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Dispute may end young dancers' hopes to attend Austria festival

June 21, 2001|By AARON CLAVERIE, Staff Writer

CALEXICO — Nine Mexicali children ages 8-15 have worked on folklorico dance steps for months in preparation for an international youth music festival in Austria next month.

But after the events of the past week, it looks as if some or all of the nine might not go on the trip.

The children, folklorico dance students at the Casa de la Cultura in Mexicali, had been invited to the Austrian festival by Lillian Contreras, founder of Mariachi Cascabel, but now those children may be staying home after a disagreement between Contreras and Saul Garcia, the Mexicali dance group's instructor.

Cascabel is a non-profit group of Imperial Valley youngsters that performs mariachi tunes at parties and festivals.

Mariachi Cascabel was invited to the II World Youth Festival by the Austrian youth musical group Klagenfurt.

However, to perform at the festival Cascabel needs a dance troupe.

Contreras said Wednesday that last year she asked Garcia to help round up some dancers to accompany the mariachis on their trip.

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Over the past few months, Garcia, a married couple, Alfredo and Lillian Contreras and Cascabel director Raymundo Ojeda came to an agreement on the number of dancers going to Europe.

It was decided nine dancers and 13 chaperones would accompany the mariachis and their chaperones at a cost of $1,200 per child.

During Tuesday's City Council meeting, Eduardo Mendoza Calvillo, a parent of one of the Mexicali dancers, told the council that the Mexicali youngsters danced for donations for several months to earn money for the trip.

Eventually, through a combination of donations, saved wages and credit card advances, the parents paid Ojeda, representing Cascabel, for the plane tickets and other costs associated with the trip.

Lillian Contreras and Ojeda, acting for Mariachi Cascabel, purchased plane tickets from American Airlines and arranged for the Italian and Austrian accommodations for the binational group of 50 children and adults, mostly parents of the children.

Of the 50, 22 would have represented Casa de la Cultura of Mexicali and 28 would have represented Mariachi Cascabel.

"Would have" is now the proper term.

On Wednesday morning, Ojeda told American Airlines to delete the names of the Mexicali children and parents, according to Contreras.

She said the parents of the Mexicali children will receive credit with American Airlines for the cost of the tickets, minus $102 in charges.

Contreras said the Mexicali parents pulled themselves and their children out of the trip because they didn't want to abide by the requirements she imposed.

One of the requirements concerned the instructor of the dance group, Garcia.

"I don't trust him," Contreras said.

Mendoza says he also was banned from the trip, along with Garcia, unless they went along with Contreras' conditions.

"She wanted us to be submissive," Mendoza told the council, "If she said, ‘Stand over there' we had to stand over there."

He added: Contreras was being "irrational" and "despotic" in regard to her demands on Garcia.

Contreras recalled the meeting of June 14 that could cost youth dancers a trip to Europe.

"They (the parents, Garcia and his friend) came over on Thursday and canceled everything," she said.

Talking on her telephone with the bleat of a trumpet sounding in the background, Contreras said, "Saul was very rude. He didn't want to face me because he was scared."

She added: "I told him that I didn't think he was doing his job right."

The parents of the children in the dance troupe still hope to visit Europe and see their children perform. They want the airline tickets for which they paid.

That is not going to happen, Contreras said.

Contreras said Ojeda will work with a Chula Vista group, Ballet Folklorico Yaqui, to arrange travel plans, Contreras said.

This means the children of Mariachi Cascabel and the Chula Vista area will attend the festival.

Contreras said she cried when she told the parents of the Mexicali children that she had lined up another troupe.

Despite that, she said she is looking forward to the trip and thankful for all those who have supported Mariachi Cascabel.

Those who have contributed to the mariachi's trip include President Bush. He gave $1,000 out of his own pocket toward the trip.

Cascabel and Ballet Folklorico Yaqui plan to fly out of Los Angeles International Airport on July 1.

On Monday, the Chula Vista folklorico group got passports for the trip over the Atlantic.

Contreras is not worried about legal action by the parents of the Mexicali dance troupe.

"We have proof of everything," she said.

She said the Mexicali group paid for 13 tickets and was planning on sending 22 people to Europe. She said Cascabel picked up the tab for eight tickets.

Each Mexicali parent who paid for a ticket will be credited $768 by American Airlines, she said.

This works out to $870.60 (the price of the original ticket), minus the $100 in charges and a $2 charge per ticket the Mexicali group was short overall, she said.

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