Local News Archive
Print Issue: January 4, 1996
Mexican Cultural Expo Held In Dalton
BY SUSAN STEVENOT SULLIVAN
DALTON--More than 700 people filled an auditorium at the Northwest Georgia Trade and Convention Center Dec. 10 to celebrate the cultures of Mexico.
Stirring mariachi music, colorful folk dancing, dramatic presentations, plentiful food and prayer marked the "Cultural Expo." It was an afternoon and evening of fun, evangelization, cultural sharing and community-building.
The growing number of Mexican workers in the Dalton area has impacted the area's economy and community, according to the pastor of the Church of St. Joseph, Father Dan Stack. More than half the people attending weekend Mass at the parish are Mexican or of Mexican descent.
Community change can be difficult, as salvos of letters to the editor in the The Daily Citizen News illustrated over the summer. The Grupo Juvenil San Jose (Spanish-speaking youth group of the parish) decided to sponsor the expo in the hope that explaining "who we are" would encourage neighborliness and allay fears.
"The letters said some good things about Hispanics and some bad things," said Faustino Patino, Jr., youth minister for the group. "We are trying to show who we are. We are hoping this can be a bridge to the Anglo community.
"Learning the culture of another country," he continued, "is a basic thing for understanding. We are hoping for better understanding and acceptance in the community. This is just a beginning."
Three months of planning, spearheaded by Patino, resulted in the expo which, in addition to performances and a shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe (patroness of the Americas), included booths featuring the states of Mexico, the Knights of Columbus and resources for learning to speak English.
The expo was opened by mariachi musicians, followed by master of ceremonies Saul Adame, who introduced a number of local dignitaries, among them the chief executive officers of some of the area's prominent corporations: Carl and Mieke Bouckaert (Bouckaert is CEO of Beaulieu of America), Tom Durkan, Sr., chief executive of Durkan Patterned Carpet and Bill Steve, chief executive of W.G. Steve Company. Eleven local businesses placed large advertisements in the expo program.
Also introduced were city councilman Ray Elrod and his wife, city administrator Butch Sanders and his wife, Dawn, a bank vice-president and volunteer with the community development division of the Chamber of Commerce, Police Chief James Chadwick and Atlanta Archbishop John F. Donoghue. Mayor and Mrs. Jim Middleton were introduced later in the afternoon.
Archbishop Donoghue offered an invocation shortly after the noon opening of the expo, asking God's blessing upon the gathering that it might "build bridges of friendship, understanding and respect."
One of the first dances, by Grupo San Jose, included a mechanical glitch which resulted in an incident Father Stack characterized as symbolic of the cultures represented.
The group's recorded music faltered then failed in the middle of the dance. The mariachi musicians, waiting to one side of the stage, picked up the folk tune and the dance continued.
"It was the best thing that happened," Father Stack said of the instant assistance offered to fellow countrymen. "I thought that was a paradigm for Mexico."
A dramatic presentation of the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe to peasant Juan Diego in December of 1531, was a major part of the program. The miracle of the roses and the Marian image on the peasant's cloak occurred Dec. 12, now the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
The apparition presentation, in Spanish, included the cultural perspectives of the day, said Father Stack, including the tensions between the Catholic Spanish conquerors and the indigenous peasants. The apparitions triggered a major conversion of Mexican peoples and the story is familiar even to Mexicans who are not Catholic.
In addition to the dance group from the parish, Grupo San Jose, folk dances were also performed by Ballet Mexicano Aztlan, sponsored by the Arts Guild of Dalton. Grupo Aztlan includes 30 dancers, half of them part of the three-year-old original group based in Atlanta and half part of a new group formed in Dalton.
Brothers Jergan and Gerardo Loera, manager and choreographer respectively, explained that the dances and costumes and music they had prepared represented more than one Mexican culture. They presented three dances specific to Veracruz and two specific to Jalisco.
Like many portions of the program, theirs is a family effort involving more than one generation. The brothers' twin cousins, Lizet and Jessica Loera, age 7, are numbered among the dancers, as is their mother, Rafaela. All of the family live in Doraville.
The family patriarchs, they explained, were born in Mexico. Gerardo still visits Mexico regularly to study the dances of his ancestors.
David Gabriel brought his wife, daughter and two sons to the expo. He played with infant Janet to keep her happy during the Nativity play and other performances. The family left Mexico seven years ago, has lived in Dalton for two years and attend weekend Mass at St. Joseph.
"We come from Mexico," Gabriel said quietly. "We wanted to see what they do here."
Fernando Patino, younger brother of the youth minister, has lived in the United States for three years. Volunteering at a booth featuring examples of Mexican folk art, the adolescent claimed to have no favorites as the performances unfolded, relishing the opportunity for "people to see who we are."
Senior citizen William Franks was among those who arrived in the middle of the afternoon. Strolling across the back of the auditorium he surveyed the orderly, quiet crowd and noted the few remaining seats.
"I've been to Mexico five times. I'm interested in the dances," he said, revealing that an afternoon of televised football while his wife was busy with her own outing held little appeal.
When asked if he was aware of any cultural tensions in the community, Franks said, "I think these people are normally quite easy to get along with. I don't see any screaming teenagers here. I like the Mexican people quite well."
Following a buffet of home-made Mexican specialties, including handmade tortillas, Mass was celebrated after six p.m. by Father Stack.
Attendance at Spanish Masses at the parish has grown so much that the parish is adding a third Mass as of Jan. 7. There will be three weekend Masses in Spanish and three in English once the change goes into effect.
Father Stack said more than one organization is interested in sponsoring another expo in 1996. After the organizers have time to take a break, the idea of an annual expo will be considered, he said.