As the drumming intensifies, so does my heartbeat and breathing rate. Stomping feet, twirling bodies, and the intermittent rattle of shakers stir the enveloping smoke of burning incense. This artistic ritual form of dance feels primitive, ancient, and spiritual. The leader, Argelio Girón, is a young man from Windsor who travels to the salón of Nuestra Voz in Springs Village every Thursday evening to teach and preserve this tradition of Aztec dance. All are welcome to join this group that practices more than dance steps; it venerates the ancestors with expressions of beauty and respect.
This class is just one of many activities offered by Nuestra Voz to promote healing and creativity in a time of stress and uncertainty. Executive Director Alejandra Cervantes said she started Nuestra Voz in 2000 not to treat the Latino community as beggars, but to create programs that offered other choices. She stated that hands-on active participation seems to provide more confidence and success in school and life for those involved.
Besides Aztec dance, people can participate in karate with Armando Calderon, yoga with Enrique Pederoza, Zumba, and gardening.
On my recent visit, I met two young Latina women, Ruby, who facilitates a women’s empowerment group, and Mariela, who combines reading, art, and play to engage students who might think they don’t like to read. One child’s piece displayed on the wall struck a particularly hopeful note. Next to the simple self-portrait it read, “I am healthy. Today I will be happy.” Indeed.
Cervantes maintains Nuestra Voz as a true grassroots organization, by and for the Latino community. There are no expensive social events, only modest gatherings of appreciation and celebration. Perhaps the event she has organized that means the most to the local Mexican community is El Dia de Independencia celebration in September at which immigrants can show pride in their homeland through music, dance, food, and ceremony.
When asked to describe the atmosphere among Latino immigrants in Sonoma Valley, she said she sees three different groups with varying responses to the current political climate: those who are well established with their own businesses and homes are not worried; others who feel the persecution of immigrants is not fair after their work and tax contributions to the American economy; and more recently arrived immigrants who fear separation from their American- born children.
Cervantes feels that a revision of current immigration policies is needed because the threatened mass deportation of undocumented immigrants will severely reduce the workforce. She feels the US has an obligation to fix the situation for people who have been living and working here for many years. She adds that another Bracero Program is not the solution because people will be forced to work here but have no rights.
We agreed that it is difficult to carry on in the middle of political and economic turmoil, but all we can do is try. To this end, Cervantes offers opportunities for the youth to express their concerns on two radio programs she oversees on the local radio station, KSVY 91.3 FM. Nuestras Vocecitas features elementary students reading stories in Spanish. The purpose of this Sunday morning program is to emphasize the importance of biculturalism and bilingualism. Voces Juveniles on Saturday mornings is for high school students to discuss topics of interest to Latino teens. She invites more students to participate in both of those broadcasts.
When asked about the needs of Nuestra Voz, Cervantes quickly answers, “People. People who want to be instructors and people who want to learn. When we are together, we learn from each other, heal each other, protect each other, grow strong together.” As the passion rises in her voice, I hear the Aztec drums growing ever louder. Contact Nuestra Voz at 707 939-9369 or nuestravozsonoma.org