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The diverse indigenous cultures of Oaxaca were on display Sunday afternoon in Santa Rosa, under a blazing North Coast sun that rivaled that of the central Mexican state.

With temperatures well above 100 degrees, many of those attending the sixth annual Guelaguetza Sonoma County took refuge under redwoods and canopy tents on the northeast lawn of the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts.

There was no such refuge for the more than 100 folkloric performers who took to the stage throughout the day, each decked out in colorful costumes representing the music and dance of the 16 different indigenous cultures of a state rich in history and pride.

“That’s what makes this unique from others in Mexico,” said Sabas Castellanos, a member of Oaxaca Tierra del Sol, the Santa Rosa-based grassroots group that organized the event.

Castellanos said Oaxaca’s long history of resistance and rebellion, and robust interchange of art, culture and commerce among its many indigenous cultures is unmatched by any other Mexican state. That history is at the heart of the Guelaguetza festival, fueling its continued growth among Oaxacan immigrants living north of the U.S.-Mexican border.

It was the second Guelaguetza held in Santa Rosa. A smaller one, dubbed Oaxaca in the Wine Country, was held in Old Courthouse Square July 9. In Oaxaca, the Guelaguetza, which means “gift” or “offering” in the Zapotec Indian language, is held the last two Mondays in July.

One of the organizers of Sunday’s event, Gabriel Martinez of Los Angeles, said the Guelaguetza at its roots is an exchange of the most fundamental aspects of indigenous culture: food, dance and artisan works.

“In the United States we have capitalism; in Oaxaca we have the Guelaguetza,” Martinez said, speaking in Spanish.

Martinez, who calls himself a “Oaxacalifornian chronicler,” was born in a small village of 2,000 people in the central valleys of Oaxaca. He said the organizers of Sunday’s Guelaguetza strove to make the event as authentic as possible.

That included trying to limit the vendor space to those who sold handmade Oaxacan clothing, jewelry, artisan works, and food and beverage. “We don’t need China, we have people who put their soul and effort into their work,” he said.

There was one vendor who sold plastic toys not made in Oaxaca, but most were authentic sellers with roots from Oaxaca. Like Lino Alberto Arango of Petaluma, who sold handmade ice cream, including a flavor made of red prickly pear cactus fruit.

Arango, who is originally from Oaxaca, owns a shop on “Petaluma Boulevard Norte” called Viva Oaxaca, where he sells Oaxacan specialty food and artisan works.

The event drew visitors from all over the North Coast and beyond.

Osvaldo Martinez, a logging machine mechanic from Placerville, brought his wife and two children to the event after he was invited by a friend.

“It’s good not to let our culture fade,” Martinez said. “It would be great to see this spread to other communities. I’d like to see the children maintain their language, especially those who speak indigenous languages.”

Daniel Zavala of Windsor, the owner of an oriental rug cleaning business in San Mateo called Simonian, said the Guelaguetza is a celebration of cultural unity. Zavala, originally from Mexico City, said he’s attended each of the six Guelaguetza’s held in Sonoma County by the local organizing group Tierra del Sol, which means land of the sun.

“The people of the state of Oaxaca are a very united people and very organized,” Zavala said. “Oaxaca is very rich in tradition and they try to keep their traditions for future generations.”

But after a few hours of heat, some visitors were ready to go home.

By 2 p.m., Marcela Amador’s 5-year-old son Santiago had enough.

“I think it was a beautiful event,” said Amador.

To which Santiago said, “It was horrible — because of the heat. I don’t like the heat.”

But it was no hotter in Sonoma County than it often is in Oaxaca.

“When you haven’t been there in a couple of years, it kind of gets to you,” Amador said.

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @renofish.

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