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Latino Daily News

Wednesday May 23, 2012

Oaxacans in California Prepare for Guelaguetza Festival

Oaxacans in California Prepare for Guelaguetza Festival

Photo: The Guelaguetza festival is unique to Oaxaca

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Some communities of people from the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca are preserving their roots in California with festivals that emphasize their rich cultural tradition.

The Coalition of Indigenous Communities of Oaxaca celebrates the Guelaguetza festival in September on the campus of California State University San Marcos.

Journalist and writer Gabriel Martinez, who also teaches a class in the indigenous Zapotec language at San Diego State University and acts as master of ceremonies for Guelaguetza, told Efe that the festival’s spirit is similar to the traditional one in Oaxaca.

The professor said that Zapotec forebears did not dance just to dance but rather for practical reasons, such as asking their gods for a good harvest, fertility, peace or rain.

“Despite the fact that these events have been commercialized, since we have companies that sell insurance or nutritional products that want to reach this market and who allow us to continue organizing it, the spirit of Guelguetza is that of interchange, but without asking for anything in exchange,” Martinez said.

Usiel Villa, a member of the Los Rubios de Tecomaxtlahuaca dance group, which participates in the Guelaguetza celebration, told Efe that his typical costumes cost up to $2,000.

“It’s part of a very ancient culture; my children also like it and it’s a heritage that unites three generations, and also people who in Oaxaca would be competing and not have so much contact but who here form part of a common culture,” Villa said.

According to the California Institute for Rural Studies, the Golden State is home to as many as 150,000 immigrants from Oaxaca.

While the majority are Zapotec or Mixtec, there are 17 indigenous communities from Oaxaca represented in California concentrated in the Central Valley, Los Angeles, San Diego and Ventura counties, the central coast and the area north of San Francisco.

These figures indicate that up to 20 percent of the agricultural labor force in California is from Oaxaca, according to researcher Sarah Poole of the University of California, San Diego.