Guelaguetza Folk Fair Expands to Staten Island

(Photo via Diario de México)

[Below are excerpts from a story by Diario de México USA’s Javier Gochis]

The color and traditions of Oaxaca’s biggest event, the Guelaguetza, will flood New York and New Jersey from July 23 to August 20, featuring dance, music, gastronomy and handicrafts. The festival aims to keep the cultural legacy of the eight regions of the Mexican state alive and introduce it to new generations.

A number of Oaxacan nonprofits announced the program for the Guelaguetza New York-New Jersey 2017 at a press conference held at the Consulate General of Mexico in New York, located in Manhattan. The communities of New Brunswick, Brooklyn, Poughkeepsie, New Rochelle and, for the first time, Staten Island will take part in the celebration.

Avelino Meza, who represented the organizing committee, said that the party – a long-held tradition among the Oaxacan community living in New York and New Jersey – seeks to present “the best of Mexico’s culture.” This edition of the event will hold five Guelaguetzas over the course of one month.

(…) For her part, Consul for Community Affairs Alexia Núñez pointed out that the Mexican Consulate in New York, led by Diego Gómez-Pickering, joined the committee to “support this joint effort to hold the Guelaguetzas” last year.

During her speech, Núñez said that the diplomatic office has offered support in the form of meeting space for the organizing committee, promotion for the event and in “bringing the handicrafts over from Oaxaca in our diplomatic pouch to relieve the organizations of the cost of shipping, as long as they do not charge for the event.”

She added that the consulate will be present at the five events through an information table where they will divulge the types of services they offer “so people can get informed while they’re there.”

Rodrigo Salgado, a member of Staten Island’s La Colmena Community Job Center, said that the organization joined the great Oaxacan party to “bring a little piece of Oaxaca to the community living on Staten Island – mostly of Mixtec ethnicity – so that they can feel like they are at home.” The Guelaguetza is being held on Staten Island this year for the first time.

He added that the primary objective is to continue celebrating the event every year “so that the new generation who were born here are able to learn who they are and where they come from.”

Esmeralda Hidalgo, a representative of the Ballet Folklórico Mexicano de Nueva York, said that the dream of the dance group goes further: They want to take the Guelaguetza to Bryant Park, in the heart of Manhattan. “We wanted to do it now, for our fifth anniversary, but we did not have enough funds. However, that is the ballet’s vision, and we hope to be able to hold the Guelaguetza there in the coming years.”

The five Guelaguetzas taking place this year will kick off on July 23 in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and the next one will be on July 30 in Brooklyn, at 168 Cadman Plaza West. On Aug. 6, it will be Poughkeepsie’s turn, followed by New Rochelle, New York, on Aug. 13. The last event will be held on Aug. 20 at Staten Island’s Snug Harbor Cultural Center.

[Below are excerpts from Impacto Latino’s Ximena Hidalgo-Ayala’s interview with Oaxaca native Felipe Santos, founder of the Guelaguetza festival in Poughkeepsie in 2007, and a member of the folk dance group Oaxakeepsie.]

What were the beginnings of the Guelaguetza like?

We actually started out in a church 10 years ago. It was a really small thing, but when we saw how excited people were to see the beauty of the traditional Oaxacan costumes, the chinas (female dancers), the penachos (feather headdress worn by dancers), the monotes de calenda (giant puppets), we got excited too and kept going, trying to find a way to hold the first Guelaguetza as a larger event.

What is the white community’s perception about the Mexican residents of Poughkeepsie?

Like everywhere else, there are good and bad people, but ever since we have been celebrating the Guelaguetza – which we don’t refer to as a Latino festival but as a festival for everyone – we have been celebrating diversity and ethnic variety in Oaxaca and the rest of the world. If you go to Poughkeepsie and talk to a white person or an African American or an Asian, they all know what the Guelaguetza is. This party is not only for Oaxacans, but for anyone interested in discovering and learning. Proof of this is that we have a woman from Taiwan who has been part of our dance group for six years and feels Oaxacan.

How has the Guelaguetza grown over time?

When we started out, we had 1,000 people in the park. All we had to do was come up with $5,000 to put the festival together. As time went on, we had 3,000, 4,000, 5,000… This year, we are expecting nearly 6,000 people, which means more effort, more costumes and more expenses. We are going to have the monos de la calenda, which are giant dancing puppets handled by people hidden inside of them. We are also working and talking with the government of Oaxaca to fly the elderly parents of Oaxacans here, which we are going to do for the first time to help people who are here and cannot travel back home to see them.

Which Oaxacan dishes do you recommend trying out at the Guelaguetza?

The tlayudas (a sort of pizza made on a thin, crunchy corn tortilla), which are really tasty; the tejate, a delicious pre-Hispanic beverage made with maize, cacao, ashes and other ingredients; you will also find the chapulines, or fried grasshoppers, which are very much a hit right now; the empanadas made with squash blossoms… Poughkeepsie really feels like Oaxaca, like an authentic Guelaguetza, and you will find handicrafts, chilacayote water (a type of squash)… Anything you want to learn about Oaxaca you will be able to find at “Oaxakeepsie.”

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