A visual journey through the public celebrations el Día de los Muertos in Nogales, Sonora
Photographs by Nieves Montaño
The annual Día de los Muertos observance begins in Nogales, Sonora at the end of October with the feria del hueso, literally, “the bone fair,” near the local panteones, or cemetery, on Calle Reforma. In the evenings, performers roam the streets or take the stage dressed as catrinas, or skeletons, to play mariachi music.
Vendors sell curios such as sugar skulls and traditional feria foods including pan de muerto (bread for the dead) and champurrado, a warm drink of Mexican chocolate, dried corn, milk, water, cinnamon, and vanilla.
Some vendors traveled from the state of Tlaxcala, stopping first in Magdalena for the annual fiestas de San Francisco in early October before continuing on to Nogales to sell traditional breads from their region, including cemitas de nata rellenas (stuffed fritters with buttermilk cream).
Cempasúchiles, vibrant Mexican marigold flowers, are traditional adornments for altars and gravesites and sell for $50 pesos (US$2.50) a bouquet or three for $100 (US$5.00)
The Nogales panteones are built into the hillsides and rise above the city, not unlike many houses. Small crowds meander around the tombstones, visiting their loved ones. Many eat and drink together, as if spending time with a living family member. Others sit in quiet contemplation or recited prayers.
Roaming musicians-for-hire offer serenades for $100 pesos. One Sunday morning, Ivonne Lerma and her family dedicated a song to both her dad, who died in 2018, and her grandmother, who passed away in 1980. As the music played, it felt more like a celebration than a somber moment of mourning.
Throughout the cemetery, I heard symphonies of children’s voices and adults conversing. The air filled with the smell of churros, semitas de leche, and fried foods. Flowers seemed to grow up from every tombstone, reminding me of the expression, “Polvo eres y en polvo te convertirás.” We are made of earth and to the earth we return.
Nieves Montaño is a photographer and educator. Growing up in Sonora, Mexico and now living in Tucson, she divides her time as a bilingual teacher at a local school and a freelance photographer. With her work, she hopes to build bridges to help people feel more connected to themselves and the world around them. You can find her on Instagram here @nievesmontano.