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Fiesta Mexicana’s Golden Jubilee Cause for Celebration

In 1965, Rose Marie Mendez, a dancer and choreographer, founded Rose Marie’s Fiesta Mexicana, a dance troupe designed to preserve the dance traditions of her native Mexico.

Her dedication in teaching, promoting and preserving the great dance traditions was the subject of a special presentation recently hosted by the Ethnic Enrichment Commission.

The diplomatic ball brought together many of the participants in the ethnic enrichment festival, the annual fall celebration of the ethnic communities in the Kansas City area. This year’s host was Mexico.

The ball is an annual gala hosted by various cultural representatives to showcase those countries. Mexico was this year’s host and Mendez was selected by the Mexican Consulate to help coordinate the musical program. The celebration coincided with Rose Marie’s Fiesta Mexicana Golden Jubilee.

Mendez brought together collaborators, old and new, including el Grupo Folklorico del Estado de Coahuila, Ballet Folklorico de Topeka, and her own Fiesta Mexicana accompanied by Mariachi los Arrieros from El Paso, Texas.

“It is not about me. I am the one that is here now … but we had a lot of guidance in my family and in my life with my grandfather, who spearheaded this and I was lucky to meet him when I was young,” recalled Mendez. “And there is my mother who was a professional pianist. … We have lasted fifty years in the community.

“We started Fiesta Mexicana many years ago in 1965 in a church setting,” she added. “From there we grew to community centers, reaching out to be able to keep the community alive. The fiestas were held in Shawnee Park. Trying to do that that time was different. For example the music, since there were no live musicians around we used 33 LPs and we had some wonderful girls that were able to cue it right on the line.

“There are a lot of blessings here in the fact that the kids and the families and the generations have sent me their children to be able to come forward and work with us,” added Mendez. “We continue our training through the National Association of Folkloric Arts. … We continue to grow. … Everybody asks me if I am ready to throw in the towel and I say, ‘no, the Lord has given me a time to work and he blessed me with training my legs and my feet to be able to share the music.”

One of the presenters, Enrique Sanchez Reyna of el Grupo Folklorico del Estado de Coahuila, talked about the importance of the celebration and presentation.

“It is admirable to see these young people with Mexican roots working and learning these dances of Mexican origin. … Here we have the first seeds that will take seed and grow and go beyond just being here in Kansas City. That is why it is important for us to work with the kids so that those traditions continue,” said Reyna.

Juan Cabello began working with Mendez over 42 years ago and now at 63, he is helping out with the celebration. He welcomes the opportunity. The Folklorico Groupo de Coahuila is a nice blend of young and old, some of them he danced with when he was younger.

“What we want more than anything is that the youth learn of their culture, their traditions, new art forms. We [elders] have a lot to give. … Here the kids will learn to comport themselves … but more importantly they will learn the dances and what it means to present and interpret a song with the hand movement and the expressions of their face. That is what we are trying to do here,” He said.

“She deserves whatever recognition she gets,” he added. “This is a person that has spent the better part of her life preserving and teaching the ballet folklorico. She deserves whatever comes her way. She has made a lot of sacrifices.”

Thirteen-year-old Lauren Ahumada was into Jujitsu, volleyball and soccer when she was introduced to dancing by a friend four years ago.

“I like it when we do our steps and choreography and when we do the dances,” she told Hispanic News. “I love dancing, the performing and going different places and learning new dances.”

She relished the opportunity to dance with the troupe from Mexico but admitted, “It is really difficult because they were born and raised in Mexico and they know how to dance over there and we are just learning that. I feel lucky to have this opportunity because they are giving of their time to come over here to Kansas City and to show us how to do the steps.”

Ashley Grijalva echoed Ahumada’s enthusiasm in working with the visiting dance troupe. “Not many other students get the opportunity to get taught by people that are born and raised in Mexico and who have more experience than we do. … I tell my friends but they really don’t get the importance of it.”

“Rosemarie is a great instructor, she explains clearly and she is very patient with us. She also cares about us. It is not like having a regular teacher, really it’s like family mostly, she said.”

Grijalva’s mother Claudia danced when she was a young girl living in Mexico. She is happy that her daughter loves the form so much.

“It is a very nice way to bring our traditions to our children. Even though they grow up with their American culture, they still have the roots of their ancestors in how we lived in Mexico our experiences and our Mexican culture.”

Claudia encourages people to get behind the dance groups and embrace the cultural celebration of some very old and meaningful traditions, “because the culture means a lot to the family and consequently they work hard to make sure there is enough for them to invest in their children’s growth.”
She looks on Mendez as an important bridge to the traditions and pointed out that the costuming that Mendez has accumulated over the years is a huge asset. The family benefits from that inventory as they borrow the costumes in order to help offset the cost of the lessons.

“She is a treasure and it is very important that we do as much as we can to make the fifty year anniversary a success,” said Claudia. “It is great that we are getting the support of the group that is here from Mexico. Some of the instructors are friends of her from when she started to dance. And the kids are learning from them.”

“If I get a chance to sit down and relax, it is the music that carries me blissfully into a slumber mode, which satisfies me in my heart. … I think we can keep going for a long time. Education for us never stops, “ said Mendez.