Kalpulli Ehekatl Papalotzin Keeps Mexica Tradition Alive in the Coastal Bend

Kalpulli Ehekatl Papalotzin Keeps Mexica Tradition Alive in the Coastal Bend

Kalpulli Ehekatl Papalotzin elevates cultural awareness through sacred rituals they share with the community.

photo of Kalpulli Ehekatl Papalotzin during practice

Photography by Ben Zaragosa

South Texas has a rich, diverse culture begging to be shared with the community. This area was built on Indigenous lands, and the heritage of Indigenous people is one that shares many ties to present-day Mexican American culture. 

Although numerous Indigenous sites span from Portland to Northshore and all along the coast, many of these lands have been given over to industrial development. The sacred lands may no longer exist, but people like those of Kalpulli Ehekatl Papalotzin keep the Indigenous traditions alive. 

“The conquerors from Europe tried to invade the whole continent and the whole culture, but we are still here and our culture is alive,” said Adalberto Zanes “Tonalhuitzil,” capitán of one of two Kalpullis (a Nahuatl term for a group or collective who lived close together and shared social responsibilities) in the Coastal Bend. “If you know where you come from, you know where you are going—that’s why I share everything I know about the Mexica tradition.” 

Kalpulli Ehekatl Papalotzin is a distinguished local Mexica Kalpulli closely linked to the Azteca traditions. A tribe from Mexico City, whose name translates to “Venerable Butterfly of the Wind,” is characterized by its work to unite all Indigenous peoples. Each member of the Kalpulli is given an Azteca name based on the place and time they were born. Their Spanish name is sent to a professional in Mexico who specializes in interpreting the Aztec calendar. Zanes’ name, “Tonalhuitzil,” means hummingbird because of the tequila plant flowers blooming at the time and place he was born. 

The Kalpulli performs rituals and prayers at a variety of community events such as Third Thursday at the Art Museum of South Texas and Dia de los Muertos. | Photography by Ben Zaragosa

One component of Kalpulli is a warrior-style dance; members participate in ceremonial Mexica performances consisting of music, dance and storytelling. The second component is made up of a series of cultural awareness workshops and lectures. Together, both components harken back to Kalpulli Ehekatl Papalotzin’s mission to share the traditional dance, songs and arts while educating the public on who Mexican Americans are as Native American people who maintain a living and evolving tradition.

The group aims to reclaim some of the spaces that were taken and encourages others to understand the importance of having a relationship with the sacred land they occupy. “If we do everything with discipline, the world will be a better place,” Zanes said. “If we take care of our planet, there will be more rain and more plants. Our role is also to take care of Mother Earth,” 

Through members’ prayers and rituals, Kalpulli Ehekatl Papalotzin wants the community to reconnect with parts of their own heritage and remember that we are all a part of this planet, and that we all share a bigger and connected experience with this earth, together.

When asked what he hopes the community takes away from interacting with these rituals, Zanes said, “Every single dance is a prayer. It is a spiritual experience. I hope everybody is more human, a more lovely person, after interacting with our rituals. We take this opportunity to keep these traditions alive for future generations.”