Aztec dance group hosts 'reimagined' May Day festival

Annual celebration of labor rights will not include parade

The May Day celebration returns after a two-year hiatus. But it will look a little different from past years.

“We are celebrating May Day, with a festival, that fusion of the activism that many of us engaged in for decades, it's coming together with some of the traditions of the Heart of the Beast Theatre,” said Susana De Leon, who founded Kalpulli KetzalCoatlicue, a traditional Aztec dance group, 22 years ago.

This year, Kalpulli KetzalCoatlicue will host the annual celebration of labor rights.

Heart of the Beast Theatre, which held the first May Day event in 1975, was looking to reimagine the festival, said Elina Kotlyar, a coordinator with the May Day Council.

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The festival will include dance performances, information tables, arts and crafts and more. 

However, unlike past years, there won’t be a parade.

The theater group partnered not only with Kalpulli KetzalCoatlicue but also with MIGIZI and Roosevelt High School.

People dance and perform in colorful outfits.
Kalpulli KetzalCoatlicue dancer Olinca Acosta uses the selfie camera on her phone to put on her makeup before a performance.
Judy Griesedieck for MPR News

As they talked about plans for the event, Kotlyar said the conversation didn’t center on canceling the parade, but instead on what they could do this year.

“And the parade is big. The parade is amazing. The parade is also expensive, and it involves a lot of people. So we never made a decision not to have a parade. Each of the community partners decided independently,” Kotlyar said.

MIGIZI and Roosevelt High School have focused their events on the youth. MIGIZI has been hosting weekly after school puppet making.

Sunday’s festival will focus on labor rights, De Leon said. And it will align more with International Workers’ Day. But that doesn’t mean the artistic side will be left behind, De Leon said. It will merge the realities of the community with the magic of the theater.

“This will be, I think, one of the best May Day's ever, since there will be a combination of labor rights, a combination of art and dance and singing, and also an amplification of immigrant workers. And the need to have them designated as essential workers,” De Leon said.

There will also be a Mojiganga puppet who will give the blessing, she said.

“She is a medicine woman from our culture. And that's why we call her Mojiganga, porque una marionette nos es lo mismo que una Mojiganga. And she will be dancing and greeting people,” De Leon said.

Kalpulli is well known in the community. They perform traditional Aztec and indigenous dances from Mexico.

Each dance begins with a call to the four directions, to call upon those who have passed, De Leon said. They also ask for permission from the universe.

When they begin dancing, De Leon said people first notice the sound of the drums, the conch shell and the smoke from the copal. Those sounds transport people to a place they may or may not recognize, she said.

“We all come from indigeneity, from different places, people have their own rituals. And this is a ritual. This is the beginning when we honor the ground that we're on. And we honor the guardians of the land. And we call upon our ancestors, to be with us to strengthen us to whisper in our ears, so that we know what path to follow,” De Leon said.

Kalpulli means community. KetzalCoatlicue means Mother Earth.

“Ketzal is the bird that represents beauty. Coatlicue is she who wears the skirt of serpents, which is a metaphor for the Mother Earth,” De Leon said.

The festival takes place Sunday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. in the Four Directions Family Center parking lot at 1527 E. Lake St. in Minneapolis. 

Vicki Adame covers Minnesota’s Latino communities for MPR News via Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues and communities.