Photo taken by RJ Muna
Written by Lucero Benitez, Communications Specialist
“I still vividly recall my first show in 1996. The mood and ambience was welcoming and familiar. It had the sense of a community gathering. The people were excited and they reminded me of my own family. I could see my own parents, even my abuelitos (grandparents), in the audience.”
Dr. Victor Torres, Director of folkloric dance troupe Los Danzantes de Aztlán and Chicano and Latin American Studies professor at Fresno State, recalls how he felt 22 years ago when he was a part of “Christmas in Mexico” for the first time.
It was a show, he says, made him feel at home. An experience Torres wanted to share with the community for years to come. The following year, in 1997, he began directing and producing the Christmas show.
Now in its 31styear, “Christmas in Mexico” started when the late professor of Chicano and Latin American Studies, Ernesto Martinez, had the idea to combine two popular Mexican cultural elements- Las Posadas, a traditional Latin American depiction of Joseph and Mary seeking shelter for the birth of baby Jesus- along with traditional music and dance. That’s when the positive, family-oriented, cultural show came to life.
“The show is one of the key productions of Los Danzantes de Aztlán and was the first show of its kind in the Central Valley,” said Torres. “As other groups came to existence, they followed in this tradition and now have their own Christmas/Winter Show.”
In addition to Los Danzantes de Aztlán, Torres invites local high school and Fresno City college programs to participate.
“The goal here is to expose them and to inspire them to attend Fresno State. Their participation in the show has a positive impact on these young students,” Torres said. “Many of my current dancers participated in the show while in high school or at Fresno City College.”
The show is performed in the Satellite Student Union, which seats 880 people, but the past few years, there’s been a full house in attendance and people have been asked to stand. Torres’ most memorable show is that of last year when, for security reasons and in an attempt to get everyone into a seat, the music was stopped in the middle of a performance.
“Last year, due to over-crowding, the theater shut-off the music while my dancers were performing on stage. Not to be deterred, and displaying great confidence and professionalism, they continued to dance a cappella – much to the enjoyment of the audience, which cheered and applauded wildly and loudly.”
While there are some off-campus options, Torres wants to keep the performance on-campus because his goal is to bring the community to the university. He wants parents and their children to physically set foot on campus and think about the possibility of one day being enrolled at Fresno State.
Torres is humbled by his dancers’ dedication and professionalism because they not only perform, but they help organize and coordinate the event. Their work begins in August recruiting new undergraduates and preparing them for the show with up to four rehearsals a week. A strong proponent of mentoring, Torres includes his students in most of the planning so they can develop planning and organizational skills that translate to the professional world.
“As I stand at the podium and see a full house, and see the president, several college deans and fellow faculty and staff colleagues, I am in awe. I think about all the hard work and the sacrifices my students and I made. I think about how hard my students worked to help make this happen.”
At the end of the show, Torres hopes the audience walks away with a greater appreciation for folkloric dance as an art form, Mexican cultural traditions, and a greater appreciation and respect for Los Danzantes de Aztlán as artists and professionals. He wants the community to feel and know that they are welcomed on campus and that there is a program that promotes a positive self-identity for Latino students.
“Christmas in Mexico” is from 4 to 6 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 8, at the Satellite Student Union. Tickets are $10 presale, $12 at the door and $5 for Fresno State students. Parking on campus is free on weekends.
The show is sponsored by the Department of Chicano and Latin American Studies and the College of Social Sciences with support from the Instructionally Related Activities Grant by the Associated Students Inc.
For more information, contact Dr. Victor Torres, Chicano and Latin American Studies professor and Los Danzantes director, at 559.278.4115 or firstname.lastname@example.org.