CLEARWATER, Fla. (WFLA) — Mexican history comes to life in a quaint art room in Clearwater, Florida. Young dancers wear vibrant costumes and perform intricate dances that tell the story of Mexico’s 31 unique states.
For many of the children, baile folklorico or folkloric dance, is not only a hobby and a passion but also a way to connect to the Mexican heritage that their immigrant parents want to preserve in their new home.
“It’s more than knowing two languages,” says 18-year-old Desere Pioquinto about being Hispanic in the United States. The Florida State University student who wears bright, yellow ribbon in her hair and a beautiful long traditional dress, has danced with Grupo Folklorico Mahetzi for nine years.
Her father, Mere Pioquinto, established the nonprofit in Clearwater ten years ago. He was a folkloric dancer in Mexico as a teenager and started to teach after he immigrated to the states. He works a full-time job laying concrete flooring during the day but he spends his evenings 100% committed to nearly 60 children.
“I do it for two hours and for me it’s like 2 or 3 seconds,” says Mere excitedly.
Every Tuesday and Thursday you will find Mere at the Artz 4 Life Academy teaching footwork and cultural history to the large group of first generation Mexican- Americans between 7 and 18 years old.
“Personally, I think we have an amazing heritage,” says Edgar Cantu. He’s been dancing with Grupo Folklorico Mahetzi for two years and describes it as his second family.
The kids have to showcase a high level of dedication and discipline to be part of the group. They practice for two-hours twice a week and perform for two to three hours several times a month in front of large crowds.
“When we dance, we pass on that message to others that we are our culture and we have many beautiful things to us,” said Quetzia Hernandez who, along with her sister, has danced with the group for two years.
During the last decade, Grupo Folklorico Mahetzi has helped hundreds of children like Quetzia embrace their Mexican roots. They dance traditional performances unique to 12 of Mexico’s 31 states. It’s proven helpful for the teen when she visits her mother’s hometown.
“Here, each grade dances a state and when I go to Mexico, I watch those states and say, ‘Oh my God,’ I do those,” she tells us and emphasized being in the group is so much more than dance itself.
“He’s taught us to have more confidence and to reach your goals,” says Quetzia.
Mere believes this group is his American dream come true. His mission is to empower kids, teach them to proud of where they come from, and invest in their future.
“People that come from Mexico or another country, they’re doing the best they can, and that what I try to pass to my kids is that whatever they do in life they want to put in everything,” he says, “For them to go to the university, being a good person, I think that is my goal.”
His daughter, Desere, is a prime example. The discipline she learned dancing is the same discipline she’s applying to her achieve her college degree in psychology.
“There are always bumps in the road, you might forget something, you might make a mistake, but you always have to keep smiling, keep going,” says Desere.
A big bump in the road is COVID-19. The pandemic has disrupted Grupo Folklorico Mahetzi’s rehearsals and performances. They took a four-month break before resuming rehearsals in late August. As a non-profit, Mere relies on being hired to perform at schools, festivals, and private parties to keep the tradition alive.