When Jose Carlos came to Oregon in the mid-1990s, he didn’t see much of his own Mexican culture in the community. Other Latinos attended his Woodburn high school, but public displays of culture from south of the border? No. “I didn’t see those things here,” Carlos told me recently. “I didn’t see celebrations of Day of the Dead, I didn’t see marches or Mexican celebrations, and now I see a lot. A lot of people are learning, sharing, teaching, and doing.”
Carlos and his wife, Kelly, are doing all four of those things with their Woodburn-based Aztec dance group, which increasingly finds itself in demand around Mexican holidays, particularly the annual Day of the Dead celebration. They’ve been regulars for the Chehalem Cultural Center’s Dia de Muertos celebration in Newberg the past few years, although they missed 2017 because they were in The Dalles with their company of more than a dozen dancers, helping with that community’s first public celebration.
They return Friday, Nov. 2, for a 5:30 p.m. performance that’s free and open to the public.
Jose started the group and is lead dance captain, while Kelly is executive director for Ritual Azteca Huitzilopochtli (pronounced wee-chee-zo-polsh-tlee), which does educational outreach and performances around the Willamette Valley and Southwest Washington. Jose credits Rigoberto Hernandez, a Chemeketa Community College teacher whom he met when Jose was a Woodburn High School junior yearning both for his own culture and fellowship. He and Hernandez started doing Chicano theater and Aztec dancing.
“In the beginning, I was shy,” he said. “I was like, ‘I don’t want to wear those kinds of clothes, I don’t want people to see my stomach.’” Today, Jose is the teacher. While you probably wouldn’t have found Aztec dancing in Oregon when he started learning it in the 1990s, now, at pow-wows, he’s accustomed to seeing nearly a hundred participants, including his group of about 17.
“Every dance we do has a meaning for the time,” he said. “We have dances that are only for the Day of the Dead, and we have dances for other holidays. These dances have been passed on to us from teachers who learned from their families.” Who, he added, have been passing dances and other traditions down through hundreds of years.
Day of the Dead is celebrated in central and southern Mexico at the beginning of November. Indigenous traditions, which invariably became entwined with Catholic beliefs, held that the gates of heaven open at midnight on Oct. 31, and the spirits of all angelitos (children) are allowed to reunite with their families for 24 hours. Then, the spirits of adults come down to enjoy the festivities prepared for them.
In recent years, Dia de Muertos has become increasingly visible in Oregon (and around the world) although public events notwithstanding, Kelly stresses that the holiday is rooted in family traditions that are private affairs — the honoring of a loved one who has passed away.
“You try not to commercialize a holiday, because a holiday is really just you going out to the cemetery and honoring people who have passed, which means in your family you’re making tamales and growing flowers so you can have an offering to bring them,” she said. “The real tradition is more of a small family thing.”
The celebration in Newberg begins Wednesday at Butler Square downtown, which is two short blocks south of the Chehalem center, on the corner of Howard and First streets. From 5 to 8 p.m., the public is invited to add items to the ofrenda (literally, an offering) to celebrate the lives of family members who have died. Organizers with the center describe it this way: “The tradition of the ofrenda is to … greet the spirits when they arrive with candies, toys, tamales, chocolates, breads, candles, fruit, mole, mezcal, as well as photos, fashion magazines, cigars, or folk art skeletons… and every ofrenda has pan de muerto and sugar skulls!”
Festivities at the center begin at 5 p.m. Friday and include face painting, children’s crafts and activities, food and drink. The Huitzilopochtli dancers perform at 5:30 p.m. in the Grand Ballroom on the first floor, with the evening wrapping up around 8 p.m.
Now, we arrive at the Linfield College section of this week’s roundup, and there’s a lot going on, starting tonight…
PUBLIC SCHOLAR ANNE McCLINTOCK of Princeton University brings her formidable store of knowledge concerning gender, imperialism, colonialism, sexuality, and visual culture to what sounds like a fascinating presentation guided by photographs on “foundational violence” in U.S. history.
McClintock asks, according to the advance materials, “how we can account for the ghosting from official U.S. history of its foundational violence: slavery, near-genocide of Native peoples and colonial ecocides.” In a presentation making use of her own photographs, she traces the arc of 19th-century settler colonialism to the present, which includes environmental catastrophes of our own making, particularly those bound up with militarization.
McClintock is perhaps best known as the author of the seminal Imperial Leather: Race, Gender and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest (the book’s focus is on British, rather than American, imperialism) and her work (both written and visual) has appeared in The Guardian, New York Times, Guernica, Village Voice, Nation, Jacobin, Chronicle of Higher Education, Transition, and Truth Out, among other media. She holds the Barton Hepburn Chair in Gender and Sexuality Studies at Princeton University.
Tonight’s presentation begins at 7:30 p.m. in the Austin Reading Room of the Nicholson Library on the Linfield College campus in McMinnville. The lecture is free and open to the public.
MEANWHILE, OVER AT THE MARSHALL THEATRE, violence of the fictional kind affords yet another opportunity to look at ourselves. The play Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher from Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novella, opens Thursday for a two-weekend run. It’s the second Linfield production this season to serve as a PLACE event (Program for Liberal Arts and Civic Engagement), with this year’s theme being Revolutions.
Set in Victorian England, the play (directed by Janet Gupton, whose productions I’ve always enjoyed) explores Jekyll’s infamous fracturing and uses multiple cast members to portray the alter-ego Hyde, challenging notions of gender and race and employing a more fluid approach to identity.
Performance are at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 1-3 and 8-10, with a Sunday matinee at 2 p.m. Nov. 4. I suspect tickets will go fastest for the Nov. 1 and 8 performances, which offer post-show discussions. Opening night will have a short Q&A session with the creative team, and Nov. 8 brings in several faculty to ruminate on the theme “Monstrous Psychology and Biology: From the Victorian Era to Today.”
Tickets are $9; $7 for seniors; $5 for students. You can order them online or at the box office. For more information, call 503-883-2292.
For those who have never been to Linfield’s theater: From Oregon 99W in south McMinnville, turn east on Keck Drive at Albertson’s. Take Keck Drive to Lever Street and turn right. Take the next immediate right at Ford Drive into the theater parking lot.
PORTLAND’S MARTHA GROVER is coming to town next week. She’ll read from her book, The End of My Career, at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 6, in the Nicholson Library on the Linfield campus as part of the “Readings at the Nick” series. The collection of autobiographical stories and essays was a finalist for the 2017 Oregon Book Awards in creative nonfiction. Her work focuses on themes of family, childhood, place, and work.
A writer, poet, and artist, Grover is also the author of 2011’s One More for the People and is working on a graphic memoir. She’s published her zine, Somnambulist, since 2003. The presentation is free and open to the public.
ARTS JOURNAL: Wednesday is Halloween, and that leads into one of my favorite holiday traditions: Sinking down in my favorite chair after the household’s exhausted trick-or-treater has fallen asleep to spend quality time with James Whale’s Frankenstein films. As a child, I found in the library a massive slab of a book that presented the entire film in photographs — stills from the iconic 1931 movie, with accompanying dialogue. It felt like I was getting away with seeing a film I wouldn’t have been allowed to watch at that age. I’ve been hooked on Frankenstein’s monster ever since, particularly since discovering in college (!) that the book is pretty good, too.