Tag Archives: Sugar Skulls

Alabama Dia de los Muertos Celebrates Quince Años!


Dia de los Muertos celebrates Quince años!

Dia de los Muertos Alabama, presented by Bare Hands Gallery, celebrated 15 years this year!  I know I’ve said this before but I’ll say it again…after my beloved Fiesta, this is my second favorite festival of the year.  Fiesta board members have always felt a kinship with DOD Alabama going back to our fifth year in existence.  That was the year we “discovered” one another as each of our festivals grew and that was the year we decided to support one another.

This festival has been looking for a forever home since it lost its original location last year due to the changes in the Birmingham landscape.  The Rotary Trail was completed and it just wasn’t possible to use the same area for a festival this big.  Last year, the festival temporarily moved to Cahaba Brewery and it was packed.  After the crowd that showed up, they knew they needed more space so this year they secured Pepper Place for the event.

Papel Picado lines 2nd Avenue South between the main altar area and the main stage at DOD 2017

The entrance was at 3rd Avenue South with sponsors lining the left hand side.  A portion of 2nd Avenue South was closed off to house the main stage on one side and the food court on the other.  The main altar site was in the middle between the two in a large parking area.  It was so beautiful and reminiscent of the original location.  Two large brick walls surrounded the space and were used to hang murals and other décor.  Chairs were set up around the site with fire pits as was done in the old location.  I can remember years when it was so cold that those fire pits were a God-send!  Lights were strung between the walls and papel picado was everywhere!  The Mercado was in the parking lot of Pepper Place and there were so many vendors with beautiful hand crafted items for sale!  I wanted one of everything!

This year, the set up allowed for more space and a better flow to all the event components.  The event was crowded but there was more space to walk around and not feel like you were being walked on or constantly running into someone.

I arrived at 3 p.m. to photograph some of the set up yesterday.  I always like to get there early to do this and then I stay until after sunset to take photos by candlelight and enjoy catching up with friends.  This year I had a meeting to attend from 4 to 7 so  when I got back to the site, the line to enter was down the block!  Luckily, I had pre-purchased my ticket so walked directly up to the entrance and was given my wrist band!  (Lesson to you folks who didn’t plan ahead!)

People watching at DOD is always entertaining and I love the way more and more are painting their faces as sugar skulls and dressing up.  They embrace this event and seem to take the time to understand the reason behind it…why it is important and why it exists.  It’s not just a costume party, it’s a remembrance of loved ones who have passed on and a way to keep their memories alive for ourselves and a way to tell others about them.

There is also such artistic talent in our city and so much of this talent is displayed at this event in the costumes, the unique vendor items and of course, the altar creations.  I am always inspired when I see what is created and moved to tears by at least one thing I see.  This year, there was an altar created to honor the people who have perished in the many natural disasters experienced in 2017.  It was both haunting and moving…

Here are some of my photos from last night…sometimes it’s just easier to tell the story with photographs.  Meanwhile, happy Quince to DOD Alabama…it was a fabulous event! Viva la Vida!

And the Day of the Dead collection continues to grow…

Cynthia Rowley placements I found at TJ Maxx this year!

Collecting Day of the Dead/Dia de los Muertos items has become a year-round thing for me.  It used to be that I would begin seeing things in stores around September but these days, you can find things all the time!  Granted, a lot of the items I find in local stores like Target are rather whimsical and mass-produced.  They still blend nicely with my more unique pieces and give me ideas for creating my annual Day of the Dead altar at home.

DOD Sugar Skull yoga pants! Aren’t these cool?!

In August, I was in TJ Maxx with my daughter when I spotted these cute pumpkin DOD placemats by Cynthia Rowley!  There was also a tablecloth, but I decided to just get the placemats.  Of course, when you are at TJ Maxx, you have to look through the clothes section and I was thrilled to find these sugar skull yoga pants!  I’m sure I’m going to turn a few heads when I wear them at my local YMCA later this month!

