Tucson has a long and storied history, a thriving business community, and a whole lot of interesting events and celebrations that draw visitors in from all around the world all year long. Whether you’re a tourist, a regular visitor, a seasonal resident, or a year-round inhabitant, you’ll quickly learn that Tucson is the place to be for arts, music, festivals, and avant-garde events, the most notable of which is the All Souls Procession.
Tucson has been occupied consistently for more than 12,500 years, first with the Tohono O’odham, Maricopa, Akimel O’odham, Apache, Hopi, Yavapai, Zuni, and Yaqui Native peoples and later as a Mexican territory. It would be centuries before the first European settlers would come to Tucson and, by 1775, establish Tucson as a Spanish fort. In 1821, Tucson became an official city after gaining independence from the Spanish who held the territory since 1540.
Much in the way Austin is a booming city where businesses, artists, and technological innovators flock, Tucson is a gem in the Southwest. As the resident numbers grow each year, reaching nearly one million in 2017, Tucson becomes more diverse, inclusive, and historically and culturally reflective.
One thing that remained consistent throughout Tucson’s long history is the influence of Mexican culture, which can be seen in the names the city uses, the “native” foods that help make Tucson the first UNESCO City of Gastronomy, and the festivals that celebrate Mexican holidays and observances like Dia de los Muertos.
While Tucson film festivals, University of Arizona events, world-class observatories, mountain ski slopes, national parks, the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, and the booming music scene and downtown nightlife are responsible for bringing in visitors by the thousands each year, the annual All Souls Procession is an event that is attended by well over 150,000 participants – and those numbers continue to rise every year.
An adaptation of the Mexican Dia de los Muertos, the day set aside to celebrate and remember those who have moved on to the afterlife, the All Souls Procession was created when a Tucsonan who visited a Mexican village during the Dia de los Muertos celebration and shared his story with a friend. He spoke of how different that community’s attitude toward death and life were. Dia de los Muertos was a communal celebration of life and death, not a gloom-and-doom mourning of those who passed on.
When Tucson artist Sue Johnson heard the story, she was inspired to do something. In 1990, she created a memorial to her father and walked it throughout the city in the style of the Dia de los Muertos parade she had admired. The following year, Sue was joined by more walkers who also liked the idea and wanted to celebrate the life of their loved ones who died.
27 years on, that one act spurred on a city-wide parade and celebration which, while continuing to honor the dead, also includes many forms of artistic expression, music, craft, costume, floats, food, and mourning. Some walk the parade route mourning the “unmournable,” bringing to attention the life and death of those who are lost without acknowledgment. Some sew a photo of their dead pet to their dress or revere animals who are going extinct, noting that their deaths are also felt and should be recognized. The All Souls Procession is designed to be inclusive and open to a multitude of memorialization, and that in itself is a tremendous draw for attendees.
Costumes, floats, and music are present throughout the entirety of the parade, which makes its way through a winding two-miles of Tucson’s central streets. At the end of the procession, thousands gather to watch the giant ceremonial urn, filled with written offerings, notes, and wishes from participants to those who have passed float up into the sky to burn.
Many Mouths One Stomach is the non-profit arts collective behind the Procession. For weeks ahead of the All Souls Procession parade, Many Mouths works with thousands of participants who gather in workshops, creative fairs, and craft demonstrations to create their ceremonial art installation, float, or portable memorial.
The 2017 All Souls Procession will be held in Tucson on November 3 – 5th with the Procession itself taking place on Sunday, November 5. Everyone is welcome to participate and experience an incredible local event that is one of the most celebrated public ceremonies in North America. If you are visiting Arizona for a business trip, vacation, or ATV outing, make sure that you head to Tucson in time to catch this not-to-be-missed, breathtaking, and exciting event.
For more information about the All Souls Procession, visit their website here.