• June 18th, 2024
  • Tuesday, 03:55:48 PM

Capitán de la Danza: Raúl Tlaloc Chávez de Portillo, Huitzilopochtli

Photos: Karen Gutiérrez/El Semanario


Daniel Stange


Nacimos para morir. We are born to die.


We come here to give testament that the world is still in motion


Not many people can understand why someone died until they explain why they lived.


No para siempre aquí. Not here for always. Solo un poco tiempo que vivimos. Our life is brief. Aunque sea Jade se rompe. Aunque sea oro se quiebra. Hasta las plumas se desgarra.


Photo: Courtesy Renee Fajardo Raúl Tlaloc Chávez de Portillo, en Paz Descansa, February 29, 1952 – May 7, 2022.

Just a short time here is our life. We realize these words as our life matures and age makes the days slip past in the blink of an eye. When we are young, we seldom think of the fragility and fleetingness of our own life. Knowledge of past gives us a respective timeline and the longer our timeline the further our memories can reflect the proposition that we apply to life’s mission or life’s fulfillment. Everybody loves to think that we come to life for a purpose and when your energy is focused to find and fulfill that purpose you cultivate bliss. But few of us are chosen to bring our mission in alignment with the mission of the larger family-community-society-nation.


Raúl Tlaloc Chávez Portillo was among those few. We might never know if that is because he was fated to bring the energy of our native traditions here or because his love for the tradition manifests into an energy that so many others were attracted to. We may never know if he was an ancient spirit returned to guide our footsteps, or a pioneer of his own destiny that forged a path for us to follow. We should never doubt that our human existence is intricately woven with each other and although we take time to reflect upon the life of one person, there is no context unless we compare that life with our own and those in our circles. We are a human family and some of us bring the family close and some of us branch outward beyond the constraint. One is not good or bad, and some like Raul do both. His family is spread across the Rio Grande region like the pueblos of ancient days. Yet, he adopted the Denver Chicano community and we responded in kind and laid him to rest in the Crown Hill cemetery on May 19th, 2022.


I met him at La Raza Park in 1995 when I first began to don feathers on my head and shake rattles on my ankles. I learned to carry the stringed concha (mandolin) and sing alabanzas that hold the secrets of our native past by his side. I shared a final meal with him Friday morning when he had left the hospital and spoke to him as if we would be dancing together next week when his wounds were healed. He was very happy that day and visited with quite a few old friends and family. He could not sleep well and when he finally did lay down at the sofa in front of his altar, his breath abandoned him and I wept all morning Saturday as the grupo and his children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren embraced his body and burned incense to lighten his spirit. We sang songs for hours, as even the Denver Police allowed us extra time to honor and respect our beloved teacher and elder. A hawk flew down and sat in the tree above the home when they carried him away.


We all felt the bliss of effortless transition that morning and though the weight of sorrow and loss are still pressing upon our shoulders and hearts, we stand stronger upon his shoulders and lift our feathers of prayer into the sky. We bring to fruition the lessons of our ancestors and the ceremonies they instructed us with.  We shout Mexika Tiahui – “People go forward” as our danzante clarion call that guides our efforts. We know there is work to be done. We have not forgotten our roots. Deep into this continent from thousands of years ago we demand to be recognized as one of the original mother cultures of the earth. Anahuac, Abya Yala, Hah-Nu-Nah (Turtle Island) We speak many tongues and hold many rituals, but we all dance. We all survive, and we all continue bringing our ancient messages back to the light. Some can sing beautiful songs about it. Some of us write prose or organize ceremonies or simply talk with neighbors and friends. We all resist the erasure.


Raúl did not talk to me about manifesting dreams or controlling our destiny. He would say that God calls us to be part of something bigger than one person.

We have been here before and we will be here again. The truth of eternity is that it never began.  It will never end, it only transforms. We are all constantly changing and transforming and just as death will surely carry our body back to the earth, we will carry our songs and dances back into the community and society. Together the people are what controls markets and economies and developments and political ambitions. We are waking up to the dreams of our children. We should reflect on the dreams of our childhood. Dreams make for a healthy imagination.


Raul shared with me his dreams. He would say, “live the dreams that you see are helping the people and protect yourself from the dreams that cause you to be afraid.” Raul did not talk to me about manifesting dreams or controlling our destiny. He would say that God calls us to be part of something bigger than one person. That we could see the opportunities before us and that we need to speak with our heart to make the choices which will benefit others and not just ourselves. That we should choose the path that respects the ways of our ancestors and continues to reveal the truth about who we are. His mission was planted from those Elders, and he did the best to care for that seed and see that flower and bloom.


His mission does not end with his death because he planted many of these same seeds as he traveled and danced across the continent. Atlantic Coast to Pacific Coast, as far north as Chicago and south to Chiapas, México. He carried a spirit that was keeping rooted on this continent but like a Hummingbird, he shared his message through a drum beat and a dance step. Perhaps, I was only so fortunate to have been so close to him because it is my destiny to put words to his message. Perhaps I am cultivating another seed from our ancestors that he helped to spread among the places he journeyed. I feel blessed that he chose to stay in Denver and that he could lean on me when there were challenges. I will continue forward.


Many thanks and prayers for the Chávez family and for all the danzantes that ever stood in circle with Raul. Your energy will never be destroyed. Thanks to my cousin, Renee Fajardo, for always supporting Raúl and his home and keeping our traditions centered in your work. Thank you to all the Capitanes and Generales that recognized Raúl and his palabra. Thank you to all the children that call Raul their Jefe and despite all misgivings are still proud of themselves and continue making their lives better.


Mexika Tiahui!!!



Daniel Stange is the Grant Manager with Sisters of Color United for Education in Denver, Colorado.



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