The 12th of December is a very special day for the Mexican people - the day they celebrate their mother, their patroness, la Virgen de Guadalupe. I grew up Catholic on the Texas-Mexico border and we actually had a bigger devotion to la Virgen de San Juan, the most famous one in San Juan de los Lagos, Jalisco, but also with another famous American shrine in San Juan, Texas.
This week I had the honor of attending a private meeting with the new chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, Dr. Jane Chu, and a few folklorists from across the country. The purpose of the meeting was to relay the importance of the folk and traditional arts field to Dr. Chu, and offer our services and support in the work of the NEA.
A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of serving on a grant panel review for ACTA, the Alliance of California Traditional Arts. It was really nice to get out of the Texas mindset and learn from distinguished colleagues all that is going on in California. Let me tell you - they've got lots going on!
My home, home is Brownsville, Texas but I consider San Benito my spiritual home, and certainly the home of my career as an arts administrator. I owe it all to this place – the Narciso Martinez Cultural Arts Center – and I’m always happy to return to its flagship program, the annual Conjunto Festival.
This weekend I had the privilege to participate in a special project near Marshall, Texas - the effort to maintain an old slave and African-American burial ground, Love Cemetery. Brought to national attention through a book and an ongoing documentary by Texan, now California-based, China Galland, the the "keepers of Love" continue to struggle to gain access to the grounds for visits and upkeep.
Photos by David Dodd: David Lee Garza with Johnny Ramirez (2008 Big Squeeze Champion) and Isaiah Tellez
Without fail each year the Big Squeeze Accordion Contest brings a pleasant surprise, and this year (2013) it was eleven year-old Juan Duenes from Brownsville. To my astonishment I heard a Celtic jig coming from the stage, and it was little Juanito openining up his audition song with a tune by Irish punk band Dropkick Murphys, before smoothly transitioning to Tejano Conjunto. The experienced and masterful musical back-up of his teacher, Santiago Castillo, helped him pull it off, but the idea was not inspired by him - it was all Juanito himself.
Texas Folklife Kicks off its State-Wide Food Traditions Survey Exploring South Texas Taquerias