Rocky Gonzalez. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Rocky Gonzalez. Photo by Robert Eliason.

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On the evening of Nov. 5, the plaza in front of the Hollister Veterans Memorial Building was buzzing with crafts and activities as musicians and dancers joined around 300 community members in celebrating the city’s first annual Altars on San Benito event. 

“This is something I have wanted to do for years,” said Rosalinda Sanchez, art and cultural commissioner for District 1. “When we finally pushed it through, it came together so fast that it was wild!”

The festivities marked the installation of over a dozen Dia de los Muertos altars in shops and businesses near the Veterans Building, constructed by Hollister High School students working with advanced arts teacher Christina Ross.

“I like to have my students work on different ways to engage the community,” Ross said. “So this was a really good practice for them in terms of putting together something that was specific for a cause. They actually went out, and they canvased the businesses, asking them if they would like to partner in this.”

The students asked the business owners who they might want to honor and designed the altars from there, deciding on the parameters and applying their own particular talents.

“One student might say, ‘I’m really comfortable doing sculpture,’ or ‘I feel really strong about doing embroidery,’” Ross said. “It’s really great for them to practice the real-world experience of having a client and working in a group where everybody has their expertise.”

  • San Benito Bene altar. Photo by Robert Eliason.
  • Mad Pursuit altar - inside. Photo by Robert Eliason.
  • Facepainting by Serena. Photo by Robert Eliason.
  • Mad Pursuit altar - outside. Photo by Robert Eliason.
  • Decorating candy skulls. Photo by Robert Eliason.
  • Veterans building altar. Photo by Robert Eliason.

Students Alyssa De Jesus and Natalia Martinez designed an altar for Kathina Szeto, owner of San Benito Bene, honoring her dog, Hardy, who passed away during the pandemic.

“I was highly impressed with the artistic talents of the students,” Szeto said, “and how well Mrs. Ross was able to bring it all to show in so many places in downtown Hollister. It really meant a lot to me to see the beautiful artwork and tributes for the different businesses.”

Members of the Hollister Downtown Association were asked to attend one of the arts commission meetings to gauge their interest in assisting in the celebration.

“I’ve seen a couple of events in the past,” said Omar Rosa, the association’s executive director, “and I had hoped to do one eventually ourselves. But with the opportunity there, I thought we could start with something small that would grow in time if it’s something the community wanted.”

Some visitors to the plaza set to work coloring their own skull masks, decorating candy skulls with frosting and painting resin-cast butterflies, while others danced to the banda or DJ Fredo and watched performances by Carisma Mexicano and Animation Dance Company.

Financing the event came, in part, from $5,000 that Hollister Councilmember Rolan Resendiz provided from a discretionary fund which allowed the activities to be offered free of charge.  

“Even though it was put together quickly,” Sanchez said, “it had the kind of vibe of a big Mexican family party.  I saw the people wandering around and really getting excited about it, and it was almost as if it was supposed to be that way.”

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