I always go to World Market to see what their new collection looks like.  I happened to hit it right when they were putting all their items out on display last month.  I was drawn to this sugar skull bowl because of the subtle colors.  Plus they had a pillow with the same sugar skulls and colors on it!  I had a $40 gift card which helped me pay for these two items.  Oh, and I also found this incredibly colorful porcelain cup because…why not?!

On to Target…you know they always have a DOD collection and it seems to have gotten bigger over the years!   This year, I added a sugar skull banner, a trio of Day of the Dead birds, two sugar skull “dolls” and a sugar skull candle holder!  They also have some cutesy items in their Dollar Spot section and I decided to buy two of the fabric sugar skull buckets.  I figured they would be good to use for candy for Halloween.  It’s interesting how both World Market and Target seem to have coordinated their color scheme this year for their collections.  I’m loving the blues, oranges and pinks in these new items and they’ve made for a very coordinate kitchen table this year!

These little sugar skull pup salt and pepper shakers remind me of my pup, Lucy! These are from Von Maur.

Von Maur Department Store had these cute sugar skull dog salt and pepper shakers!  They reminded me of my pup, Lucy so of course I had to buy them!  This was an unexpected place to find DOD items!

Vintage style designs on these Day of the Dead placemats I found at the Albuquerque airport!

This year, we had my Zuniga family reunion in Albuquerque, New Mexico and I always look forward to finding new DOD items when I’m in NM or out west.  Amazingly, I always find the best items at the Albuquerque airport!  These placemats are beautiful with their traditional depictions including La Catrina, La Virgen de Guadalupe and dancing sugar skulls.  I bought 6 total – two of each and plan to use them on my dining room table when I create my altars this year.

In addition, at our reunion I snagged these beautiful Catrina candle sticks!  I plan to use them this month and next around the house.  They are so colorful!  And I also came home with a purple and yellow sugar skull very large cup that my cousin Boogie made!  Could this BE any more perfect for this time of year???  Or any time, really…

Sugar skull puppy toys – one for Lucy and one for my grandpup, Lucia! These are from Pet Smart.

Finally…I was in Pet Smart to pick up some doggie treats for my pup, Lucy when I spotted these DOD puppy toys!  I picked up one for Lucy and one for my grandpup, Lucia!  They squeak which should make for an interesting game of fetch and retrieve!

I’m sure there will be more to add as we get closer to Day of the Dead.  I really can’t help myself when I see these items…I think I’m going to have to add another storage container or two this year to accommodate everything!

The Zuniga-Odom Family Altar for Dia de los Muertos – 2015

Zuniga-Odom altar 2015

Zuniga-Odom altar 2015

My altars this year were very similar to last year. As I mentioned in a previous post, I wanted to change things up a bit but I didn’t plan very well. So, I’ll hold those ideas until next year…

Meanwhile, I did add more to my dining room table altar! I always use a pair of two-tiered plate stands for different events and gatherings at my house. Since I bought the cute male and female sugar skulls at Target, I used those on the top place and scattered marigolds on the bottom plate. It really made the table explode in color!

Something new on my altar/table this year is the two tiered stand - a great place to put my new Sugar Skull in top hat decoration (from Target) - just add marigolds!

Something new on my altar/table this year is the two tiered stand – a great place to put my new Sugar Skull in top hat decoration (from Target) – just add marigolds!

I have to admit, it’s hard to take everything down. I’ll be doing that this weekend but the candles – the battery operated flicker kind – make the dining room and living room so beautiful at night.

Until next year…Feliz Día de los Muertos!

One of my favorite photos with my dad...

One of my favorite photos with my dad…

The Zuniga siblings  my grandfather (far right) Apolonio Guerrero (Polo)and his siblings.

The Zuniga siblings my grandfather (far right) Apolonio Guerrero (Polo)and his siblings.

My dad, Praxedis Sotelo Zuniga, in his T-bird.  Photo taken in Bangkok, Thailand.  His handkerchief, rosary and Air Force pin.

My dad, Praxedis Sotelo Zuniga, in his T-bird. Photo taken in Bangkok, Thailand. His handkerchief, rosary and Air Force pin.

