This Saturday will round off a decade in which the Mission’s City College of San Francisco has hosted the annual Aztec [Mexica] New Year celebration, founded by a group of former students determined to share the teachings of their indigenous ancestors with the community.
In light of President Donald Trump’s recent anti-immigration policies that have instilled fear in immigrant communities across the nation, the organizers of the 10-year-old event say its existence has only grown in significance.
“We have to open the doors [to City College] and let people know that it is safe for them to come in,” said Mazatzin Acosta, a cultural assessor and teacher who along with his sons began the celebration at the Mission campus at 1126 Valencia St.
The celebration commemorates the start of the New Year according to an ancient calendar system used by the pre-Columbian people of the Americas.
“[The calendar] is the culmination of the greatest human cooperation and achievement of time and space measurements and was accomplished by thousands of people across thousands of miles of the Western hemisphere over thousands of years,” said Mazatzin,who has spent two decades studying the calendar.
Following its count, he added, is not a “Mexican thing, a Mayan thing, or an Aztec thing – it’s a human experience.”
The group of activists and educators hope that community members locally will find self-knowledge and a sense of community in the annual cultural tradition.
“This calendar represents so many things – math, history, culture, art – our goal is to incorporate its teachings into our lesson plans,” said Jorge Bell, the dean of the Mission campus.
Bell called City College the Mission’s “center of learning,” and the indigenous tradition taking place there represents the synergy of “history and education.”
With tuition at City College slated to soon be free for all, he hopes the event will inspire members of the immigrant community seeking educational opportunities to enroll.
Starting at 6 p.m. on March 11, Aztec dancers will lead the traditional ceremony and dance in front of the school, underneath the colorful 27-foot tile replica of the calendar mounted to its Valencia Street entrance.
The first Aztec New Year’s celebration at the school came months after construction for the calendar project was completed.
At the time, Mazatzin joined City College as an advisor on the project and persuaded the school’s administration to change the calendar’s design from steel to ceramic.
“When we got involved we said if it’s going to be a representation of the real one, it can’t be made out of steel – It has to be made of stone,” he said.
Mazatzin didn’t stop there. In an effort to pass the significance of the calendar on to students, Mazatzin and his sons, Xe and Abel, who were enrolled at the school at the time, formed a student club.
There, they taught about the calendar’s history and indigenous traditions, and enlisted students to organize the first New Year ceremony.
Mauricio Rivera, now one of the main organizers of the event, said he became involved and learned about his own indigenous roots after meeting Mazatzin and his sons in an indigenous art class at the college.
“At the end of the class, the teacher would always give the last word to Mazatzin,” said Rivera.
In past years, the celebration has grown in size and reach. During its infancy, a small group of elders and dancers would gather to hold space and ceremony on the street in front of the school while traffic navigated around them.
The group’s persistence gained the support of the school’s administration, which eventually opened the doors of the campus on after school-hours to host community members.
With cooperation from the San Francisco police department, the organizers eventually managed to get a permit to block off the streets from 22nd and 23rd streets on Valencia Street out of respect for the ceremony.
In 2010, former Supervisor David Campos officially established March 11 as the Aztec [Mexica] New Year by way of a city proclamation. Since then other cities, including San Jose and Santa Clara, have also proclaimed and observed the annual celebration.
“We planted the seeds and finally we are getting some roots. I want this to be a celebration for the entire Mission neighborhood,” said Bell.
In years past, the Mission’s celebration has drawn hundreds from around the Bay Area as workshops, speakers and musical performances were incorporated.
But given this year’s political climate, organizers said the focus of the celebration will be on collective healing.
“If we lived in a perfect world we would have more things to celebrate,” said Rivera. “But right now, with everything that’s going on, we need to have more of an intention to do community building, healing and networking and talking about these issues and sharing our needs and wants.”
The Aztec New Year celebration will take place at 1126 Valencia Street (CCSF Mission campus) at 6 p.m. on Saturday, March 11 and end at 1:30 a.m. on March 12. For more information, visit the event’s Facebook page.
Mission Local covered the Aztec New Year Celebration in 2010: