Saturday, April 05, 2008

Notes From My Knapsack 4-13-08
Jeff Gill

Jack Black’s Favorite Field Trip

If your kids have made you watch “Nacho Libre,” you may recall that (spoiler alert) after Brother Ignacio wins big in wrestling at the movie’s end, he takes the kids of the orphanage, as promised, on a field trip in the bus he bought for them.

The orphanage is in Oaxacan highlands of southern Mexico, and the field trip is to a majestic place where the children get a chance to experience awe and wonder right in their own backyard, over a thousand feet above the valley floor at Monte Albán. Built about two thousand years ago, they kids may not be directly related to the Zapotecan architects of antiquity, but some of them doubtless are, and the site is their common inheritance.

Kind of like the Newark Earthworks in Licking County, right?

Which has something to do with the fact that a troupe of ten Aztec Dancers from Querétaro, a city in Mexico with a history going back to 1531, are coming to help Licking County observe Newark Earthworks Day on Saturday, May 3, with a ceremonial dance at 6:00 pm at the Great Circle off of Rt. 79 in Heath.

1531 is also when this troupe records their founding, when Spanish conquistadores and Native peoples almost fought a battle, but stopped on seeing a vision of Saint James, or in Spanish “Santiago” in the clouds. The people of Querétaro have not stopped celebrating that peaceful coming together since almost five hundred years ago, dancing in the hundreds of thousands for special holidays, led by troupes such as the group coming to help us dedicate a new museum at the former Moundbuilders State Memorial May 3.

During the day up at OSU-Newark, in the J. Gilbert Reese Center there will be speakers and programs to talk about World Heritage Sites like Stonehenge in England, over 4,000 years old but aligned to the same sun and moon in our common sky. We will hear about Teotihuacán, a complex of vast pyramids 25 miles north of Mexico City (as large as those in Egypt), about the same age as the Newark Earthworks and where the Aztec Dancers of Querétaro offer up their chants and songs and armadillo guitars and dances in the central plaza.

And we’ll hear a bit about how these structures and their sky and the cultures who lived between them have qualities if not relatives in common with our 2,000 year earthworks.

You can see the details of what to hear when at (check the “agenda” link), and even if you don’t check out any of the programs through the day, make sure to come out 21st St. just out of Newark proper or south on Rt. 79, and stand at the entrance of the Great Circle, once the county fairgrounds, and see the dancers escort us into the enclosure from the renewed and refurbished museum, also the new home of the Licking County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau (

If you have kids in the house who are fans of Jack Black, just tell ‘em it’s like the end of “Nacho Libre” and bring them out for 6:00 pm. We asked the Captain of the Aztec Dancers, Margarita Xochiyaocihuatl Zárate García, if we should have a rain plan – these folks wear beautiful handmade headdresses and apparel with pheasant and peacock feathers.

The answer was no, since they dance at the pyramids of Teotihuacán rain or shine, just out of sheer gratitude. So come help us be grateful for having a majestic place where our kids can experience awe and wonder right in their own backyard, and maybe learn a few new steps.

You can leave the stretchy pants at home.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he came to a greater appreciation of Jack Black fairly recently. Share your awesome and majestic community events with him at

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