My dad's Leica camera...next to a tequila shot set I bough in Mexico many years ago.

My dad’s Leica camera…next to a tequila shot set I bough in Mexico many years ago.

Zuniga family crest on a cloth bag - these were given out at a recent Zuniga family reunion.

Zuniga family crest on a cloth bag – these were given out at a recent Zuniga family reunion.

My coffee table altar with pictures of my mother's family - her parents, sister, grandparents...  My pup, Lucy helped by watching.

My coffee table altar with pictures of my mother’s family – her parents, sister, grandparents… My pup, Lucy helped by watching.

A favorite photo of my grandparents and aunt - Onnie and Louise Stone and Gail Stone Thomas.

A favorite photo of my grandparents and aunt – Onnie and Louise Stone and Gail Stone Thomas.

Zuniga family photos - my dad, his siblings and parents (front photo) and my grandparents Zuniga on their wedding day (photo on left).

Zuniga family photos – my dad, his siblings and parents (front photo) and my grandparents Zuniga on their wedding day (photo on left).

Zuniga-Odom altar at night

Zuniga-Odom altar at night

Day of the Dead 2015

Day of the Dead 2015

Day of the Dead 2015

Day of the Dead 2015

Day of the Dead 2015

Day of the Dead 2015

Finding Tesoros in Austin, Texas

Beside Tesoros in Austin, Texas...this painting of the Virgen of Guadalupe is clearly visible from the street.

Beside Tesoros in Austin, Texas…this painting of the Virgen of Guadalupe is clearly visible from the street.

I went to Austin, Texas two weeks ago with my husband.  Eddie had a business conference and I went along since this place is on my “must visit” list.  Quite eclectic!  I mean, when your motto is “Keep Austin Weird,” I guess you kind of have to be eclectic!  We arrived early on Sunday and after checking into our hotel we immediately started exploring Austin.  First lunch at Annie’s, explored the Pecan Street Festival, checked out Mexic-Arte Museum, snacked at Walton’s Fancy & Staple, walked through the Texas State Capitol and finally had a light dinner at Second Bar & Kitchen.  Whew!  Exhausted but exhilarated!

I always do a little research before we travel looking for “off the beaten path” type places to check out.  Aside from restaurants, thrift stores and historical sites, I wanted to find some unique shopping.  I figured in Austin I would find a number of stores with Mexican art  when I stumbled upon Tesoros in the hotel magazine.  Located on South Congress (or Soco), I could have stayed there all day and not seen everything!  What a treasure trove – hence the name Tesoros!  (Duh!)  Outside the store there is a huge painting of the Virgen de Guadalupe.  So iconic and easy to spot.  Thankfully, there was parking behind the store – because parking can be a bit of a challenge in Austin!!!!  And they back into parking spaces there which is new to me…

Overwhelming display of Day of the Dead items at Tesoros in Austin, Texas!

Overwhelming display of Day of the Dead items at Tesoros in Austin, Texas!

The Tesoros website states that they are a retailer and wholesale distributor of folk arts and crafts and traditional items from over 20 different countries.  They definitely had a large supply of items from Mexico!  I naturally gravitated toward the Day of the Dead items and couldn’t believe the selection and variety.  There was a section on Frida Kahlo and I kept coming back to the Frida Retablo.  I knew I would come home with that one at least.

The Frida Kahlo display at Tesoros in Austin, Texas

The Frida Kahlo display at Tesoros in Austin, Texas

Next I found the Mexican tin ornaments.  I have picked up tin ornaments over the years and they are heavily featured on my Mexican Christmas tree at home each year.  I ended up picking up quite a few – putting them all out on the floor to see which ones I really wanted.  That’s when one of the sales people brought me a basket.  I knew I was in trouble now…

Mexican tin Christmas ornaments...this was just side one!

Mexican tin Christmas ornaments…this was just side one!

