Not even a day after arriving Los Angeles for the first time, I found myself in a sun-drenched church courtyard in Santa Monica watching the Oaxacan Mexican community celebrate the full-day Festival of Saint John the Baptist. A brass band, traditional dancing and food, trays of mezcal, all sorts of surreal costumes, indigenous Oaxacan languages….. and screening for tropical diseases – I wouldn’t have my first visit to LA be any other way.
We were following the Center of Excellence for Chagas Disease (CECD) –the only organization in the United States fully dedicated to providing comprehensive care for people affected by Chagas disease, a deeply neglected tropical disease. The CECD usually screens Latin American immigrants in community fairs, staffed entirely by Spanish-speaking volunteers. Services are offered for free – patients do not need insurance. Except for three employees of the CECD, everyone else helping at the screening fair are volunteers.
I was there for the screening, but I couldn’t help but notice the incredible Oaxacan culture on display – right in the middle of Santa Monica. What blew me away the most was the excellent brass band with traditional folk dancing and costumes. Oaxaca is rich in brass bands – known as Tambora Oaxaqueña – and they have an almost Balkan feel.
It was quite the scene. The brass band played a non-stop set of dance tunes and the festival-goers formed dance lines. Mezcal and beers were passed down the lines as people danced. At some point, an impromptu parade was formed with all sorts scary costumed folks, who then joined the line dancing. I must admit I really don’t know much more about these traditions but it was a great first day in Los Angeles!