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Guelaguetza Celebrations 27 July 2015

The Guelaguetza, or Los lunes del cerro (Mondays on the Hill), is an annual indigenous cultural event in Mexico that takes place in the city of Oaxaca, capital of the state of Oaxaca, as well as in nearby villages. The celebration centers around traditional costumed dancing in gender separated groups and includes parades complete with indigenous walking bands, native food, and statewide artisanal crafts such as Pre-Hispanic-style textiles. Each costume, or traje, and dance usually has a local indigenous historical and cultural meaning. Although the celebration is now an important tourist attraction, it also retains deep cultural importance for the peoples of the state and is important for the survival of these cultures.

Oaxaca has a large native indigenous population, well over 50 percent of the state's population, compared to 20 percent for Mexico as a whole (depending on systems of classification). Indigenous culture in Oaxaca remains strong, with over 300,000 people in the state who are monolingual in a wide variety of native indigenous languages and many others who are bilingual in Spanish, or follow a predominantly indigenous lifestyle. Unlike Yucatán, another Southeast Mexican state, where the indigenous culture consists of closely related groups of the same culture (Mayans), the indigenous people in Oaxaca are from many different cultures. Zapotec and Mixtec are the two biggest ethnic groups in terms of population and area, but there are also a great number of other groups, and all have their own unique traditions and speak diverse, mutually unintelligible languages. The Guelaguetza celebration dates back long before the arrival of the Spanish and remains a defining characteristic of Oaxacan culture.[1] Its origins and traditions come from Pre-Hispanic earth-based religious celebrations related to the worship of corn and the corn god.[2] In contemporary Oaxaca, indigenous communities from within the state gather at the Guelaguetza to present their native culture, mainly in the form of music, costumes, dances, and food. It is the most famous indigenous gathering of its kind in Mexico.[2]

Crowds at Guelaguetza 2005.

Like many indigenous traditions in Mexico, this festival was adapted to and mixed with Christian traditions after the Spanish conquest of the area. The human sacrifice of a virgin slave girl[citation needed] was eliminated from the event, and the Guelaguetza instead became mixed into a celebration honoring Our Lady of Mount Carmel (Virgen del Carmen), which emphasized marianism combined with the surviving beliefs. In the early part of the 20th century, after a severe earthquake in the 1920s that destroyed most of the city, the festival was re-organized as a statewide cultural event to rebuild the morale of the peoples of Oaxaca "La Guelaguetza de la Raza".[2] The event began to take on a more modern form as a display of each peoples'/region's unique dance, and also started to become more of a show than a spontaneous festival. In the 1970s, a stadium dedicated to the Guelaguetza was built on a prominent place on Fortin Hill in the center of the city. National and international tourism became increasingly popular when the ancient city of Oaxaca became a UNESCO world heritage city in 1987[3]. A modern limited access highway was built to the city in November 1994. Before the highway, transportation was so slow that it was virtually impossible to journey through the rugged, often remote, mountainous high-altitude terrain to reach Oaxaca City from other cities such as Mexico City for a weekend trip to the Guelaguetza.

The celebration takes place on consecutive Mondays at the end of July in towns around the state and in the capital city's open-air amphitheater built into the "Cerro del Fortín", a hill that overlooks central Oaxaca City. The word Guelaguetza comes from the Zapotec language and is usually interpreted as the "reciprocal exchanges of gifts and services" in keeping with the importance in indigenous cultures of sharing, reciprocity, and extended community.[1] The Guelaguetza celebration also includes many other side events, including a performance of "Princess Donaji", an epic pre-Hispanic theatrical presentation performed the day before the Guelaguetza itself begins.

Dates celebrated[edit]

Each year, the Guelaguetza is celebrated on the two Mondays immediately following July 16, except when the first Monday falls on July 18, the day on which Benito Juárez, the first indigenous president of Mexico died. Out of respect for Oaxaca's most revered native son, the celebrations are postponed for one week, falling on July 25 and August 1 (as occurred in 2011).[1] However, concurrent events associated with the festival, such as concerts and plays, are all held during the month of July.[2]


The new Guelaguetza auditorium, completed in 2010.

As the festival became a bigger tourist attraction, there was a backlash from purists that saw the ancient traditions being used for vulgar commercial purposes. There is a subgroup in Oaxaca that vocally pushes for a Populist Guelaguetza, or a return to the more spontaneous celebrations of the pre-Hispanic era before colonialism and the current system. Among other issues, the 2005 decision to conduct two performances a day for each of the two Mondays, was perceived by many traditionalists as a disrespectful attempt by powerful economic forces and political interests to accommodate more monied, ticket-purchasing, national and international tourists. Due to widespread protests against the Partido Revolucionario Institutional (PRI) - led state government and its leader by the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO) (in Spanish, the Asamblea Popular del Pueblo de Oaxaca) which were met with state violence, the government-sponsored Guelaguetza was not held at the Fortín hill as planned in 2006, but instead a free, shared, "Popular Guelaguetza" held by the APPO organization. The following year, the 2007 official Guelguetza celebration was boycotted by the APPO, and attempts to hold a Popular Guelaguetza were thwarted by government police repression and state-sponsored military violence throughout the city.[citation needed]. Due to some changes made in the makeup of the state government and the PRI's longstanding one-party monopoly on power in the state, subsequent Guelaguetza festivals have had a lesser degree of civil unrest, although numerous controversial issues still remain.

