I learned about Ricardo Peña pretty much by accident, when I was in San Francisco, in its heavily Latino Mission District. In walking down the street, I noticed an interesting shop full of traditional art objects. I went in and discovered that the owner (and manager) was the leader, and chief drummer, of a San Francisco Bay Area group of Aztecs who got together about once a month to perform ceremonies, in which the drumming and dance are a prominent feature.
And I had not even known that there were Aztecs living in California!
I asked Peña if he would be willing for me to interview him on camera. He agreed, and in the course of the interview, told me that they would soon be conducting a public ceremony, and I was welcome to attend and film.
I did, inspired by learning from Peña's interview that for today's Aztecs, dancing (and following the drum) are considered a form of prayer to the creator. Peña also explained his regalia to me, showing that the various parts were symbolic, an expression of Aztec religion and values. And most important of all, Peña told me that he was proud to be indigenous, proud to be Aztec, proud to be a descendant of Mexico's and Central America's mighty civilizations.
Director's Bio: A filmmaker since 2004, Ma is essentially self-taught. Her work has screened and been in festivals in eight countries on four continents. Best known for Masters of Rhythm the Afro-Peruvian Way and Flamenco: the Land Is Still Fertile, she produces and directs in both English and Spanish, and in certain respects considers herself an international version of Les Blank. Her passions are music, dance, art, and cross-cultural understanding; and she tries to combine each of these elements in her work, whether documentary, narrative, or experimental. Her earlier careers (history professor, lawyer, and non-profit administrator) have also had a significant effect on her filmmaking.
Ricardo Peña, focus of this documentary, is from Toluca state in central Mexico, but now lives in San Francisco, California. Peña grew up in a traditional Aztec family and learned the rites, rituals, customs and drumming from his elders. Unlike many Mexicans and other Central Americans, he is proud of his indigenous heritge and is determined to maintain his traditions in his adopted land. He is also passing along this knowledge and this pride to his children, which he believes to be one of the most important obligations of parents.
Peña has a shop in San Francisco's Mission District where he sells art objects and traditional handicrafts of Mexico. He also organizes and leads Aztec ceremonies for his community, with the aim of holding one each month, in spite of the difficulties that this involves, difficulties such as city regulations and the relatively small number of pure Aztec people living in his area.