Every year during the last two weeks of July throughout the state of Oaxaca, Mexico, and especially in the central valleys of Oaxaca, Oaxacans celebrate Guelaguetza. A Zapotec word meaning sharing and cooperation, “Guelaguetza” is a celebration of regional culture and ethnic diversity.The main performances of the Guelaguetza are held on the last two Mondays of July, but festivities associated with the celebration are spread throughout a ten day period. In the state capital, Oaxaca, delegations from around the state come to participate in the parades, the side events, and the special events held on Mondays. I have been at every Guelaguetza in the city of Oaxaca since 2007. Each time I go, I am swept up in the buoyant spirit of the festival. It never fails to lift my own and that of those around me.
From a simply descriptive point of view, Guelaguetza is a pageant of folk dance composed mainly of enthusiastic young people. In actuality, it is a celebration of cultural diversity and ethnic identity and pride in which both the dancers and the public participate together – both figuratively and literally. On the Saturdays before the main events (held on Mondays) there are parades of the participant delegations from around the state of Oaxaca. As the last of the delegations moves past, the public joins the processional until there is a convergence of everyone at the zócalo, the city square. The sense of pride and joy in their ethnic identities is evident on the faces of the participants and the audience. And yet, there is no ethnocentrism in this celebration. No one is excluded and all are invited to participate in this collective cultural expression.
Unlike state sponsored North American celebrations, there is no militarism, no celebration of military virtues, and no jingoistic nor nationalistic appeals in the Guelaguetza. And it isn’t about political independence or sports. Instead, Guelaguetza is an inclusive cultural celebration marked by enthusiasm, pride, and unabashed joy in being part of the celebration. It is unique, and for me, it expands my appreciation of Oaxacan culture. One way, perhaps, to get a feel for what Guelaguetza is like is by watching a couple of short videos. Shot on location in Oaxaca this past July and edited by my brother, Jim, a professional videographer, the videos below manage to capture the spirit of Guelaguetza. They are short. The first is only 47 seconds long. The second is about a minute and a half.
In addition to the videos, I encourage you to read the brief, but informative, commentary Jim has written at vimeo.com. Take a look, if you will, and then ask yourself if you might not like to go to Guelaguetza 2013.