WNMU Celebrates the Ties Between Mexico and New Mexico at ¡Fiesta Latina!

WNMU student Laisha Vargas Garcia dances as part of Kaltonaka Dance Group at ¡Fiesta Latina! The university's signature cultural event was held June 6-9, 2024.

© Western New Mexico University

Western New Mexico University held its signature cultural event, ¡Fiesta Latina!, June 6-9. The event is designed to recognize, celebrate and assist in the preservation of New Mexico’s connection with its Mexican heritage, customs and traditions.

The university has held the event since 2017, with attendance growing. This year’s fiesta drew in over 5,000 visitors.

At the center of the festival was a juried artisan mercado featuring the handmade work of approximately 50 highly skilled traditional artisans from across Mexico. The mercado represented a wide range of different artistic traditions, including metal working, ceramics, textiles, embellished shoes, leather, woodwork, alebrije—colorfully painted carved figures—and popotillo, a traditional art using dried grass.

Alberto Orta, one of the artists from Puerto Nuevo Gallery in Baja California, explained the tradition of popotillo, which involves adhering dyed straw to a surface to create colorful images. The designs are intricate and painstaking. According to Orta, the tradition of popotillo goes back to the Aztecs, but there has been a lot of innovation since then, especially in the dyes used to color the straw. “In this one,” he said referring to a portrait, “there are fourteen different colors of straw in the woman’s face alone.”

Some of the artists merged traditional arts with new applications. For example, Sophia Viviana Romo Gonzalez is an award-winning ceramicist from Xalapa, Veracruz who incorporates her small ceramic pieces in jewelry designs. Romo’s background as an architect can be seen in the balance she aims for in her pieces, which, she said, are “surprisingly lightweight.”

Outside the artisan mercado, ¡Fiesta Latina! also featured a lineup of music and dance on Regents Square. Friday night showcased mariachi music, with the university’s own Mariachi Plata de WNMU opening for Mariachi Estrella de México. Other musical acts included Son Rompe Pera, Grupo Bella, Conjunto Mapeye, Los Chamacos and Kumbia Kings. Dance performances were by Kaltonaka Dance Group and Baile Encanto.

Other activities at this year’s fiesta included a fashion show, artist demonstrations, a documentary film about Mexican art and a film about indigenous life in Chiapas, that were part of the Transcending Borders Film and Discussion Series. The Silver City Museum hosted make-and-take craft sessions for children.

Visitors to the fiesta enjoyed the lively atmosphere and the variety of arts celebrated. “It has been interesting learning about the different crafts,” said first-time fiesta-goer Clara Willis. “I think it is great that [the artisans] are keeping these traditions alive and hopefully passing them down to future generations.”


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