"We are not conquered. We are defeated, but not conquered," Aztleka said to those students listening to his brief history of the Aztecs.
Speaking in a mix of English and Spanish, Aztleka urged the students to teach their children the traditions and heritage of the Aztecs, after which he invited students to come on stage to participate in the "friendship dance."
Another featured artist at the Arts Festival was Rosa Maria Escalante, a former Calexico resident and a longtime member of Teatro Campesino.
Escalante did a scene from the one-woman play, "Rosita's Jalepeño Kitchen," by Rodrigo Duarte Clark. The play deals with the displacement of a community and takes a look at the importance of community, roots, family and home.
Escalante performed and conducted workshops on Teatro Campesino, which she said began in 1965 with the United Farm Workers movement and focuses mainly on "political, cultural and socially relevant issues."
As the educational director of the Teatro Campesino, Escalante conducts workshops for people of all ages, her most recent done with a group of senior citizens.
Escalante joined the theater company in 1971 when she was a student at University of California, Berkeley.
"The most important part for me is the building of community within a performance," she said of theater acting, adding that she believes the essence of theater is connecting with the audience.
"Different pieces (of a play) touch different people in different ways … that's the beauty of it," she said.
"The message of theater is for minds and hearts," Escalante said. "We are trying to get people to move, act, in response. We want to move you to do something … in response."
Although she was expecting to conduct an intimate workshop, Escalante agreed to treat the entire body of students gathered Friday to a performance and explained to them a little about her background.
Students lined up after to get her autograph, a photo and to talk.
"It was good. I liked learning about theater," said Holtville Middle School seventh-grader Noe Santana, 12.
His teacher, Monica Mungia, said she brought her students, 35 in all, to the festival because "it was based on Latinos, and because they need role models who will influence them to go on to become something in life."
Her students seemed to have gotten the message.
Jesus Rubio, 12, a seventh-grader, was impressed with Aztleka.
"He was showing his tradition, and he didn't care what people thought of him. He wanted to perform," Jesus said.
Students were able to attend workshops on topics ranging from commercial acting, to writing poetry, impromptu acting, guitar and a whistle workshop, providing there was room.
"We were expecting about 250 students, and we have almost 600 here," said Randy Carson, program manager for the Imperial County Arts Council and co-director of the festival.
"It's a good problem," he added.
Calexico High School junior Johanna Ruiz, 16, said she hadn't attended the workshops because they were too full. However, she said she was still enjoying the day.
"It's a good day to learn about the different types of art there are," Johanna said, adding that she "really enjoyed" Escalante's performance. "I wish it was longer."
Nan Rebik, interim executive director of the Arts Council, said she was pleased with the festival's turnout.
"There are more kids than we ever expected," she said, adding she hopes this is "something that will turn into an annual event."
Carson said the idea of a festival in the Valley originated with Simón Silva, an award-winning illustrator and author raised in Holtville.
Silva was a featured speaker at Saturday's festival.
Carson said the theme will change yearly, adding next year's theme will focus on "Women and the Arts."
Carmen Durazo, chairwoman of the Calexico Arts Commission, said although "there's a need in the Valley to expand and enlarge what we're doing," she thinks the students' exposure to the arts has increased.
"It's a growing and learning process," Durazo said.
"Everyone has some part of art in their soul," she added.
Staff Writer Laura MacKenzie can be reached at 337-3442.