La Placita Olvera

Wednesday, July 13 2016 Written by
Every week from our window I can hear soft flute music and the distinct sounds of shells rattling as dancers make their way across the plaza. On weekends especially, the plaza is abuzz with the sounds of music and cheerful chatter as volunteer tour guides and performers make the plaza come alive. [caption id="attachment_6981" align="aligncenter" width="300"]A busy afternoon in the Placita Olvera (El Pueblo) A busy afternoon in the Placita Olvera (El Pueblo)[/caption] One of the most visually and acoustically noticeable performances is the Aztec dancers, with the feathers, shells, and drums they always draw a crowd! As they performed I asked the viewers how they felt watching the dancers, and what brought them to the Placita today. Many remarked that it was just a way to remember their roots. One little girl remarked that it reminded her of where her grandparents lived in Mexico. Aside from the dancers, the placita has plenty of other volunteer performers including people that play music and dance to salsa and merengue in the afternoons, and a flutist that plays contemporary music on a more traditional flute-like instruments, the quena and the zampona. The flutist goes by Cayambe and he has been playing in the placita for almost 40 years. [caption id="attachment_6979" align="aligncenter" width="199"]Aztec dancers Aztec dancers[/caption] Indeed, the time spent here has given him special insight on culture and what this place means to him, “many of the people here have been here as long as I have, if not longer, as the children grow up, many learn the dances or help run the stores that line Olvera Street. tradition is generational”. For him, playing in the Placita is not a “show”, it’s his life, it is a daily decision he makes to pass on his traditions not only to his children, but to all the visitors that stop by and listen. With all of the time he has spent performing here, he came to the conclusion that “this place is what helps generate a new culture”. Visitors can hear him perform, or see the dancers, the vibrant colors and jewelry, but ultimately they do not stay here; people can be inspired by their experience and create new music and clothing, shaped not only by something that is connected to their roots or their parents roots, but their own unique experiences living in Los Angeles and throughout the world. [caption id="attachment_6980" align="aligncenter" width="225"]Cayambe with traditional instruments Cayambe with traditional instruments[/caption] Whatever you call it, El Pueblo, or La Placita Olvera, this is a place where people can share culture, “create” culture, or experience a new culture different from their own. I think that what makes this place so special as a cultural location is not only the history and design, but the people that continue to gather here and continue to share their knowledge, and art. Though I am sure more can be done to engage people while they are here, I think it really allows for us not to be the "gatekeepers" of what culture is or what it should mean to people, and really allows for the people of the community to determine what part of their culture looks like and to share that with others.
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