What is the All Souls Procession? It’s perhaps one of the most important, inclusive and authentic public ceremonies in North America today. The Procession had its beginnings in Tucson, Arizona 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. Says Johnson, “From the beginning, it was different people’s ethnic groups, different cultures, but also it was all these different art forms put together.” After that first year, many artists were inspired to continue, growing the Procession into its modern incarnation. Today we find ourselves organizing well over 150,000 participants on the streets of downtown Tucson for a two-mile long human-powered procession that ends in the ceremonial burning of a large Urn filled with the hopes, offerings and wishes of the public for those who have passed. Myriad altars, performers, installation art, and creatives of all kinds collaborate for almost half the year to prepare their offerings for this amazing event. The All Souls Procession, and now the entire All Souls Weekend, is a celebration and mourning of the lives of our loved ones and ancestors. (From the All Souls Procession Website) I went the first time two years ago to watch it. I was enthralled. Last year we were out of town for the weekend. This year I decided to attend again.
Last week a dear friend of mine, Gloria Avillar, sent out a request for friends to walk with her in the procession. Gloria had lost her son Chris in May and she wanted to walk in his memory. I told her I would go with her. On the day of the event I decided, very last minute, to create a small poster with pictures of my brother, Bob Curry, and two of his co-workers, Lisa Moniz and Jimmy Bloxham. They had been murdered at their place of work, during a botched robbery, in 1999. My lack of sizing skills for the photos is obvious. Then I decided it was the thought that counted. Gloria and I headed downtown around 4:30 to have our faces painted. The parade didn’t start for two hours and we thought we had plenty of time. Wrong. We ended up a table after six and Gloria borrowed their paints to do my face and I did the white for hers. The woman painting finished Gloria’s. If we walk next year, I am going to make sure we go early and I get a really traditional face painting. They are beautiful.
As we were walking towards the start of the parade. I heard my name being called. Unbelievably, in the dark, someone recognized me. Gloria and I figured it was my hair. We have now decided it is my signature piece. HA! This is a woman I have had great admiration for over 20 years, Jane McCollum. If you live in Tucson or decide to visit, Jane was instrumental working with the Marshall Foundation in creating Main Gate outside the University of Arizona into what you see today. An amazing accomplishment if you know city politics.
A Facebook friend and an avid photographer was taking pictures. She captured Gloria and I together. Janet Marcotte and I have never met in the real world. She posted this on Facebook and asked if this was me. See I think it is my “Signature Hair”. Why has it taken me so long to discover what I am known for? I guess I better not be changing it.
After being on our feet for over two hours and then walking almost two miles in the parade, we had to find some food. We waited in line for a pizza and then it was the challenge of finding a place to sit. We found a small space on some very low steps and claimed our territory. Who cared if it was next to a place people were leaving their trash.
Next year I may not walk, but I would love to be at the end of the procession and see the burning of the urn and the entertainment. Like our amazing Tucson Festival of Books, the All Souls Procession is a work of love and dedication by volunteers. It is a Tucson tradition. It’s a celebration of remembrance and life. As the years go by, it will to continue to grow, but the sentiment will be the same. Come join us next year and bring a picture of your loved one as we march together, honor and remember.