Workshops preserve, investigate folk traditions of Texas

Allison Harris

The sizzle of steak, the music of flutes, acoustic guitars and Judy Garland’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” echoed through the Mexican American Cultural Center when local teachers and students presented stories of folk traditions.

Eleven local teachers and four high school students presented the radio journalism reports they made during a week-long workshop sponsored by Texas Folklife, a non-profit dedicated to preserving and publicizing Texas cultural traditions. The stories shared Friday evening chronicled renowned fajita maker Sonny Falcon; the use of native plants in indigenous cultures at the Festival de Las Plantas; Aaron Allan, a DJ Hall of Fame member who wrote songs for many people including Willie Nelson; and the Georgetown Palace Theater.

Cristina Ballí, associate director of Texas Folklife, said about 150 people in Austin and South Texas have participated in similar programs in the past three years, but this was the first time the organization offered a workshop during the summer. She said the workshops turn teachers and students into field researchers for Texas Folklife.
“They live the culture day-in and day-out, so we give them the tools to document that culture and present it in a meaningful and engaging way,” Balli said. “They learn many new valuable skills they can apply in their jobs, and they have some experience to write on their college applications,” she said.

Elisabeth Perez-Luna, a lead instructor of the workshop and a radio producer, introduced the projects and showed two of her radio pieces.Perez-Luna said she was impressed by the effort workshop participants gave to their projects from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. every day.

“They push themselves and they’re always thinking how to use the material they learned here for their own students,” she said.

LBJ High School English teacher Ashley Robinson said working on the story about Aaron Allan was challenging, but rewarding.

“Hearing yourself in an interview and on the mic, you really hear all those little tiny things you don’t realize you do or say that you should never have anybody else hear either,” Robinson said.

Mike Erickson, a culinary arts instructor at John B. Connally High School in Pflugerville, said working on the piece about Sonny Falcon will help him as he plans to make a Food Network-style TV show part of his classes next year.
“It was amazing to see how hard it was to go from nothing to the end, and also seeing how much journalists have liberty to kind of change things and how they put their own perspective into it,” Erickson said.

Federico Subervi, director of the Center for the Study of Latino Media and Markets at Texas State University, said he appreciated the diversity of participants in the workshops.

“It’s wonderful to see new and diverse voices producing folk stories,” Subervi said. “Good traditions are kept alive. It maintains our memories that otherwise would be broken.”