Local students celebrate Latino history and culture

Young dancers of St. Mary’s Ballet Folklorico of Redlands use song and movement to take the audience on a journey through Mexico.

Students at Yucaipa High School, along with local residents, came to the YHS Multipurpose Room on Oct. 5 for a vivid and rollicking celebration of Latino history and culture.

At the invitation of the school’s Latino Cultural Club, the St. Mary’s Ballet Folklorico of Redlands charmed the audience with a kaleidoscopically colorful and delightfully rhythmic journey through various regions of Mexico. Tamales and other Mexican food were also offered during the course of the evening.

Oliver Garcia, a YHS senior and president of the club, said that the event is an important cultural celebration for the club and the community.

“It’s a way to remember the traditions of our ancestors,” said Garcia. “It’s a way to embrace our culture but also be open to all.”

Katelyn Garcia, secretary of the club (no relation), said that the artistic forms of folklorico are an important part of her heritage and identity. Her family is originally from the Michoacán region of Mexico, which is known for its “danza de los veijitos” or “dance of the old men.” The routine features dancers wearing the masks of elderly men in order to honor and embrace their ancestors.

Oliver was quick to say that the event is not meant to be an exclusive celebration.

“We don’t want it to be closed off, only for the Hispanic community,” he said. “We want to bring a part of our traditions to the entire Yucaipa community.”

As the lights came down in the MPR for the start of the performance, St. Mary’s began their trip in Guerrero, a region on the southwestern Pacific Coast of Mexico. This region, said St. Mary’s assistant director Martha Ruiz, “richly blends South American, Spanish, and African cultures.”

She added, “During the California Gold Rush, miners from South America migrated north along the Pacific Coast on their way to California. (As a result), the people of Guerrero adopted Peruvian and Chilean styles of dance, which included the use of a kerchief.”

The dancers then performed “Las Amarillas,” a traditional routine of the region. As the music bounced to a youthful and vivacious rhythm, the dancers brandished their scarlet cloths in unison and twirled their long white dresses to the beat.

One of the performers of the dance was 18 year old Salisa Perez, who has participated in folklorico on and off since she was 4.

“We’re all just one big family,” she said. “We’re always in sync. We communicate through movement.”

Perhaps the most engaging and impressive dance of the evening was the voyage to Veracruz, along the tropical eastern coast of the Gulf of Mexico. Dancers wore stately white outfits accented with pink and red pieces as well as fans and bright flowers, and displayed impressive footwork as they moved skillfully to the rhythm.

“Traditional costumes were designed to help people stay cool in the hot humid climate,” Ruiz said. “Influences of Spain may been seen in the shawl, flowers and fans worn by the dancers.”

Ruiz said that the dance was dedicated to Delores Cortez, one of the co-founders of St. Mary’s. “She has been a continuously active member since the group began in 1974, and continues to play a vital role today,” she said. “It is because of the costumes she has made and maintained over the years that we were able to establish a costume bank.”

Kevin Carlson, a YHS sophomore, attended the event and said, “It was really cool. I’ve never been to anything like this before. I feel really cultured from this experience.”

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