The following is part two of the second set of our ongoing Arctic Interruptions series. Edited by Sara Komarnisky and Lindsay Bell, this series challenges our expectations about the North and opens new windows on its life and history. The series will appear in Volume 4, Issue 1 of Northern Public Affairs.
On a cool, cloudy summer day in Anchorage, Alaska, the Mexican dance and culture group Xochiquetzal-Tiqun was asked to perform along the route of a five-kilometre fun run. They thought there would at least be a stage—or a sound system. There was neither, only an empty parking lot. The adults in the group deliberated about what to do. After a quick vote, they decided to go ahead and dance anyway: “After all, we’re already in costume.” I stood by as the dancers got to their places. Someone backed up a Chevrolet Suburban, opened all of the doors, and turned up the speakers so that the dancers and runners could hear the music playing from the truck’s CD player. The youngest dancers, with girls in colourful dresses and boys in black pants, white shirts, and a red sash started dancing to a jarabe in the Jalisco style. As they danced, parents and supporters of the group chatted on the sidelines. One woman joked about how the runners would be confused by the scene as they jogged past, “They’ll think that they’ve run all the way to Tijuana!” The group erupted with laughter as the adult dancers took to the parking lot – women dressed in white lace dresses, dancing to a song from Veracruz.
Since I began working with people who move between Michoacán, Mexico and Anchorage, Alaska in 2005, the most common questions I am asked about my work are as follows: “There are Mexicans in Alaska?” “How do they get there?” and “What do they do there?” Moreover, the vignette above hints at a sense of anomaly and dissonance when “Mexico” and “Alaska” are brought together. The joke among Mexican dancers in Anchorage that the runners in a race will think they’ve run “all the way to Tijuana” evokes how there is something unexpected about a Mexican dance performance in Alaska.