On the outside: looking into a culture | Reporter’s notebook

Dance of the Elders


Walking slowly side by side, reciting prayers to the Virgin of Guadalupe in Spanish. Voices mesh in chant. Traditional attire is worn. Long skirts, ponchos, straw hats. It’s a celebration of the Mother of Mexico, but also of the indigenous people of the land. People gather at the bottom of Spring Street, those that are a part of the Latin American culture in Friday Harbor, and those there only to witness it.

Gaining elevation up the street, everyone stops. Customary Mexican music rings through the streets. Wooden clogs and canes stomp and tap the blacktop. Girls twirl their skirts, ribbons blow in the wind, a spell is cast on the spectators. The spirit of the dance is alive.

fsdsfs“I lived on the Mexican border for 30 years,” said Barbara Cox, a spectator watching the procession. “This is much like the culture I was exposed to.”


Snapping photos along side the parade, trying to find people to interview. I don’t want to only talk to those on the sidelines. The crowd of viewers thins as we reach closer to the stopping point, St. Francis church, where the dancers will celebrate and decorate the church long into the night, preparing for the next evening’s Our Lady of Guadalupe Mass.

I am one of the few remaining white people when we reach the church. I feel like an outsider unable to break through the cultural barrier. I manage to say in broken Spanglish “I am from the newspaper, I have a few questions for you,” but the answers in Spanish are lost on me. I think back to my time working in a winery cellar in California. How it took months to break through the barriers with my male Mexican co-workers, how we eventually did it.


sfsddfsWondering how I will find someone to answer what I believe to be most important question, “Why is this an important event for your community,” I am introduced to Alma Pamatz. She has been doing this dance all of her life. She left Mexico when she was 13. Her brown skin is illuminated, speckled with sweat on this December night. When she speaks, she speaks with a smile. Her beauty captivates me and so does her devotion.

She doesn’t answer as I expect.

She doesn’t talk about the importance of her culture, how it ought to be recognized and celebrated in the Friday Harbor community.

“The most important thing is to celebrate our Lady,” she said. “This is all for her.”