Dressed in a black suit trimmed with roses, an ornate black hat, and calavera face paint, Francisco Fuentes Jr. walked through Hemisfair cradling a photograph of his father illuminated with string lights.

Fuentes and his sisters Naomi Fuentes and Teresa Fuentes were honoring their father, Francisco Fuentes Sr., at Muertos Fest on Saturday. He died from COVID-19 in June.

This was Francisco Fuentes Jr.’s first Muertos Fest, while Naomi and Teresa attend every year, he said. But he wanted to come with them to memorialize their father, as a way to do it together.

“My father was a family man, and he said family comes first and last,” Francisco Fuentes Jr. said.

Siblings Naomi Fuentes, Teresa, and Francisco Jr. pose for photos with a portrait of their father, Francisco Sr., who died of COVID-19 in June.
Siblings Naomi Fuentes, Teresa, and Francisco Jr. pose for photos with a portrait of their father, Francisco Sr., who died of COVID-19 in June. Credit: Nick Wagner / San Antonio Report

The Fuentes were among thousands of San Antonians who streamed through Hemisfair on Saturday dressed in colorful floral crowns and brightly painted faces for the 9th annual Muertos Fest, the city’s largest celebration of Día de Los Muertos. The event featured vendors selling handmade items, food and drink, live music, and a fashion show.

Muertos Fest, like many live events, did not happen in 2020 at the height of the coronavirus pandemic. Now, with 76% of the eligible population in San Antonio fully vaccinated, the festival was back in full force.

Ada Gordon joined her sister Sabrina Lewis under the shade of two white tents at Hemisfair. The sisters comprise Colectivo Cultural with their brother Jesus de la Torres and have been attending Muertos Fest for as long as the event has been happening to lead arts and crafts workshops to help people make their own Día de Los Muertos memorabilia.

The two passed out yellow tissue paper to fold into flowers and coloring pages of calaveras on thick paper. Once colored in, those calaveras could either be cut out to serve as masks or pasted onto a popsicle stick to use as a fan, Gordon explained. Saturday’s high temperature neared 90 degrees, and in the afternoon lines for cold drinks stretched longer than any others.

“We try to make the flowers because when you build an altar you use marigolds,” Gordon said. “We try to imitate the marigolds so they can use them around the altar. Or they can make it on the halo.”

As always, dozens of altars were scattered around Hemisfair, created by schools, families, or organizations. Some honored beloved celebrities, like actor Chadwick Boseman, who died last year. Many honored friends and family who have died, and several were dedicated to lives lost to COVID-19. As of Saturday, the Bexar County region recorded more than 4,700 lives lost to COVID-19. 

  • Skulls, candles and marigold flowers line an ofrenda during Muertos Fest at Hemisfair on Saturday.
  • Carolina Vlaun poses for a photo during Muertos Fest at Hemisfair on Saturday.
  • Gio Vasquez, left, and Ernesto Hernandez cross Alamo Street as they walk to Muertos Fest at Hemisfair on Saturday.
  • The Las Monas Dance Drum Procession takes place at Hemisfair during Muertos Fest on Saturday. The two-day cultural event celebrates the lives of lost loved ones.

Though the coronavirus pandemic is still ongoing, elementary school teacher Mari Boyd said she was glad to be able to attend Muertos Fest with so many other San Antonians. Boyd created an altar featuring work from her students at Storm Elementary School, where she teaches art.

“If everyone continues getting vaccinated and doing what they can do, we can start socializing more like this,” Boyd said. “I feel like this event was perfect for that. A lot of people want to know about your design, who submitted images of loved ones. A creative space is an outlet. And this [event] was creative and community-building.”

Though most photographs rested on stationary altars, Francisco Fuentes Sr.’s photo traveled with his children through the Muertos Fest grounds. Naomi Fuentes said the photograph that her brother carried of her father was taken during Christmas together last year.

“It’s so recent,” she said. “It was our last Christmas as a family. Francisco [Jr.] had just moved back to San Antonio and it meant a lot to my father to have him back.”

Francisco Fuentes Jr. said he will remember his father most for his laughter and sense of humor.

“He always made you feel welcome,” he said. “Anyone who knew my father knew the way he made them feel. He made them feel great. And that’s what he left behind.”

Muertos Fest is scheduled to continue at Hemisfair on Sunday from 12 p.m. to 9 p.m. Find more information here.

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.