Two Halves, One Whole: Punjabi-Mexican Dance

The history of the California Punjabi-Mexican community is often overlooked. Due to economic hardship in Punjab in the 1900s, many young men immigrated to California. At the same time, uncertainty around the Mexican Revolution led many Mexicans to flee north. The groups intermarried, with their children calling themselves “half and half.” The subculture flourished briefly, before succeeding generations became more assimilated within American culture. Now, the children of these mixed marriages are reaching the end of their natural lives.

It was a shared interest in preserving this history that brought together San Francisco’s Duniya Dance and Drum Company and the Ensambles Ballet Folklorico de San Francisco. They merged traditional Punjabi Bhangra with Mexican Folklorico to create the dance series Half and Halves. This syncretism is reflected across the project’s twelve pieces, all of which incorporate singers and musicians from both cultures, as well as testimonials from the original “half and half” generation.

The dances tell a story, “from loss of homeland and family, to the experience of being bullied, to the death of passing generations. But there’s joy too—the celebration of the harvest, marriage, and the newly-constituted communities those marriages helped to forge.” And of course, a finale that represents the community’s continued endurance. The collaboration is not simply working to preserve and promote a history, but also to build new connections between the communities involved.

Dancers Honor California’s Mexican-Punjabi Heritage | KQED Arts

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