I walked around the back of the display and there were more ornaments including the Loteria (lottery) ornaments and quite a few hearts – some plain tin, some painted red and others with mirrors.  I could have bought them all…but I needed to be mindful of getting everything back on the plane!  One of the funniest items I found was the Michael Jackson sugar skull complete with silver glove!  I really should have bought one…

Michael Jackson Day of the Dead ornament! I wish I had bought it now...

Michael Jackson Day of the Dead ornament! I wish I had bought it now…

The last item I bought at Tesoros was a vinyl table-cloth/oil cloth.  I know that sounds boring but these tablecloths are so colorful and really create a traditional Mexican scene when you are setting a Mexican table.  I kept picturing my Fiesta dishes on the tablecloth.  They had so many colors and designs, it was hard to decide but I’m typically drawn to turquoise so that’s the one I got.

Here is a slideshow of some of the items I brought back…I think I’m going to need a bigger Mexican Christmas tree this year!  Oh…and I photographed them on a thrift store Mexican blanket I found for $5…

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More Day of the Dead Purchases

Sugar skull items found at Target this year...

Sugar skull items found at Target this year…

Dia de los Muertos/Day of the Dead is about 3 weeks away and I’ve ramped up the search for cool and colorful items!

I can always count on World Market to have a great collection of sugar skull items.  In fact, they call it the Los Muertos (The Dead) Collection.  After several years of picking through their collection, I think I have most everything I really want.  But when I went by the store a few weeks ago, I was surprised to find orange and black sugar skull mugs and small plates!  I’m thinking these will be great this month for weekend coffee and a light bite of breakfast.

Sugar skull coffee mugs and small plates from World Market this year!

Sugar skull coffee mugs and small plates from World Market this year!

Target has started carrying a larger collection of Day of the Dead items which thrills me!  Of course with Target you can take your chances and wait for things to on sale OR you can go ahead and pay full price – which is really not terribly high – and get it when you see it.  I chose the later…plus, I had about $40 in Target gift cards I had been holding on to so…

Sugar Skull wreath from Target.

Sugar Skull wreath from Target.

I really do love the sugar skull wreath with the colorful florals the best.  That was my first purchase and it goes on my front door this weekend.  They had some wooden sugar skulls on stands and some lanterns but those didn’t interest me as much.  Then a few weeks later I ran in to Target to pick up a few things for supper.  Naturally, I wandered over by the Halloween items and found individual hanging male and female sugar skulls!  LOVE the top hat on the male!  Had to have!

Mr. and Mrs. Sugar Skull! Found at Target this year.

Mr. and Mrs. Sugar Skull! Found at Target this year.

The $1-$3 dollar bins at Target are always a treasure trove.  They have great seasonal items and I used to love getting the little Christmas buckets to use in class when I taught 4th grade Sunday School.  I always walk through and without fail, find something I can use.  Most recently, I found these sugar skull socks.  I know what I’ll be wearing to the local Birmingham Day of the Dead festival next month!!!  I think they glow in the dark too!

I'll be wearing these Target glow in the dark Sugar Skull socks to our local Day of the Dead festival this year!

I’ll be wearing these Target glow in the dark Sugar Skull socks to our local Day of the Dead festival this year!

Walgreens surprised me while in Austin, Texas two weeks ago.  I found this cute sugar skull bobble head.  I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised in Texas…so when I got back to Birmingham I went to the Hoover store and found a few things – just not the bobble head.  The one item I decided to add to my collection was the beverage holder or Koozie!

Walgreens Sugar Skull bobble head...

Walgreens Sugar Skull bobble head…

I love the fact that several people I know send me texts or emails when they see Day of the Dead items at stores.  I always check them out to see if it’s something I can’t live without.  I’m sure there are plenty more items out there that are just waiting for a home.  Three more weeks to find them!!!

Walgreens sugar skull koozie/can holder found at Walgreens in Birmingham.

Walgreens sugar skull koozie/can holder found at Walgreens in Birmingham.

Recent Day of the Dead “Stuff” Purchases…and it’s only August!

IMG_6548It’s only August but I’ve already scored some cool Day of the Dead items!

