Illinois festival celebrates culture, traditions of Purhepecha people

Friday, June 18, 2010

COBDEN, Ill. -- On Sunday, Cobden will host the first cultural festival celebrating the Purhepecha people, an indigenous people from the Michoacan province in Mexico. They have been migrating to the Cobden area as farm workers since 1962, and this is the first year they are being celebrated.

The event is being put on by the village of Cobden, the Michoacan Migrant Club and the Federation of Michoacano Clubs in Illinois.

"The Purhepecha have been coming here to our orchards and produce farms since 1962," Cobden Mayor Molly Beckley said. "So we really are celebrating their culture. We need to celebrate these people."

Beckley said the Purhepecha people are rich in tradition and have their own language.

"Many people here in Cobden speak Purhepecha, and then Spanish is their second language and English is their third," she said.

The event will feature an array of entertainment, education and enrichment, with the integration of authentic Purhepecha traditions, food, dance and music. Live music from area acts will be featured, as well as authentic, costumed dance groups.

"We have dancers and an original band from Cheran, Mexico, as well as other musicians and entertainers from around the area," Beckley said. A group will be performing the viejito dance or "little old men" dance, which originates from the Michoacan area.

Members of the cultural group will cook food from the Purhepecha region and display regional arts and crafts throughout the day.

"They are going to show us all the things that they make, and each group has different things they are known for," Beckley said. "Certain areas do pottery while others do bead work, and so on."

Beckley said Dr. Casimiro Leco Tomas, who is a well-known professor who studies the history of the Purhepecha people, will be on hand to present his book "Indigenous Migration to the United States: Purhepechas in Burnsville."

Beckley said she is excited about the festival and wants to see it become an annual celebration of the Purhepecha people who helped make Cobden what it is today.

"I told them, 'If you put this woman mayor in, when I get elected, I'm going to shake your britches,'" Beckley said with a smile. "We're going to be known."

Beckley said she thinks that cultural events like this one are important to the community at large is "because [Cobden] is a wonderful area," Beckley said. "We live in the heart of the wine country. Southern Illinois is a great location to live."

The Purhepecha Cultural and Educational Festival is from 1 to 7 p.m. Sunday in the Cobden Community Park.

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