Day of the Dead Mazatlán 2018

DSC_0057Mazatlán knows how to put on some of the best parties ever, and I say that with a lot of worldwide experience, not lightly. This year’s Day of the Dead alley parade or callejoneada did not disappoint. Visitors from the interior of the country, elsewhere in Latin America, north of the border and Europe all reported to me thoroughly enjoying themselves and the revelry that is Día de Muertos in our port.

The callejoneada this year was held on November 2nd instead of the traditional 1st, due to the changeover in city government. Thousands attended the annual festivities, which are some of the most exciting and participative in the country. The parade began at 8:30, and there were performances inside the Angela Peralta Theater, as there have been in other recent years.

The alley parade wound through downtown past several traditional altars, and included at least three bands, several dance groups, costumed stilt walkers, and mobile sculptures. As is traditional, families with children were in the majority. It’s my favorite part of this night: seeing multiple generational families in costume enjoying our city and one another!

The callejoneada returned to the Plazuela Machado where several stages were set up with live entertainment till the wee hours. There seemed to be a lower percentage of costumed revelers this year, but the hundreds who dressed upped the game and looked fantastic. Local makeup artists outdid themselves with creativity and color.

New this year was that the parade began at the Plaza República, winding the three blocks to the Machado and then beyond. It gave a bit more breathing room to the official participants before being bombarded with the thousands of spectators who joined in from the Plazuela.

Also new this year were official catrinas that were sponsored, namely, four or so of them sponsored by our beloved Venados baseball team. While they were gorgeous, and this was very cool, it added a commercial element to our traditional alley-winding that I found rather sad.

Sadder still was that for the first time in many years our local Pacífico brewery was apparently not a sponsor. Not only were there no kegs in sight, ruining a joyous local tradition of people handing up their cups, but Indio beer was served in cans, by gruff people lacking the usual joy! Finally, first we lost our traditional donkey cart, which was understandable, but this year we had tuk-tuks! How in the world is that traditional to this part of the world? The beer fiasco was perhaps the most epic fail of the evening, as complaints were heard far and wide over how kodo (cheap) the new administration was; the lines for Pacífico at the Kioskos went nearly around the block, with people choosing to purchase their beer.

Another disappointment was the fact that the organizers have discovered cheap Chinese imports from the likes of Waldo and Sanfri. We were treated to mass-produced skeleton Halloween costumes rather than the gorgeous handmade garments we are so used to, and numerous inflatable plastic decorations and cardboard skulls were to be seen on the stages and posts of the Plazuela, in contrast to the beautiful handmade papier maché artwork from our local art school. I pray this error will not be repeated. Mazatlán’s art scene deserves way better!

The callejoneada for Day of the Dead this year was more Carnaval-like, with dance troops performing routines that lent themselves more appropriate to Fat Tuesday than to Day of the Dead, and one of the wheeled calacas/skeletons lit with lights in a similar manner to a carroza/float in the Carnaval parade. As is usual we did have Carnavál royalty participate. I can vouch that those gorgeous women even look good dead! 😉

My favorite costume was that of my friend Linette: the death of Lady Liberty. While I hope and pray for my birth nation that it is not true, her costume rang too close to home; I appreciated its poignancy.

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Every year we seem to attract more people to this incredible event. It has outgrown the Plaza Machado and especially this year spillover could be seen in Olas Altas and beyond. An important recommendation for next year is to raise the stages higher. With so many people it is nearly impossible for anyone beyond the second row of standing spectators to see what’s going on on stage.

Every restaurant in the Plaza and along the parade route seemed to be sold out. Our group stayed to cenar/eat a late dinner, and when we left about 1:30 am the Plaza was still full of energy. I so enjoy watching how vociferously death sings in the late evening on the Plazuela after the callejoneada.

Day of the Dead remains one of the highlights of Mazatlán’s local cultural scene. It is a jewel in Mexico’s holiday offerings; not the traditional celebrations of Oaxaca or Janitzio, but full of spirit and reflecting our local culture. It is my true hope that some of the missteps this year are due to the fact that the new administration just took over the day before and thus had little time to prepare.

Kudos to the maestros and artists who contributed! Mazatlán is incredibly blessed with your talents and generosity! Day of the Dead in Mazatlán, as Carnavál, is truly a festival of the people!

