Albuquerque is blessed to be the home of the National Hispanic Cultural Center. This seems to be the right place for such an institution as the Hispanic culture is very evident and generally embraced by this town. The native cuisine of Albuquerque and New Mexico, in general, is unique in its blend of Hispanic and American Indian and Anglo elements. I’ve heard visitors complain that they can’t get real Mexican food here like they can back home at Taco Bell. That’s possibly true but they just need to look around the malls and Wal-Mart stores. The South Valley and the Barelas neighborhoods are ground zero for Hispanic culture but this is an old city, founded in 1706, and it has a long history of Spanish and Mexican rule before it became part of the United States. The Spanish were here before the Pilgrims and the Jametown colonists arrived on the east coast. You need to gain an understanding of Hispanic culture to understand much of Albuquerque and New Mexico.
The National Hispanic Cultural Center, located in the southern part of the city, is an amazing mix of museum, theater, training space, restaurant and outdoor performance space. Each year the center hosts Globalquerque…a celebration of international culture, music and crafts…especially music. This event coincides with National Hispanic Heritage month.
The festivities last over a weekend and are accompanied by a longer film festival. We went to the Thursday night movie: The Tasting Menu and then stopped in the restaurant for tapas, wine, gelato and coffee. The movie was in Spanish with English subtitles and had a clever plot.
On Saturday we went back for the global fiesta, a free event that took up most of the day. We saw another movie: The Green Revolution. This film offers a serious indictment of globalization and multinational agri-business in the destruction of local farming economies around the world. It sounds as though Monsanto and ADM are attempting to starve the peasant populations of developing countries into submission solely to make obscene profits. Genetically modified crops are being forced on third world nations as a condition for economic aid.
The film was a little depressing but it was an eye opener. People in Haiti are reduced to eating sun-baked mud pies made of butter, honey and mud. The NAFTA trade agreement required a change to Mexico’s constitution to outlaw communal ownership of land which then favored corporate ownership. This is now driving farmers off their land and into cities or across borders.
The rest of the day was cheerier. We had some Indian and Thai curry for lunch. There were a number of performances and a vendor area where people sold hand-made crafts. I ended up buying a harp-like musical instrument made in Madagascar…I haven’t mastered it yet.
The performances included musical groups from Angola and Congo, Indian Hoop Dancers, some Russian folk dancers and a group from Colombia called Cimarron.
Cimarron made a noble attempt to teach people how to dance the local Jaropo dance from the region of the Orinoco Plains. This is a fast moving, foot-stomping dance that you might have seen before in movies or on TV.
My attempt at dancing started off badly and improved only a little. This is quite a workout and could be used as an aerobic exercise…but it is not “low impact”.
The Indian hoop dancers were very talented and also involved some volunteers from the spectators to join in. The hoops used in the dance represent different things, like the four compass directions (east, west, north, south) and the family unit. They take on that representation as they are incorporated into the dance.
I enjoyed the day and came away knowing more than when I arrived. I tried to show off my dancing moves at home but it was a disaster. I’ll go back next year and maybe learn a different dance…maybe easier.
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