Dance company portrays Mexican immigrants’ contributions to US history
New York, May 23 (EFE).- Mexico’s Calpulli Group dance company on May 27-28 in New York will present “Monarcas” (Monarchs), a show that, via two different stories, celebrates the contributions and sacrifices of Mexican immigrants in the United States.
The show is named for “the most inspiring immigrant,” the monarch butterfly, “whose voyage across North America reminds us of a world without borders,” according to the Website of New York-based Calpulli, founded in 2003 by choreographers Alberto Lopez and Juan Castaño, the group’s co-directors.
Calpulli, which this year celebrates its 20th anniversary, first at Queens Theater in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, will bring to the public the play “Viñedos” (Vineyards), written by Lopez and recalling the hard work of generations of Mexicans who became owners of vineyards and the proud producers of California wine.
“During the 1940s and 1950s, Mexican families came to the US under the (1942-1964) Bracero program and began to work in the vineyards. The piece shows the work they did and their struggle during times of discrimination, and that – despite everything – they succeeded,” Castaño told EFE.
The second story, “Compañia E” (Company E), written by Castaño and commemorating the Mexican and Mexican-American soldiers who during the mid-1900s served a country that first embraced but later rejected them.
During their tough training, the soldiers recall their homeland, the spirit of their communities, and persevere. In the barracks, they share the northern music of their home and unite as a new family. “Many died for a country that, at that time, did not fully accept them,” Castaño said.
He noted that Company E really existed and that it was the only US Army battalion made up of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans. “The aim with this story is to recognize the history and legacy that Hispanics have. My father was part of the Army, he loved his time with it, so for me it is something personal,” he said.
“This story’s about Mexicans, but Puerto Ricans and other Hispanics in general also have devoted a lot to the US military and I think that’s not talked about enough. The same is true of vineyard workers. We’re living in a time when immigrants are perceived as a problem, a threat. As children of immigrants, we know that this is not the case,” said Castaño, who was born in Texas.
Both stories are told by the Calpulli Group entirely through dance, costumes, songs, projections and set design. “It’s more difficult to tell stories that way, but the good thing is that it creates a universal language, regardless of what language is spoken,” he said.
“For example,” he added, “in one of the scenes there’s a person recruiting for the Army and he goes to a field where workers are harvesting cotton.”
“We have a set depicting a cotton farm; the person from the Army is in uniform. There are things that show that we’re on the Texas-Mexico border and the music is traditional from northern Mexico,” he said.
In the story of the vineyards there is a scene with an anti-immigrant group threatening the workers and when the Mexicans decide to ignore them, they come back at night wearing dark clothing and burn the vineyard. “When they burn the vineyard, the dancers’ costumes appear to be on fire and families will be seen fighting the fire,” he explained.
Castaño, with more than 20 years of experience in Mexican folkloric dancing, said that although both stories are inspired by real events, other elements have been added.
Calpulli had intended to present “Monarcas” in 2019 but the pandemic derailed those plans. When the health emergency ended the dance group devoted themselves to the project, with part of the music being composed by Calpulli’s musical director, George Saenz.
Calpulli includes 20 dancers, most of them Mexicans, along with several from Ecuador, Puerto Rico and Argentina.