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Wed, May 13, 2020

Why Have the Guelaguetza in Santa Cruz?

This time last year, we were preparing to bring Pop-Up MAH, our interactive tabling experience, to one of the liveliest festivals in Santa Cruz County, Vive Oaxaca: Guelaguetza at San Lorenzo Park hosted by Senderos.

To ensure the safety of our community in response to COVID-19, this year’s Guelaguetza event has been canceled. Thankfully, the spirit of Guelaguetza remains. Read on about the history of this incredible event, why we are so lucky to have it here in Santa Cruz, and how our partners over at Senderos are moving forward.


Photo by MK Veniegas

History of Guelaguetza

The word 'Guelaguetza' comes from the Zapotec language meaning to gift without receiving. It is the commitment of sharing and cooperation and a way of life for Oaxaqueños. In ceremony, this prehispanic tradition honors the gods for rainfall and an abundant harvest. Today, it is a week-long celebration bringing communities from all over the state of Oaxaca to gift their unique traditions passed down from generations prior.

It is the largest indigenous festival anywhere in the world and our friends over at Senderos have recreated here, in Santa Cruz for all of us to enjoy since 2005. Bringing in thousands of community members from across California and even visitors from Mexico, it's a vibrant recreation of a beloved event.

Why is Santa Cruz gifted its very own Guelaguetza?

We have an abundance in many things: harvest, landscapes, plants, history. We know this because we see it on our drive down HWY 1, we read about it in our publications, and we experience it on our hikes through the redwoods. These are visible for reasons that are at times obvious. For example, it’s easy to notice the vast ocean before us. But other reasons may require more effort. Sometimes we need help and a small reminder to look deeper in order to notice the beauty and bounty before us. Guelaguetza is a result of Senderos doing the latter.


Photo by MK Veniegas

With visibility, our community is able to protect what we are all deeply connected to, including our people.

People of Oaxaca come from a state with an immense cultural wealth that is unique and attracts people from all over the world. The people of Oaxaca, especially those from indigenous regions, are also extremely marginalized in Mexico and here in Santa Cruz County. Senderos founders Fe Robles Vasquez and Dr. Nerieda Robles Vasquez saw the discrimination towards Oaxacans in our community and the deeper impact it was having on our youth in the schools. Oaxacans would not speak their indigenous language or say where they were from. They were hiding their identity.

Fe and Nereida saw the need for Oaxacan children, youth, and adults to experience their culture in their community. Guelaguetza was the perfect celebration for the Oaxacan community to experience and express their abundantly rich culture. It was an opportunity for Oaxaqueños to be represented, to feel proud of their identity, and to commit to gifting it to future generations. When 33% of our County identifies as Latinx, 19% being in the City of Santa Cruz, and most are Oaxacan or of Oaxacan descent, representation of those identities in our community is essential.

Vive Oaxaca: Guelaguetza was created in Santa Cruz because our community deserves that gift. For Oaxaqueños that go unseen to see themselves in the danzantes, the mole, and la Diosa Centeotl. For all of Santa Cruz County and beyond, to see their neighbors more fully in all their abundance.

Megan 03F Tlayuda Flip

Photo by Megan Martinez Goltz

Guelaguetza in Santa Cruz

During Senderos' Guelaguetza celebration, San Lorenzo Park is filled with art, food, music, song, and dance. Large mojigangas (paper mache puppets) lead the crowd through the park to the main stage. Danzantes (traditional dancers) are dressed in beautiful outfits with embroidery of multicolored flowers and stitching. Nieve de garrafa (hand-churned ice-cream) is made on the spot, tlayudas (similar to a flatbread) with mole are heated on large cylindrical stoves, and salty chapulines (crickets) are bagged up for a snack to crunch on as folks take it all in. The smells and tastes are intoxicating as you make your way through the festival. I recommend following your nose and trying whatever catches your eye, most of these dishes are only made in our family kitchens or available when you visit Oaxaca.

At our MAH booth, participants built their wings, decorated them with sparkles, and added a few more vibrant colors with a blend of pastels. All wings were filled with words of the guelaguetza—community, harvest, food, family, tradition, culture, growth—to be found in the crossword and to be experienced at the festival.

Senderos Spotlight

Senderos continues to work to support the families that create Guelaguetza, as many of them are experiencing financial hardship during these uncertain times. From food packages to rental assistance to flowers for mothers’ day, families continue to be seen. In partnership with the Community Foundation Santa Cruz County, local and statewide relief, and of course, community support, Senderos has been able to help alleviate financial burdens for over 75 families. This is Senderos practicing Guelaguetza.

If you wish to learn more about our amazing partners at Senderos, their latest programs (virtual and in-person) and want to support their efforts visit their website at

The land on which we gather is the unceded territory of the Awaswas-speaking Uypi Tribe. The Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, comprised of the descendants of indigenous people taken to missions Santa Cruz and San Juan Bautista during Spanish colonization of the Central Coast, is today working hard to restore traditional stewardship practices on these lands and heal from historical trauma.