P’urépechan Festival preserves tradition

By Chase Myers

Cobden’s fifth-annual P’urépechan Festival took advantage of great weather last weekend, drawing a diverse crowd including people of P’urépechan and other cultures.

The festival began in 2010 when Warren Anderson, a professor in anthropology at Southeast Missouri State University came to former Cobden mayor Molly Beckley with the idea for a celebration of the culture of the migrant workers of Cherán in Michoacán, Mexico, Beckley said.

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“I was overjoyed and overwhelmed at how hard [migrant workers] work and how determined they are to keep their culture alive,” she said.

Cobden may seem like an unexpected place for such a festival, but the culture dates back to the 1960s. The small town in southern Illinois is an agriculturally rich, and the P’urépecha people remain one of the largest groups to work on the fertile land.

People come from all over Illinois to experience the traditional P’urépechan music and dance, all while enjoying fresh tacos, jalapenos, tamales and Mexican soda.

Beckley said many of the dancers have been returning for many years.

“In Cherán there are like 13 schools in that small village and they love music. They teach it. They save money and send their children to Julliard music school,” she said. “So for two years we’ve had the state band come and play. It’s not Mariachi, but it’s wonderfully complex music.”

Anderson said the festival has changed over the years.

“[The festival] really has a momentum to it that is behind the scenes, that attendees wouldn’t even notice,” Anderson said. “They’re learning how we put on a festival … and how they can bring their content into a festival that everyone can be comfortable with.”

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There were plenty of college students from Mexico in attendance. Several art displays were scattered throughout the festival, some created by graduate students from institutes in Mexico.

Pedro Tomas, an organizer of the festival, grew up in Cherán. The festival has always focused on the importance of education, he said.

“Some of the dancers here are working on their graduate school,” Tomas said. “These are kids, yet they are getting their master’s and bachelor’s [degrees].”

Other traditional art included Mariachi music, providing a background for the festivities as well as traditional dances such as Las aguadoras, Los rancheros and El corpus.

“What’s new this year is that many of the musicians that were here … come from Cherán for this festival,” Anderson said.

Tomas is proud of his hometown artists and their ability to come all the way from Mexico for the festival.

“This is a breakthrough,” Tomas said. “They are setting a precedent with this trip they made, however difficult, however many steps they have to go through. To them and to us, it is a success.”

The festival has remained family-oriented and alcohol free since 2010, Tomas said.

“We wanted to make it family-oriented, and any time you bring the alcohol factor in to play, that tends to sometimes bring out negative outcomes,” he said.

Beckley, Tomas, Anderson and other committee members will continue to organize the event and celebrate the P’urépechan culture for years to come.

Chase Myers can be reached at [email protected]on Twitter @chasemyers_DE or at 536-3311 ext. 260

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