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  • Writer's pictureALAS

Making Cultural Connections

Updated: Feb 16, 2022

Author: Stacy Trevenon

Published: May 1, 2014

Rich and robust mariachi music and the lively stamping of ballet folklorico poured from the Bell Building in Half Moon Bay. It was a rehearsal, as young children to adults practiced steps and strums last week. It was also the sound of families connecting with their culture.

The group will perform this weekend to help celebrate Dia de Los Niños — the Day of the Child, when children are celebrated within the Latino culture. The performance is at 3 p.m. on Sunday, May 4, at Notre Dame de Namur University and ALAS of Half Moon Bay will present the dance, music, costumes and traditions of Mexico in youth performances by Ballet Folklorico, Tonantzin and Mariachi Media Luna.

The youth, most of whom live on the Coastside, will play the instruments and spring through the lively steps of the ballet folklorico and mariachi traditions in performance at the NDNU theater. The university is located at 1500 Ralston Ave. in Belmont. Tickets are $25 for adults and $10 for children, available through

The traditional music and dance are two of the four prongs of ALAS, a Coastside program dedicated to giving creative expression to Half Moon Bay’s Latino youth and families. The acronym stands for Ayudando Latinos a Sonar, or “empowering Latinos to dream,” said program founder and social worker Belinda Arriaga.

Typically, ALAS practices and classes meet at Cunha Intermediate School. They convene at the Bell Building during Cunha’s spring break.

ALAS strives to inspire the community through the cultural arts programs of Ballet Folklorico, Tonantzin and Mariachi Media Luna. It also builds bridges to higher education through tutoring and leadership programs, and follows a social justice model through advocacy for immigrant and human rights.

Three classes in the Ballet Folklorico, Tonantzin, which is the name of the group, meet on Mondays and Thursdays under the direction of San Francisco master teacher Zenon Barrón. His classes teach regional dances from Oaxaca, Guadalajara, Jalisco, Yucatan and more. He received a grant from the Philanthropic Ventures Foundation to allow his classes to include warm meals and tutoring assistance for the children.

When Mariachi Media Luna classes, under the direction of Omar Naranjo of Santa Cruz, begin, students pull out instruments ranging from trumpet, violin, guitar, guitarron and vihuela. He and five other teachers offer instruction.

The experience goes beyond just learning steps and fingering, say the children and their parents.

Fernando Ramirez, 11, of Montara, is learning to play the vihuela, and says the thought of performing is exciting. He is also learning the stamping Zapatatio style of dance in the mariachi classes — very appropriate since he is originally from Cocula, the birthplace of mariachi.

“He is learning about his connection to mariachi with his family,” said Arriaga.

“It feels like being a real Mexican,” the boy added.

Keila Moncada, 9, and her brother Adriel, 11, of Moss Beach, are learning guitar and trumpet.

“I like how the guitar goes loud and strumming,” said Keila.

Their mother, Erika, says the classes have been good for them. “My kids are half Peruvian and half Mexican, but they identify more with Mexico because they have more exposure to the culture, through this,” she said.

Jaime Villalobos of Moss Beach says the trumpet has been good for his daughter, Samantha, 13. “It helps her relax so she’s more confident and calm,” he said.

But ALAS also boosts academics. The tutoring aspect, called “Mexitili” after the Aztec word for the navel of the moon where everything begins, said Arriaga, helps kids develop creativity.

“We want to give them a stable base in education so they can succeed in all areas,” said Arriaga.

Finally, “La Misma Luna,” of “the same moon,” operates on the idea that everyone lives under the same moon. Led by Alice Linseier of Catholic Worker, it brings workshops that educate families dealing with immigration issues.

The fees for ALAS services are $35 per month per child for the ballet folklorico, including tutoring and meals, and $40 a month for the mariachi. The educational and social justice components are free.

La Misma Luna also ties in with a May 31 visit by Dolores Huerta, known for her work with Cesar Chavez. She’s coming for the first time to Half Moon Bay, sponsored by Catholic Worker and ALAS. Also supported by Our Lady of the Pillar Catholic Church, the Coastside Lutheran Church and the Half Moon Bay Library, Huerta’s visit marks the second annual Parade for Peace and Justice, for which she is a keynote speaker. Her talk is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 31, at Our Lady of the Pillar.

For information on the weekend’s performance, contact Stella Dominguez at (408) 460-2937.


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