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17th annual Guelaguetza brings Oaxacan folk dance, artisan crafts to Fresno

Guelaguetza California brings Oaxacan dance, art, music to Fresno

Video of Binational Center for the Development of Oaxacan Indigenous Communities executive director Leoncio Vasquez describes Guelaguetza California 2015, a day of dance performances by Oaxacan dancers on Sunday, September 27, 2015, at Roosevelt H
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Video of Binational Center for the Development of Oaxacan Indigenous Communities executive director Leoncio Vasquez describes Guelaguetza California 2015, a day of dance performances by Oaxacan dancers on Sunday, September 27, 2015, at Roosevelt H

The Clovis West High School students with identical black braids and patterned tunics formed a line and propped pineapples on their shoulders. When the music started, they hop-stepped to the beat in a performance that brought a slice of traditional Mexico to Fresno.

Centro Binacional para el Desarrollo Indígena Oaxaqueño (the Binational Center for the Development of Oaxacan Indigenous Communities) hosted its 17th annual Guelaguetza on Sunday at Roosevelt High School in southeast Fresno. Guelaguetza is a native Zapotec word that means reciprocal exchange of gifts and services, akin to the tradition of paying it forward.

A guelaguetza celebration features dance, music and food. Everyone helps make it happen. In Oaxaca, a southern state in Mexico, the festival is also known as Fiesta Lunes del Cerro and takes place on the last two Mondays in July.

The guelaguetza originated as an celebration of indigenous deities, particularly Centeotl, the Zapotec and Mixtec goddess of corn.

My guelaguetza is to treat everyone with love and kindness

María Sanchez, 69, of Kerman

Outside of Roosevelt High on Sunday, Oaxacan musicians, food and artisan craft vendors catered to hundreds of people. Inside the auditorium, professional dance troupes took the stage, performing traditional bailables.

Local dance instructor Patricia de la O rushed between the indoor and outdoor performances. She said the groups practiced for three or four months before the festival.

“For those of us who are immigrants, it is important to remember our traditions,” she said in Spanish.

De la O’s favorite dance is “Flor de Piña,” or “Pineapple Flower.” After the Clovis West performance, the girls handed out their pineapples to people in the audience.

The entertainment outside always has been free, said Leoncio Vásquez Santos, executive director of Centro Binacional. To watch the dances inside, guests paid $10 at the door.

This year, two Mixtec dances were performed outside, including “Flor de Piña.” Vásquez Santos said he knows many who attend the Fresno guelaguetza are farmworkers who can’t afford the indoor charge. He wanted to provide more entertainment for them.

Vásquez Santos remembered the guelaguetzas in his hometown in Oaxaca. He said residents of the neighboring towns would join and contribute food, dancers or music.

“Everyone brings their guelaguetza to the party,” he said in Spanish.

María Sanchez, 69, of Kerman attended the festival for the second year in a row. She said her family goes to buy traditional Oaxacan clothes and contribute to the guelaguetza.

“My guelaguetza is to treat everyone with love and kindness,” she said in Spanish.

Andrea Castillo: 559-441-6279, @andreamcastillo

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