 

 

My Favorite 2015 Day of the Dead Story!

XoloAnubisThis year’s official theme for Day of the Dead cultural activities in Mazatlán was Mictlán—the world of death in Aztec mythology. Navigating the nine levels of Mictlán towards the evening star in the heavens was said to take nearly four years and was full of challenges. The dead needed help, a guide, and they found it in a dog—Xoloitzcuintle—a carnation of Xolotl, the god of fire, lightning, sickness and deformities, twin brother of Quetzalcoatl.

Xolo effigyClay dog statues have been found ritualistically placed in the tombs of Aztecs, Mayans and Colima Indians, as have the skeletons of actual dogs. Sort of reminds you of Anubis, the Egyptian dog-god, lord of the underworld, doesn’t it? They are both black, guide the dead, and have pointy, stand-up ears!

Well, a modern-day incarnation of Xoloitzcuintle apparently lives in El Rosario, and her name is La Tigresa!

For the past year, every time Tigresa hears the funeral bells of Our Lady of Rosario ring, she walks into church and politely sits down to attend the funeral mass. When the mass is finished, she walks in the funerary procession, in front of the casket, all the way to the cemetery. There she stays with the body until the last person has gone home.

La Tigresa distinguishes between the bells of a funeral mass and those of ordinary mass, which she never attends. If there are two simultaneous funerals, Tigresa walks in between the two coffins, treating both equitably. If there’s a funeral in the morning and another in the afternoon, she attends both. If the body is taken back home after mass, that’s where she heads, too.

Photo from the Noroeste by Hugo Gómez

Photo from the Noroeste by Hugo Gómez

I want to thank my good friend Lupita, who shared this story with me from Sunday’s Noroeste. I just love it, and hope you will, too! We’ve got to meet La Tigresa!

Xoloitcuintle is, of course, a breed of dog here in Mexico, often shortened to “Xolo.” These beautiful, often black, hairless (and therefore flea-less) dogs were almost extinct, but concerted efforts to rescue it have been successful. It is believed to be one of the world’s oldest and rarest breeds, dating 3000 to 7000 years. In pre-hispanic times they were considered sacred, with healing properties both for the body and the soul.

The name is a combination of the god’s name, Xolotl, and izcuintli, which means “dog” in Nahuatl, though there are those who say the name means “he who snatches his food with teeth sharp as obsidian.” The breed has three unique features that baffle biologists:

  1. The absence of teeth between the molars and the incisors.
  2. A body temperature a few degrees higher than is normal for a dog.
  3. The dog sweats through its skin rather than by panting its tongue.

La Tigresa is obviously not a Xoloitcuintle breed, but would, indeed, appear to be an embodiment of this guardian of the underworld!

Día de Muertos in the TAP

One of the main catrinas, my friend Lilzy and me

One of the main catrinas, my friend Lilzy and me

Regular readers of this blog know that Day of the Dead in Mazatlán for us closely rivals our port’s ultimate party, Carnavál. And that is saying A LOT! So much so that, this year, I willingly woke up at TWO A.M. (!) in Seattle in order to get the earliest flight back to Mazatlán in order to attend our traditional callejoneada—CULTURA moved the event up one day to avoid the overtime hassles of having people work on Sunday. I got home just in time to welcome two of my girlfriends, Jessica and Lilzy, for a makeup party prior to the evening’s events.

Walking with the two gorgeous main catrinas to escort the dearly departed from their altars around El Centro to the ever-after was wonderful as usual! This year the donkey-drawn beer carts were replaced with motor-driven versions (two donkeys did head up the parade), at least four bandas took part, and there were hundreds of people who made the effort to paint their faces and dress the part of calacas and catrinas.

Below is footage from 2012’s alley parade, or click here to view a photo album of this year’s callejoneada.

Very exciting to me this year was that for the first time ever—I’ve stood in line for hours in previous years, to no avail—we were able to get tickets to the events in the Angela Peralta Theater. I have heard how awesome that event is, but we were never lucky enough to make it to the front of the ticket line. And, yes, many of you ask us why CULTURA doesn’t give us tickets, since we promote them so much. But, they don’t.

