Recapping this Year’s Día de los Muertos Festival in Waco

by Susan Bean Aycock November 2, 2023
Cultural ambassadors dressed as Caatrinas

Catrina Ambassadors with Eric Linares, festival project manager

Larger Texas cities may have snagged the spotlight for their Día de los Muertos festivals, but Waco laid out a cultural feast for the senses on October 28, despite rainy weather that threatened to derail it. 

Waco’s third annual Día de los Muertos festival featured a parade, live music, vendor booths, food and drink, and children’s activities. Rain up until the scheduled start time of 4 p.m. delayed the parade by an hour, but after that the weather held and the festival got seriously underway in Indian Spring Park on the Brazos River at downtown Waco. This year’s parade featured 55 parade entries, more than last year’s 45 despite the weather, according to 2023 parade director Julie Cervantes, who is also a local school teacher. Parade participants waited patiently in formation in the rain as festival organizers took a beat for it to subside.

Photo of a truck decorated in day of the dead motif

Day of the Dead Parade, Waco, 2023

Presented by Creative Waco and sponsored in part by the Cen-Tex Hispanic Chamber of Commerce as of 2022, this year’s festival saw the addition of sponsorship by the Hispanic Leadership Network (HLN). “These are our two leading organizations in the community to promote Hispanic community and culture, and this is a really great way to showcase all the ways the Hispanic community adds value to the community at large,” said Fiona Bond, CEO of Creative Waco. The nonprofit organization is Waco and McLennan County’s arts agency that works to develop successful strategies for growing and supporting the cultural and creative community.

With a population that’s 44% Caucasian, 31% Hispanic and 21% Black in a city of not quite 150,000, Waco is enjoying a cross-cultural artistic boom as longtime community leaders are joined by millennial hipsters to drive positive change. Andrea Kosar, herself a millennial, heads the Cen-Tex Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. 

Woman holding flowers

Day of the Dead, Waco, 2023

“The arts can bring reminders to the Hispanic community of our talent, strength, culture and impact,” said Kosar. “This holiday honors the long history of ancestors who contributed so much, by celebrating with those ancestors and loved ones through arts, food, dancing and culture. Not all of us can go to be with our families as often as we’d like or at all, in many cases,” said Kosar, who herself has Paraguyan roots on her mother’s side. “Having a little piece of ‘home’ where you live is really important. This is also hugely important overall, because not everyone gets to leave their community, so bringing global perspectives to Central Texas is a win for everyone.”

This year, Waco’s iconic suspension bridge was at the heart of the parade, having been closed the past two years for renovation, and the 25 huge bronze cattle of Branding the Brazos at its entrance plaza sported marigold wreaths. The outdoor sculpture, which spotlights the site where cattle drivers forded the Brazos on the Chisholm Trail, had also been closed for two years.

The parade featured floats and walking groups of local organizations and schools, dressed to the Muertos hilt with skeleton costumes and painted faces, riding trucks and trailer floats festooned with flowers and papel picado, and throwing candy to the crowds of costumed kids lining the curbs.

Kids during the day of the dead in Waco

Kids participating in Day of the Dead festivities in Waco

A new feature to the 2023 Muertos festival was the addition of “Catrina ambassadors,” representing major festival donors, and authentically dressed in custom-made clothes by local couturier Roxana Robles, who grew up in Mexico. “The love for my culture allows me to create beautiful designs to share with our community so they can see the beauty that our Hispanic culture brings to this world,” said Robles.

“This festival is a feast for the senses and a wonderful opportunity to showcase the Hispanic culture for people not from the Hispanic community,” said Bond. “It really accomplishes three goals: First, it’s an invitation to see and join the Hispanic community. Second, it’s an opportunity to bring together artists in the visual arts, music, dance and set design, and shine a spotlight on their talents. And third, it’s an opportunity for people to see the influence of the Hispanic community’s presence and engage in dialogue with representatives of the Hispanic Chamber and Hispanic Leadership Network.”

Photo of aa woman dressed as a catrina

Andrea Kosar, president and CEO of the Cen-Tex Hispanic Chamber of Commerce

The festival’s stage, set right in front of the suspension bridge on the downtown side of the Brazos, featured live music headliners Texmaniacs, with additional performances by Reflejo Nuevo, DJ Terko, Zamora County Line, Migzavier, and the Mariachis Troyanos from Waco’s University High School, whose mascot is the Trojans. Ballet Folklorico Sagrado Corazón also performed. Eric Linares, special events program manager for Creative Waco, served as event project manager for the entire festival.

Photo of Mariachi playing

The nearly 40-member Mariachis Troyanos, of Waco’s University Parks High School

“The arts really open the door to demonstrate all of the wonderful traditions and contributions of the Hispanic community, and bring reminders of our talent, strength, culture and impact,” said Kosar. “The excitement and energy that has gone into putting these events together has united Waco’s Hispanic community and it has been so empowering for artists, businesses and nonprofits. But this celebration is not exclusive. There is an open invitation to whoever wants to learn more about these traditions.”

Not content to rest on this year’s success, the very next day Waco’s festival organizers were already gearing up for next year, when the actual holiday date of November 2 falls on a Saturday. “This holiday honors the long history of ancestors who contributed so much,” said Kosar. We celebrate it with loved ones through arts, food, dancing, music and culture.”

People walking in a day of the dead parade

Parade walkers, with Creative Waco CEO Fiona Bond in red at left


Waco’s 2023 Día de los Muertos festival was made possible by presenting sponsors: Creative Waco; TFNB Your Bank for Life; and the Cen-Tex Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Other major sponsors included Baylor University; Downtown Waco Public Improvement District; H-E-B; and Telemundo Central Texas, with support from a Cultural District Grant from the Texas Commission on the Arts. Contributing sponsors also included nearly two dozen other organizations and individuals.

All photos by Susan Bean Aycock. 

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Cheryl Zreet November 13, 2023 - 13:23

Love this Susan!!


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