Mexican Folk Dance Keeps Oaxacan Culture Alive in Fresno

Editor’s Note: Step into the shoes of dancers from across the country who dare to imagine what it would look like if their city could dance with KQED’s If Cities Could Dance. Watch a new episode from season two of the video series every Tuesday through May 14, 2019.

Behind handmade masks and under animal furs, the Oaxacan community of Casa San Miguel in Fresno, California perform a folk dance that hails from Spain, Mexico and now, the San Joaquin Valley.

Raymundo Guzmán started dancing with Los diablos de Juxtlahuaca Oaxaca when he was just 15. “When you come in, you are like a different character,” he says. “You can be someone else.” For Guzmán and his fellow dancers, their movements tell the story of an ancient fight between Christians and Muslims, of a man on his deathbed who offers his body up to devils. The dancers stomp and spin to the thumping beat of bass drums and horn blasts.

Today, agricultural workers from the town of San Miguel Cuevas who emigrated to Fresno gather to don the traditional masks and costumes, all made in Oaxaca, and move in the whip-wielding, barely controlled frenzy that is the Danza de los Diablos. Dancers range in age from children to grandparents.

San Miguel Cuevas will always be their home; anyone who can returns home for festivals and celebrations, Guzmán says, “but for those who can’t, then the other half of the town is here.”

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“Fresno is Oaxaca!”

Watch Los diablos de Juxtlahuaca Oaxaca dance to the sounds of local chilenas band Tamborazo Junior—in nearby almond orchards through Fresno's downtown into the city's neighborhoods. — Text by Sarah Hotchkiss

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