They come from all walks of life — psychologists, lab technicians, post office workers, public school employees, college students, and even a director of human resources.

They are led by a man who grew up in Watts, hung out with African American friends, and knew next to nothing about his own Mexican heritage — or, for that matter, how to speak Spanish.

They practice next to a Reseda church in a residential area, making sure they are quiet and respectful of their neighbors, which is a challenge, because folklorico dancing is, if nothing else, a joyful, artistic expression part of Mexican culture tied deeply to the faith. 

“Folklorico dancing is part of our Catholic faith, and we share it with others just as the Church shares its faith with us,” said John Estrada, founder and director of Grupo Folklorico de West LA, which for 44 years has performed throughout Southern California, including the recent Santa Barbara Fiesta Days.

“For us, to perform is to acknowledge and celebrate our faith and express our love for our culture,” continued Estrada, a parishioner at St. Catherine of Siena Church in Reseda. “The way I see it, I’ve been given a gift to share, and I do so in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

That faith and skill was on display last month at Santa Barbara’s Old Fiesta Days, where Grupo Folklorico de West LA has performed for more than 30 years.

They were able to perform at two smaller open-air venues, Nuevo Paseo and La Cumbre Plaza, much to the joy of its members and Fiesta audiences that included Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron of the Santa Barbara Pastoral Region.

“The audiences were very gracious,” said Annabelle Baltierra, a group member for the past 16 years, and senior director of Human Resources for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

So was Bishop Barron, who came to give the group a special blessing.

“He lifted our spirits and we told him how we offer our performances up to God and our ancestors, especially when we dance Azteca,” said Baltierra.

Baltierra, who had been in professional folklorico groups previously, said she was drawn to Grupo Folklorico de West LA by its focus on faith.

“In the other groups, there was a lot of yelling and a lot of ‘practice till you drop,’ ” said Baltierra, the daughter of Mexican immigrants. “Coming to this group in a more family-oriented, parish-centered atmosphere has been wonderful. We talk about our faith as Catholics. We are aware of how lucky we are to incorporate our faith into performances.”

Full story at Angelus News.