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Folkloric dance group brings ‘a little piece of Mexico’ to Fresno festivals

A dancer with Grupo Folklórico Tangu Yuu performs a dance from Nayarit during the Sept. 17, 2022 Fiestas Patrias celebration in downtown Fresno.
Vida en el Valle
A dancer with Grupo Folklórico Tangu Yuu performs a dance from Nayarit during the Sept. 17, 2022 Fiestas Patrias celebration in downtown Fresno.

On a Tuesday evening, Hugo Martinez is leading a group of 18 dancers in a rehearsal. He’s the dance director of the troupe Grupo Folklórico Tangu Yuu.

The indigenous Zapotec name translates to “little doll” in English.

“Every time we perform, they're just little tangu yuus moving around gracefully, entertaining and telling stories,” says Martinez.

The dancers are dressed in bright, floor length faldas, or skirts. They glide elegantly across the dance floor. While twirling, their skirts fan out in ripples and waves.

At this rehearsal, Martinez and the group are perfecting their dance routine for Fiestas Patrias, a festival held last weekend in downtown Fresno that celebrated Latin culture and independence. Martinez says his goal with their set was to showcase traditional Oaxacan dance.

“It’s pretty much bringing a little piece of Mexico for all of us to have the chance to experience the celebrations there,” Martinez says. “I want them to show that up, make the audience feel like they're in Mexico. Why not?”

Tangu Yuu's opening number at Fiestas Patrias

Dancers prepare for the Guelaguetza

Leylie Garduno, one of the dancers of the group, says she’s already looking forward to the group’s next big performance, scheduled for this weekend in Calwa. Her parents are from the Mexican states of Sonora and Baja California.

A lot of people just know Mexican culture as mariachi hats and ponchos, but things like la Guelaguetza aren't really known,” Garduno says.

The Guelaguetza is an annual Oaxacan holiday that aims to give thanks to the earth for bountiful harvests and bring good luck into the new year. In Fresno, the event is returning this year after being canceled during the pandemic. It features small vendors, traditional dancing and foods.

California is home to about 350,000 Indigenous Oaxacans, and most live in the Valley and the southern portion of the state.

Vialet Jarquin, from the Binational Center for the Development of Oaxacan Indigenous Communities, says the Guelaguetza is especially important for the Oaxacan community in the Valley.

“It’s a way to teach the younger generation the significance of their cultural heritage and continue the traditions of their ancestors,” Jarquin says in Spanish.

Dancing helps Latinas feel connected to their culture

Back at rehearsal, dance director Martinez is looking forward to performing at the Guelaguetza. He was born in Oaxaca, and the holiday helps him feel connected to his homeland.

“Sometimes I feel like my heart is not in a heart shape,” says Martinez. “I feel like it's the Oaxaca shape.”

But for some, like 17-year-old Andrea Felix-Gastelum, the holiday gives her an opportunity to learn about her family’s history. Her parents emigrated from the Mexican state of Sinaloa.

“A lot of the time I feel disconnected from my culture. I don’t feel ‘Mexican enough,’” Felix-Gastelum says. “So here, I feel very connected and I've stayed true to my roots.”

Felix-Gastelum says participating in cultural events like Fiestas Patrias and the Guelaguetza makes her feel closer to her family in Mexico, who she hasn’t been able to visit as a result of the pandemic.

“It's really important for the children of immigrants and the children of people who have moved here and who like me growing up a lot, felt a little disconnected from their culture,” she says. “Being able to have these things here is so, so important for them to be able to witness.

The Guelaguezta is on Sunday at Calwa Park from 9am to 6pm. The event is free and open to the community.

This story is part of the Central Valley News Collaborative, which is supported by the Central Valley Community Foundation with technology and training support by Microsoft Corp.

Esther Quintanilla reports on diverse communities for KVPR through the Central Valley News Collaborative, which includes The Fresno Bee, Vida en el Valle, KVPR and Radio Bilingüe.