I’m always on the lookout for interesting items to add to my growing Dia de los Muertos collection and I’ve found that when you least expect to find them…there they  are!

For the first item, I was in the Von Maur Department Store at the Galleria and noticed they had already put their Halloween items out.  I admit…I walked by thinking it’s the beginning of August and WAY too early for Halloween decorations to be out.  But then I rounded a corner and spotted the Lolita wine glasses.  In particular, the sugar skull Lolita wine glass  REALLY caught my eye!  Now, I have a soft spot for these quirky wine glasses.  They have different fun designs reflecting holidays and events and at the bottom they include a cute drink recipe.  A lot of Hallmark stores carry them, which is where I first learned about them but they ARE a bit pricey.  I’ve managed to find quite a few at thrift stores in the area for a $1-$2 vs. the retail prices of $25-$30!  Love it when that happens…  However, in this case I paid full retail price because had to have this wine glass!  I can’t wait to use it during my Day of the Dead celebration this year!


Next, I was at the Karen’s Hallmark Store in Vestavia Hills two weeks ago buying cards and I stopped to check out the Hallmark Christmas ornaments.  I have an extensive collection of Christmas ornaments that date all the way back to 1973 when Hallmark first came out with their ornaments!  I was checking to see which ones I might buy this year when I spotted something unusual…a Day of the Dead Sugar Skull CAT ornament!  It wasn’t in the usual Christmas packaging but it was definitely an ornament and once again I decided I needed to have it.  In doing a little research online, I discovered that in addition to the Cat design, there is also a Sugar Skull ornament this year and there was one in 2014.  Why didn’t I see this last year?  Naturally, there are 2014 ornaments  available online but at double the price.  Well, that ain’t gonna happen…maybe I’ll get lucky and find one at the thrift store…


This weekend I scored two items!  My husby and I are  helping our newly married daughter and her husband move to Atlanta this weekend and next.  After unloading a U-Haul and two SUVs, we headed to Bed, Bath and Beyond to pick up some storage/organizing items.  That’s where I spotted a Tervis 20 oz. water bottle with Sugar Skulls and flowers all over it!  I LOVE IT and quickly put it in our buggy!  I mean, everyone I know has a Tervis water bottles and now I’ve joined the ranks.  Of course, I think mine is the most awesome!


Today, I was at the new Sprouts Farmers Market in Hoover picking up some fruits and veggies.  I was walking out with my purchases when I spotted a Sugar Skull bag by Blue Q on a turn-style at the entrance.  Well, I quickly put my items in the car and headed back into the store to check them out!  There were two bags and a small cosmetic type bag made of recycled materials among the items on the rack.  I decided on the Sugar Skull bag in blue with a zipper because the bottom of the bag was sturdier than the pink bag that I also liked.  Who knows…if I’m back in Sprouts next week I might break down and get pink one too!  They are just that cute!


At this rate, and with another week left in August, I may luck up on a few more Day of the Dead items!  Whatever the case, I will definitely make use of them all beginning with the Tervis water bottle tomorrow on my way to work.  I also love that I found these items at places I never thought would carry DOD.  Go figure!


One side of the Lolita glass has a male sugar skull face on it and the other side has a female face. LOVE these wine glasses!


Each Lolita wine glass has a drink recipe on the bottom of the glass. This one looks interesting…!!!


Even the base of the Lolita wine glasses are decorative!


Sugar Skull PJs, Nick & Nora and Target

This is the time of year when I break out my Day of the Dead sugar skull PJs!

IMG_7282I saw these adorable and Nick & Nora Brand PJs at Target several years ago and fell in love!!!  Had to have them…but…could only find a size small nightgown at my local Target.  Well, I don’t know about you, but I HAVE to have a lot of room in my PJs and so a large is my preference…even an XL feels good to lounge around and sleep in and be comfy.  So, I hit up every Target in the area to find a larger size of these cute PJs.  And at the time, that was about 3 stores total!

