Griselda Perez and child at Mam cultural festival. Photo by Jess Alvarenga.

Oakland’s Mam community celebrates their first cultural festival

on September 25, 2018

Last week, Oakland’s Mam community held its first local festival at the Cesar Chavez Library in Oakland. With more than 10,000 Mam residents in the Bay Area, organizers said they felt a need to express their culture’s uniqueness. 

The Mam are Maya indigenous group who originated in Guatemala. The Mam language is well-known in Guatemala, as it is one of the most widely spoken of the 21 Maya languages currently spoken there. The festival took place on September 15, which is also Guatemala’s day of independence from Spain.

The creator of the festival, Henry Sales, said he had high hopes of working to transform perception of the Mam culture through showcasing Mam clothes, music and performance. Although the festival was a celebration, Sales said his community faces a rough time for many reasons, including hardships related to immigration and because there aren’t very many Mam translators to help with legal documents or any forms they may need to fill out. Through the festival, Sales said he wants to create an understanding of the prejudices faced by members of the Mam and the larger Latinx community in the United States.

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