Creative Waco brings life to Dia de los Muertos parade, festival

Daniela Rodriguez, local bilingual realtor, member of the Hispanic Leaders Network and Creative Waco Board Member, walks in the parade. Kenneth Prabhakar | Photographer

By Avery Ballmann | Staff Writer

Family and friends packed along University Parks Drive waiting to see the second annual Dia de los Muertos parade and festival kick off Saturday. Some people wore calavera makeup and bright vibrant flowers atop their heads, and others wore a T-shirt and jeans.

To start the parade, a group of drummers tapped along and from that point on, it was a cascade of vehicles and people on foot decorated with orange carnations and photos of their loved ones.

Two years ago, Julie Cervantes, a local artist and school teacher, finished up an art show and was discussing with her friends about what project she could create next. At the edge of her fire pit, Cervantes imagined the idea of a Dia de los Muertos parade. Cervantes’ project became a reality again this year with the help of Creative Waco.

“I always thought Waco needed a bright, colorful parade because a lot of them look like corporate traffic,” Cervantes said.

The parade was vibrant with shiny streamers and colorful banners despite the gray colored sky. It’s supposed to imitate the tradition of family members visiting their loved ones at the cemetery on Dia de los Muertos. It is officially celebrated on Tuesday and Wednesday and there are many ways to celebrate on your own or by attending an event. Cervantes said this is the way they can educate and welcome the community into this celebration.

“We really want this to be an educational opportunity for our community and to help invite people and show them Dia de los Muertos is a beautiful holiday to honor the dead,” Cervantes said. “It’s not Halloween, it’s just a gorgeous time to reflect on life and death and loved ones passed.”

Fort Worth junior Dena Sadler said this was her first Dia de los Muertos festival, even though she has celebrated this tradition before. In her hometown Sadler and her family went to her grandmother’s gravesite and decorated an ofrenda with flowers and gifts.

“I felt like the gravesites is kind of an isolated experience, not a lot of people know what you do there or how to do it,” Sadler said. “The parade involves everybody, even to people that it’s not their culture it’s a way to like learn about it, and also a way for us to celebrate.”

Sadler said she does not mean isolated in a negative way but the tradition of Dia de los Muertos is to celebrate and honor their loved ones in a lively way. Sadler said she liked the event because it felt like it was bringing the community together.

Cervantes estimated there were 1,000 participants in the parade. Groups across Waco such as University High School, Waco Independent School District, local companies, Waco Police Department and others had floats in the parade ensuring there was enough candy and music to go around.

Eric Linares, a Baylor alumni and organizer of Eastside Market, helped curate the festival last year and this year. Linares’ role in the event is market festival organizer, he oversaw approximately 40 vendors and 10 food trucks.

“The event is growing, it’s what we want to see, it grow alongside the community,” Linares said. “And the support that we have from last year has really shone through to the growth of it this year.”

After the parade ended the crowd flocked towards the market. Filled with rich smelling food and a variety of goods, there were several Latino owned businesses selling their merchandise.

“The big end goal is to make this an experience that people around Central Texas recognize and want to go to,” Linares said. “We have amazing Dia de los Muertos celebrations in Dallas, San Antonio, San Marcos, Austin, so we want to be to that scale.”

As people finished walking through the market the festival flowed down to the amphitheater in Indian Spring Park. There was a VIP lounge and the stage where there was live music from Bidi Bidi Banda, Mariachi Las Coronelas, Giselle Vento & Frank Exum, Ballet Folklorico and DJ Magnum.

For Linares, he said he is all about creating spaces for people to connect with others so they are able to connect with their city. There was never a quiet moment at the event, the low thumping of the bass in the music tapped in the background as the festival went on.

“That mortality makes every moment that we spend with our loved ones and with our friends even much more valuable,” Linares said. “We wanted to celebrate that to make it a party to make life a party, so everybody can come be a part of that.”

  • Food vendor prepares fruit cup for children during the festival. Kenneth Prabhakar | Photographer