I eventually found a medium gown and bought it.  Much to my surprise, at my annual cookie exchange party, my sweet friend Denise Koch gave me a sugar skull gown as a Christmas gift!  She said she saw it at Target and immediately thought of me!  So score for TWO sugar skull gowns!!!  (I have such great friends!!!)


IMG_7284The next year, Target carried sugar skull PJs again.  This time coordinated pants and tops, and of course, I went to all the stores looking again.  My husband even got into the act and would stop at Targets when we were traveling out-of-town to help me look.  That year I even found Sugar Skull slippers!

I’ve accumulated quite a few gowns, pants, and tops over the past few years, and in addition to being quite comfy, they are very colorful.  I always see someone wearing these PJs at the Bare Hands Gallery Day of the Dead festival in downtown Birmingham each year.  So…it’s clear I’m not the only one who loves this design and theme!

Target hasn’t carried them for several years now…probably because Nick & Nora label hasn’t made them in a while.  Maybe they are taking a brief break and will come back with a new design one day soon.  I’m hopeful!!!  Would love to see a new design to add to my collection!  Plus, a few of mine are starting to show a little wear!  Fingers crossed for next year!


What Exactly Is Day of the Dead?

IMG_7272Several years ago, I was co-teaching an 8 week Spanish language and culture class.  For the first 15 minutes of each class, I would give the students a look into various aspects of Mexican culture.  This one particular class was right before the local Bare Hands Gallery Day of the Dead festival.  So, I thought the timing was perfect to share the information and invite the class to come out and experience Day of the Dead, Birmingham style!

A few heads in the room nodded as I began to explain Day of the Dead – Día de los Muertos – but for the most part, I saw confused faces…clearly more explanation was needed.  That’s when it hit me and I said.. “How many of you have ever been to decoration day at your church?”  Light bulbs started to go off around the room… “well, Day of the Dead is like the Mexican version of this!”  And suddenly…everyone was nodding and smiling!

IMG_7275One of the questions I got that day was about how similar Day of the Dead (DOD)  seemed to be to Halloween – how maybe it was the Mexican version of Halloween.  But that couldn’t be further from the truth.  DOD is a celebration of life.  It has nothing to do with witches, goblins, spiders and spider webs.  It is a time to remember our loved one who have passed on.  It doesn’t celebrate death, but it DOES celebrate the lives of our ancestors.

IMG_7276So what are all the sugar skull skeletons about then?  If you look at the traditional Halloween skull vs. the Day of the Dead sugar skull, you’ll notice a definite difference in their expressions – one is a bit menacing while the other has a pleasant expression and is very colorful.  Sugar skulls or “Calaveras,” represent a departed soul and back in the 18th century, the names of the departed were written on the forehead of the skull and placed on the home altar or the gravestone to honor the return of that person’s spirit.

Offerings, or “ofrendas,” are also a part of the celebration.  These are items that were important to the deceased loved one and could be food, drink, a special artifact.  During the class, I asked if they had ever seen tokens or items at local cemeteries and several people said yes.  For instance, teddy bears or special floral arrangements.  So explaining “ofrendas” made more sense when put in those terms.

IMG_7274Speaking of flowers, the flower used for Day of the Dead is the orange marigold, the cempasúchil flower.  It was the flower that the Aztecs used to remember their dead by.  The color is so vibrant and the belief is that it would guide the souls to their homes and altars on this special day.

DOD takes place over two days and coincides with the Catholic All Saints’ Day and all Souls’ Day on November 1 and 2.  November 1 is the day for honoring children and infants or “angelitos,” while November 2 is the day for honoring deceased adults.  If you are in Mexico during the first two days of November, there is no mistaking the power of this holiday.  In Birmingham, Alabama…it is growing in recognition and in the number of people who want to take part in remembrance.

At the end of the class, many of the students stayed to talk more and ask more questions.  I loved being able to share more about DOD and show photos I had taken of the local festival.  Several remarked about how beautiful the altars were and how artistic some people were in their presentations.  One lady remarked how heartfelt it all seemed and thought about trying to create an altar of her own the following year.

