After dancing through 20 blocks of the Mission District, Gloria Ramirez, 66, felt proud to have represented Salvadoran culture on such a grand stage.
Ramirez, a Salvadoran immigrant and long-time domestic worker, had dreamt about this moment since she first created Grupo Folklorico Maíz 38 years ago. But due to a lack of resources, the women’s group that performs traditional Salvadoran folkloric dances in the Bay Area had not been able to achieve its goal.
“This opportunity came, and we said, ‘Well even though there aren’t many of us … we are still going to be there,’” Ramirez said.
The group performed in the 45th Annual Carnaval San Francisco Grand Parade in the Mission District on May 28. It was the first time the parade hosted a Salvadoran folkloric dance group.
The folkloric group, alongside Everett Middle School students and contemporary dance studio Rising Rhythm, used this opportunity to showcase Salvadoran culture with the theme “Our Stories Front and Center.”
These two vastly different generations of women — separated by age but united in the art of Salvadoran folkloric dance — performed in sync and in a fundamentally Salvadoran way.
Their dresses flowed in arches as they swung their hands back and forth to the beat of “El Sombrero Azul.” Their handmade baskets filled with paper coal were lifted in the air in a rhythmic pattern during “El Carbonero.” Dancers’ faces carried big smiles throughout “El Carnaval de San Miguel.”
The members of Grupo Folklórico Maíz donned traditional Salvadoran blue and white dresses. The middle schoolers wore dark blue, yellow and green dresses adorned with hand-painted designs resembling traditional Salvadoran folk art across the front of the skirts.
Ramirez stood in the front. She smiled as she heard the Salvadorans within the crowd cheer on the group.
“It brought me a lot of happiness,” Ramirez said. “Thinking about how this started as nothing and to get to this point: It was a huge success.”
The students, who had been practicing since March under the guidance of Rising Rhythm instructor Daniela Garcia, danced proudly as the crowd cheered for them. And when their speakers malfunctioned temporarily, they even improvised. They didn’t skip a beat.
“I was really nervous but then I got the hang of it,” Litzy Interian Vega, an eighth-grade student from Everett Middle School, said after their performance. “I felt proud to represent the people and their culture so they could feel proud of it.”
The collaboration between Grupo Folklórico Maíz, Rising Rhythm and Everett Middle School began in March. Fátima Ramírez, a member of Grupo Folklórico Maíz and the Executive Director of Acción Latina — the nonprofit that publishes El Tecolote — spoke with Rising Rhythm founder Jessica Recinos about the group’s goal to one day perform in Carnaval. Fátima learned that there was already an established connection between Rising Rhythm and Everett Middle School. After a few conversations, the plan to dance in the parade was solidified.
José Guevara, an instructor at Everett Middle School, said the student’s reactions have been positive and that the school’s spirit has been lifted since the creation of the Carnaval club.
“One of the biggest daunting things for my Carnaval club this year was getting in front of everybody in the auditorium,” he said. “A couple of the girls stepped up as leaders. We gave a motivational speech like: ‘We got this. We are going to rock it. They are going to love it.’ And they did.”
Guevara, Ramírez and Recinos also wanted to ensure that the students used this time to understand the significance of Grupo Folklórico Maíz’s art.
“Every practice we had, we would have a check-out question where we would reflect on either cultural aspects of our own lives and how it connects back to El Salvador or where we’re from,” Guevara said. “Part of that has to be also passed onto youth or else it’s lost.”
Recinos also felt an urgency to put Grupo Folklórico Maíz’s art front and center. While Grupo Folklórico Maíz has been around since the ’80s, Recinos believes the group is still unseen.
“It was really my mission to support Fátima and all of Grupo Folklórico Maíz to be seen,” Recinos said.
It’s an urgency that Gloria Ramirez feels as well.
“I start to think that if younger people don’t start joining the group, it will all end,” Ramirez said. “I get fearful that people won’t join, won’t learn and the dances won’t continue.”
Ramirez started Grupo Folklórico Maíz in 1985 to raise awareness of the Salvadoran Civil War that spanned between 1979 to 1992. During that time, the group took donations and bought necessities and medical supplies for the Salvadoran people impacted by the war.
The group became more involved with showcasing Salvadoran culture after the war. Ramirez has kept that tradition alive for over three decades.
She joked that her Carnaval performance this year might be her first and last at the parade.
“I am also no longer of the age to continue doing these big dances,” Ramirez said. “The walk is big.”
She hopes to pass on the tradition.
“I am happy that there is going to be representation and that people will see the folkloric dances,” Ramirez said. “It means a lot that they see us and take note of the dances.”