The smells of masa and quinoa wafted from UC Santa Cruz’s Quarry Amphitheater as the 11th annual IndigeFest took center stage.

To begin the day, lively drums reverberated throughout the space as various Indigenous performers danced passionately to honor their heritage. 

The festival, held on April 22, was known as Drum Feast until 2021. It is hosted by the American Indian Resource Center (AIRC) in memory of Sophía García-Robles, an active member of the UCSC community and the Santa Cruz Indian Council, who passed away in 2010.

IndigeFest 2023 featured performances from an array of Indigenous groups such as Calpulli Tonalehqueh and Centeotl Danza y Baile. Volunteers, performers, and vendors alike ate a delicious assortment of Indigenous foods while celebrating the cultural significance of being Indigenous.

“I wasn’t exposed to an [Indigenous] community growing up,” said first-year AIRC volunteer Nico Standifer, who has Cherokee and Creek tribal affiliations. “It’s been really nice to have a group of people that work together to make you feel included, regardless of blood and age.” 

Calpulli Tonalehqueh, one of the groups that performed, is an Aztec dance and cultural-diffusion group based in San Jose. Performer, co-founder, and executive director Yei Tochtli Mitlalpilli says that a lot of practice and hard work goes into what they do. 

The group performed danza Azteca in full traditional regalia. Every performer wore a feathered diadem known as a copilli.  

“This is our tradition,” said Mitlalpilli. “It gives us an identity, gives us community, gives us our culture, and that dignity of having that self value of knowing who we are, where we come from, and where we’re going.”

Among the other performers was student organization Grupo Folklórico Los Mejicas de UCSC, which was founded in 1972.

“When you perform these songs, when you perform these dances, you’re representing the people of that region,” said second-year Los Mejicas performer Javier Lira. “There is a story being told through each song, either through the lyrics, dance, or clothes.”

The Santa Cruz-based Senderos program featured two of their performance groups, one of which was children’s Aztec dance troupe Centeotl Danza y Baile. The other was their music program Ensamble Musical. Additional performances were made by San Francisco-based Indigenous Filipino music collective Kulintang Dialect and the White Hawk Indian Council.

With an audience of both Native and non-Native people, IndigeFest 2023 proved to be a powerful platform for elevating Indigenous voices and highlighting the rich diversity of Indigenous cultures.

“We feel free, we feel the ability to express who we are, and know that not only is it our culture, but it’s the original culture of this land,” said Mitlalpilli. “That grounds us and connects us to our Mother Earth.”