I know I saw several of the students at the festival a few weeks later and that made me smile…





Preparing for Día de los Muertos


This year is being called Year of the Mexican Artist at Day of the Dead Birmingham. (Photo from Dia de los Muertos Alabama facebook page.)


This time each year, I receive a number of “chores for the weekend” emails from the Birmingham Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos) Festival with great information and lists of ways that volunteers can help each week.  Things like puppet painting, sign hand lettering, hang butterflies, work on animal altar, restore old parade umbrellas…  I love seeing these emails because it adds to the excitement that DOD is approaching!  This little festival has grown into a powerhouse and is in its 12th year. Born the same year as Fiesta Birmingham it is a highlight of the fall for me after Fiesta is over.  I get to jump from one colorful event to another and both Latino themed to boot!

As I mentioned, DOD started the same year as Fiesta but I have to confess, I didn’t know about its existence until about year 3 when a story hit the Birmingham News entertainment section about the event and why it was created.  I was intrigued…a Day of the Dead Festival in Birmingham, AL??!!  I remember thinking – this is so incredible – and I also remember thinking what an education this festival could provide to our community at large – much like what we were trying to do with Fiesta and the different cultures within the Latino community.  DOD is another aspect to Latino culture that is not quite understood, but this festival is determined to make it understood!


During the early days of the festival, this alley behind the gallery was filled with remembrances and tributes…so much to see and so many touching photos and artifacts.

At the time, DOD was housed each year inside and around Bare Hands Gallery in downtown Birmingham.  One day at lunch (this was in 2006),  I decided I had to go by and meet Wendy Jarvis, the Director of the gallery.  Turns out, she had wanted to meet me too so we could discuss our mutual festivals and how we might partner!  Don’t you love it when a plan comes together?!


Tracy Martin puts some finishing touches to the Spider Martin altar when it was in the alley behind Bare Hands Gallery.

I found out more about DOD and its creation that day.  Local artist Tracy Martin wanted to find a way to honor her late father, civil rights photographer James “Spider” Martin, when she and some close friends turned the gallery courtyard into a huge altar and memorial wall.  This was in 2002.  The celebration was expanded – and “born” – the following year and other artists and members of the community were invited to make their own altars and “ofrendas.”  Wendy said as the celebration continued each year, she saw it as an opportunity to expand the gallery culturally, especially with the growing Hispanic community in Birmingham.

So that year – 2006 – was the year Wendy, Isabel Rubio – Executive Director of the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama (HICA), and I met to discuss how we would partner to bring more Latinos to the event.  A women’s group from HICA took part in the celebration and built small altars at the event and brought family to celebrate a tradition they would have normally celebrated in Mexico.  Since that time, HICA has always had a booth and altar display at DOD and become a true partner of the celebration.

That year, DOD also participated in Fiesta by having a booth in our non-profit village and showcasing some of the art and sugar skulls that would be on display at DOD.  It was a great way for Bare Hands Gallery and DOD to get the word out – in English and Spanish – to Fiesta attendees, reaching a huge cross-section of the community.

Oh and one more thing…DOD is a photographers dream…you can’t take a bad photograph at this event.  The colors, altars, costumes and entertainment are…do I dare say…to die for!

Here are a few of my own photos from the early days…


Day of the Dead displays behind the gallery. As the event grew this lot behind the gallery became a huge part of the celebration.


Tracy Martin’s tribute altar to her father, Spider Martin.


Thelma and Louise sugar skulls! This was part of a huge display of famous couples – one of my favorites!


One of the most poignant parts of Day of the Dead is the roll call…people can add the names of their loved ones to be read during the celebration.


Enjoying one of the festivals with Wendy Jarvis and my dear friend, Lui Fernandez.


Festival co-founder – Tracy Martin (right) – in one of her many beautiful sugar skull creation costumes.


Always love getting a hug from Festival Co-Founder, Wendy Jarvis at each years event.

