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We keep dancing. Celebrating 50 years of Grupo Folklorico Los Mejicas de UC Santa Cruz

Celebrating its 50th anniversary at UC Santa Cruz, Los Mejicas fosters an appreciation for the beauty and diversity of Mexican culture by teaching and performing the music, dances, and traditions of Mexico.

When Leticia Quezada arrived at UC Santa Cruz in 1971, she was one of 300 Latino students among a student body of about 4,000. Separated from her culture and community, Quezada felt isolated and alone but determined to establish roots. She joined forces with fellow student, Juan Rios, and together they launched a Ballet Folklorico group to create community and a self-described “home away from home” for themselves. Little did they know that they were building a long-lasting legacy for future Banana Slugs.

Fifty years later, Grupo Folklórico Los Mejicas is one of the oldest campus organizations at UC Santa Cruz, continues to thrive as a student-run group, and reigns as the first Ballet Folklorico in the UC system. Dedicated to teaching and performing the regional music, dances, and traditions of Mexico, Los Mejicas fosters an appreciation for the beauty and diversity of Mexican culture. 

“We didn’t want it to be a dance group just for the sake of dance,” Quezada says. “The real purpose of Los Mejicas was to have Chicano students have somewhere they could feel welcome—among friends—that would remind them of their culture. I am so proud that our original intent is still an integral part of the group.”

In fact, many of Quezada and Rios’s founding principles remain woven into the fabric of Los Mejicas. The group is open to all students from any ethnic origin and academic discipline—members do not need to be Chicanx nor a dance or arts-related major. 

“Hundreds of students have participated in Los Mejicas since its inception, many of whom are second and even third-generation members. This legacy of involvement is often a reason students choose UC Santa Cruz,” Quezada says. “The group has a saying, ‘Once a Mejica, always a Mejica.’”

Quezada is proud that Los Mejicas has impacted students in ways far beyond steps and choreography. According to the group’s crowdfunding page, “The relationships, cultural histories, sense of belonging, and contribution to our respective fields of study have been directly impacted by Mejicas.” The group is raising funds for costumes, travel expenses, and maestros (instructors), in order to continue the tradition for future generations.

UC Santa Cruz has evolved since Quezada’s early experience. Today, more than one-quarter of the 17,000 student body are Chicanx/Latinx, and there are over 16,000 Latinx alumni. The campus is a Hispanic Serving Institution, is a founding member of the Alliance of Hispanic Serving Research Universities, and most recently was awarded the prestigious Seal of Excelencia in recognition of UC Santa Cruz’s intentional campus-wide efforts to serve Latinx students.

Despite the progress that has been made, “the need we were addressing in 1972 still exists,” says Quezada. “We want Los Mejicas to have a solid base. We want to ensure that funding is there year to year. What do we need to do and organize as alumni to provide a foundation that will remain at UC Santa Cruz for fifty more years.”

Los Mejicas will celebrate its 50th anniversary on November 11 and 12 with a symposium and banquet. All are invited to attend, you can register here.