At Seattle Center’s Día de Muertos event this weekend, the Tloke Nahuake family will perform their ritual dances to celebrate their ancestral indigenous roots.
The Aztec empire is still alive in the Tloke Nahuake Aztec dancers. It’s something they feel on a daily basis, and at this year’s Día de los Muertos celebration, they’ll get to show Seattle what it looks like to reconnect with their ancestors.
Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a Mexican holiday that celebrates death from Oct. 31 through Nov. 2. It is believed ancestors who have died come back to the world of the living to visit their family members during this time. The first day is dedicated to children, the second to adults and the third to the Aztec god of death, Mictlantehcuhtli. The living prepare by setting up colorfully decorated offerings alongside the favorite foods and drinks of the dead. It’s common to see pan dulce, sugar skulls, tequila, atole and mole next to candles, pictures and flowers called cempasuchil.
At Seattle Center’s Día de Muertos event this weekend, the Tloke Nahuake family will perform their ritual dances to celebrate their ancestral indigenous roots. The event will be held in the Armory on the main level of Seattle Center from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 28, and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 29.
One of the dancers is Ixtli Salinas-White Hawk. Sitting in the Duwamish Longhouse, her thick black hair and feather earrings highlight her calm eyes. The mention of dancing for this year’s Day of the Dead celebration prompts her to reveal her family’s ancestry.
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Salinas-White Hawk says she can identify the very land her family was displaced from in the 1930s to make room for what is now Mexico City, one of the most densely populated cities in the Western hemisphere. After the Mexican government drained out the water from where her family’s floating garden (also known as a chinampa) stood, they moved to Tlacopan, an ancient village of the greater Aztec empire, Tenochtitlan. The dancing stayed and has remained a large part of their identity.
Tloke Nahuake describe their performance as more of an unrehearsed ritualistic celebration they feel within. They’ve danced all over the world, and those born into the family are allowed to join, part of a tradition passed down through generations.
“When I dance, I don’t think of anything else other than that moment,” she said. “I don’t think ‘what step I’m going to do next?’ I know the dances; they are in my blood and in my spirit and I hear the drum and I want to dance.”
Family members from Mexico and beyond have been called upon to partake in this year’s Día de los Muertos event, and Salinas-White Hawk estimates there may be 10 to 20 family members in full regalia present.
The very Tloke Nahuake family name conveys what is at the heart of the holiday; being together and united, here and there. It’s the name of the omnipotent creator in the Aztec belief.
“We believe that we live two worlds; this world, the contemporary material world,” Salinas-White Hawk said, “but we also live the spiritual world that transcends any kind of physical form.”
This year’s celebration is particularly important to the family. Earlier this year, Salinas-White Hawk’s grandfather died. They will be dancing to unite with him, dedicating their offering to his visit.
For Juan Salinas, Salinas-White Hawk’s father, his dance is not only a creative expression of art, but a form of communication. It will be an opportunity for him to get in touch with his father, he said.
“You get the perfect connection,” he said while his hands dance to the rhythm of his words.
He’s been dancing for 60 years, and danced alongside his father as his children dance alongside him. He does not sound sad when he talks about his father, instead he sounds excited and full of wonder for death.
“You walk through life to learn about death,” he said. “Don’t pinpoint death, generalize it, so that it doesn’t have to be something tragic.”