In the U.S.[edit]

Guelaguetzas have come to the U.S. with the immigration of Oaxacan natives. However, instead of the Guelaguetzas being held on Mondays as in Oaxaca, in the U.S. the Guelaguetzas are held on Sundays, usually in the  summer months, ranging from late June to early August. Usually there is only one day of celebrations with a party occasionally held the day before, similar to the calenda, a parade in Oaxaca.

The Guelaguetzas in the U.S. similarly consist of traditional dances performed by groups. It also includes stands where companies or individuals can sell goods and food that can be found in Oaxaca, sometimes imported from Oaxaca to preserve a feeling of authenticity. Musical bands are brought from Oaxaca to perform the music the dancers use. Many of the Guelaguetzas are sponsored in part by TV stations, local newspapers, community organizations, and companies. Some famous TV stations include Telemundo and the celebrations often receive coverage from newspapers such as the LA Times.

One of the earliest Guelaguetzas to take place in the U.S. happened in Los Angeles, California. It came about through the Organización Regional de Oaxaca (ORO).[4] Like the Populist Guelaguetza, entry to the Guelaguetza is free. In 2012, the Guelaguetza moved locations from a largely Zapotec population to a location that is less known to Oaxacan people in order to reach a wider audience.[5] This Guelaguetza is also supported by different companies as well. It even has the support of the restaurant Guelaguetza and there are many different smaller companies that attend to get public recognition.[5]

In Santa Cruz, California, the Guelaguetza became an official tradition for the people in the county[6] ; it came about with the help of the organization Senderos: Creating Pathways .[7] The Guelaguetza in Santa Cruz takes place on the third Sunday each May, earlier than most others, and has been a festival for around 14 years so far.[7] The Guelaguetza uses their own group of dancers that have been practicing for the Guelaguetza, which is the main event, but also smaller community events.[7] Their musical performances had been done by a band from San Jose, for a time before the community decided to hire a native band straight from Oaxaca. However, they are beginning to train musicians that come from Santa Cruz itself in order to increase community involvement.[7]

Additionally, the Guelaguetza can be found in San Jose, California. This festival is led by an organization called Lazos Oaxaquenos and includes more modern aspects such as mezcal tasting.[8] The entrance fee lends a touristy atmosphere to the Guelaguetza. This particular Guelaguetza received the support of Santa Cruz's organization, Senderos, when it first began. The groups Lazos Oaxaquenos and Senderos often rely on each others to bring about the different Guelaguetzas. Like Santa Cruz, they first used a local band and have now moved on to include a native band from Oaxaca as well.

Although a majority of Guelaguetzas occur on the West Coast, there are also some that can be found on the East Coast. The consulate of Mexico in New York advertises three different Guelaguetzas that take place in New Brunswick, NJ, Brooklyn, NY, and in Poughkeepsie, NY.[9]

Social Implications in the U.S.[edit]

Throughout the U.S., along with the Guelaguetzas, there have been organizations that have been able to provide support for their communities. Many of these groups focus on retaining the culture of people from Oaxaca who have immigrated to the U.S. In addition to helping the migrants, they aim to help the families of the Oaxacan migrants by providing activities and support to the children. However, they are not limited to only those of Oaxacan descent, they also include others in their community. The group ORO provides a "scholarship fund that has been awarded to various students to pursue a higher education".[4] The group Senderos also gives scholarships to high school seniors to continue their education, and provides academic tutoring and skill classes to both the youth and adults.[7] Lazos Oaxaquenos also focuses on building a Oaxaca community in Northern California with a focus on making the people aware of different services that are available to them.[8] Specifically, they focus on communication between the local government, consulates, media (newspapers, TV, etc.) and the people.[8]


  1. ^ a b c Cohen, Jeffrey H. (1999). Cooperation and Community: Economy and Society in Oaxaca. University of Texas Press. ISBN 0-292-71221-9.
  2. ^ a b c d Quintanar Hinojosa, Beatriz (August 2007). "La Guelaguetza". Guía México Desconocido: Oaxaca. 137: 22.
  3. ^ Centre, UNESCO World Heritage. "Historic Centre of Oaxaca and Archaeological Site of Monte Albán". UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Retrieved 2019-04-26.
  4. ^ a b "Organizacion Regional De Oaxaca ORO".
  5. ^ a b "Oaxacan festival moves to Eastside in bid for wider audience". Los Angeles Times. 2012-08-12. ISSN 0458-3035.
  6. ^ "Guelaguetza becomes an official Santa Cruz tradition". Santa Cruz Sentinel. 2017-05-21.
  7. ^ a b c d e "Vive Oaxaca Guelaguetza".
  8. ^ a b c "Guelaguetza San Jose – Lazos Oaxaqueños © Official Site 2018".
  9. ^ "La Guelaguetza Festival 2016 in New York and New Jersey".

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