MANATEE -- "Live your life the way you want it to be. No one can judge the way you are, and every comment you hear makes you a better person."
That's the perspective Palmetto High School sophomore Silvana Alfaro learned through following in her family's tradition of dancing.
It's one her grandfather Teolisiol Alfaro began generations ago in Zacatecas, Mexico, the place where wind and percussion ensembles formed after the revolutionary movements of 1910. Antonio, her father, brought the tradition to Manatee County where Silvana and her brother, Jairo, a seventh-grader at Lincoln Middle School, carry on as captains of the dance group that performed Wednesday at Stillpoint House of Prayer, Saint Anne Catholic Church in Ruskin and Holy Cross Parish in Palmetto.
These performances honored Our Lady of Guadalupe, who was declared Patroness of Latin America in 1910. In 1945, Pope Pius XII declared her to be the Empress of all of the Americas. The holiday continues to be celebrated, commemorating the occasion when she was recognized by a native Aztec convert named Juan Diego in 1531, according to Deacon Leo Pastore of Saint Jude Catholic Church in Sarasota.
More than that, the dancers find power in their moving worship, Silvana Alfaro explained.
"This is part of our religion," the 16-year-old said. "My family brought the tradition here and that makes me feel proud, proud that we kept the tradition going, and hopefully it will last many years.
"I hope we continue to join together and that we get treated equally in our lives."
Dancers perform in the folkloric style of the traditional music of Zacatecas called Tamborazo, mariachi music with father Antonio Alfaro playing the characteristic bass drum. Its style evolved from the European bands who entertained during the revolutionary era in 1910, according to reference books.
Silvano Alfaro says her family's troupe hopes to one day perform at the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago, as well as in other venues around the country. Alfaro herself hopes to attend Florida State University when she graduates from Palmetto High.
The dance is liturgical as well as traditional. She believes that the liturgical dance has healing properties.
"For me it means a lot," Alfaro said. "I have asthma and when I started (the dancing) I had the attacks a lot. Now, it's not as much."
According to Deacon Leo Pastore of Saint Jude's Parish in Sarasota, Our Lady of Guadalupe is one of the major connections holding the cultures together because it acts as a bond between the Aztec cultures and Christianity. As far back as 1531, legend says that the peasant Juan Diego met a young woman on the Hill of Tepeyac, where she asked that a church be built. Diego recognized her as the Virgin Mary, so he repeated his story to the archbishop who instructed Diego to return. She sent him back to Bishop Zumárraga on Dec. 12 from the barren hilltop with a cape that opened to reveal not only fresh Castilian roses but also an image of the Lady of Guadalupe, miraculously imprinted on the fabric.
Shrines today continue to mark the spot where the Lady of Guadalupe was seen. A minor basilica was consecrated in 1976.
"Most of the dancers have a really strong belief in her," Alfaro said. "It has done a lot for us."