Dance is usually a way to carry on traditions, passed down through generations over many years.
That’s certainly the case in Hondo, where students have danced traditional Mexican dances every spring for 70 years.
May 12 was the latest version of the Hondo Fiesta, in which students from grad school through high school dress in traditional outfits and dance the dances that their parents and grandparents danced.
The Fiesta is held every year in the Hondo gymnasium, and one graduate knows quite a bit about it.
Franklin Herrera danced in the early 70s when he was in high school, and became so enamored with it that he started similar dance outfits at Eastern New Mexico University and Roswell.
Currently, he’s very involved in Roswell Fiesta dancing, but from 1982 to 1994, he helped put on the show in Hondo at his alma mater.
“Some of these dances they’ve been doing since day one,” Herrera said. “Sometimes they bring in other dances to keep it interesting.”
Like many other Hondo graduates, Herrera’s parents also danced in the Fiesta, including the very first one put on in 1948.
That year, numerous schools in the Hondo valley had been consolidated into one school in Hondo. There had been a lot of grousing about where the school finally ended up, as communities like San Patricio and Picacho felt it should have been at their site, since they had the most students.
In order to bring the schools together, superintendent Fermin S. Montes and his wife Cirenia came up with the idea of a Fiesta dance that everyone could be a part of.
With English and Spanish teacher Ruby Douglas helping out with skits and interstitials, the Hondo Fiesta tradition was born.
Since then, there have been 66 dances in 70 years. Events such as the birth of the Montes’ youngest child and the outbreak of the Korean War curtailed the annual dance, but the fact that it’s still a tradition today speaks to its resiliency.
“When Fermin left, there was a chance it wouldn’t continue,” Herrera said. “But the community kept it going. Now, if any superintendant suggested going without the Fiesta dance, that person would be looking for another job.”
Herrera remembers looking forward with eagerness to the practices and dances each year, and remembers going on field trips every other year to Mexico City to see professional Fiesta dancers in action.
As for today’s kids, he figures the parents and grandparents have a lot to do with it’s continuance.
“It’s something in which the parents don’t give the kids much of a choice,” Herrera said. “They danced, and their kids and grandkids will. We’re into four generations now.”
While the dances may be of Mexican heritage, not everyone that dances is of Mexican descent.
Herrera said that doesn’t matter at all. The tradition belongs to the school and all who attend, not to a particular family background.
“Not everyone in the dance is of Mexican heritage, but they love being in this, wearing the costumes. It’s a pretty neat thing,” Herrera said. “People from the community really look forward to it. Don’t even talk about doing away with it, it’s a big deal.”