Folk dance group brings “a little piece of Mexico” to Fresno festivals

One Tuesday evening, Hugo Martinez leads a group of 18 dancers in rehearsal. He is the dance director of the Grupo Folklórico Tangu Yuu troupe.

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

“Every time we play they’re just small tangu yuu move with grace, entertain and tell stories,” says Martinez.

The dancers are dressed in shiny, floor length faldas, or skirts. They glide elegantly across the dance floor. While twirling, their skirts unfold in undulations and waves.

During this rehearsal, Martinez and the band perfect their dance routine to Patrias Festivities, a festival held this past weekend in downtown Fresno that celebrated Latin culture and independence. Martinez says his goal with their set was to showcase traditional Oaxacan dancing.

“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, to make the audience feel like they’re in Mexico. Why not?”

Tangu Yuu’s opening act at Fiestas Patrias

The dancers prepare for the Guelaguetza

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

A lot of people only know Mexican culture from mariachi hats and ponchos, but things like Guelaguetza aren’t really known,” says Garduno.

The Guelaguetza is a Oaxaca annual vacation which aims to give thanks to the earth for abundant harvests and to bring good luck in the new year. In Fresno, the event returns this year after being canceled during the pandemic. It features small vendors, traditional dances and foods.

California is home to approximately 350,000 native Oaxacas, and most live in the valley and southern part of the state.

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

“It’s a way of teaching the younger generation the importance of their cultural heritage and carrying on the traditions of their ancestors,” Jarquin says in Spanish.

Dance helps Latinos feel connected to their culture

Back in rehearsal, dance director Martinez can’t wait to perform at the Guelaguetza. He was born in Oaxaca and vacations help him feel connected to his homeland.

“Sometimes I feel like my heart isn’t in the shape of a heart,” Martinez says. “I feel like that’s the shape of Oaxaca.”

But for some, like 17-year-old Andrea Felix-Gastelum, the holidays give her the opportunity to learn more about her family’s history. His parents emigrated from the Mexican state of Sinaloa.

“Most of the time, I feel disconnected from my culture. I don’t feel ‘Mexican enough’,” says Felix-Gastelum. “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 brings her closer to her family in Mexico, which she hasn’t been able to visit due to the pandemic.

“It’s really important for the kids of immigrants and the kids of people who moved here who, like me growing up, 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 testify.

The Guelaguezta is on Sundays at Calwa Park from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. 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 from Microsoft Corp.

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