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A Latina Perspective: How Ballet Folklorico helped me maintain my identity

posted February 17, 2019 | in College & Career by Aleida G. Lopez

When I arrived at St. Edward’s University in Austin, it was a very abrupt culture shift for me. I come from a small part of Houston that is infused with a lot of Latino- specifically Mexican- culture. Carnicerias, panaderias, tortillerias, taco stands in almost every block, and as many billboards or ads in Spanish as in English.

The part of Austin I live in now that I’m in college doesn’t have any of that. I actually remember discovering a bakery with my roommate at the time and feeling a wave of excitement and nostalgia because it felt like a piece of home. While many people tell me there are plenty of taco places, none of them quite replicate the authenticity of the ones from back home- whether it’s Houston or Monterrey, Nuevo Leon.

Because of this, the time I spend in school often makes me anxious about losing my roots. Sometimes I’ll play music my mom would listen to when it was cleaning day and the house smelled of Fabuloso. Sometimes, I’d go out of my way to try and make myself an authentic Mexican meal because, being a college student in Austin, I don’t get them nearly as much as I did when I was home. Growing up in America, itself, proved to be a trial when it came to my identity because I always feel torn between the two cultures. It sometimes feels like I don’t fully fit in with either, despite my inclinations towards my Mexican roots. Going to college magnified these internal struggles for me.

Group photo of the dancers. Courtesy photo.

For a while, I found myself grasping anxiously at my roots and getting more and more homesick. Then at the beginning of my junior year, my friend and former roommate came up to me and asked if I’d join her at a Ballet Folklorico dance practice. I was never one for dance, so I was hesitant, but I wanted to be part of more extracurriculars, and I didn’t have anything else to do that day. When I arrived, I found a welcoming group of people stumbling over their feet to get the steps right.

We learned a dance called Concheros that day. The instructor, Rosalinda Valdez (we call her Linda), began to explain the choreography and the importance of it. There was a reason behind each move, each stance. The dance was from the Atzecs, and what we were told was that the dances became a way for the Aztecs to honor their gods while letting the conquistadors believe we were converting to their religion. For example, the dance calls for us to bow and step in four directions, which Aztecs passed off as a symbol of the cross, but it was actually a way to honor the four corners of their world, each of which represented an element and god. I had never learned much about the Aztecs other than the basics taught in history about the city of El Dorado, so I was fascinated learning not only the history of the dances, but the dance choreography.

For those moments, I felt like I was an Aztec warrior myself. I felt like I was truly connecting with my Mexican roots. And it was wonderful to see the other dancers experiencing the same thing. We got a chance to perform this dance at the parade downtown for Dia de los Muertos, which was an incredible opportunity. It was a manifestation of Latino culture with colors and groups of matachines (traditional religious dance) and dancers and floats, and, the smell of food trucks wafting around the air as various people in different sugar skull makeup walked and watched.

Aleida G. Lopez in her Concheros Dia de los Muertos costume. Courtesy photo.

Since then, Ballet Folkorica has become an integral part of my college experience. We’re learning more dances, some with Aztec roots and calls to earth (which can leave us all on the floor laughing and gasping for breath), as well as more current traditional ones with smaller footwork and skirtwork, like Jaliscos and Tamaulipas dances.

At least once a week, I get a chance to remember where I come from and indulge in the traditions of my Mexican culture while in a place where I can often feel like it’s slipping away from me. Ballet Folklorico, Linda, and all the dancers who make up the group have given me a place that feels like home while I’m away from it.

Aleida Lopez is a junior at St. Edward’s University born in Monterrey, Mexico. She enjoys reading and writing poetry and fiction, watching movies with her siblings, and singing along to musicals. She lives in Houston where her Gerberian Shepsky waits to greet her.

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