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School groups remember those gone before us

SAISD was well-represented at the 11th annual Muertos Fest at Hemisfair Oct. 28-29. The event, which brings together traditional art and culture with live music and entertainment to celebrate the Day of the Dead, included music, original artwork, a dance, and the largest open altar exhibition in San Antonio. At least nine schools were represented in the altar exhibitions with thoughtful remembrances of those departed — both with personal and community-wide significance. 


The altars, created by art classes, Spanish classes, and student clubs, were highly collaborative projects that were weeks in the making.


At CAST Tech, the International Club created an altar honoring famous luchador Blue Demon. It was the 10th Muertos Fest altar the school has created. 


“The purpose of this club is to bring together students that are interested in learning about different cultures and then educate the school community about these cultures,” club sponsor and Spanish teacher John Kretlow said. “Building the altar brings all of this together.”


The students quickly decided on their theme this year based on inspiration they received at last year’s event. 


“The club researched the major luchadores in Mexican history and then chose Blue Demon,” Kretlow said. “Before designing, students watched old movies that starred Blue Demon and got ideas on the design of the altar. They learned so much about the cultural influence of lucha libre in Mexico and San Antonio. Furthermore, they learned about different perspectives on death in various cultures.”


Ogden and Storm elementaries worked together on a beautiful collaborative project using the idea of the traditional Mexican tecuan (jaguar) imagery. Art teachers Lou Rintala and Alicia Negrete decided on the theme during a professional development session. 


“We wanted to work on Hispanic Heritage Month projects that were not very common so that our students could learn something new about their cultural heritage,” Rintala, who teaches at Storm, said. “My students were fascinated by the Dance of the Tecuanes as well as the mythology behind it. My students worked on tecuan paper masks that resemble those worn by dancers in Mexico, beaded corn artwork, and papier mâché tecuanes.”


The finished altar was shaped by a giant tecuan face painted in turquoise blue and the nichos (niches) for the ofrendas (offerings) were placed inside the mouth. 


For Whittier Middle School, it was their third year participating in Muertos Fest. Art teachers Rosalinda Leal and Bianca Jimenez led their classes in creating different aspects of the traditional altars. The school designed their altar to honor lost loved ones of the Whittier family. 


Ms. Jimenez's classes created the traditional Marigold flowers from plastic tablecloths and both classes learned about Hojalata Tin Art and also created Mini Altars for family members or pets. Leal’s classes made relief prints inspired by Jose Posada's calaveras and made papier mâché food items to add to the ofrenda.


“The students really enjoy making these art pieces and having them displayed at Muertos Fest and now at our school,” Leal said. 


Phoenix Middle College created an altar honoring victims of drunk driving. The entire school voted on the annual theme, and more than 60 participants worked on the collaborative piece, led by Spanish teacher Maria Teresa Wong. 


“What stood out for my students was learning the cultural significance of an altar,” Wong said. “They recognized many of the objects used in the altar but never understood what they meant or its origins.”


Art students at Young Women’s Leadership Academy-Primary, created an altar that featured mirrors instead of photos, allowing visitors to look in the mirror and see the ancestor inside of themselves.


At Cooper Academy at Navarro, art students created a Secret Garden-themed altar with butterflies, flowers, and a bench to allow visitors to sit and reflect and remember.


Lanier High School, who won last year’s Muertos Fest with their poignant altar honoring the victims of the Uvalde shooting, again chose a topic relevant to current events, honoring migrants who lost their lives crossing over to the United States. 


Lanier was also included in part of the event’s musical performances, one of three district mariachi groups to play at the event in honor of the recently departed Belle Ortiz, mariachi educator credited with beginning mariachi education in San Antonio ISD. They were joined by mariachi groups at Edison and ALA/Fox Tech/CAST Tech.


“The event was such an experience for all students involved,” Kretlow said. “They conversed with so many people from the community and learned so much.”


Here are some of the beautiful altars created by student groups in SAISD. CAST Tech is pictured above. Click the thumbnails to see larger images. For other campuses who participated in Muertos Fest, send photos to the editor here.


Cooper Academy At Navarro


Cooper Academy at Navarro.









Lanier Muertos Fest


Lanier High School










Mariachi Procession



Mariachi procession








Phoenix Middle College



Phoenix Middle College








Ogden and Storm



Ogden and Storm elementaries









Whittier Middle School



Whittier Middle School








Young Men's Leadership Academy



Young Men's Leadership Academy







Young Women's Leadership Primary



Young Women's Leadership Academy - Primary

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