Guelaguetza Regenerating Oaxaqueño Roots in Fresno

By Rosalba Lopez-Ramirez

As a large number of Oaxaqueños have migrated from Oaxaca, Mexico, to California, they continue to embrace their distinctive identity that is tied to their homeland. Various efforts have been undertaken by the community to strengthen the collective and individual identity among Oaxaqueño migrants who have come to call the Central San Joaquin Valley their home. The Guelaguetza, a cultural celebration since pre-Columbian times, takes place in Oaxaca and in cities throughout the United States, particularly where there are high concentrations of Oaxaqueños.

Guelaguetza comes from the Zapotec word Guenda-Lizaa, which means “friendship,” “sharing” and “helping each other.” In ancient times, the indigenous people would gather at the Guelaguetza to honor their deity by offering her flowers, fruits or any kind of produce from their region. Through the Guelaguetza, they used to reassert their cultural identity as members of their communities would share traditional dances, music, food, drinks or products made with their hands to nourish the participants.

This millenary cultural event will again arrive in Fresno in September. The event does not seek to make a monetary profit and is organized by a volunteer committee of community members and organizations such as Frente Indigena de Organizaciones Binacionales (FIOB) and Centro Binacional Para El Desarollo Indigena Oaxaqueño (CBDIO). The committee spends months to assure that the event provides a learning and educational experience for the community. The magnitude of such an event would not be possible without the volunteers on the day of event, many of whom have volunteered for years.

The 800–1,000 attendees of this annual event enjoy the traditional dances, music, dress, arts and crafts and gastronomy of the Oaxaqueño community. Another element of note has been the active participation of young people within the past few years further enriching the event as they have utilized hip-hop and poetry to express their experiences as first-generation Oaxaqueños born or raised in the United States.

To a large extent, the space has created various meeting points including of different generations of Oaxaqueños and where grandparents, parents and children are able to enjoy their traditions. This is important because it closes the cultural gap commonly seen among immigrant families and their descendants.

With this event providing a space for Oaxaqueños, it has also created an atmosphere that promotes message unity in diversity and has attracted attendees from a wide spectrum of communities. The message of unity and diversity is prioritized, as many Oaxaqueños are very proud of their distinct culture that demonstrates the diversity in Mexico.

Ultimately, the Guelaguetza serves as a bridge to strengthen relations with other immigrant communities and allies in the United States and as a way for Oaxacan immigrants to share their cultural traditions with people from other communities. This year’s event will take place on Sept. 30 from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Roosevelt High School Auditorium (4250 E. Tulare Ave.).

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Rosalba Lopez-Ramirez is a graduate student at UC Davis and currently interning with Centro Binacional Para El Desarollo Indigena Oaxaqueño (CBDIO). Contact her at rosalbalr@gmail.com.

  • The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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