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Fronteras: Centuries-Old South Texas Folklore Tradition Earns Highest National Honor

The matachín tradition honors religious festivals with music, dance and elaborate hand-made attire. The centuries-old practice has earned a South Texas group of matachines a national honor as the 2020 recipients of a National Heritage Fellowship.

Laredo's Los Matachines de la Santa Cruz de la Ladrillera in 2018.
Credit Norma Ortiz
Laredo's Los Matachines de la Santa Cruz de la Ladrillera in 2018.

Los Matachines de la Santa Cruz de la Ladrillera — loosely translated as “the matachines of the Holy Cross of the brick works” — got their start in a Mexican coal mining town. It made its way to south-central Texas in the late 19th century, settling in Laredo by the 1930s.

The group honors the Holy Cross in May and the Virgin of Guadalupe in December with dance, music, food and traditional dress. The group can number up to 50 dancers and they are all descendants of the original mining family who founded the matachines over a century ago.

Los Matachines de la Santa Cruz de la Ladrillera have participated in the Texas Folklife Festival and the Smithsonian American Folklife Festival. Now, they’re receiving the nation’s highest honor in the folk and traditional arts.

It’s a lifetime honor that includes an award of $25,000 given in recognition of artistic excellence and efforts to sustain cultural tradition for future generations. The 2020 class of fellows will be honored during a virtual celebration this year due to the pandemic.

Roberto Ortiz is a member of Los Matachines de la Santa Cruz de la Ladrillera and Norma Elia Cantú is president of the American Folklore Society.

Norma Martinez can be reached at norma@tpr.org and on Twitter @NormDog1 and Lauren Terrazas can be reached at lauren@tpr.org and on Twitter @terrazas_lauren.

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Norma Martinez can be reached at norma@tpr.org and on Twitter at @NormDog1
Lauren Terrazas can be reached at lauren@tpr.org and on Twitter at @terrazas_lauren