Chinelos dancers in bright traditional costumes performed as part of a Hispanic Heritage month celebration.
Another performance was made by Mariachi Enscenchia de America. The mariachi band provided traditional music. Fred Blanco, a noted actor and playwright from Los Angeles, delivered his solo performance of labor leader and civil rights activist Cesar Chavez.
It was all part of a Hispanic Heritage Celebration Saturday at the George Washington Carver National Monument near Diamond.
"It's a different kind of celebration," Jim Heaney, park superintendent said. "This is the first time for it. We're reaching out to include the Hispanic community."
Across the country, for the National Park Service uses relevancy, diversity and inclusion to connect
the American public to the nation's shared natural and cultural heritage.
Heaney welcomed those who attended the performances.
"Welcome to our first Hispanic Heritage Celebration. It's part of our 75th anniversary. It's the month we celebrate Hispanic heritage,” Heaney said. “Today, we have dance, music and a very compelling performance of Cesar Chavez."
Dancers from Chinelos Morelenses Unidos en Arkansas were the first to perform. The troupe consisted mainly of teenagers and children, all dressed in elaborate, brightly colored costumes. Artisans make each costume by hand including the hand beaded work. It can take a year or a year and half to complete a single costume.
The traditional Mexican chinelos dance dates to 1872 and is one of many dances that evolved in response to the Spanish conquest. Each mask has a bearded face which according to the group is to mock the Europeans, who wore beards and wore fine clothing. One of the dancers explained that the wealthy conquistadors.
"The indigenous people were making fun of rich people," he said, still masked and in costume. "The way we dance makes fun of rich people walking drunk."
Although the dance is performed at any season, it began as part of Carnival or Mardi Gras.
As indicated in the group's name, the dance began in the Mexican state of Morelos. Chinelos comes from a word that means disguised. Dancers invited audience members and park rangers to join them in the festive, fast-paced dance and posed for photographs after the performance.
Chinelos Morelanos Unidos en Arkansas is based in Springdale, Arkansas. The group's name translates to chinelos dance united in Arkansas. Chinelos can refer to both the dance and the dancer.
Fred Blanco took the stage, performing a portion of 'The Stories of Cesar Chavez', a full-length stage production written and performed by Blanco. Blanco not only re-enacted events from Chavez's life, he performed as eleven different characters, all relating to Chavez's life.
"I was born in LA," Blanco said before he began. "This is my first time in Missouri. This is a portion of a play that would normally take about an hour."
Blanco said he blends fact and fiction together in his portrayals. Some of his characters are based on not one individual, but on one he's created that typifies some of the people whose lives were part of Chavez's. One of the scenes addressed Chavez being required to speak English in elementary school.
"Speaking English in school was required,” Blanco said. “There was a sharp knock to the knuckles when we forgot. Sometimes we would speak Spanish on purpose just to show the teacher. I was stubborn, even back then."
In a more light hearted moment, Blanco — in character — talked about the 1940s, when he first met the young lady, Helen, who became his wife and his fashionable zoot suit.
"We were so alive," he remembered as Chavez. “I remember the music. I remember the fashion."
Blanco shared snippets of Chavez's life from childhood through his years as a labor leader and activist.
Close to a hundred people were on hand to watch Blanco's performance. Blanco has performed the solo show for more than six years traveling in the United States and Canada. He has worn several awards for the show including the Brickenden Award and Best of Fringe.
Heaney hopes that the Hispanic Heritage Celebration will become an annual event.
"I know there's a lot going on the area today but I'm hoping for a good turnout," he said before the event.
Blanco's portrayal of Chavez proved to be emotional and engrossing.
In character as Chavez, Blanco said, "I always knew the difference between right and wrong."
With that he summed up the struggles and triumphs of the late labor and civil rights activist Cesar Chavez.
The George Washington Carver National Monument is located at 5646 Carver Road, two miles west of Diamond, Missouri. For upcoming events at the park and other information visit their website at