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All Souls Tucson: Coming together to celebrate life and death

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Ashley Muñoz

Kimberly Munoz participates in the 2017 All Souls Procession on Nov. 5. 

The All Souls Procession, a massive community event organized by the nonprofit Many Mouths One Stomach, provides a sanctuary for Tucson citizens to gather, celebrate life, recognize death, express grief and heal through shared experience.

On Sunday, Nov. 5, in the Barrio Hollywood neighborhood, the procession began and gradually wove its way alongside the Santa Cruz River, attracting over 100,000 participants and observers upon reaching the final site near Sentinel Plaza.

An elaborate geodesic-shaped urn led the 1.5 mile-long procession. Ushers passed out paper and pencil for attendees to write short messages, testimonies and prayers to be placed into the urn to be burned during the final ceremony. The lighting of the urn represents the focus of the ceremony: creation, destruction and transformation expressed through fiery spectacle.

RELATED: All Souls Procession a place to heal, celebrate

Some people held hands, some danced, some sang and many walked. Elegant floats, costumes and people appeared as the previous group marched forward. Light, rhythmic drumming and singing could be heard from blocks away. A sweet scent of incense, sage and burning candles floated alongside the procession. Each colorful party passed along slowly, moving with purpose, celebrating life and death in their own way. 

 A board honoring a loved one who passed away for the All Souls Procession on Nov. 5. 
 A board honoring a loved one who passed away for the All Souls Procession on Nov. 5. 

The finale culminated with various demonstrations from singers, dancers and performers. Lifted high into the sky via crane, the urn was burnt to the echoing of music by the Tucson Symphony Orchestra.

The All Souls Procession is a time for the communal celebration of the lives of deceased loved ones.

Kimberly Madison came with her husband to honor loved ones recently departed. 

“The collective grieving that the people of Tucson and surrounding area bring to this event is just stunning,” Madison said.

Madison said she has been participating in the procession since about 2009, and she played drums in the 2012 procession. 

She said she has seen the event grow each year, and she thought the new route, which differed from past processions in the downtown area, worked out well. 

“When you’re walking, you’re in this river of people feeling this collective grievance,” Madison said. “It’s all about the people; it doesn’t even really matter where the route is.”

Madison said she walked for her husband’s father, who died five years ago, her cat, best friend of 14 years, her grandparents and friends’ parents. She said when she saw pictures of other participants’ departed loved ones, she held them in her heart also. 

“That’s what adds to the magic of the event,” Madison said. “I see everyone honoring so many people who have died, and it’s like a big heart explosion. I carry all of that.”

Dorothy Lucero attended the procession for her fifth year. She lives in Tucson and said her cousins from Phoenix visit each year to come to the procession. 

“We came to represent our ancestors and our past loved ones,” Lucero said. “I do it every year.” 

Lucero said she was keeping her grandmother, brother, cousin and uncle in her thoughts. She said her favorite part of the procession is the burning of the urn. She liked last year’s downtown route better, partially because this year’s route was darker.

RELATED: Restoration efforts bring the All Souls procession to the Santa Cruz

Having worked with the event through drumming and dancing, Madison said she understands the immense planning that goes into this event. 

“At the end of the night, I feel like I’ve reaped the benefits of my community; this is what community is.” Madison said. “I’ve never lived in a place where I’ve felt community so strongly.”

Not all who came to the procession were Tucson locals. Karen Strong and her daughter, Maya, came to Tucson from Phoenix for the procession. Maya learned about All Souls Day in her seventh-grade art class, and the pair decided to experience a real procession.

 Juan Contreras II dressed up for the annual All Souls Procession in downtown Tucson on Nov. 5. 
 Juan Contreras II dressed up for the annual All Souls Procession in downtown Tucson on Nov. 5. 

“We wanted to see what it was like,” Strong said. “It was pretty cool seeing all the people in remembrance of people in their families that have passed away.”

Karen said she was keeping her grandmother in mind during the evening’s events.

Maya said the actual procession was her favorite part.


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