By Ray Rodriguez Jr.

“You, or your parents move to this special place, and you love the open spaces, the creative energy. But you also realize important things you left behind. When it comes to Chicanos (people of Mexican descent, born or raised in the U.S.), especially the younger kids, there can be a disconnect between their rich cultural heritage and no way to understand it, how it can fit in their lives and help develop their own possibilities. Your examples can’t just be negative portrayals when there is so much in your cultural roots that can ignite a passion.” These are the words of Rolo Castillo, legendary graphic artist, creative, innovator and impresario, who has curated an all-star cast to address his thoughtful concerns. The electrifying result is an inaugural, month-long cultural tribute to Chicano/Latino/Aztlan art, music, dance, theatre, film, comedy, and comida (vittles), right here in good old JT.

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In cooperation with The Joshua Tree Retreat Center, HAY FESTIVAL! has already exceeded expectations, earning immediate and enthusiastic support from locals of all backgrounds. With 4 major events still to come at this writing, in Dance, Theatre, Comedy/Music, and Quema, the growing buzz ensures HAY FESTIVAL! can build on early success for years to come.

A Quick Rundown of the Events:

(Day of the Dead):

One of the stated goals of Executive Director, Terry Castillo, when she took the lead at the Retreat Center, was “to expand programming to include locals and local events, while still maintaining an international clientele.” This traditional observance dedicated to the memories of departed family members featured a mariachi band, as well as altars constructed with fabrics, pictures of deceased loved ones, items, or representations of interests while alive (including foods, hobbies, careers or humor). Tacos were provided for attendees who were participating in or learning about this family event. Martin Mancha observed, “To see a mariachi playing in the sanctuary blew me away. I just never imagined it possible. I spoke to a woman who said she hadn’t ever been on the property because she thought it was private and off limits, and she was so happy to feel invited and see what was happening.”

Licia Parea observed, “The Day of the Dead was beautiful, and I was impressed by the community participation. It just shows there is a want, a desire for this type of programming.”

HAY TEATRO (Theatre):

The Devil and 40 Chickens, a one man show written and directed by Jose Garcia Davis, transformed Noble Hall into an International Theatrical tour stop. The raucous tale of hungry New Mexico brothers colliding with 40 potentially tasty chickens and the Devil, is a tour de force for Garcia Davis. Showcasing his acting, vocal, movement, and singing skills, the performance made it clear why this show has been staged in China, Europe, Canada, and Latin America.

Joe Garcia opened the show with a set featuring both original and familiar songs that was well received and much appreciated, while the ever popular and fanciful Tumbleweed Time Machine entertained at the after party. Following his performance, Jose mused, “It feels great to bring this international show to Joshua Tree and see such support. For many it was their first experience with a one man show, and several told me they were coming back to the second show and bringing friends. Living here makes me want to expand my efforts, most specifically to provide opportunities for youth.”

HAY CINE (Movies) Night One:

Carlos Almarez: Playing with Fire is a movie about the life and times of the renowned American painter. A study in humanity, art, and politics so fascinating that I watched it again the next night on Netflix and encouraged friends and family to do the same. Equally intriguing was the post-film discussion moderated by Christy Addis-Gutierrez featuring Director Richard Montoya and Editor Carlos Alarcon. Insights into the time, pain and excitement of independent filmmaking along with the vigorous internal jousting over content and emphasis were not sufficient to discourage future Montoya film efforts, as he also previewed his next project, Duardo, based on the work and influence of the legendary Richard Duardo, filmed in part in Joshua Tree.

Director Montoya earnestly told the crowd, “Tied up in the urgency of Los Angeles traffic, picking up children, trying to get out of town to get here, makes you question why you are doing this. But then driving up the hill, you see a full moon so big and low in this huge sky, and things start to change. It may be an overused term, but you feel the magic of this special place.” He furthered, “And you have such strong support. In L.A. we have trouble getting even 30-40 people to an event. I thought I was going to come for maybe one day, but…” (Note: 3 days later, the ever-engaging Montoya was a key presence at the Duardo art event held at Taylor Junction, with the Big Top Loco finale also in Montoya’s future.)

HIGH CINE Night Two:

A series of short films made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, began with 3 dance performance films, Luchx, by director Rosa Rodriguez-Frazier, Re(Volver) by director Rosanna Tavares, and Ni de Aquit, Ni de Alla by director Nancy Rivera.

Following the captivating dance films, moderator Licia Parea comments, “During Covid there were no audiences. So we pursued a grant to translate dance for film. Film is much different than dancing for people who are sitting in front of you. In film, you can focus on a hand, or begin a twirl in one location and end it in another. You can see the results are equally dramatic, though much different than we can provide on stage.”

Orale Trucha: The Art of Jaime Chavez, directed by Brian McHugh. A fascinating film showcasing Chavez’ Echo Park gang environment, and his blending of the contemporary Chicano urban experience with Mesoamerican imagery.

Room of Delights and Surprises, directed by Juliane Backmann. A 4-minute piece featuring Eloy Torres on the dramatic relationships of music, art and creativity.

