oct. 25
Will Naylor Smith Plaza at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts
Admission: Free
A free screening of the 2017 Pixar film Coco.

• Catrina Ball 2019
Saturday, Oct. 26
Central Library

• Day of the Dead San Antonio Festival Opening Ceremony
Friday, Nov. 1
Arneson River Theater
Admission: dodsat.com
Mariachis and Day of the Dead dancers portraying La Danza de Los Mojigangas will launch the inaugural parade.

• Catrineras on the River
Friday, Nov. 1
San Antonio River Walk
Admission: Free (seat sales to be announced through the Rey Feo Consejo Educational Foundation)
A new river parade kicks off the festival on el Día de los Inocentes.

• Day of the Dead San Antonio Festival at La Villita
Friday, Nov. 1 to Sunday, Nov. 3
Hours: Friday, Nov. 1, 6-11 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 2, 6-11 p.m.
Sunday, Nov. 3, noon-8 p.m.
La Villita, with event entrances on Presa Street and South Alamo Street
Admission: dodsat.com
Mexican food, drinks, and shopping will be available, along with live music, performances, workshops, and children’s activities, including piñata-making (and smashing!) and sugar skull-decorating. Altar de Muertos may be viewed near the Little Church, and a sunset candlelight vigil will honor loved ones.

• Celebrating Life 5K Race
Saturday, Nov. 2, 8 a.m.
Mission Burial Park South, 1700 SE Military Drive
Registration: dodsat.com
All participants will receive a commemorative kit with an event shirt, a water bottle, and a participation medal. Runners may have their faces painted by makeup artists before or after the race. The first place winner receives a trip to the 2020 Mexico City Marathon.

• Mythical Alebrijes
Oct. 25 to Nov. 16
The Witte Museum
Admission: wittemuseum.org
– whimsical carvings depicting animals, people, objects, and imaginary creatures painted with intense colors and intricate patterns – by Mexican artisans Jacobo Angeles and María del Carmen Mendoza.

Mexicraneos Street
Oct. 15 to Nov. 15
Houston Street, Downtown
Admission: Free
A series of decorated, sculptural skulls will line Houston Street near Frost Tower.

An overall map of La Villita during Day of the Dead San Antonio Credit: Courtesy / Visit SA

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...