This article was written specifically for the Asociación Nacional de Grupos Folkloricos in 2016. This blog post includes an excerpt. To read the article in its entirety please click on the link below
As I write this account, I note that it has been forty-one years since the Asociación Nacional de Grupos Folklóricos or ANGF first began as a non-profit organization. The purpose of ANGF is “to serve as a voice for the promotion and preservation of Mexican folklore traditions…” This is accomplished by organizing an annual conference whereby participants meet to learn regional dances, music, and traditions of Mexico and Latin America countries by renown teachers.
The creation of ANGF was set against the background of the 1960s and 1970s Chicano Movement. Here, Chicano/as were protesting discriminatory governmental policies that were designed to facilitate assimilation. This brought about a form of cultural renewal whereby Chicano/as sought to re-claim their Mexican identity through poetry, theater, music, and dance. I argue that the creation of ANGF was a part of this idea of cultural re-affirmation that was influenced by the Chicano movement in the 1960s and 1970s United States. Herman Martínez, founder of ANGF describes the formation of ANGF in this manner: “You can say that the conditions were right. Many of our communities had seen the inception of Mexican folk dance and music groups as a result of heightened cultural awareness during the Chicano Civil Rights Movement in the late 1960’s and 1970’s. A renaissance in our art, literature and theater was occurring. We were exposed face to face with the missing links to our history, our pride, our mestizaje and our cultural roots.”Thus, as Chicano/as during the 1960s and 1970s taught and performed Mexican folkloric dances, the creation of ANGF paralleled the socio-political climate of the era.
In 1974 Ismael Valenzuela who was the Director of the Ballet Folklorico of the University of New Mexico and Herman Martínez who was the Director Semillas de la Tierra Grupo Folklorico at Adams State College met in Alamosa, Colorado with a few other friends to discuss the possibility of co-sponsoring guest folkloric dance teachers from Mexico. According to Valenzuela, at this meeting, “someone said why not have a national conference? And I said, well that’s a good idea.”Martínez recounts, “little did we know that we were forming this significant international, cultural exchange program in music and dance within the genre of Mexican folk music and dance.” The dates were set for the “National Festival of Ballet Folklóricos” to be held on March 19-24, 1974, at the University of New Mexico. Martínez and Valenzuela set out to invite as many folkloric groups as possible. Martínez phoned his contacts from Colorado. Valenzuela called Susan Cashion (Dance Instructor at Stanford University & Los Lupeños de San Jose) and Ramón Morones (Los Lupeños de San Jose) and additional groups in California and Texas. “So, we started calling a bunch of people and then I started sending out mailings. And they showed up. We had about 120 people show up.”
Herman Martínez and Ismael Valenzuela both describe the first ANGF conference as full of energy, enthusiasm, and with plenty of avenues of collaboration. Patricia Martínez who experienced this conference first hand talks about what it felt like. “We were so isolated over here in Alamosa that when we found out that there were other folklorico groups close by in Albuquerque and even in California and Texas and all over the U.S. It was unbelievable for me. I thought where did these groups come from, I thought we were the only ones.”
It appears that these ideal of cultural empowerment spurred by the Chicano movement was infectious. “In a matter of years, we grew from an idea, to people converting, to maestros being invited to teach and share their customs and traditions beyond the music and the dance” recalls Herman Martínez. Today ANGF is still teaching, motivating, and inspiring generations of folkloric dance practitioners.