The Pope of Broadway, directed by Juliane Backmann. The monumental, iconic Anthony Quinn mural has towered over Los Angelenos for approaching 40 years, and is in need of restoration. This film chronicles the journey of original artist Eloy Torres and his team as they return the mural of Manuel Antonio Rodolfo Quinn Oaxac, inspirational to so many Chicanos, to its glory.

Artist Eloy Torres and his wife, director Juliane Backmann, were present and joined Cristy Addis- Gutierrez on stage to discuss the film and the process. Torres shared that as a young artist from New Mexico, eager for a big opportunity, he had dramatically underbid the project, resulting in little to no profit, but gained value in other ways throughout the years. The restoration project was fraught with new challenges, including chunks of loose wall and skyscrapers reflecting light from different directions onto the mural. Backmann noted the extreme conditions involved in making a movie at such heights and constraints, including sound and safety.


Featuring a collection of Duardo works and the works of those he has inspired, the showing at Taylor Junction was bursting at the seams with attendees and enthusiasm for the work. Duardo’s nephew, Montana, was present, signing prints commemorating the evening. Suffice it to say, crowd comments included, “amazing work and turnout”, “this feels more like I’m in Soho”, “what’s coming next” and “wow, what a night!”

HAY TAMALADA (Tamale making)

On a Sunday afternoon, serenaded by Mark Guerrero among colorful hanging banderas, more white hands than brown gather at the Food for Thought Café. There is a definite sense of anticipation in the room. Eager minds, open hearts, ready, seeking the skills to create delicious sustenance; a delicacy both ancient and immediate, and nurturing in so many ways.

Tamales have been vital for nearly 10,000 years. With flavors and group discussions to match only the maker’s imaginations, a Tamalada is joie de vivre a la Mexicana.

Each table is its own factory, complete with its own ingredients and assembly roles. A group of young Latinas ranging from teens to 20s were asked to help other tables and protested, “We’ve never made tamales and always wanted to learn how!”

Ay caramba, learn they did, y muy rapido! Inexperience quickly gave way to urgent calls of “more masa”, “let’s do some pork ones now” and “where is the extra foil?” As the happy, semi-controlled chaos ended, the newest Tamaleros exited laughing, clutching their newly minted, carefully wrapped prizes. Executive Director,Terry noted, “They had so much fun. Each person was so appreciative and made sure we knew it.”

Martin Mancha confided, “I wasn’t sure how Tamalada was going to work. But it really did. People loved it. I hadn’t expected to eat, and having tamales served to us after we made our batches to take home was a great way to complete the circle. I hadn’t made tamales since my uncle passed. We used to gather all the time, but when he died our family just stopped gathering.”

(As it became clear the Tamalada train had developed a raucous mind of its own, Martin, Jose, and Rolo set up an impromptu table for us to join in the fun. Something tells me it won’t be our last time. Gracias y Salud.)

Some Final thoughts:

Film Curator Christy Addis Gutierrez capsulizes many thoughts of her fellow HAY FESTIVAL! committee members, honored guests, and attendees:

“My immediate thought on this month-long effort was we may be biting off more than we can chew…we hadn’t worked together before. It was a lot to do with a small group. I had heard from many different circles, in much larger populated areas, that they were not having success in getting people to events. But locals are here, people are driving in from other areas to these events and THEY LOVE IT. We hit on something people have been yearning for, almost a magic mix. And we are penetrating so many different groups, art forms, and culture. It’s the same moon in L.A. or wherever many of us came from, but we want to stay and love this place. It’s less competitive, less judgmental, more supportive.”

Marie Bobin: “It has been an incredible experience seeing HAY FESTIVAL! come to life and bring community members together to celebrate Latinx culture helping foster a sense of belonging and cultural understanding.”

Terry Taylor Castillo: “We want to keep reaching out to community, build community, let all people know they are welcome. When I worked in education, we saw so many problems, but they can often be solved by getting to know each other’s cultures and why things look a certain way. I’m so proud of Rolo.”

As for Rolo Castillo, “I’m VERY HAPPY and trying not to miss anything. Trying to stay out of people’s way as they enjoy it, I’m loving it all! I’ve always been able to gather people, but parties can be meaningless. Planting seeds, Chicano reflection, I’m finding out things about myself.”

The invitation to HAY FESTIVAL! reads “The people of Aztlan invite you…” with Aztlan representing the mythical/original/creation lore for people of Mexican decent, including culture, geography and eternal life. Yet there is nothing mythical about HAY FESTIVAL!, it is right here and right now, and with continued community support, there is no telling how long it may live. BIEN ECHO, Y SALUD!

HAY FESTIVAL! Founding Committee:

Rolo Castillo – an original Big Top Loco
Terry Taylor Castillo – Executive Director, Joshua Tree Retreat Center
Marie Bobin – Deputy Director, Joshua Tree Retreat Center
Jose Garcia Davis – Professional Theatre, Film, Video, and Visual Artist
Licia Parea – Danzantes and Latina Dance Project
Christy Addis-Gutierrez – Program Director Fine Arts Film Festival, Venice
Martin Mancha – Art Direction, Graphic Design, Web Design and Development
Richard Montoya – Culture Clash, Film Director
Ray Rodriguez – Joshua Tree Voice

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