When the Creative Alliance’s Tianquiztli artisan market launched in 2020, there were just a few participants and vendors, says Yesenia Mejía, director of Creative Alliance’s CIELO department. It’s exciting to watch this event and others geared towards Latin American communities grow into bigger and fuller intergenerational gatherings. “The community has been creating a space for that, and for Creative Alliance to be one of the spaces where the community can come and represent and honor where they’re from” is important, Mejía says. “This new generation of kids who have not been to or seen their parents’ country, seeing them represented and learning it here, it fills my heart with so much happiness to see that.”
In 2021, I interviewed about a dozen people who have helped make Creative Alliance the great multi-use art space that it is today. Some of them had even grown with the programming, in a sense—like Mejía, originally a participant in the organization’s Artesanas apprenticeship program years before she took on a leadership role.
Under the umbrella of CIELO are the Artesanas program, the folk-music program Nikandii, the folkloric dance program Jóvenes en Acción, and the artisan market Tianquiztli. This fall’s Tianquiztli event took place on September 24, shutting down the street in front of Creative Alliance to make way for artists, performers, and vendors celebrating Latin American traditions and cultures through food, music, dance, and art.
It also coincided with part of National Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from mid-September through mid-October. The one-day event featured food by El Taquito Mexicano, Diana Peruvian Food, Baltimorelos, and Artesanas; art by Xiomara Illustrations, More Art, Paloma-Chismosa, Marinas Jewelry, Juanita Art, and Mexi Art by Ale; performances by La Marvela, Jóvenes en Acción, Juventud Latina, Chinelos, and Danza Ecuatoriana; and even more than that.
Events and programs like these are ultimately methods of preserving culture, ensuring that traditions, stories, and languages persevere through generations even if the family has long uprooted from their homelands. Mejía’s son, for example, participates in the dance program Jóvenes en Acción. “Every time I see him there it makes me so proud because now it’s something that he wants to do,” she says. “He wants to continue learning about this culture and traditions, especially to get to know about his mom’s culture.”
While these programs have a way of reminding people of home, they are also opportunities to showcase the diversity of culture, language, and ideas that exist within the broad categorization of “Latino.” “We are a big Latino community here in Baltimore,” Mejía says, sharing a story about a woman vending Peruvian food at Tianquiztli who was so excited when she found out one of the scheduled music acts was from Peru—she brought a flag, and she danced. “The more they [community members] hear, they want to be involved more.”
Photographer Elena Volkova captured some of the performances, including two by Jóvenes en Acción of Creative Alliance, as well as outside groups Danza Shuar and Juventud Latina. The latter, wearing floral skirts while wielding rifles, performed the song “La Adelita,” honoring women of the Mexican Revolution. Danza Shuar represented a group of indigenous Amazonians who live among jungles and savannahs of Ecuador and Peru. Wearing traditional clothing (karachi for women and itip for men, along with face paintings of animals for strength), the Shuar performance was about the “celebration of the Chonta,” a party held after harvest. Dressed all in white, Jóvenes en Acción performed the famous “La Bamba” from Veracruz; for their other act, they wore brightly colored skirts and danced to the Chilean song “La San Marqueña.”
As regions are changed by the climate, economics, and regimes, people sometimes need to leave to find safety and betterment elsewhere. The universal experience of movement and migration underscores the need for physical spaces where people can be who they are and share where they’re from and gather with those with similar experiences. “I always tell myself,” Mejía, who is a musician, says, “if I stopped speaking Spanish, if I stopped playing songs that I like—I love folklore Latin American music—if I stop cooking the food that I like how my mom taught me, if I stop creating art, I stop everything that I wanted to show my son. How is he going to know? It’s just gonna get lost.” These concepts of exchange and community are not abstractions, they are the foundations of what makes us human.
Among the many events on Creative Alliance’s calendar, its famous, annual Great Halloween Lantern Parade is coming up on Oct. 22, where the Artesanas will have a presence. Their annual Dia de los Muertos event is on Nov. 5, featuring hot chocolate, Day of the Dead bread, music, and more.