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San Antonio residents create a touching Día de Muertos tribute to Uvalde

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

On this holiday, Dia de los Muertos, a time when families remember loved ones that have passed, people in South Texas have built public ofrendas, colorful altars to pay tribute to those who died in the Uvalde school shooting this year. Texas Public Radio's Jack Morgan visited the display.

JACK MORGAN, BYLINE: At San Antonio's Muertos Fest, 80 altars were set up throughout the tree-shaded downtown site. They all had orange marigold flowers, painted skulls, and most included some kind of food the departed loved to eat. But one of the displays was extra touching.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: These flowers here, right?

MORGAN: Twenty makeshift classroom desks honoring those who died in last May's elementary school shooting in Uvalde.

JENNIFER ARCE: I don't want to rehash those wounds. It was something I wanted to be very respectful for this project.

MORGAN: Jennifer Arce teaches art at Lanier High School. She and her students came up with the idea to honor the Uvalde victims. The altar comes in 20 large parts, one for every Uvalde student, and one for the teachers who died.

ARCE: Each student has their own individual desk. And then we have a teacher desk. That's for the two teachers.

MORGAN: Senior Lexie Mieto's desk honors fourth-grader Jacklyn Cazares. The picture of Jacklyn shows her in a formal white dress.

LEXIE MIETO: She wanted to be a vet. And I know I really focused on that by putting, like, a paw print and then including the four dogs she had.

KYE BLACKBURN: To really look at those pictures and think that somebody went to an elementary school and did those things to those innocent children - really, it really hurts.

MORGAN: Kye Blackburn worked with Mieto. He says remembering them in this way is important.

BLACKBURN: We've actually looked up information on every individual student to make sure that we got everything right, what they liked. We made sure we got every detail of the students. So whenever their parents can look at that, they can feel like their child is with them.

MORGAN: Teacher Arce says she's very aware that school shootings happen more often.

ARCE: And that's something that always weighs heavy in the back of my mind because it could happen at my school one day. And I would do the same thing that those teachers did. I would protect my students.

MORGAN: At Muertos Fest, Santiago Jimenez Jr. sings on stage as people move through the displays.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SANTIAGO JIMENEZ JR: (Singing in Spanish).

MORGAN: Many stop at the Lanier altar, taking pictures. Some wipe away tears, remembering what happened in Uvalde when a gunman burst into the school, and for more than an hour, police stood by and did little. Leslie Kamara was taking it all in with her son and responded in a way perhaps only a mother could have meant.

LESLIE KAMARA: Every time I hear news like this, where my babies? Are they OK? How would I move heaven and earth to get to them? And all of that was brought to life in that massacre - These parents who couldn't get to their kids and the police who made no effort to get to these babies. And legislators fail over and over and over again to protect us and our babies.

MORGAN: A woman in a salmon-colored dress with flowery headgear moved slowly through the desks, dabbing at tears. Cynthia Cantu drove 4 hours from Brownsville to attend Muertos Fest.

CYNTHIA CANTU: I'm a teacher, a retired teacher. And this just touches my heart. It's hard.

MORGAN: She said seeing all the pictures of the children made her think of her own and their good fortune.

CANTU: As a mother of two children that have been able to see their lives in college and, as a professional, my daughter in her career, it is very touching. God bless the children and their parents.

MORGAN: Lanier art teacher Jennifer Arce said that the Uvalde parents of the slain children would be welcome to take home their child's desk if they want to. For NPR News, I'm Jack Morgan in San Antonio.

(SOUNDBITE OF CALEXICO'S "RITUAL ROAD MAP") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jack Morgan
Jack Morgan has spent 35 years in electronic media, doing both television and radio.