Día de los Muertos takes on new meaning in Uvalde
Día de los Muertos, the holiday that honors loved ones who have passed, resonated in Uvalde with a deeper degree of tragedy this year after the community lost 19 children and two teachers in the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School last May.
Families and friends, in this predominantly Latino community, tried their best to put their pain aside to honor tradition and celebrate the lives of loved ones who have gone – and the lives that were taken by the gunman.
Dozens gathered Wednesday afternoon at the Hillcrest Cemetery, where many of the victims are buried, for a quiet annual mass in both English and Spanish.
The first Dia de los Muertos ceremony in Uvalde today — an annual mass held by Sacred Heart Catholic Church and Hillcrest Mortuary at Hillcrest Cemetery.— Joey Palacios - Texas Public Radio (@Joeycules) November 2, 2022
The mass begins with song.
It’s been five months since 19 kids and two teachers were killed at Robb Elementary. @TPRNews pic.twitter.com/7Op03UQkAz
And many families set up altars covered in traditional marigolds and their children’s favorite things beside their graves.
“The myth, the legend is today they are here with us,” said Javier Cazares, the father of 9-year-old Jackie Cazares – who was killed in the shooting.
Cazares choked up as he talked about the holiday and his daughter’s colorful ofrenda– full of stuffed animals, photos with family members and some of her favorite snacks to share.
“They’re here, dancing around, having a good time with their families,” he said.
April Elrod lost her 10-year-old daughter Makenna in the shooting and made sure her daughter’s altar included Takis chips and Dum-Dum lollipops.
“It’s the first time we’ve set one up. We’re Baptists,” she said. “It’s not a holiday that we normally celebrate but we felt this year that we wanted to celebrate with the other families.”
Makenna’s altar also included butterflies and pictures of her playing softball and riding a horse.
Ana Rodriguez, mother of 10-year-old Maite Rodrgiuez, set her daughter’s ashes atop her altar next to a pair of Maite’s signature green Converse sneakers.
Ana Rodriguez, mother of 10yo Maite Rodriguez, sets her ashes atop her ofrenda at Hillcrest Cemetery in Uvalde.— Joey Palacios - Texas Public Radio (@Joeycules) November 2, 2022
Maite was killed at Robb Elementary. She was identified by a pair of green sneakers she was wearing, as reported by NPR.
Those sneakers are on her ofrenda. @TPRNews pic.twitter.com/Xpphi093iB
Hundreds of Uvalde residents had trickled into the cemetery by mid-afternoon.
As darkness fell, mariachis began to play and belt out ballads into the night as most people were in no hurry to leave the cemetery and the souls they came to celebrate.
On Dia de Los Muertos, a group of mariachis performs at Uvalde’s Hillcrest cemetery where many of the Robb Elementary victims are buried.— Joey Palacios - Texas Public Radio (@Joeycules) November 3, 2022
They’re standing by the ofrenda and gravesite of Jackie Cazares who was 9 years old. @TPRNews. pic.twitter.com/2HFbG3jdxV
One family settled in to watch the Houston Astros play in the World Series from a TV they set up. Another family watched the movie “Coco” about a Mexican boy who has an adventure on Día de los muertos.
In the Uvalde town square, there was more food and music organized by lifelong resident Katie Fulton.
"All my life I've lived here and I don't think there's been any kind of celebrations like this,” she said.
Fulton described how people in Uvalde often travel to nearby cities like San Antonio to join in their Día de los Muertos celebrations. This year, they could do it at home.
And Fulton hoped that for this one evening, the community, torn apart by the shooting and the controversy that has followed, was able to unite around the holiday.
“We can all just be one with this celebration,” she said.
A thought echoed by Cazares, who organized the cemetery event.
“We’re all hurting but at the same time, we’re happy because we’re here together,” he said.
Edited by Amy Isackson