A group of ten people, clad in nuts and feathers and some in traditional Native garments and headbands dance in a circle while low drums guide their beat. Their ankles, strapped with rows and rows of nut shells, match the beat of their steps and add to the sounds of the flutes to come together as they perform four different choreographed indigenous dances.
Mexica dancing was just one of the features presented in the “Planting Memories of our Roots” exhibit which honored Indigenous People Day on October 8th. This event was put together by The Association of Latino Employees and PCC’s Chicano/a programs.
In the PCC Creveling Lounge, many people came to educate as well as learn about indigenous culture and to honor their family roots.
Another main part of this event was artist Mario Sibaja, who displayed his impressive collection of artwork featuring indigenous people from pre-Columbian Mexico.
Sibaja’s work is an innovative 3D style that is executed by carving on pine wood first and painting on top with acrylic paint. The audience was surrounded by Sibaja’s work and at the center was a huge five panel piece titled “Philosophers, Mathematicians, Observers, and Thinkers…” The ellipsis is to express how the people depicted, Aztecs and Mayans, possess those qualities and more.
“This piece,” Sibaja said of the main piece, “took me about two years of research and the artwork took about six months.”
The part that took Sibaja the most time to research was the sky portion of his piece, which shows the phases of the moon, planets, their numerical system, and sun details. This large piece of work has not left Sibaja’s studio much.
“I’ve only had it out of my studio about five times,” Sibaja said. “I don’t take this out often but I thought this would be a special occasion, so I brought it.”
Sibaja was translated by Silvia Toscano, a PCC teacher of English and Chicano studies. Toscano was also the host of the event who directed and introduced all the guests.
“This institution stands on Indigenous Native Tongva land,” Toscano stated. “So with that we just acknowledged this is their land. They are the original footprints for us to the walk in. Indigenous Day is not often something that is prioritized at this campus. On the website statistics, Native American is not even named as an option.”
Many of the audience members stayed for the whole four hour event, one of which was Azzah Shakoor.
“This event is significant to keep the culture alive,” Shakoor said. “I really connected with what they were saying about worshipping mother nature and appreciated how vital that factor is to the culture.”
The event closed with traditional Mexica dancing, lead by Ruben Macias on drums with musical aid by Martin Espino. Espino used traditional flutes, water drums, and rain sticks that enraptured the audience and led them in a healing sound bath. Mexica dancing is important in Aztec culture as well as having the dancers in a circle. Circles within this culture when meeting or during events symbolize that there is equality within the group and there is no hierarchy.
“People believe that this history and cultures is only in books,” Macias said of the Mexica circle. “They read about it and hear about it but to actually see someone dancing in front of people to present some of our culture means a lot more. It shows more life. It’s a type of prayer to ourselves. When we dance, we pray. There’s a saying, ‘We dance to pray and we pray to heal.’ Everytime we’re dancing we’re trying to heal.”
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