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On Día de los Muertos, communities honor and remember the Uvalde school shooting children and teachers

In a colorful tribute, the curator of Chicago's National Museum of Mexican Art said, "This tragedy needs to be remembered in some way that has a little bit of hope in it."

The tweet was just one sentence, but it was heart-wrenching.

“We Should be choosing her Halloween costume together but instead I’m making her an ofrenda,” tweeted Ana Rodriguez, the mother of Maite Rodriguez, 10, who dreamed of becoming a marine biologist and cared about the environment.

Maite was one of the 19 children who were killed, along with two teachers, in the Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde, Texas, in May.

They're being honored by communities across Texas and around the country as part of the Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, traditions, which honor deceased loved ones with ofrendas, or altars.

According to tradition, at midnight on Oct. 31, the souls of deceased children come down from heaven and reunite with their families on Nov. 1, and the souls of deceased adults come to visit on Nov. 2.

It is celebrated with colorful ofrendas that families and communities create to honor their deceased loved ones.

Several cities around the country hold events and parades and create colorful altars. This year, the faces of the 19 children who died in Uvalde were at the top of altars throughout the country.

At San Antonio's "Muertosfest" on Saturday, Lainer High School's art club tribute went viral on TikTok. The altar students created consisted of 20 personalized desks — one honoring each of the 19 students who died and one for both of the educators.

The tribute simulated a classroom where all of the students' desks faced the teachers' desk. Members of the community wiped their tears as they stopped to take pictures and view the altar, Texas Public Radio reported.

Families of the victims were also allowed to take the desks home if they wanted to, according to the radio service.

In Chicago, the 36th annual Day of the Dead exhibition by the National Museum of Mexican Art, or NMMA, is paying tribute to the Uvalde victims by including an ofrenda installation created by students from Bernhard Moos Elementary School.

Monarch butterflies represent the souls of students who died, and two skeletal angels above symbolize the teachers who died trying to protect them. Mock yearbooks feature brief descriptions of things each child loved.

In the corner, next to two desks and a chalkboard, is a pecan tree, which represents Robb Elementary School. On the board is a poem by the Nahuatl poet Mardonio Carballo highlighting the relationship between every living being and those who have nurtured and cared for them.

“Because of just the amount of gun violence — we could do an entire exhibit only memorializing victims,” said Cesáreo Moreno, the director of visual arts and chief curator at NMMA. “It has become a more difficult exhibit to curate, and we have to be careful that we’re not normalizing mass shootings.”

It’s not the first time NMMA has honored those lost to gun violence. The museum has created ofrenda installations dating to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut in 2012, the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida in 2018, the shooting at Pulse nightclub in Florida in 2016 and the shootings in El Paso, Texas, in 2019.

“You can’t help but look at the headlines and think, ‘Oh, this tragedy needs to be remembered in some way that has a little bit of hope in it, as tragic as it may be,’” Moreno said. “We have a long-standing tradition every year of doing that. When Cesar Chavez died in ’93 ... the UFW [United Farm Workers] came and did an ofrenda.”

The NMMA’s “Día de Muertos, Memories & Offerings” exhibition is free and will run until Dec. 11.

In Houston, the nonprofit arts and culture group Multicultural Education and Counseling Through the Arts (MECA) honored the 21 Uvalde victims, including murals with the children's names. “We say people’s names over and over again so they will not be forgotten,” exhibit curator Luis Gavito told KHOU-TV.

Remembering — and pushing for change

In Texas, aside from the altars and the remembrances, several Latino organizations, community leaders and Democratic elected officials — members of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus — are marking Día de los Muertos by marching and making a case for gun control legislation.

The Marcha de los Niños, or March of the Children, will take place in several cities in a special tribute to the Uvalde victims.

“We felt that it was an opportune time for us to use something that’s so significant and part of our cultural traditions ... as an opportunity to remind people of the tragedy,” said one of the organizers, Paul Saldaña, a co-founder of the advocacy group Hispanic Advocates Business Leaders of Austin.

Organizers in Austin will begin their march, led by nine families of the victims, at the Capitol steps by holding a vigil and a procession, eventually ending at the Governor's Mansion in downtown Austin, where an ofrenda will be placed in front of the mansion.

"I think it serves as a very powerful reminder of what's at stake," Saldaña said.

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