The largest ethnic celebration in Latin America has made its way to Phoenix. In commemorating Hispanic Heritage Month, on Oct. 1 and 2, the Desert Botanical Garden will host Guelaguetza, an Indigenous Oaxacan celebration.
Guelaguetza is a festival originating and exclusively from the southern state of Oaxaca, Mexico. It is considered one of the richest cultural festivities in Mexico as it celebrates the Indigenous diversity of the eight regions of the state, showcasing the different customs, foods, artistry and mezcal of those regions. It is celebrated annually on every third and fourth Monday of July.
“One of the advantages of (celebrating Guelaguetza) in the botanical garden is the exposure that we are going to give the community in general to the culture of Oaxaca,” said Marisol Pelaez, digital marketing manager at the Desert Botanical Garden. She added that it is important to showcase “a bit of the richness of Mexico because sometimes you cannot even imagine the color, the grandeur of the cultures of Mexico and Oaxaca.”
Elizabeth Hernández, 46, a Phoenix resident originally from San Antonino Castillo Velazco, Oaxaca, is in charge of this year’s event. She guarantees the event, filled with traditional music, food, and yes, even mezcal, will not disappoint.
What is Guelaguetza?
Guelaguetza is a Zapotec word that means “offering.” According to the Oaxaca state government website, Guelaguetza celebrations date back to pre-Hispanic times. Contemporary celebrations recognize the ethnic and cultural diversity of the eight Oaxacan regions.
When July comes around, Oaxacans initiate the festivities on a Monday with a Calenda (a parade), Guelaguetza continues throughout the week, where Indigenous artisans, musicians, culinary experts and more, take over the Oaxaca City, and on the following Monday, the celebration ends with another Calenda.
The Calenda comprises individuals from all eight regions of Oaxaca, dressed in traditional attire, dancing and performing as they walk the streets of Oaxaca City.
According to Hernández, during the celebration in Oaxaca, “we distribute mezcal, and everything that each region brings, so a lot of tourists falls in love with all that because there is a lot of hubbub, music, party. Even Americans propose marriage there to their girlfriends during the Calenda.”
It is common to see a version of this celebration take place in metropolitan cities in the U.S., especially where there is a high concentration of Mexicans. For Hernández, it is important that places like the Botanical Garden open their space to host traditional Latino events.