All Souls Procession

Frank Perez and his fiancee, Donita Montgomery, remember departed friends and relatives as they walk in the 30th annual All Souls Procession in Tucson last November.

Last year’s All Souls Procession was an intimate affair — invitation only and limited to 50 people due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It was the first time in the event’s 31-year history that a crowd that most years tops 150,000 people did not march the nearly 2-mile procession route from Barrio Hollywood to the Mercado District, which was a bit of a relief for All Souls Artistic Director Nadia Hagen.

“For us to have a break in that grinding wheel, it gave us a chance to stop and step back and to reflect,” she said. “It gave us this opportunity to step back in time to how the event felt when it was just the organizations and just a few people. It was very intimate. It was really nice.”

The 2017 All Souls Procession on Tucson’s west side on Nov. 5, 2017.

Many Mouths One Stomach, which puts on the annual event, is ready this year to welcome back the crowds at the 32nd annual All Souls weekend Nov. 6-7.

The festival actually launched Oct. 18 with the introduction of the All Souls Mausoleum, a space in the back end of the MSA Annex at 267 S. Avenida del Convento where people can leave prayers and mementos of loved ones to be burned in the urn. The mausoleum, which is open nightly from 6 to 9 p.m., also features a projection wall displaying images of families’ ancestors and a community altar.

30th annual All Souls Procession in Tucson, Ariz. on November 3, 2019.

“Instead of having only one moment in time where many, many people are gathering in a small space, we decided to lengthen the time that people can interact with the different aspects of the procession that are meaningful,” Hagen said, adding that the mausoleum was created in response to the pandemic and all the grief and heartache it wrought on the community since March 2020.

The All Souls weekend kicks off on Nov. 6 when Tucson’s popular cumbia rock band XIXA — fresh off a European tour — headlines “Luz de Vida II,” a benefit concert for families impacted by homicide. Soda Sun and Hannah Yeun are also on the lineup at the MSA Annex beginning at 7 p.m. Tickets are $25 through the Homicide Survivors Inc. website

The All Souls Procession, which will be live-streamed, begins at 6 p.m. Nov. 7 from Grande Avenue and proceeds down city streets and along the Santa Cruz River Walk to the MSA Annex. Most of the people in the procession make up their faces in colorful skeleton skulls and carry mementos of their lost loved ones including family photos. The procession is mostly somber, although some walkers, reflecting the personalities of their loved ones, have been known to skip and dance along the route.

The procession ends at the Mercado District, where participants can walk across the main stage before the urn-burning ceremony takes place.

Teresa Driver puts a piece of paper honoring loved ones into the urn during the 30th All Souls Procession in Tucson, Ariz. on Nov. 3, 2019.

“For us, it has always been extremely important for people to dig deep and ask themselves these questions: Who are your ancestors and who are you walking for? What makes this meaningful for you?” said Hagen, who has been involved in All Souls since 1996 and took it over in 1998 when founder Susan Johnson stepped aside.

Hagen said the community’s shared experience with the pandemic adds a deeper need for reflection at this year’s event.

“We are forced into a situation of internality and self contemplation. I think people used it in different ways however they decided to use that time. But also to look at our fears and our mortality,” she said. “I hope that (through) our shared experience that we can transform those into fertilizer that helps us grow into more fulfilled beings, deeper beings; more thoughtful beings.”

An 8-foot tall puppet from Red Herring Puppets will loom large on the finale stage, where Tucson cirque troupe Flam Chen and the all-woman folklorico/mariachi group Las Azaleas will perform.

All Souls will be Las Azaleas’s biggest performance since Tucson voice teacher and opera singer Diana Olivares formed the quintet in June 2020. The group is devoted to performing works made famous by women or composed by women.

Brittany Canfield, left, with a photo of her grandmother, Angelita Lara, and Steven Rodriguez with a photo of Debby Jean Stephens at the All Souls Procession on Nov. 4, 2018.

The All Souls Procession launched in Tucson in 1990 with a ceremonial performance piece created by local artist Susan Johnson. Johnson was grieving the passing of her father, and as an artist, she found solace in a creative, celebratory approach to memorializing him, the All Souls website says.

“From the beginning, it was different people’s ethnic groups, different cultures, but also it was all these different art forms put together,” Johnson said.

After that first year, many artists were inspired to continue, growing the procession into its modern incarnation — a two-mile long human-powered procession that ends in the ceremonial burning of the urn.

If you go:

What: 32nd Annual All Souls Procession "Journey Thru Grief"

When: Procession participants gather at 6 p.m. Nov. 7 on North Grande Avenue. The "Restoration of Care" ceremony and burning of the urn follows the procession near the Mercado District, 267 S. Avenida del Convento, off West Congress Street

Where: Tucson's west side, off Interstate 10 and West Congress Street. Route winds through the Barrio Hollywood and Menlo Park neighborhoods 

The route: The procession route on the west side paralleling the Santa Cruz River, starts at Grande Avenue just south of West Speedway until it flows left onto St. Mary's Road then right onto North Bonita Avenue. The procession passes through the Garden of Gethsemane toward the finale site, in the expansive lot between the river and the Mercado San Agustin

Cost: Free; food and beverage vendors will be on site

COVID-19 safety: All Souls organizers encourage people coming out for the procession to:

  • Stay home if you don't feel safe or well. The procession will be livestreamed at allsoulsprocession.org/livestream.
  • Get vaccinated, if you aren't already
  • Give everyone space — preferably several feet between you and other walkers especially if you don't know them
  • Masks are highly encouraged

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Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at cburch@tucson.com. On Twitter @Starburch