Sil Sandoval sits in a lawn chair in Steele Indian School Park, sipping a QuikTrip soda next to her daughter and mother.
But the scene unfolding around her isn’t a typical Sunday soccer game or family picnic. It’s Phoenix’s annual Día de los Muertos festival, and the tradition is holding strong.
“Every year, I come out here,” Sandoval said, her face and chest coated in skeleton paint and adorned with red
and green gems. “It’s a bunch of loved ones we’re remembering. It’s nothing like Halloween. It’s nothing scary.”
The beat of drums and the gentle hum of a mariachi guitar floats over Sandoval. Her hair is wrapped in a bun and topped with a flowered head dress resembling that of La Catrina, a famous image created by Mexican artist José Guadalupe Posada.
‘We want to share the beauty’
Día de los Muertos — Day of the Dead — is a Mexican tradition that honors and celebrates friends and family members who have died. Families often gather at relatives’ graves to remember their lives, and many make and decorate altars in their homes.
This year’s Phoenix festival, organized by the Phoenix Cultural Coalition, featured drummers, traditional dancers, a children’s mariachi band and a handful of masked entertainers. Circling the celebration were rows of booths with community artists and food vendors.
The festival dates back to 1980, when it began in Mesa. The goal behind its creation was to showcase Mexican culture where it often wasn’t embraced, according to Carmen Guerrero, Cultural Coalition executive director.
“Our food, our music, our dances — everything contributes to the betterment of society,” Guerrero said. “We want to share all the beauty that we bring to our community.”
In 2005, the coalition moved the festival to Phoenix’s Margaret T. Hance Park, later relocating it again after it outgrew the site. Guests continue to gather each year to both mourn and rejoice.
Mingling with the constant hum of music coming from the stage Sunday were the quiet chants of prayer groups. The smell of incense hovered over altars decorated with pictures and bright orange and yellow flowers.
“It’s important for us to celebrate who we are,” Guerrero said.
Dancers with Ballet Folklorico Quetzalli from Chandler prepare to perform at the sixth Annual Dia de Los Muertos PHX Festival at Steele Indian School Park in Phoenix on Sunday.
Dancers with Ballet Folklorico Quetzalli perform at the Día de Los Muertos PHX Festival.
Natalie Valdez is gets help from Shalena Baldenegro before performing with Ballet Folklorico Quetzalli at the sixth annual Día de Los Muertos PHX Festival on Sunday.
Dancers with Ollin Yolitztli Dance Academy in Phoenix perform at the sixth annual Día de Los Muertos PHX Festival at Steele Indian School Park in Phoenix on Sunday.