Smithsonian Folklife Festival features international cultures

The opening ceremony of the annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the National Mall commenced Wednesday to celebrate both Basque culture and the sounds of California.

The Folklife Festival showcases each year cultural identity from the featured locations including art, food, dance, clothing and games.

Jacob Jaureguy, 21, and Sebastian Caldoron, 22, are both from Spain’s Basque region but now reside in California and perform in Basque dance group called Gauden Bat. Both men explained t

Traditional Mexican dancers at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival Opening Ceremonies on Wednesday, June 29. Photo by Lauren Markwart.

Traditional Mexican dancers at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival Opening Ceremonies on Wednesday, June 29. Photo by Lauren Markwart.

hat many people from that northeastern part of Spain who move to the United States choose the West Coast as their home. They feel it is important for them to inform others about their culture through the performing arts.

“The basis of this is to get our name out there and show what we are about,” Jaureguy said.

Tradition is a major component of Basque culture. The people of the region have great pride in their language that predates both Spanish and French. Dancing in Basque has deep cultural roots and it is a, “mix between Irish and Ballet– but not at all,” Caldoron said.

The dancers also felt it was important to share their culture due to their country’s unique political situation.

Basque is a region officially described as an “autonomous” community sandwiched between Spain and France– both countries claim part of the region.

“At one point we were our own independent kingdom, but Spain took over and gave part of us to France,” Caldoron said.

Halfway around the world lies another culture featured in the Folklife Festival: California, and specifically, its music scene.

A music group from Southern California came to the festival to perform their traditional Mexican religious dance that has survived in the United States.

Diego Solano, 27, explained that when the Spanish came to his ancestors’ town of Santiago, in the Juxtlahuaca district in Southern Mexico, the foreigners did not understand their religion.

“When they came over to civilize everyone they turned our god to a devil,” said Solano, who held a devil mask as he spoke in the Smithsonian’s Arts and Industries building.

The men perform their religious dance called the “Dance of the Devil” as they dress in colorful costumes with masks made by Alex Vasquez, 28, an active member in the group who was born in Tecomaxtlahuaca, a town in Southern Mexico.

Similar to Basque culture, traditions are very important to the people of Mexico who have come to live in California. Vasquez has made decorative masks his whole life with his father. Each mask takes about two weeks to create due to the attention each one needs. The masks are made in vibrant hues of reds and oranges and have horns poking out of the top.

Regions are chosen for the Smithsonian Folklife Festival to, “show and honor all of the different cultures that have immigrated here,” said Caldoron.