About: Echoes of Aztlán and Beyond

Echoes of Aztlán and Beyond: Mexican American and Chicana/o Roots in the Northwest

Photo by Christopher Nelson

Every year, Northwest Folklife engages a Northwest community to showcase throughout the year. This ‘Cultural Focus’ allows Folklife to connect more in depth with the people that we serve and empower their artistic expressions and cultural traditions.

Northwest Folklife’s 2018 Cultural Focus will explore and celebrate Mexican American and Chicana/o communities from around the Pacific Northwest through stories, art, film, music, song, cuisine, dance, language and culture. The goal of this program is to showcase, preserve and recognize traditional and popular arts and culture in Mexican American and Chicana/o communities in our region. This program will explore what it means to be Mexican and Chicana/o, from exploring the indigenous roots, to immigration, to the building of communities and to envisioning the future. Audiences will understand the history of the Mexican diaspora in a larger picture of history and development of the region and explore the vibrant art and culture celebrated in today’s communities. Today more than ever, it’s important to share how communities evolve with the ever changing societal and cultural shifts we face as a region.

Over the past 4 years, Northwest Folklife has been building a Cultural Focus committee. As required by our community driven model, this committee, made up of individuals, professors, culture bearers, activists and local artists, became the consulting council to develop and curate this program. Including members from SEEDArts, Dia de Muertos Committee, the Indigenous Aztec community, La Sala, Bailadores de Bronce and Joyas Mestizas Folklorico groups, members from The National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures (NALAC) and heritage artists from around the Seattle area, that is curated and developed by and for the Mexican American and Chicana/o communities. The Cultural Focus committee has identified that the main focus of this program will be to offer a larger platform for youth to explore their heritage and visualize the future. This program will provide a space for youth artists, activists and culture bearers of all ages to collaborate, share ideas, and envision the future while building a strong community together. The passing down of knowledge and heritage from culture bearers through intergenerational dialogue creates a community that is stronger.

“In the committee meeting last night,” says Francisca Garcia of SEEDArts, “we were all so excited at this opportunity to look back at what we’ve contributed to the Pacific Northwest, to our home here, to see how deep our roots are, what our ancestors have left us, and to continue passing on our cultural heritage. We talked about the youth and what traditions we want to keep alive. We talked about how great it was to share this with our greater Seattle and Northwest community, to show what we bring to the table. Because Folklife is about all the cultures that are here in the Northwest.”

“It’s about how folks live and express themselves in their own cultural traditions. What makes the Northwest Folklife Festival beautiful for me is to see the rest of the cultures in this region. I get inspired at Folklife by the Irish dancers, the Serbian musicians, the indigenous blessing that opens the festival… All of that is also mine, because I’m American. We’re happy to have the opportunity to be the Cultural Focus this year to show what we have to offer. What we’ll show you is also yours, because we’re all part of the same community. We are the American experience.”

Dia de Muertos Showcase at 2017 Northwest Folklife Festival | Photo by Christopher Nelson

The Pacific Northwest, including Idaho, Oregon, and Washington has one of the oldest and most consistent streams of ethnic Mexicans in the country, dating back to the Spanish expeditions from Mexico in the mid-1700s. In the twentieth century, Mexican communities grew significantly and after World War II, Mexican braceros (labourers) left an undeniable mark on the overall agricultural history of the region. The immediate post–World War II movement of ethnic Mexicans into the Northwest was, by and large, U.S. citizens of Mexican ancestry coming from south Texas, the Midwest, Rocky Mountain region, and California. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, each of the Northwest states ranked in the top ten in regard to percentage increase of Hispanics with the state of Washington having the tenth largest in the nation. Between 2000 and 2010, Mexican Americans were the fastest growing group in Washington with the population swelling by more than 71 percent during this time.

In 1998, Northwest Folklife created Norte y Sur, a bi-annual Folklore Project, which introduced the culture, lifestyle, customs and identity of Mexican, Tejano and Chicana/o communities to the Northwest Folklife Festival. Northwest Folklife published a magazine and CD that accompanied this program, featuring artists such as Juan Barco. Twenty years later, Northwest Folklife will reflect back to this program, reaching out to those that participated to gain an understanding of how the community has evolved and to examine how it will progress in the future.

 Throughout the year, the Cultural Focus will weave through all of Northwest Folklife’s programs such as the Seattle Children’s Festival and will bring in a bi-lingual component to all of the programs culminating at the Northwest Folklife Festival. Programming will highlight musical groups representing different Mexican American traditions, including norteño; mariachi and banda as well as represent the evolving musical traditions of contemporary music expression.

Through dance, the program will showcase the rich Mexican folkloric dance groups from around the region including groups that have performed with Northwest Folklife for over three generations. Demonstrations of traditional and contemporary Mexican cooking will take place on our new Cultural Cuisine Stage and cultural customs will be explored such as the Quinceañera, Día de Muertos altar, Sandpainting and Lucha Libre (Mexican wrestling).

In partnership with Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF), the program will showcase heritage and protest films that discuss the Farm Workers history of Yakima Valley and Chicana/o Movement from the 1970s.

Throughout the year, Northwest Folklife will partner with committee organizations to hold a panel series discussing identity and terminology intersectionality. This program will also give a brief history of regional celebrations such as Cinco de Mayo, Guelaguetza Festival, Seafair, Fiestas Patrias, Hispanic Heritage Month, Seattle Latino Film Festival, and the Dia de Muertos Celebration.

Educational components, stories, videos and a digital listening station of the Norte y Sur CD produced in 1998 will be hosted on the Northwest Folklife website. All written materials presented on behalf of the program will be bi-lingual including press releases.

Starting in September of 2017, the Cultural Focus committee members began curating the program. The program will launch in January 2018.

Balidores de Bronce, 2017 | Photo by Christopher Nelson