Pedro Perez prefers to go by his native Nahuatl moniker, Aquihua, a name deeply rooted in Aztec culture which loosely translates to “the essence of water.” For the last 13 years, Aquihua has danced with Calpulli Tonalehqueh, an Aztec dance group based in San Jose. He teaches beginning dance classes and is what Calpulli calls the Second Palabra, or second voice. As Second Palabra, he supports the executive director and furthers the organization’s cultural work with community members and partners. Calpulli Tonalehqueh is grounded in wisdom, harmony, and culture—values they share through weekly community spiritual ceremonies at the School of Arts and Culture. 

Calpulli Tonalehqueh was established in 2004 and has grown to become the state’s largest Aztec dance group. During that time, the organization became a nonprofit and began applying for grants. Access to grants brought community partners such as SOAC, SVCreates, and Veggielution. Grants also brought a need for administration and bookkeeping. “My relationship with danza began as a spiritual thirst for knowledge of our culture. I wanted to reunite with my heritage, but I am a worker and like identifying areas where we need help,” shares Aquihua. “I noticed one area that needed support was the administrative and logistics role, so I jumped in.”

Over the last two years, Aquihua has participated in SVCreates’ Folk and Traditional Roundtables, convening with other culturally
rooted organizations within the county. In these meetings, he found community through everyday hardships and gained new perspectives on how to solve organizational and institutional issues. “It was helpful to know that organizations of all sizes were struggling. We no longer felt alone during this very isolated period in history,” he shares. 

“My relationship with danza began as a spiritual thirst for knowledge of our culture. I wanted to reunite
with my heritage.” _Pedro “Aquihua” Perez

Aquihua recalls the roundtable structure: “The format of each meeting was discussing a topic at large, breaking into smaller groups to get deeper, and then regrouping to share our thoughts, [which] was beneficial. While I had experienced roundtables before, they were not nearly as impactful as these,” he shares. “It inspired me to bring the format back to Calpulli’s leadership and implement it in our weekly gatherings. This change was very constructive for us.”

As Aquihua’s spirit continues to grow as a dancer, he is sure to create space within the organization for its members to grow as they need and want. “Dance is a doorway into something greater,” he shares. 

Calpulli Tonalehqueh

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Article originally appeared in Issue 15.1 “Discover”