Even though I was out of town working, my wonderful husband Greg stood in line and scored us a pair of tickets! Then my good friend Jessica gifted us with two more, so a couple of friends could join us. After standing in line for the tickets, gentlemanly Greg didn’t even go in, but let the women have the opportunity!

The theme this year was Mictlán, honoring pre-hispanic Mexico. Entering the theater the very first act was a tribute to the Aztecs. Going on to the stage we saw two large dance performances: one looking out to the theater (in the seats) and another looking in towards the back of the stage (a wedding). All were gorgeous.

Walking through the hallways and stairways inside the theater was a bit like a spook house, but emerging out onto the upper deck some calacas were playing classical music and singing opera, and below was an aerial dancer wowing the crowd. Throughout the theater were located multiple altars honoring the dearly departed, and multiple dance and visual art installations.

Click on any photo below to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

Both Carnavál and Day of the Dead show just how strong our local arts community is. Young people practice for weeks to prepare for these big events, and hundreds of people dress up, make up, and bring their families and friends to participate in the events. We are so blessed here with every type of musician, singer and dancer, from classical to banda, as well as to artists of every form of visual and performing art. Many thanks to Cecilia Sanchez Duarte, who devotes the major part of three months to making events in the theater come to life, and to all the makeup artists, costume and set designers who contribute their skills as well! Such a terrific event, and the tickets are free! If, of course, you can get them!

The last two days have been family time, with altars at home to reflect on those we’ve loved and lost, visits to the cemetery, and raising a glass and a song to celebrate their lives. Day of the Dead is, indeed, yet one more of Mexico’s great contributions to our planet. I trust you’ve enjoyed the long weekend and used the opportunity of the holiday to connect with family and friends!

Cultural Appropriation of Day of the Dead?

As locals, expats and immigrants gear up for Day of the Dead festivities here in Mazatlán, I wonder how many of us realize that there has been quite a backlash to cultural appropriation and commercialization of Day of the Dead by non-Latinos.

I first realized how “hot” Day of the Dead was on my recent visit to a US liquor store. There, I was astounded by the quantity of Day of the Dead- or calaca-themed beer and liquor! To be honest, skeletons and skulls in and of themselves seem to be popular, and anything Mexican (amigos, lucha libre….), Spanish (Don Quixote) or mystical (voodoo) as well. The commercialization is, indeed, real. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

Living here in Mexico, where we are privileged to be steeped in the traditions as well as the festivities, I hadn’t realized the concerns about appropriation of Day of the Dead until I read a post by one of the bloggers I follow, Aya de Leon, entitled, “Dear White People/Queridos Gringos: You Want Our Culture But You Don’t Want Us — Stop Colonizing The Day Of The Dead.”

In reading her excellent article and researching the matter a bit more, it seems that most Latinos are proud of this holiday. They understand that recognizing the dearly departed is a universal desire. Most are happy to share and ready to welcome us into the Día de los Muertos traditions, which have existed since Aztec times. But they most definitely and understandably resent our taking on the traditions as our own and transforming them into something they’re not — emptying the traditions of their soul. She writes:

And the urge to colonization is born when your own land and resources have been taken over by the greedy and your cultures have been bankrupted. Halloween has a rich history as an indigenous European holiday that celebrated many of the same themes as Day of the Dead, but you have let it be taken over by Wal-Mart… You have abandoned Halloween, left it laying in the street like a trampled fright wig from the dollar store. Take back your holiday. Take back your own indigenous culture. Fight to reclaim your own spirituality.

Please. Stop colonizing ours.

Aya gives examples of Day of the Dead festivals organized by non-Latinos in which Latino voices and faces are not even present! She talks of a sort of Cinco-de-Mayo-ization (my words) of Day of the Dead, in which white hipsters wear calaca face paint, stand amongst broken marigolds listening to white bands, and drink gentrified, holiday-themed micro-brews, without so much as a thought to what the true tradition is or means. She explains, and rightly complains, that we love Mexican culture when it’s convenient and fun, but not when it involves advocating to solve undocumented immigration, illegal gun exports, or rampant femicide.

So where, exactly, is the line between participating in and honoring Day of the Dead and appropriating or colonizing it?

