MCALLEN, RGV – When the McAllen Chamber of Commerce hosted La Guelaguetza at the McAllen Performing Arts Center a year ago this month October its staff new they were onto something big.

The dancers from Oaxaca were a big hit, with the center selling almost all its tickets within a week. 

After the event, the Chamber received many “thank you” messages from various parts of Mexico. It was at that point Chamber leaders realized they had connected with something special.

Luis Cantu

“We were in need of creating a big event, a destination event for the city. We were having a situation with Mexican shoppers not coming over. The change of government, the dollar to peso situation, there were a lot of things going on that were not helping. We said, we need to have something else to help us,” explained Luis Cantu, vice president of International Business & Community Development at McAllen Chamber of Commerce.

“At the same time we were approached by the Mexican Consulate’s Office. They were looking for a place for the Guelaguetza dancers to perform. They did not mind where they played, they would have taken a park. I said, no, this group is special, let’s give them the best place we have, the Performing Arts Center.”

There was little time to promote the event, Cantu recalls, but that did not seem to matter. 

“It was a quick performance and we pretty much sold out the Performing Arts Center with one week’s notice. It was pretty amazing. We could see there was something special here that we needed to experience in a bigger way, something we needed to help explode.”

In order to do that, the McAllen Chamber needed to develop a better relationship with Professor Noel Sanchez, who administers the Guelaguetza performers.

“We started to discuss ways to create something much bigger. We brought in Pollux Castor and they created a brand for the event. Steve was very supportive and so was the City. Everything clicked and MXLAN was born,” Cantu said.

The “Steve” Cantu referred to is Steve Ahlenius, president of the McAllen Chamber of Commerce. 

The sponsors of MXLAN are Shah Eye Center, Boggus Ford, Cemex, Glazers and UT-Rio Grande Valley.

“MXLAN is going to be a great event. It is going to be a five-day extravaganza in McAllen next July featuring 150 performances from Guelaguetza. We expect people from across Texas and Northern Mexico to come and see it. People will love it. It will be an interactive experience for many people. It is going to be awesome,” Cantu said. 

Asked what Guelaguetza is, Cantu said: It is the biggest ethnic festival in Latin America. Tens of thousands of people from around the world travel to Oaxaca to see it. Our event will be the first time they will be performing on such a large scale outside of Oaxaca. It will be unique to MXLAN. They have signed an exclusive agreement with us.”

Cantu sees two benefits from staging the festival. One, it draws more people to McAllen, helping to make it a destination city. Just as important, he said, it highlights Mexican culture.

“This is something that is truly appreciated by Mexico. When we did the event last year, we received so many thank you messages, from people in Monterrey, from Tamaulipas, from Coahuila. They were saying, I really thank you for celebrating our culture,” Cantu said.

“Even though we have a lot of people that speak Spanish here, a great part of the culture of Mexico is not known. We know a little bit of it. We know Jarabe Tapatio, we know Jalisco, and Mariachi, those parts are very familiar here. When you go to other parts of Mexico, we do not know too much. That is why it is important to start getting those pieces of the culture here, so we can teach our kids, our younger generation, so they learn and see and experience these vibrant cultures.”

Cantu said organizers plan to make MXLAN an annual event.

“We are starting with a promotion in Texas and Northern Mexico but our vision is to grow this at the national level. This is not a one time deal. We have good projections and we feel very positive about it,” Cantu said.