A New Skin for a New Year

Aztec Spring dancerHere in San Jose, California, there are a number of people of Hispanic and indigenous Indian heritage who are dedicating themselves to bringing back their old ways. The most spectacular manifestation of this can be seen at the Spring Equinox, when they gather to dance in their new year, with a celebration that was described to me as “growing a new skin for the new year.” This year I was lucky enough to be able to see their ceremony in Alum Rock Park in the foothills above San Jose. We were invited by our neighbors, who are also the organizers of the CSA we belong to. CSA means Community Supported Agriculture, and is basically the newest form of the old food coops of the sixties. For us it has been a wonderful opportunity to not only receive organically grown fruits and vegetables from local farmers, but to also become acquainted with a whole community of people who, like us, seek out and celebrate the old ways. Their costumes and regalia are way more fun than ours though! Here are some photos of this beautiful Aztec ceremonial event.

Azteca circle for spring equinox at Alum Rock ParkThe drums echo throughout the canyon and the smell of the copal incense wraps everyone in the sacred ceremony. Most of the dancers perform with bare feet, with leg rattles amplifying every step.

Mexica drummers for spring equinoxThese two dancers enact a confrontation between an eagle and a jaguar.

Azteca jaguar and eagle dancersIn the southern part of our county, Gilroy social worker Rosalva Vargas has tapped into this ancient wisdom to help young Mexican-American girls gain pride in their heritage. By teaching them that they come from a culture that has a long and proud heritage, she is helping them get back on the path to cultural and emotional health, keeping them out of gangs and back into the homes of their families. It’s a novel approach, but it is having good results. The link above will take you to an article from my local newspaper describing her work. Below, a female dancer offers the sacred fire before the altar.

Azteca women making offering for spring equinox Alum Rock Park San JoseI met one of these Aztec dancers in my local park a few weeks ago, where he was teaching a teenage girl the steps to one of these dances. Fascinated, I took a seat and watched them rehearse, and later talked to him about his work and how valuable it is. He said he has had trouble finding places to rehearse in public parks, and has experienced innumerable hassles from folks who are uncomfortable seeing this “strange” thing going on. “You need a permit,” he is told by anyone considering themselves an official of the park. “Why?” he replies. “Those folks over there are teaching kids basketball; these over here are teaching them soccer. I am just teaching them dancing!” But rattles and drums are apparently just a little too strange for some people, even though for rehearsal he uses a small frame drum and muffles it with a cloth. I could hope for a little more open-mindedness here in diverse California, but still we hear echoes of the old wars between the English and the Spanish for the right to live in and revere this beautiful land California.

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