Cultural appropriation is often used as an accusation, implying theft. But cultures, their traditions and artifacts, often aren’t clearly distinguishable. Throughout history people have intermingled, shared, and been inspired by one another.  As an interculturalist, I’m all about diversity, integration, collaboration, creativity. There is nothing inherently wrong in us learning from and building on one another; that is actually, rather, a really good thing!

The problem, Aya tells us, is many who are welcomed to the Day of the Dead table are poor guests. We don’t sit at the table; we take the table over. We don’t pay our respects, acknowledge our hosts, or say thank you. We need to be conscious that if we organize themed events, we should use them as opportunities to showcase Latino artists and musicians, and we should hold the tradition with reverence, respect, and a desire to learn and honor.

In an insightful piece in Quartz, Noah Berlatsky tells us that the problem with cultural appropriation is racism:

“There’s nothing wrong with Elvis loving and imitating Jackie Wilson. But there is something wrong with the fact that Elvis is hailed as the King of Rock n’ Roll, while most people barely know who Jackie Wilson is… White performers, like Taylor Swift or Miley Cyrus, use twerking in their videos on the way to becoming more successful and awarded than the black women who developed the style in the first place. When the white borrower, predictably, earns more accolades than the borrowee, artistic freedom and admiration is transformed into something much more problematic… While country music loves black music, it mostly excludes black artists, in the sense that those artists are not considered central, and their contributions aren’t recognized.”

Therefore, all of us need to be vigilant to extend power and privilege, credit and honor, to the origins and originators, not just to those who adapt. However, our modern-day systems are skewed against us. Those who write a book are credited with ideas expressed by others; individuals and corporations can copyright and trademark something that has a long tradition and belongs to a group of people.

Did you know that Disney even attempted to trademark Day of the Dead? They were making a movie called, Day of the Dead, and wanted to trademark the title. Thanks to huge response to a petition on Change.org, Disney rather quickly pulled its trademark application. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, here’s what some of those opposing Disney’s trademark application had to say:

“Our spiritual traditions are for everyone, not for companies like Walt Disney to trademark and exploit,” wrote Grace Sesma, the petition’s creator. “I am deeply offended and dismayed that a family-oriented company like Walt Disney would seek to own the rights to something that is the rightful heritage of the people of Mexico. This is a sacred tradition. It’s NOT FOR SALE,” wrote Consuelo Alba, of Watsonville, Calif.

The trademark application was “odd” to Evonne Gallardo, executive director of the Boyle Heights art center Self Help Graphics. The center puts on one of the largest Day of the Dead celebrations in Los Angeles and has been sponsored by the Walt Disney Co. “The right thing to do is not to attempt to trademark a cultural and spiritual celebration,” Gallardo said. “I have yet to see a trademark on Christmas or Hanukkah.”

The movie was re-titled to “Coco,” no doubt so that Disney could trademark the title and create a website. One of the most spirited activists to oppose the trademark application was cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz, creator of that incredibly powerful graphic at the top of this post. In a great act of corporate listening and learning, he was recently hired on by Disney to work on the film about which he protested! Our speaking up to defend our heritage can have positive results! The movie is being made, showcasing a beautiful tradition, and it now includes more representation from the very culture it portrays.

Today as I started to write this post, I read an interesting article in The Atlantic: “The Dos and Don’ts of Cultural Appropriation.” In it, Jenni Avins provides six recommendations to prevent appropriation, including involvement of and engagement with members of the culture. She points out that cultures are fluid and constantly changing, so we can’t ask that they stay frozen in time. On the other hand, foreign passion has often helped preserve native traditions, arts, handicrafts, music, dance, literature and even languages. Like Aya, she highlights the importance of acknowledging and honoring the source, the origin, of cultural arts and traditions. Jenni also provides two “don’ts”: never wear blackface, and never use sacred artifacts as accessories.

As we all gear up to paint our faces and create our altars, let us participate in and enjoy the festivities, and use this time to truly remember those who have preceded us in death. Day of the Dead provides a perfect time for us to learn from our neighbors and hosts in this country, and to share with them a human universal: remembrance and longing for those we’ve loved and lost.

When have you felt the tug between honoring and participating in the local culture, and appropriating it?

