Saturday, May 26, 2018     Volume: 19, Issue: 12

Santa Maria Sun / Art

The following article was posted on June 12th, 2013, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 14, Issue 14 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 14, Issue 14

Connecting with culture

The annual Guelaguetza Festival brings an ancient Oaxacan celebration of culture and art to Santa Maria


The Mexican state of Oaxaca is well known as one of the most diverse places in Mexico, not just in its flora and fauna, but culturally. Due to the state’s rough, mountainous terrain, the indigenous tribes were essentially isolated from each other, as well as from Spanish conquest.


Vibrant and plentiful
Each of the indigenous tribes of Oaxaca will be sharing its traditional dances, as well as some of each region’s crop.

Even before Cortez’s infamous excursion to Mexico and what followed, the indigenous peoples of Oaxaca enjoyed a yearly celebration known as Guelaguetza, which included a meeting of the tribes, all of which shared their respective traditional dances, music, food, and art.

The Guelaguetza Committee of Santa Maria is bringing the festival to the city again this year; in the Oaxacan tradition, it will feature dancers, musicians, artists, and cooks representing the indigenous traditions of the lush region.

“The Guelaguetza is a Mixtec tribal gathering that took place before the conquest, and back in those days it was a celebration of the harvest,” said Noemi Velasquez, secretary for the Guelaguetza Committee of Santa Maria. “The seven regions of Oaxaca would come out and celebrate the coming of the different crops from the different regions.”

This harvest celebration is central to the festival. Dancing is the main form of entertainment throughout the event, but even then, the dancers are supporting their regions’ harvest as well.

Join the fun
Guelaguetza Festival 2013 celebrates the indigenous cultures of Oaxaca, Mexico, with music, dance, food, regalia, and art on June 16 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Santa Maria Fairpark, 937 S. Thornburg, Santa Maria. Cost is $3. More info: 458-4247 or 287-8740.

“It’s kind of cool, because after every dance the dancers themselves come down and give fruit to the audience,” Velasquez said. “It is a pre-conquest tradition, and it represents Centeotl that represents the Goddess of corn, which represents the harvest.”

Each tribe brings not just crops, but dance, music, clothing, regalia, textiles, and art. Even though the Oaxacan tribal languages are varied, the tribes still find commonality through their art.

“Art played a major role in keeping people connected to their tradition,” Velasquez said. “It’s like American Indians—by their ceremonies and their dances and their songs, they kept their connection to the Earth; it’s the same concept for the indigenous communities of Mexico.”

In years past, the Guelaguetza festival in Santa Maria has included dances and presentations by the local band of indigenous people.

“We also invite the Chumash as well, to show respect that this is their territory,” Velasquez said. “We bring the correlation together, that there are indigenous people everywhere, and that sometimes people from Oaxaca will have some of the same concepts as the indigenous people from here.”

With an Earth deity at the center of the festival, Guelaguetza is a celebration of a lifestyle as well as culture, Velasquez explained.

“We were very connected to the Earth,” she said, “and the kinds of things that we are seeing now, people who want to grow their own food and eat organic, the indigenous people have always had that.”

Besides the food, the daylong event will feature many dance groups, some even from Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Jose. Danza grupo Centeotl, Danza de Rubios de Tecomaxtlahuaca, and Danza de los Diablos de la Mixteca will be taking the stage to share their region-specific dances and regalia.

“Everything is hand woven or carved out of wood,” Velasquez said. “All the dresses that the women wear are hand woven by them.”

Each dance group is accompanied by a either recorded or live music, again specific to its respective tribe.

“It’s very different because each region has a different tone,” Velasquez said, “just like the different languages.”

Some dances will include rattles and drums, while others include violins, a sign of post-conquest influence.

“We celebrate togetherness, and we have actually incorporated some of the post-conquest dances,” Velasquez said. “The idea is that the purpose of the festival is to educate and bring people together to celebrate.”

Some post-conquest dances, Velasquez explained, include Spanish themes. The dance titled “la danza los diablos,” for instance, includes a carved, wooden devil mask, an idea imported with Spanish Christianity.

“The devil mask, that is after conquest, and those kind of dances were utilized as a way of protesting because they were being attacked religiously,” she said. “It was a good way to protest; they would dance to show their protest against the Spanish.”

Guelaguetza is ultimately an inclusive festival, Velasquez explained. It invites tribes from all over Mexico, not just Oaxaca.

“We really promote it because I think that when people come together in celebration of anything, a new crop or different cultures, we have a better understanding,” she said, “and our community is so much richer when we can come together.”

It also serves as a chance to educate the younger generation of Mexican American youth with indigenous roots. Many of the dancers and volunteers involved in the festival are students from Allan Hancock College, UC Santa Cruz, and San Jose State.

“It’s kind of a way to embrace the culture and focus on educating the youth so they know where they come from and know where to go from there,” she said. “We do give scholarships to students who participate in education.”

Whether connecting the youth to the older generation, Oaxacan tribes with each other, the Oaxacan community to the Spanish-speaking community, or the Oaxacan community with the U.S. community, the festival organizers hope to bring people together with positive activities.

“I think that one of the big identifications is language,” Velasquez said. “The word ‘Guelaguetza’ means to share. It’s the sharing of the crops, the culture, and the tongues.”

 Arts Editor Joe Payne enjoys a connection with the Earth. Contact him at


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