“There are 100,000 of you here,” an All Souls Procession volunteer yells within an enormous crowd of skull painted faces, “So if each of you donate $1, we will make it through 2015.” This was just one of many announcements projected through downtown Tucson as the All Souls Procession made its way through the city on Saturday, October 9.

Tucson citizens particpate in the annual Dia de Los Muertos festival. The beginning of the parade starts on Sixth Avenue and ends past 1-10.

Tucson citizens particpate in the annual Dia de Los Muertos festival. The beginning of the parade starts on Sixth Avenue and ends past 1-10.

Inspired by Mexico’s Día De Los Muertos, the All Souls Procession was started in 1990 by Susan Johnson. Today, the non-profit arts collective Many Mouths One Stomach in Tucson is the organizing body for the Procession. It regularly brings 100,000 visitors to the downtown area, and over $17,000,000 in revenue to the local economy. The All Souls Procession is a distinctly Tucsonan cultural event.

Although the All Souls Procession serves to mourn and revere those who have passed, there is nothing quiet or subdued about it. Starting at night around 5 pm, it is an impossibly crowded, loud, parade of celebration and passion.

Charities and causes from all over the city gather to gain awareness; activist mothers looking for missing children shout “¡Justicia, ahora!” while various instruments from all imaginable cultures are played, and enormous, lit up skulls are carried through the procession. There is an equal amount of participants and spectators of the parade, and anyone is free to join in if they please.

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Despite the fact that the procession begins on North 6th Avenue and ends on West Congress, it never loses steam or enthusiasm, and instead culminates in a finale that only intensifies in size and extravagance over the years. Fire dancers, acrobats, and drummers entertain the crowd and then the urn full of messages for the dead written by people in the procession is lit in a blaze.

Dia de los Muertos 2

Photo courtesy of Chloé Durand.

Embarrassingly enough, despite living in Tucson for ten years and living especially close to the downtown Mercado district, I had never been to the All Souls Procession until this year. If one spends any time, like me, in Central Tucson or West University on the night of the procession though, the atmospheric change of the city is palpable as brightly costumed and pale-faced individuals make their way downtown. As a result of this, I of course knew the procession was a big deal – but I still underestimated it.

I had discerned even without attending the procession the quantity of crowds, too; because Tucson is a rather spread out city, it can be easy to feel isolated from urban areas or people in general. Spend one minute downtown during the procession though, and you will quickly realize how many people actually live in Tucson; whether standing shoulder to shoulder on the sidewalks to see the parade or simply trying to dine in any of the fully packed restaurants along the parade route will quickly dispel any small-town feelings. The sheer volume of people who show up to observe and participate, in both full garb and plain street clothes, is breathtaking alone. It’s no wonder that people from all over the country travel to Tucson just to grasp a taste of the experience.

It is said that on Día de los Muertos the souls of the dead come to visit loved ones on Earth, and there is something so acutely ethereal and dreamlike about the All Souls Procession that just by standing on the curb and watching thousands of Tucsonans celebrate their missed loved ones, one might be inclined to believe the dead would be proud.