Day of the Dead Makeup Class

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My cousins Lori and Mary, and yours truly. I asked my friend Lilzy, who did my makeup, to put a rose on my forehead in honor of my Aunt Rose, my cousins’ wonderful Mom.

Do you love Day of the Dead? We all know Mazatlán has one of the BEST DODs in all of Mexico, what with the callejoneada parade, the incredible show inside the Angela Peralta Theater, the numerous gorgeous altars all over town, and events at the cemetery. Do you love joining in the traditional festivities? Would you like to be able to do your own or your friends’ makeup?

DODThis September and October, our beloved Centro Municipal de Arte/CMA/Municipal School of the Arts has been conducting free workshops in preparation for these big events, coordinated by the gorgeous, energetic and enthusiastic Cecilia Sanchez Duarte (nicknamed China). The latest was yesterday’s class in calaca (skeleton) or catrina makeup, conducted by Delfos dancer and makeup artist, Johnny Millán, with interpretation into English by China herself. It rocked!

The class was held from 5-7 pm in the air-conditioned comfort of the Jonathan Hotel, just across from the CMA, and was attended by about 40 people. China arranged the class in hopes that more and more of the city’s residents will dress up and volunteer to participate in the main events, including the parade and the performance in the theater.

The timing of this workshop was perfect for me, as my two beloved sister-cousins were visiting from Minnesota and Indiana. We get together for a girls’ vacation every October, and we always do a craft. What better “craft” than a Day of the Dead makeup class with a professional makeup artist—for free?!

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Cecilia Sanchez Duarte, director of Fine Arts at the CMA, in charge of Day of the Dead in the theater

Supplies for the Basic Makeup

Prior to the class, China had sent those of us who pre-registered a list of supplies to bring:

  • White concealer (corrector blanco),
  • Black eyeliner pencil (lapiz negro),
  • Black and white powders or eyeshadows (sombras),
  • Eyeshadows of different colors, and
  • Shiny things (e.g., sequins—lentejuelas, or crystals/gemstones). We also brought
  • Fake eyelashes (which we didn’t have time to apply) and
  • Eyelash glue, a couple of
  • Hand mirrors, a box of
  • Kleenex, and some
  • Props—a catrina hat and a couple of feather boas. I rarely put on makeup, so what we forgot to bring were
  • Brushes, Q-tips, applicators and blending sponges, also highly recommended.
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Johnny Millán, Delfos dancer, professional makeup artist, and our teacher for the day

Maestro Millán first talked to us all as we sat theater-style, explaining the different types of makeup, brushes and blending pads he likes to use. He told us that while we can’t get professional-quality white pancake theater makeup here in Mazatlán (he brings his from DF), the concealer works well. We’d just need to break off pieces and mix it into a paste (which we could do on the backs of our hands) till it was smooth and free of clumps.

He demonstrated the steps to a basic catrina makeup on a model, doing just half her face in order to save time on his explanation. After his demonstration, those of us attending got to either apply makeup to one another or to ourselves. We were all so excited to get started! He had some supplies to sell us, and was happy to share Q-tips and other applicators.

In the 90 minutes or so that we had available to do one another’s makeup, the most any of us were able to achieve was the basic makeup, with a teeny bit of customization. While we were working on the basic steps explained below, Maestro Millán finished up the makeup on the model. You can see what she looked like in the final photo in this post. Needless to say, the Maestro was fast, made it look so easy, and had really great results. That’s why he’s the professional, right?

Steps to the Basic Makeup

  1. Johnny showed us that the first step to creating a catrina makeup is to apply a thin white base coat. For this we used the concealer that we’d made into a smooth paste. He told us to apply this with our fingers or with a sponge, and that we don’t need to blend the white to cover the face perfectly; later when we apply white powder or eyeshadow over the concealer to fix it, the coverage will become much more perfect. He told us to be sure to avoid applying white to the area around the eyes, as we’d later paint them black or in colors, and to think about the costume we are going to be wearing: if our hair will be up, we should paint our ears; if we’ll have a plunging neckline, we’ll need to paint our chest, etc. Be sure not to put the white on too thickly; you can see in the photo that the base coat is very thin.

