On Sept. 16, 1810, Catholic priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla rang the church bell in the village of Dolores and urged the many Indians and mestizos to overthrow the Spanish rulers that had exploited and oppressed ten generations of Mexicans.
The belief that people can exist in mutual harmony, however, is what brought Jerry O’Dell to a campus Mexican Independence Day event called End-dependence Day last Friday.
O’Dell, who is of Cheyenne and Irish Catholic descent, said the fresh sage in his hand and the cell phone in his pocket were evidence that a balance between two cultures that had clashed in the past can be found.
“This is the hi-tech Dark Ages. It is essential for everyone to know not only their personal history, or that of their friends, but all of humanity’s,” O’Dell said. “Sharing wisdom from the past helps us understand why things are occurring in our present time.”
Friday night’s event, which attracted a few hundred people to the Shoshone Room in the Satellite Student Union, was the second part of a daylong event.
The first half of activities invited people familiar with various issues facing Latin America to speak in the University Student Union Grand Salon room Friday afternoon.
Enrique Galan, event coordinator for Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan, said the first five-hour session featured speakers who defined the importance of giving back to the community, while the seven-hour music concert was promoted as a community event open to more than just CSUN students and alumni.
“I had a vision of getting a lot of community people to attend,” Galan said. “We get into positions of power to help the community as a whole. And we need to support each other in order to move up.”
Galan said that even though Mexican Independence Day can be an opportunity to proudly celebrate history and cultural contributions, it is also a time to reach out.
“We have to realize we’re not independent at all.”
Veto Ruiz, a semi-retired professor of Chicano/a Studies at CSUN, said the 30-year-old campus event emphasizes the importance of education and community empowerment. A founder of Mariachi Aztlan, which first performed at CSUN in 1973, Ruiz said that economics often determine who does and who doesn’t learn the significance of artistic and cultural expression.
Ruiz, who played violin with Mariachi Atzlan Friday night, said public schools that cut their art and music programs fail to understand how music and art promote discipline and dedication to a particular activity.
“There is a lack of an appreciation for what the arts do,” said Ruiz, who teaches classes that deal with the arts, music and theater. “They lose out on seeing these kids develop their talents. Presenting themselves to a group or audience is going to help them wherever they go in their professional life.”
Whenever Raul Herrera speaks with high school students to prepare them for college or puts on an Aztec dancer’s headdress, the distinct honor of taking on a leadership role is present, he said. Herrera, who is a Chicano/a history graduate student and a participant of the Raza Youth Conference, also performed that night with the Danza Mexica Cuauhtemoc of San Fernando as a head dancer.
Within the dance group, societal structure is preserved and publicized by the different symbols and markings each dancer’s regalia is adorned with, Herrera said. From the feathers in a headdress, to the color of each article of clothing and type of musical instrument, they all convey a dancer’s status within a hierarchical society where leadership is respected, he said.
Friday night’s event went until 1 a.m. and featured five different musical acts, Galan, the event coordinator for M.E.Ch.A, said.
Although vendors lined the walls with tables full of t-shirts, Mexican food, children’s books, and traditional Indian blouses from different Mexican states, organizers acknowledged that cultural pride and honor involves more than purchasing handcrafted trinkets or listening to certain types of music.
Eagle Rabbit, vice president of the American Indian Student Association, said he was given a golden eagle feather from a chief of the Sack and Fox Nation in recognition of past community service. He said it was an honor and a blessing to possess such a gift, which he displayed as he walked around the festivities.
“In a lot of ways, status within a community is something you have to work for,” Eagle Rabbit said. “A lot of the times Indian people become invisible. What we try to do is work with people to break down barriers.”
Mexican Independence Day also is the start of Hispanic Heritage Month and a time for many to reflect about issues dealing with self-determination and cultural expression.
A family tradition of pursuing a higher education is what brought Donald Day to the End-dependence Day celebration, he said.
Throughout his life, Day said his mother did not emphasize their Hispanic heritage as much as she strongly suggested he go to college.
Day, a junior art major, said his mother, who is Mexican and once worked as a field worker, just received a bachelor’s degree in Chicano/a Studies at the age of 47.
Even though he said he does not consider himself the best student, he decided to study art at CSUN to expose himself to different kinds of people and attitudes, rather than go to a specific art school.
“Art for art’s sake is OK,” he said. “But it’s better when it has a social or political perspective.”
Julio Morales can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.