The ancient Aztec celebration of “Mexika New Year Ce Calli (One House)” at City College of San Francisco’s Mission campus was a bittersweet occasion this year.
The annual event memorialized Ernesto Xe YeiKoatl, the son of Aztec calendar interpreter Mazatzin Acosta, one of the main organizers of the event. The 23-year-old CCSF student and worker at a Whole Foods store was shot in February near Hayes and Webster streets in San Francisco. Police did not immediately make arrests or identify suspects, and the family is still waiting for news, Acosta said.
Celebration and mourning with a positive outlook marked the March 11 observation, in which traditional music and dance shared space with a commemorative altar dedicated to Xe.
“The most important thing is not what happened to my son, but [that] it’s not happening again,” Mazatzin said. After the ceremony, he said that he appreciated the support and shared feeling from the community. Many attendees had fond recollections of Xe.
“I knew the kid. He was a wonderful person,” attendee Gloria Esteva said in Spanish. In fact, that was the main reason she joined the celebration, she said. “He and his father taught our children about the Aztec calendar two and a half years ago, and my grandson came home impressed, telling about how much he had learned from them.
“They are special, lovely people who have been able to give back to the community. I want to thank them for being there, because even if he’s not here anymore, he stays in our hearts,” she said.
Ernesto Xe YeiKoatl helped spread awareness of the Aztec culture as a part of People Organized to Win Employment Rights (POWER), said Xochitl Bernadette Moreno, child care coordinator for the organization. Following his death, the group held a vigil and performed dances on the place where the shooting took place, she said.
“This was his mission, his work. So we have to continue it,” she said.
Xe’s death was “very hard,” said Denhi Donis, who has known the family since Xe was a little boy. Donis has contributed to the New Year’s celebration for the last three years by bringing flowers. She insisted that the evening be viewed as Xe’s soul’s release. “My people believe that you need to let it go so the spirit of the person can leave free. They don’t feel they can go, otherwise,” she said.
Acosta received affectionate condolences from the audience on the loss of his son as he conducted the ceremony and explained the significance of the calendar.
The Aztec year now beginning is called Ce Calli, which means One House, according to a system of cyclical symbols. The Aztec calendar has four subdivisions: rabbit, reed, flint and house, and every year receives a number from 1 to 13. One House will be followed by Two Rabbit, Three Reed, Four Stone and Five House, and so on until it reaches Thirteen House.
Acosta has conducted the celebration for six years at CCSF’s Mission campus. The evening began with traditional dances, with close to 400 people joining in, and continued with music by the band Ajayú and Mission artist Mamacoatl. At evening’s end, Acosta, along with head dancer Ehecatltezcatlipoca, invited celebrants to dance, hold hands and welcome the new year. Alma Iris conducted a smoke ceremony to the cardinal points.
“It’s a greeting and a recognition to the four directions of the universe,” Mazatzin said. ”We acknowledge that we’re part of everything that surrounds us, and we respect it.”