Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Cultural Connection - Week 33

This week I want to write about the "Cultural Connection".  Something happened this past week that made me realize that I have missed it a little bit.  I have been so focused on folklorico as being entertainment, that I've neglected to paint the whole picture and give the cultural aspect enough limelight.  Hopefully this week I can add some paint from my pallet and balance out the canvas!  Let's get started!

Last weekend I went to see Richard and his dance partner for the evening, perform at Guadalajara Grill for the Saturday night mariachi show!  What a fun night.  Even though I didn't perform, I tagged along.  I like to keep myself busy and if I can be of assistance, I'm there to help.  Usually this results in carrying the costumes, fetching water, taking pictures and running to Walmart for any last minute items needed.  This particular night I made a run for red lipstick, safety pins, an eyebrow pencil, Aqua Net, body glitter and breath mints.  You can imagine the look on the cashier's face as he rang me up, analyzing my purchase!  Of course I just smiled and sighed, then stated, "Yes it's a lot of work, but I'm going out tonight!"  The checker couldn't process my payment and bag it up quick enough!  Works every time!  Try it sometime.  Totally joking about the Aqua Net and body glitter.

That night they danced Jalisco, Chihuahua, Veracruz and Puebla (Jalisco with the China dress - the same colorful China I wrote about on week 12 in "The Tale of Two Chinas").  Although Richard's partner was a little nervous, she did an awesome job.  She was very excited to dance in the china dress.  She had never danced the Jarabe Tapatio in a China and/or as a solo couple on stage like that before.  I could tell that this was very important and a special moment for her.  Her reaction caused me to think and realize that there was a cultural connection happening that I don't fully understand or can relate to entirely.  Although I have mentioned culture in my blogs before, I think it had been down played as I am a visitor here in this journey.

On the way home, I mentioned to Richard the experience and reaction she had dancing in the china. He shared how his mother teared up the first time she saw his brother and him in charro suits.  It's a culture thing.  I know what it's like to feel patriotism and pride, but the cultural aspect is foreign to me.  On several occasions women have asked Richard if they could rent one of the group's costumes to take pictures of themselves wearing it.  Likewise, several men have inquired dancing Jalisco for just one show so they can wear the charro and make their mother's proud.  Of course, Richard always tell them that they will have to come to practices, learn the dances just like everyone else and be able to perform them up to par.  No special exceptions!  There seems to be a special connection to the cultural attire that people cherish as part of their heritage.

I have enjoyed learning different Regional dances and acquiring the various costumes for each.  There is a level of deeper excitement and pride that comes from within those who come from the culture itself.  There is some degree of disconnect for me as it is not my own.  Although I may be "The Guero", I am not Mexican.  I think many would agree that there is a strong bond between people of Mexican decent and the homeland Mexico and the traditions associated with it.  It is part of their identity.  This carries over into their values, specifically family, where community is upheld, creating an environment of belonging.  With such deep cultural heritage and pride, it is understandable why many Americans of Mexican decent want to be referred to as Mexican Americans - celebrating their cultural identity and roots.  Other Mexican values include Religion, Tradition and Pride.  There are others as well that I'm sure you will think of as you read this today.

My personal experience of cultural roots and heritage in my family has been somewhat different. Our heritage and culture wasn't celebrated too much.  It was addressed in our family as ancestry and with the passing down of family heirlooms.  I recall a photo album with family portraits of our distant relatives that immigrated here.  Most of them black and white photos of stern looking, frowning, cold, hard people in formal clothing and settings.  We never learn to speak German or French in our household and we never took trips back to the European homelands.  However, I did learn to say "hello" in German and I remember that I felt "oh so cultured!"  In high school I took a semester of Spanish because it was the only language offered.  I passed the class because I did my homework, not because I could speak the language!  Obviously!  In college, I had to take classes on the International Phonetic Alphabet because we had to know how to speak the various languages properly that music is written. We also did some translation.  We didn't have to know the language necessarily, they just wanted us to speak it properly.

In high school I took a trip to the UK with the band.  It was fun to visit a place where some of my distant relatives had come from.  It was interesting to see and experience the land from which they originated.  That's as close as going "home" as it has gotten for me.  In recent years, my niece has worked extensively on our family tree, tracing the family roots.  It has been interesting to learn some of the information and family history she has dug up on us Smiths!

Although my family lived very much the American life, abandoning our own cultural past to some extent, not all white folks have done the same.  My parents took us to many festivals and the sort, that celebrate different "white" cultures.  We were exposed to, enjoyed and developed an appreciation for them.  We would go every year to the Holland Tulip Festival and parade.  We also attended a parade that had several Scottish bag pipers march.  I think it was the Red Flannel Days or another parade in the Alma, Michigan area.  I know that there is a lot of celebrations for Oktoberfest around the country, celebrating German culture and heritage.  I have seen a lot of Irish pride too.  Detroit area celebrated many different ones as well.  There are too many to mention them all.  My whole point being, it was much more an appreciation of cultures than an embracing of our own.

