Healdsburg Oaxacan festival aims to bridge cultural divides

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A woman in a bright floral skirt with a rose between her teeth danced a lively yet cagey routine with a man clad in white. Their sandals skipped circles on the blacktop at the Healdsburg Community Center on Sunday afternoon.

At the pivotal moment of their dance, the man leaned in toward the woman, and the dance slowed nearly to a halt. He put his face next to his partner’s as if to kiss before deftly plucking the rose from her lips with his own.

This dancing and other routines like it were the core of the Carnaval y Feria de Salud, a family-friendly festival and health fair put on by the nonprofit Corazón Healdsburg and the Comite Pochtlan. The event celebrated traditional Oaxacan culture and offered food, arts and crafts, Mexican bingo, live music and informational booths to the crowds that orbited the dancers.

Adriana Reyes of Healdsburg stood with her mother, watching the end of a Oaxacan dance. Her parents were born in the southern Mexican state, and Reyes said the family had been attending Oaxacan festivals for several years. The dancing was Reyes’ favorite part, and her fondness went beyond its entertainment value — it was a connection to her parents’ homeland.

“It’s unique,” she said of the performance. “Not every culture has that dancing.”

Across the blacktop dance floor — past tables offering information on dental hygiene, local parks and healthy eating — Dawnelise Rosen bobbed to a Latin rhythm. As he bounced gently in her arms, her young son, Manny, toted a badge he received from a deputy at the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office booth.

Rosen, who along with her husband, Ari, founded Corazón Healdsburg, described the festival as a way to bridge local racial and economic divides by getting people face-to-face.

That kind of personal exposure, from breaking bread at communal tables and mingling while watching the dancers, is a necessary way to make Healdsburg a more welcoming place, she said.

“That is the only way to do that deep, cultural change,” she said.

You can reach Staff Writer Will Schmitt at 707-521-5207 or will.schmitt@pressdemocrat.com.

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