By Jennifer L. Warren
POUGHKEEPSIE – The men were all uniformly lined up in neatly pressed, white cotton attire and black sombreros. Meanwhile, the women stood poised across from them in colorfully adorned skirts, complemented by white tops with light sweaters. Glancing into one another’s eyes, they were in the midst of one of several lively, at times hypnotic, traditional dance performances taking place Sunday afternoon and early evening at Poughkeepsie’s Waryas Park.
A free, all day celebration of the Mexican Oaxacan population, one of which there is a significant number in the City of Poughkeepsie, La Guelaguetza not only features a host of lively, symbolic dance routines, but further offers authentic, regional cuisine (think tiayudas, tejate drink and chapulines for starters), craft vendors, children’s activities and information booths from local, non-profit organizations.
One of those agencies on hand, offering priceless information, testing, and overall support, was Planned Parenthood of the Mid-Hudson Valley. Public Affairs Manager, Ashley Casale, was all smiles to be taking part in the popular, pivotal event, close to the hearts of many in the City of Poughkeepsie.
“We are here today, offering free HIV testing, promoting reproductive and sexual health information to the community,” explained Casale. “We are also giving out Spanish shirts that say ‘Together with Planned Parenthood’ to promote political awareness.”
Holding the distinction of being the first city in the tri-state region to present a Guelaguetza Festival, Poughkeepsie has further been referred to as “Little Oaxaca” and “Oaxakeepsie” for its telling number of residents from this region. As a result, the Festival has many far-reaching effects each year, as it continues to expose guests to critical details on the deep, rich culture of this rising, influential culture.
“Oaxacans make up a big proportion of the Mexicans living in Poughkeepsie; it’s only natural that we have such a festival like La Guelaguetza here,” said Mariel Fiori, part of the large, hard working Planning committee as well as Editor of the Spanish publication, La Voz. “Being an immigrant from South America, I’m proud to partake in such an important event.”
Whether it was learning about the historical and cultural meaning of a specific dance or costume, enjoying an authentic, savory Oaxacan lunch, admiring art from the region, or simply being immersed in the large, diverse crowd of visitors, it was the hope that all who came to the scenic Hudson Valley Waterfront locale walked away with priceless memories as well as something a little more.
“This event is an amazing opportunity to learn about Oaxacan culture,” said Megan Gomes, another member of the Planning committee, who is of Cape Verdean descent. “To be a part of it, means that we are all one.”
Elinor Levy, Folk Arts Program Manager for Arts Mid-Hudson as well as another member of the Planning Committee, added to the crucial, continuing need for the event, both on local and global levels.
“One of the most significant ways to create understanding is to share culture,” noted Levy. “La Guelaguetza is an opportunity to engage with the Oaxacan community and share their cultures and practices.”
Culture maintenance, education, togetherness, and a message that what connects us is stronger than what divides us… La Guelaguetza remains a key layer in the in the strong roots as well as flourishing future of the City of Poughkeepsie.