A Peruvian dancer in CT displays her Indigenous pride to inspire future generations
Celia Ricapa Cereno was born and raised in San Juan de Yacan, a small town nestled in Cerro de Pasco located in the Peruvian Andes. Her hometown is surrounded by towering mountains and deep ravines. The sky above her hometown was always a brilliant blue, she said, stretching endlessly above the peaks of the Andes. For Ricapa Cereno, this was not just a picturesque backdrop, but a way of life.
Growing up, Ricapa Cereno was deeply ingrained in her Indigenous culture and traditions, passed down through generations of her family. She learned to appreciate and respect nature, as her ancestors had for centuries. She would often spend hours exploring the mountains and ravines, marveling at the beauty that surrounded her.
“The Indigenous people in the mountains take care of their lands and their crops, cultivate, and continue to demonstrate their cultures, traditions, and dances,” she said.
Ricapa Cereno has been a Connecticut resident for over 20 years. She uses her dancing talents to showcase her Indigenous roots by traveling across New England, participating in cultural events. During Native American Heritage Month this November, Ricapa Cereno wants to celebrate the diverse cultures of the original inhabitants of the American continents.
She wears traditional textiles, including a vibrant blanket with colorful patterns and designs that reflect her rich cultural heritage. This unique piece of clothing is traditionally worn around the shoulders.
“I have carried my children with a blanket like this. This blanket represents the Andean tradition of how to carry babies,” she said.
Her dances are also a sight to behold, as she swirls and twirls in her pollera, a colorful skirt, and adorns herself with vibrant accessories and jewelry.
“When people dance, they add fruits as part of their accessories, and also a hat," she said. "The polleras are colorful to give joy.”
In Connecticut, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates more than 25,000 Native Americans call the state home, which is about 0.7% of the state’s population. There are two federally recognized tribes in Connecticut, the Mohegan Tribe located in the southern part of the state, and the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe in the northeastern part of Connecticut.
Ricapa Cereno says she is proud to be Indigenous Peruvian, and she wants others to appreciate and celebrate the diverse Indigenous cultures of the American continents. By understanding and embracing these cultures, she says, people can learn important lessons about our shared connection with nature.
“I feel Indigenous,” she said. “That's why I like to dance and show our traditions.”
Ricapa Cereno also speaks Quechua, the Indigenous dialect of the Andean South Americans, to keep the language of her culture alive.
As part of her vision for her community and future generations in Connecticut, she also wants to see a strong representation of Indigenous Hispanic/Latinos organizing cultural events, just as other leaders do in nearby states.
“No one should forget the past. We have to always remember those who were here first.” Ricapa Cereno said. “We need to remember our culture and tradition.”