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USPS's first-ever Day of the Dead stamps to be unveiled in San Antonio

A Mexico-born graphic designer based out of Minneapolis was tapped for the initiative, but said he never expected it to actually happen.

SAN ANTONIO — A graphic designer and branding coordinator based in Minneapolis, Luis Fitch traces his artistic origins back to a place 2,000 miles away and years in the past. 

While growing up in Tijuana, he enlisted the help of relatives and neighbors to grow his stamp collection. Fitch had it down to a process: He would gather the postcards and envelopes provided to him, use steamed water to carefully remove the delicate squares, and carefully stick them in his album. 

It was a few things that sparked his curiosity in an everyday object blending the artistic with the functional. 

“I think I was influenced by the miniature graphics of it, because you have to put so much information,” Fitch said. “And it’s got to be very historically driven in most cases that I think it was such a big influence for me later when I started doing posters.”

The collecting eventually ceased – “You know, you become a teenager, and collecting stamps is not cool” – but those little, unassuming, detail-packed canvasses had a way of popping back up as Fitch turned his artistic ambitions into the start of a career. 

After making a new home in the U.S., he came across a sign in a post office seeking stamp designers. While still carving out his unique artistic sensibilities, Fitch took his shot and submitted two months later. He soon received a letter from those who reviewed his work, and who confirmed he was still looking for his own style. 

Later, in arts school in California, he embarked on a project designing stamps once again, in what he called a “very intense” process of researching a particular subject matter and creating a set of four. 

In the years after graduating, he cofounded UNO Branding with a childhood friend, mixing commercial and design work in cross-cultural campaigns tailored toward retail and product development. His work has anchored collaborations with everyone from Fortune 500 companies and the Smithsonian to local nonprofit groups and multicultural associations; it’s appeared in galleries, and at restaurants, and on grocery store shelves, exploring the overlapping territory between Mexican and American cultures. 

Through it all, he’s kept that booklet of stamps. Soon, he’ll have a few more to add to it. 

On Friday evening at San Antonio’s Centro Cultural Aztlan, one of Fitch’s newest projects will be unveiled: a set of four Dia de los Muertos-themed stamps, the first ever to be issued by the U.S. Postal Service. Striking in their colors and traditional flavor, the stamps are hypnotizing enough to make you understand why he started his own collection all those years ago. 

“I didn’t want to reinvent the wheel,” he said. “We needed to keep it very simple, very graphic, in the style of the work I’ve been doing for almost 15 years.”

He said he knew right away it had to be a set of four, in order for the stamps to represent a family, “one of the pillars of our Latino culture.” The designs were all created digitally, with Fitch synthesizing his talent for typography, space and visual organization. 

Fitch says he worked through a few different designs on his journey to the final product, including one iteration featuring a yellow-over-black palette. The ultimate result shows striking Dia de los Muertos motifs popping out of a black background, which the artist said was meant to evoke “the celebration coming to life” in the darkness of night. 

As for each of the smaller details in the stamps, Fitch put thought into every element, from the butterfly to the marigolds to the traditional sugar skull. 

“I want to make sure it’s in the culture of the Mexican community. That they feel comfortable with it, that they use them, use them even as tools when sending letters to their lost ones, just in concept,” he said. “I think it helps you remember your loved ones by writing a letter and sending it out to the universe. Then, for Mexican-Americans in the next generation who have not experienced Day of the Dead other than with ‘Coco,’ this little piece of art you can now buy them. Hopefully, another little Mexican designer sees that and I influence them.”

He’s still a bit surprised to have seen this collaboration with USPS through, but not because of his own priorities. Fitch says it was about two years ago that he was contacted by the agency after its creative director noticed his work at the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago. 

He was told not to get too excited—that this kind of official initiative to introduce new stamps can take as long as five or six years.  

“And this is during the Trump era,” Fitch says. “Without getting into politics, I was like, ‘Well, this is never gonna happen.’ Then out of the blue, he says, ‘Get ready, everybody seems to like it. Day of the Dead is hot right now and we want to talk about it.’ I was shocked.”

The USPS initiative brings things full circle for the Centro Cultural Aztlan as well. For 44 years, the centro has worked to build and expand Chicano culture via the arts and community events in San Antonio. 

Staff say the USPS’s call to host the stamp unveiling there was received as an affirmation of the historic role it played in introducing Dia de los Muertos to the Alamo City. 

“It’s exciting for us, absolutely, because this validates the work Centro Cultural Aztlan has been doing in the community since 1977,” said Malenda Gonzalez-Cid, executive director of the center. “We’ve been consistent. Ours has been original, it has been authentic; it has been part of the community because we are a community-based organization."

Gonzalez-Cid said it was because of a USPS representative’s San Antonio heritage that the agency was aware of the center, whose work wasn’t always in line with the mainstream. 

“We created these programs when it wasn’t popular to be talking about death, through understanding, through artists and community people that were specialists, that could explain what this celebration was about,” she added. “A celebration of life, of remembrance, of paying tribute to your dearly departed.”

“We’ve made it to where it’s not a party, it’s not a drinking thing, it’s not another Fiesta. That’s not how Centro Cultural celebrates it.”

The organization’s efforts to promote Dia de los Muertos in its most authentic forms will continue this fall, beginning with an in-person reception in early November. You can find more information as it becomes available here

Friday’s unveiling is free and open to the public. It’s set to take place from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. in the center’s gallery, located at 1800 Fredericksburg Rd., Suite 103. Visitors will also be able to peruse the centro's new "Dia de los Muertos Altares y Ofrendas" exhibit. The stamps will also be on sale at the reception. 

“We’re still here," Gonzalez-Cid said. "We’re a 44-year-old institution. We survived the pandemic, we’re still strong with all the programs that we have."