Our introduction to the ceremonies and activities surrounding El Dia de los Muertos ("The Day of the Dead") that had begun in San Diego continued in Tucson with The All Souls Procession.
As we headed toward the route of the procession, we passed Veinte de Agosto Park (named for the birthday of Tucson, August 20, 1775). The park contains the six flags that have flown over Tucson, and it presently was the home of Occupy Tucson.
Like Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Tucson is a leaderless, around-the-clock, peaceful resistance movement. Its participants consider themselves to be part of the 99% that no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%.
Although Tucson Police Department officers have issued more than 450 citations since October 15, when Occupy Tucson began, things were quite calm as the 100 or so participants prepared meals.
We took our procession-watching position on the edge of the park, with this serious demonstration behind us and "who-knows-what-to-expect" coming down the street.
The Procession's webpage provided this intro-duction:
"The All Souls Procession is one of the most meaningful and inclusive events in our nation… What started out as an intimate personal expression is now an enormous, hyper-creative vehicle for release and integration of grief and loss for many tens of thou-sands of individual partici-pants.
"This is not a stand-by-and-watch parade.... You are invited to come walk with us bringing whatever your spirit wants to create.
"This is a non-motorized, participant-based experience of which you are the content provider! Put it on wheels, strap it to your back, wear it, put lights in it, walk or ride it and keep it under ten feet tall OR make it so it can lower and raise again to get under the low clearence areas.
"The All Souls Procession is NOT a city owned or corporate funded event. We are the owners. YOU and I. If you put something in the URN to burn at the end, if you walk with us pushing a rolling altar, if you drop money in the donation boxes, if you volunteer for a season helping construct an art project, teaching a workshop or helping us clean up…YOU ARE A STAKEHOLDER."
Even with that introduction, we were not prepared for the procession unlike any other parade. Slips of paper were distributed and anyone along the route could write a message or wish to anyone who had passed on. These would be placed in a large paper mache urn, and the messages would be carried heavenward later that evening when the urn would be burned.
Some people in the Procession carried photographs or banners with the name of family members or friends they wanted to remember.
Others made more elaborate remem-berances, for example, the altar (photo #10 above) and the display (right).
"The Procession had its beginnings in 1990 with a ritualistic perfor-mance piece created by local artist Susan Johnson, who was grieving the passing of her father. Inspired by Mexico’s Dia de los Muertos holiday, Johnson felt she should honor her father in celebration and creativity. The performance was very well received and many artists were inspired to continue growing the Procession into its modern incarnation.
"Inside the event are myriads of installation art, altars, performers, and creatives of all kinds collaborating for almost half the year to prepare their offerings to this amazing event. The All Souls Procession, and now the entire All Souls Weekend, is a celebration and mourning of the lives of our loved ones who have passed" (allsoulsprocession.org).
Past Processions had been attended by about 20,000, but the meaning of
"attended" is unclear. The Procession covered about two miles, and the people in the Procession filled the four-lane street for the entire route. So, it seemed that the 20,000 were participants in, not observers of, the Procession.
As two of the few non-participants, we were at one moment touched by the image of a loved one and the next marveling at the artistry of the attire, and yet, in both instances, touched by the expression of emotion.
We thought this photo captured the emotion and activity as if happening faster than it could be understood.
I liked this group's message to the living.
Just as we thought we had the idea of the Procession figured out, a parade began. The University of Arizona marching band provided another dimension of artistry to the finale of the evening.
Which brings us to this figure. Like a bulky piece of cargo, she had to be pulled out of the minivan that parked next to us.
The meaning of the Procession may be summarized, thusly: "a sanctuary for community members from all walks of life to express their grief and loss in a celebration of creative energy and a rejoicing of living."