From outside the Activities Room at the Athletics and Recreation center, a symphony of traditional Mexican music, sharp zapateos, and gritos engulfs your ears. The rhythmic beats stop, only to be followed by an immediate eruption of cheers, laughter, and the beginning of the next song.

Grupo Folklórico Los Mejicas is a student group at UC Santa Cruz that has performed Mexican folklórico dances since 1972, sustaining tradition for 51 years.

“This is something alive and well-respected. And really, there is a lot of interest [in Mejicas] and people do choose UC Santa Cruz because they see that we have a folklórico group on campus,” said co-wardrobe director and fourth-year Jorge Osorio. “Personally, that’s what influenced my decision to come to this campus.”

In rehearsals for their annual show titled “El Camino a Mi Corazón” (The Path to my Heart), the dancers use their movements to tell a story alongside lively music and billowing skirts.

“These aren’t just performances. They are snapshots of Mexican culture,” said fourth-year co-wardrobe director Shirley Delgadillo.

This year’s show is about encouraging the audience to connect with their family, people, and culture. “El Camino a Mi Corazón” is a continuing story from their last spring performance about a grandmother and a granddaughter, Abuela, and Mija. Co-director Tania Haydee Gonzalez Garcia said this unspecific naming creates room for audience members to find themselves in the characters, and engage more closely with the themes of the show.

Fourth-year Daniel Bautista-Acevedo talked about the goals of this year’s show as cheers and music poured out of the rehearsal room. 

“We’re hoping to […] connect people who are not fully connected to their cultures or Mexican heritage,” said Bautista-Acevedo. “And through the story, allow them to realize that it’s never too late to understand their ancestors’ culture and to hopefully also participate in it.”

The show features the traditional dances of multiple regions of Mexico. Between the blazing fast partner work in polkas of Chihuahua, and the gorgeous embroidered blouses of Oaxaca, every region showcased their uniqueness. 

Throughout the rehearsal, colorful dresses swirled through the air, and the rhythmic zapateos echoed throughout the room, as each performance represented a slice of Mexico.

“Mexico has 32 states, and each region has its own kind of dance. Within each state, there’s other regions that have distinctive ways of zapateando, doing footwork, and have distinct instruments that they use,” Bautista-Acevedo said. “Their songs that they use have different lyrical rhythms […] have different styling, different wardrobes.”

Beyond the show, Los Mejicas is part of The Productions of Color. Productions of Color is a collective comprised of three student-run, student-led organizations: Grupo Folklórico Los Mejicas, Indian Student Organization, and Bayanihan, who came together in 2009 when the venue of their spring productions was inaccessible to them.

Since then, they have formed the collective Productions of Color to bring awareness to the UCSC campus.

“Mexican culture on campus is very much here,” said Bautista-Acevedo. “It’s fun and expressive, it’s enriching.” 

As the rehearsal drew to a close, members exchanged smiles and giggles, the joy in their performances evident despite exhaustion from the vigorous dances.

While the show portrays the power of connections, the group behind it also shares a unique connection with each other and with the generational influence that runs deep in Mejicas culture. 

“Lots of us are Mejicas babies, which means our parents were couples who got together during university at Mejicas,” said Garcia. “We bring those aspects to this show. This is all of our stories.”

Meijcas also functions as MUSC 12B, a class that can be taken for credit during fall or winter quarter. The current lecturer, Magdalena Vega, is, according to Delgaldillo, a Meijcas baby herself. 

The theme of family is readily apparent in Mejicas culture. Ultimately, it is meant to be a space for everybody. 

“We just want everyone to feel like whenever they step into the space that they feel the connection of a family, even if they’re an outsider not knowing what Mejicas is,” said fourth-year co-director Daisy Brambila.

Grupo Folklórico Los Mejicas will be performing their 51st annual spring show, “El Camino a Mi Corazón” at Mainstage Theatre on Friday, June 2 and Saturday, June 3, 2023 at 7:30p.m. Reserve tickets here.