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A true Taste of Heritage: Aztec dancers will return to Albert Lea’s annual cultural event

By Evelyn Seffinga

Students and parishioners from St. Theodore Catholic Church gathered last week for a dress rehearsal as part of the Aztec Dancers performance of this year’s Taste of Heritage Festival.

“We have been working on a couple of dances for our performance here at the church, and I think last year is when they asked us if we would want to share our tradition at the Taste of Heritage so we said yes and now this is our second year doing this,” dancer Wendy Lazaro said Tuesday.

The event, primarily hosted by the city of Albert Lea’s Human Rights Commission, celebrates the various cultures of past, present and future community members. Each exhibit at the festival will display diverse aspects of those living in Albert Lea with the goal of presenting a single homogeneous community.

The Aztec Dancers will be a highlight at the event again this year. Along with the dancers, the Taste of Heritage Festival will feature multicultural food samples and children’s activities.

According to Lazaro, the heavily attended event holds different values for different people. For her, that comes through in her dancing.

“I think it’s just a form of entertainment and it’s a fun thing to see,” she said. “It’s a lot of different moves in the dances that we do and our costumes really help out with the feathers.”

Lazaro said the Aztec dance is significant to her own Hispanic heritage.

“It is just a dance that we are trying to represent from the Aztec culture,” she said. “It is something that we use to represent our gratitude towards the Virgin Mary and Jesus.”

The dancers do not wear shoes, because they believe it symbolically places them closer to the ground and creates a closer connection with Jesus.

Lola Gutierrez, a leader of the Aztec dancers, finds value in organizations such as the Taste of Heritage Festival because it promotes teamwork in the community.

“They show to the other girls that it is a good part of the culture, our culture, and encourage the other kids to be involved in either a spiritual religion or to be a part of the Hispanic community,” she said. “We can work as a team to show them we have a very good and strong culture.”

The dancers, all of whom are students in the community, are also active in their church. They perform for the Taste of Heritage Festival and a special Christmas program at St. Theodore.

“We do it for charity,” Lazaro translated from Spanish to English for group leader Lucy Villagomez. “Because we don’t get paid to do it, we just want to do it. We like to be involved in the community and in the church.”

This year’s theme is based on Albert Lea’s diverse heritage of yesterday, today and tomorrow.

The eighth annual Taste of Heritage Festival will take place from 1 to 3 p.m. April 22 at Northbridge Mall.

If you go

What: Taste of Heritage Festival

When: 1 to 3 p.m. April 22

Where: Northbridge Mall

About Evelyn Seffinga

Evelyn Seffinga covers education and arts and culture for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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