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    Step 1: White base coat

  2. Next we took a brush and set the base coat with a dusting of white powder or white eye shadow. This step was incredible. It really made the base coat look well blended, and it made the color pop! Not being a makeup queen myself, the power of the powder over the makeup really astounded me.

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    Step 2: White powder to seal the base coat

  3. Once we had our white face on, we proceeded to the eyes. Johnny told us to use the black eyeliner pencil and, in the direction of the growth of hairs on our eyebrows, to trace the brow line and then around the cavity of the eye, following the bone of the eye socket. Once we had the outline, we were to fill the area in with the black eyeliner pencil. Again, we didn’t need to worry about perfectly blending, as we’d next cover this area with black powder or eyeshadow. If you want to put colors on the eye area, you can apply glitter or shadow over the black, or you do it directly to the skin, depending on your creativity.

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    Step 3: The eye sockets

  4. We now needed to seal the black eyes with shadow or powder. Again, our rough-looking black eyes suddenly became velvety smooth and perfectly blended. It was amazing.
  5. From here Johnny told us to work on the mouth. This was by far the most difficult part of the basic makeup for most of us in the class.  He told us to follow the upper and lower lip lines, and extend the line out to where the teeth actually end in the back of the mouth, squaring off the outside. We then needed to make a center line, right where the lips meet, painting inside the lips a bit so the pink didn’t show. After that we made vertical lines to create teeth. One trick here is to round the roots of the teeth a bit with the eyeliner pencil, so they are not square but more natural looking.

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    Steps 4 and 5: Sealing the eye sockets and outlining the teeth

  6. It was important for the teeth to be bright white, so at this point we took an applicator and applied another dot of white concealer to each of the pearly teeth. This really made the teeth look real.

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    Step 6: Making the pearly whites pop

  7. The final main feature was the nose. We drew triangles over the nostril area, to look like the holes in a skull.

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    Step 7: The nasal cavity

  8. To finish the basic makeup, we needed to use the pencil to draw the jawline, and then seal that with black powder. We also dabbed black powder around the hairline, and used it to hollow under the cheekbone.

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    Step 8: Shadowing and contouring the facial outline and bone structure

  9. From here, Johnny told us our creativity could take free rein. We could put sequins around the eyes (he said we could use eyelash glue or even normal white Resistol water-soluble glue), liquid eyeliner to paint some cracks or decorative detail (sealing those details with powder), adding colored eyeshadow or glitter to the eyelids, or detailing the neck and chest. Click on any photo to enlarge or view a slideshow.

Fortunately most of us attending felt that the makeup was pretty easy to do, and it was really fun! While 45 minutes for each face (our group painted one another) isn’t much, we were pretty psyched with the results.

12115980_943243912409327_3970495844696971161_nDay of the Dead Parade and Theater Event in Mazatlán 2015

While having a professional do your makeup here can be very affordable, now that I know how to do it, I’m so looking forward to opening a bottle of bubbly and sitting down with a few friends in front of the mirror on October 31.

That’s right! The callejoneada is on Halloween this year. Cecilia told us that’s because we normally do the parade on November 1st. This year, that date falls on a Sunday. CULTURAL didn’t feel they could ask all the volunteers to work on Sunday, and they’d have to pay overtime to those who are paid, so instead they’ve switched it to Saturday this once. Next year, she tells me, it’ll be back to the regular November 1st.

The theme of the Dia de los Muertos events this year is Mictlán, a tribute to pre-hispanic culture. The events in the Angela Peralta Theater will start at 7 pm, with aerial dance, concept art, poetry readings, singing, ballet—it’s an event not to be missed. Free tickets will be handed out in the Plaza Machado starting at 10 am Friday, though the official announcements say Saturday. Be sure to be there early or on time, as the free tickets run out quickly and are limited to two per person. The parade itself starts about 8:00 pm from the Plaza Machado; route map is above.

Please Share!

Many of you have made yourselves up for years, so you are experienced. Not sure if any of the above will give you a few pro tips or not. I would love to hear your favorite makeup techniques and tips; please also share a photo of yourself in your favorite catrina outfit. For our group, it was all new. Now we know to buy some good brushes, blending sponges, and sequins. So, watch out Mazatlán! Here come the catrinas!

Thank you, China!!!! Thank you, Johnny! We so appreciate your generosity and talent!