Fiesta…one thousand pictures later…

Fiesta 2014 is now a great memory for the board and planning committee…it was an incredible day!  Last Saturday, September 27th, we enjoyed great weather, huge attendance, many new vendors and participants, and reconnected with so many long time amigos!  We reconfigured our set-up in Linn Park and it really made a difference in the attendee traffic.  Everywhere I looked, there were people and families enjoying the event, eating delicious food and sitting on the beautiful green grass.

Our title sponsor, McDonalds, brought an incredible exhibit – The Fiesta Tour – a 53-foot long traveling mobile unit that pays tribute to Latin GRAMMY winners – to Birmingham for us to enjoy. Every time I went by the exhibit, there were crowds – such a beautiful sight!  The Santiago brothers, Santiago and Russ, have been wonderful partners to Fiesta this year and we are so grateful for their presence!

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The McDonald’s Fiesta Tour entrance. What an incredible exhibit!

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A dress worn by Gloria Estefan and a guitar owned by Carlos Santata – just a few of the items in the McDonald’s Fiesta Tour on display.

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Sombrero belonging to Mexican artist – Vicente Fernandez – in the McDonald’s Fiesta Tour.

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Ronald McDonald gets anchored in Linn Park, in the Family Village.

I downloaded more than one thousand photos last Sunday afternoon.  It always amazes me how many photos I take at Fiesta each year.  And yet, there are always shots I miss and think about later.  Oh!  And this doesn’t include the photos I take with my iPhone!   One of my favorite elements this year was having the Hispanic Girl Scouts of North Central Alabama participate with the presentation of colors, pledge of allegiance, Girl Scout promise (in English and Spanish), and finally parade around the park with the flags of the Latin countries while dressed in native costumes!  It was absolutely a BEAUTIFUL sight!  In fact, I do believe (aside from the music acts), that the Girl Scouts were the most photographed group of the day!  The magnificent Marisela Mendez, the Hispanic Initiative Manager for GSNCA, worked for many weeks to pull the girls and their families together for Fiesta.  This Dominican woman is a “powerhouse” and the community is lucky to have her working for Hispanic girls in our region.  Her heart is all about connecting these little girls with Girl Scouts and she will do everything possible to ensure they can have the Girl Scout experience in their lives.

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This precious little one lead the Girl Scouts around the park in the parade of flags, dressed in a beautiful white mariachi outfit.

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The Girl Scouts pose in front of their booth at Fiesta.

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The Hispanic Girl Scouts of North Central Alabama during the flag ceremony – presentation of colors.

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Talking to one of the Girl Scouts after the parade of flags…this little one was so precious and apparently I wasn’t saying her name the right way – she kept correcting me! (Photo credit: Cristina Almanza)

I’ve pulled a few of my favorite photos from Fiesta to share on the blog.  If you were at Fiesta and took some photos, please post them on the Fiesta facebook page!  We would love to see what you captured!!!

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This little one kept twirling to the music next to the main stage. Such joy!

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This little girl saw me taking photos of the girl in the pink and decided she wanted to twirl and have her picture taken too!

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Sugar Skull faces at Fiesta! These young ladies were popular – everyone wanted to have their pictures taken with them!

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Got to hang out with my daughter, Anna Marie, for part of the day. She is always so helpful when I’m making my photography rounds in the park.

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Dancers on the stage…they certainly drew a crowd!

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Running into Ricardo and Aimee Aparicio was the best!Reconnecting with long time friends is one of the joys of Fiesta for me. Ricardo was there when Fiesta was started.

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On stage with El Dasa! Great energy during his entire performance!

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El Dasa’s surprise meet and greet with a young girl battling cancer – I don’t think there was a dry eye in the trailer when this happened.

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A crowd shot from the stage as El Dasa performs…

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It’s always fun to run into Clark Scott and Larry Gay at Fiesta. They take some amazing photos each year!

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Crowds were massive this year at Fiesta 2014!

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Traditional Mexican dresses for sale at Fiesta.

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Two of the hardest working women at Fiesta this year – board members Vannessa Vargas and Cristina Almanza! They absolutely ROCK!