I grew up amongst the corn fields and pastures of Michigan.  We commuted to school a long distance, unlike city folk.  Yes, uphill, in the snow and barefoot - both ways!  The schools I attended were predominately "white".  There were a few Mexican families in the community too.  The school itself offered music programs and classes, but no dance classes of any kind.  We had some school dances and I went to one in Junior High.  I also went to one homecoming dance and prom in High School.

My father was a pastor of a church in the community.  The church was also predominately "white", however, there was one Mexican couple that attended church there that became close friends with my mom and dad.  The husband came from a huge Mexican family and had 17 brothers and sisters.  This couple was always doing family things.  Now my family did get together from time to time and we enjoyed each others company whenever we got together.  But the "family" value did not rank as high on the list, as in this Mexican family.  I perceived a difference and inquired one day of my mother why that was.  Her response was that, "Mexican people are very social people and community is important to them."  That's all that was said.  I was left with an understanding that family did not rank as highly as other values in our family.

So what were our family values?  Number one was church and service to the church.  Although I went to a few of the dances in my school years, dancing was considered worldly by the church. Rather than go to the school dance, other alternatives were provided.  If the dance was during school hours, a movie was offered in the student library.  If the dance was after the Friday night football game, the church offered activities for the youth.  

Ironically, part of requirement for my Theological Studies degree was ministry participation.  I was able to use my folklorico dancing towards part of that requirement as we dance for many churches and church charities.  I think in some denominations, the attitude towards dancing has changed some.  

The second value would have to be work.  As soon as I was able to push the lawn mower, I was put to work.  We had our weekly household chores as well.  I mowed several of the neighbor's lawns for $5 each on a weekly basis.  In the sixth grade I started staying after school to help out the janitor emptying trash cans and what not for $1 a day.  Then I started my paper route.  I've been working ever since.

I would spend my money on five and ten cent candies or 20 cent candy bars and soda at the corner convenient store.  Sometimes I would get a 35 cent ice cream cone from the ice cream shop!  Now doesn't those prices make me old!  

Thirdly, education.  You can never have enough of it.  You need to be informed and educated about life and everything involved with it.  We were taught you had to have an educated understanding about things.  Not just a general impression or follow the common flow of people's opinions and experience.

The fourth value was music.  Growing up we listened to old 45's of "Lollipop" and "The Big Bopper"!  We even had an 8 track player!  Yes, believe it!  No VCR or BETA players for us!  And no cable television either, although our antenna picked up three or four stations!  We entertained ourselves learning piano and other instruments.  I was in every music ensemble I could be part of. After all that, then came family.  Again, I have to say it isn't nearly as strong and close as the bond as I see in Mexican families.  We can go years without even communicating with each other. This lack of a family bond has led to a feeling of abandonment at times and the absence of belonging. I always had a feeling that we were not to be any sort of burden to each other, resulting in an individualist survival mindset.

Although Mexicans and white folks share the same values, their emphasis varies.  I'm writing this so people can see just how much we have in common, yet be very different.  As I've said before, I'm not having a cultural identity crisis or anything like that - being multicultural is the American way, I suppose.  I will say that is has been a lot of fun dancing Mexican dance.  And perhaps I am having a cultural connection of my own with those polka influenced dances.  I love them and perhaps that's the German stewing in me! 

In closing, I wanted to share this picture that I have entitled "Dede On Parade!"  Although Dede is not a folklorico dancer, she wanted to have a culture connection and wear the costume.  Here she is in her Veracruz best representing Herencia in a parade!  You Go Dede!  Get your pride on!

My apologies to everyone for publishing late this week.  I have fallen behind for several reasons.  Plus it's hard to write these posts on my phone, which is the norm now.  And it was my birthday and I took some time off to celebrate!  That's next week's post!  I have also been working a lot of overtime and practicing a lot for the upcoming shows!  I appreciate everyone's understanding and flexibility.

Don't forget to submit those logos for the $100 contest by August 31, 2013!  Until next week, Wedo out!


Contact Information for "The Big Wedo":

Google E-mail:
Facebook: One Big Wedo (Guero)
Twitter: Michael Smith @onebigwedo

Contact Information for Ballet Folklorico de Herencia Mexicana:

Richard Solorzano, Director: (909) 201-1957
Facebook: Herencia Mexicana

Note: Looking for your own adventure or journey? Herencia is a great place to find one!  Folklorico lessons and performances are both available. Herencia Mexicana performs for private & public events of all kinds. Book your event today! Herencia Mexicana welcomes new students. No previous folklorico or dance experience required.  All are welcome.

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