Passing the torch: Brownsville’s ROCA takes over ‘Little Bit of Mexico’

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Founder of Revival of Cultural Arts (ROCA) Hilda Ledezma is bequeathed the title of “A Little Bit of Mexico” at the Brownsville George Ramirez Performing Arts Academy in downtown Brownsville from the Sisters of the Incarnate Word Monday, Feb. 19, 2024, and will continue the celebration of culture that the Sisters initiated 70 years ago. (Miguel Roberts/The Brownsville Herald)

A cherished Brownsville tradition will survive because of a gift of love from the Sisters of the Order of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament (OVISS) to the Revival of Cultural Arts (ROCA).

That gift is “A Little Bit of Mexico,” a joyful, full-bore production of traditional dance, music and costumes, born with the original Charro Days movement and celebrating the region’s binational culture. The Sisters staged it for 69 years, though 2023 was their last year to do so with the closing of Incarnate Word Academy after 175 years of service.

However, the Sisters have passed the torch to ROCA, which last year celebrated its 10th year as a 501(c)3 nonprofit with the mission of creating opportunities for the community to experience performance and visual art and music, “with an emphasis on education for everyone,” said Hilda Ledezma, the group’s founder and executive program director.

“They endorsed ROCA to continue with the production,” she said. “They gave us all the costumes, the outfits that they had, and any other support that we needed to be successful with the event.”

Samantha Escandon, this year’s china, and Adrian Alvarez, this year’s charro, perform the production of “A Little Bit of Mexico” on Feb. 25, 2024. (Courtesy Photo)

The 70th performance of “A Little Bit of Mexico,” and the first under ROCA’s management, was held Feb. 25 at the Texas Southmost Center Performing Arts Center. Ledezma admits she was a little nervous and hoped to sell at least 500 tickets — enough to cover costs. The production, which took a month to put together and featured more than 150 dancers, sold out the 819-plus seat venue and actually made money thanks to enthusiastic community support and sponsors who believed in ROCA’s ability to pull it off, she said.

“We received a lot of support from the community, and more so we feel that this endorsement is not only to continue this production but really the legacy of the Sisters, who really out-poured their love for the city for more than 170 years, in education,” Ledezma said.

The production also celebrates the Brownsville-Matamoros sister cities relationship, and in fact, this year’s production included performers from both cities, she said. Thanks to the Sisters entrusting the production to ROCA, it ensures not only the production’s survival but ROCA’s as well, Ledezma said.

“We don’t do galas, because we really don’t have time,” she said. “I think this probably is going to be one of our main fundraisers, not only to showcase our kids but also to continue the work of our nonprofit, as we rely on grants and fundraisers.”

Revival of Cultural Arts (ROCA) celebrate Monday, Feb. 19, 2024, with the Sister of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament Order at the Brownsville George Ramirez Performing Arts Academy in downtown Brownsville during a ribbon cutting as ROCA has been bequeathed the title of “A Little Bit of Mexico” from the Sisters of the Incarnate Word to continue the production to honor the legacy of the Sisters who initiated it 70 years ago. (Miguel Roberts/The Brownsville Herald)

For the record, yes, the Feb. 25 performance featured plenty of children as young as 3, though among the performers were also adults — the oldest of whom turned 76 on the day of the performance, Ledezma said, stressing that ROCA isn’t just for kids.

Each year a charro (nattily dressed horseman) and china (the charro’s female counterpart), are chosen to serve as the production’s headliners. For decades under the Sisters’ management, the chinas and charros were selected from Incarnate Word’s student body, though now under ROCA auditions will be open to everyone in Brownsville, Ledezma said.

Being handed such a gift also comes with great responsibility, she said, adding that the Sisters wanted to see certain things happen as they passed the mantle: A ribbon-cutting, for instance, and a parade, a 70th anniversary performance, a poster and a program booklet, all of which ROCA made happen.

“This story, that was my last check mark,” Ledezma said laughing. “And they wanted the city to know that this is a continued outpouring of love and prayer for our city from our Sisters.”

In a statement announcing the production’s new home, Sister Annette Wagner, OVISS, Delegate of the Superior General, said that “we want to continue gifting the Brownsville community with a celebration of culture through music, performance and visual arts.”

“It’s a family inclusive, holistic approach, because we include everyone that wants to be a part of it,” Ledezma said of the production. “It’s really community based. I’m just so glad we pulled it through and I think next year it’s going to be even better.”