Día de los Muertos, the holiday that honors loved ones who have passed, resonated in Uvalde, Texas 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 English and Spanish.
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.
"The myth, the legend is today they are here with us," said Javier Cazares, the father of 9-year-old Jacklyn 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 her beloved Takis chips and Dum-Dum lollipops for people to try.
"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."
Butterflies adorned framed photos of Makenna playing softball and riding a horse.
Ana Rodriguez, mother of 10-year-old Maite Rodríguez, set her daughter's ashes atop her altar next to a pair of Maite's signature green Converse sneakers.
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.
One family settled in to watch the Houston Astros play in the World Series on a TV they set up. Another family watched the movie "Coco", about a Mexican boy who has an adventure on Dia 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.
Sergio Martínez-Beltrán is Nashville Public Radio’s political reporter. Prior to moving to Nashville, Sergio covered education for the Standard-Examiner newspaper in Ogden, Utah. He is a Puerto Rico native and his work has also appeared on NPR station WKAR, San Antonio Express-News, Inter News Service, GFR Media and WMIZ 1270 AM.
Estefania Mitre (she/her/ella) is a production assistant for social media who works with visual elements to amplify stories across platforms. She has experience reporting on culture, social justice and music.
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