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Ethnic City: a celebration of Mexican culture

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"We're just dealing with the basic, simple truth," says Encarnacion Teruel. "But it's radical because this country's history is based on myth, starting with Columbus's 'discovery' of people who had already had civilization for three thousand years."

Teruel, currently based at the Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum in Pilsen, is discussing "Del Corazon," a series of Mexican performing arts programs beginning this weekend. Teruel, the festival's director, says that even in Pilsen some aspects of Mexican cultural history are not as well appreciated as they could be. For instance, some people from the neighborhood are surprised to find pre-Columbian artifacts exhibited there, rather than in larger museums like the Field or the Art Institute. "People could walk across the street from their house and come in and see this stuff. They'd come in and say, "Why are these things here?' Like they didn't deserve it or something. We'd say, 'These things are here because you're here.'"

Teruel hopes that like the museum, the series will help "enlighten people to the wealth of their own history--of the history of the Americas, and the history of the Mexicanos here in the United States." "Del Corazon," which translates as "From the Heart," will include not only traditional arts--Cuerdas Clasicas and the Mexican Folkloric Dance Company of Chicago, for instance--but also such artists as Oscar Chavez, a pop balladeer famous in Mexico for his satirical protest songs, and Maria Teresa Rodriguez, a classical pianist of international reputation who will perform works of such highly regarded Mexican composers as Carlos Chavez and Blas Galindo.

Teruel and festival coordinator Pablo Helguera also promise a generous sampling of experimental theater, dance, and performance art, including a joint performance by interdisciplinary artists Guillermo Gomez-Pena and James Luna. Gomez-Pena and collaborator Coco Fusco spent several days last year in a large cage in the lobby of the Field Museum, where mock lecturers presented them to surprised museumgoers as "two undiscovered Amerindians," and Luna performed in 1992 and 1993 at Randolph Street Gallery.

"They're going to come in and look around at the museum and set up two days of living dioramas, commenting probably on the exhibits here. So, if you talk to them right now, they have some idea of what they're going to do, but they don't really know until they get here and see what they're dealing with."

The festival will also bring a number of artists to Chicago for the first time, including the San Francisco-based bilingual Teatro de la Esperanza and a number of Mexico City-based artists: dance company Asalto Diario ("Daily Assault"), performance artist Maris Bustamante, and director-impresario Jesusa Rodriguez.

"This is not a dancing-sombreros festival," Teruel says. "It really includes the wide gamut of Mexican culture, everything from folkloric to contemporary and cutting-edge kinds of work."

"Del Corazon" opens this Friday and Saturday with 7 PM performances at the museum, 1852 W. 19th St., by Veracruz folkloric musicians Tlen-Huicani (see Critic's Choice this week in Section Three). Teatro de la Esperanza performs Macario on April 9 and Rosario's Barrio on April 10, both at the Firehouse, 1625 N. Damen. Maria Teresa Rodriguez performs music of various Mexican composers on April 15 at the Sherwood Conservatory of Music, 1014 S. Michigan. Jesusa Rodriguez and Lilana Felipe's avant-garde theater work Cielo de Abajo runs April 15-17 at the Firehouse. Asalto Diario performs at the museum April 22 and 23. Performance artists Guillermo Gomez-Pena and James Luna appear at the museum April 29 and 30. Chicago's Cuerdas Clasicas and Mexican Folkloric Dance Company appear April 30 at the South Shore Cultural Center, 7059 S. South Shore Drive. Oscar Chavez sings May 5 at Apollo 2000, 2875 W. Cermak, and May 6 at the Vic, 3145 N. Sheffield. Performance artist Maris Bustamante appears May 6 and 7 at Randolph Street Gallery, 756 N. Milwaukee. And the Latino Chicago Theater Company's production of Cherrie Moraga's Heroes and Saints runs May 5 through June 12 at the museum. Some of these artists will also be offering lectures and workshops. For details, watch upcoming listings in Sections Two and Three, or call the museum at 738-1503.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Yael Routtenberg.

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