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Cultural Duet: Dancers Honor California’s Mexican-Punjabi Heritage

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“Half and halves” are what the children of Punjabi fathers and Mexican mothers in California’s early 20th- century migrant farming communities sometimes called themselves. In honor of these children and the 400-some families who straddled two distinct cultures, local dance companies Duniya Dance and Drum Company and Ensambles Ballet Folklórico de San Francisco are staging Half and Halves, mixing Bhangra and Mexican folkloric ballet.

In the early 1900s, U.S. immigration laws restricted the families of male Indian laborers from entering the country. Most of the early immigrants intended to work a few years in the United States and then return home. As they became established in farming or successful in business, some stayed, often marrying Mexican women they met in the fields.

For the staging of Half and Halves, the artistic directors captured oral histories with Punjabi-Mexican Californians. Video clips of interviews are integrated into the performance and reveal some of the creative ways families were able to bring their cultures and traditions together. It was customary for one Mexican wife to add carnitas to the Indian flat bread roti and saag at dinner.  Another told a story of how their Sikh father, who believed in cremation, agreed to have his ashes buried next to his Catholic wife so they could be near one another, while still following their own beliefs.

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