Share Your Stories: Brujo de la Mancha, Co-Founder of the Ollin Yoliztli Calmecac

PHILADELPHIA250
5 min readJan 29, 2024

Today, PHILADELPHIA250’s Share Your Stories series is spotlighting a voice from Philadelphia’s diverse indigenous community. Recently we sat down with Brujo De la Mancha, co-founder of the Ollin Yoliztli Calmecac to hear his story and thoughts about the upcoming 250th anniversary of the country.

Brujo de la Mancha is a self-taught artist specializing in danza azteca, a cultural dance tradition rooted in ancient Mesoamerican ceremonies from Mexico and Central America. Brujo was born in Mexico City to a family of both Spanish and Mexican Indigenous ancestry, but Brujo doesn’t call Mexico City his home. His paternal grandmother is from Xico, in the Veracruz mountains, and it has mixtures of native Maya and Olmec cultures. His only family consisted of her and his father. Brujo grew up in a rough neighborhood in Mexico City, but he never felt Mexican because of his indigenous heritage. “I knew I wasn’t what they called ‘Mexican.’ Mexican, that’s a Spanish European concept created after the Spanish came. I am not Mexican. We are called Mexicanos because of the Mexika people, one of the 7 groups that migrated to Mexico City from Aztlan to be located in the Great Lake area. I’m Mexika because I was born in Tenochtitlan, now Mexico City.”

Living a life attending protests and speaking out against the political government, Brujo was a rebel and got into the punk rock scene. Growing in a poor neighborhood, being a part of the punk rock scene was his form of rebellion and escape. “It’s a cultural thing that helped a lot of people, including myself. Everybody feels united by either being poor or being a part of radical movements. When you are a part of that group and you are with that group, you find a family right away no matter what country you’re in.” Brujo never knew where he belonged, whether it was in Mexico or his indigenous heritage which he was tormented for growing up. Being a part of the punk rock scene in Mexico with other individuals made him feel like he had an identity.

With the hardships and violence he experienced, Brujo decided he wanted to leave Mexico and move to the United States. “I was in Mexico and it was September 16, Mexican Independence Day. I remember looking at all the flags and thinking, ‘When am I going to leave this place?’” After his first attempt to make it to the United States, Brujo battled through obstacles to cross the border in Tijuana. Taking multiple buses, trains, and walking for three days, Brujo ended up in San Diego, California but he didn’t want to stay there. With a mix of fate and chance, Brujo was able to get a ticket to Philadelphia in early March of 1998 and he has been here ever since.

In Philadelphia, Brujo searched for his path. He started selling Mexican food in West Philly, where he lived, and tried to make a name for himself utilizing his visual artist skills by working In painting, sculpting, photography, puppetry, music, and dance. In 2003, Brujo co-founded Ollin Yoliztli Calmecac, the Aztec dance troupe and cultural group who celebrated its 20th year anniversary last year. But while Brujo’s life in Philadelphia during the last 25 years has been successful, he does not consider Philadelphia his real home. “The indigenous community in the United States is not my indigenous community. This [the United States] is not my land.”

During his time in the United States, Brujo has often felt disconnected from who he was. Though he created an organization that preserves and showcases his culture, he never felt like he had a home. His goal in Mexico was to come to the U.S., and when we asked Brujo what his goal is now, he said it is to get legal status to be a U.S. citizen so he can enjoy the freedom that comes with it — such as returning to Mexico after so long. When his father was ill a few years ago, he was not able to travel to Mexico to see his father one last time. “Also, I’m getting older and I’m thinking about my future. I’m not just a kid being a rebel and moving to different countries anymore. I have life here and I want to be able to keep it.”

Through his work at Ollin Yoliztli Calmecac, Brujo inspires and supports the community he found and helped create here in the U.S.. “I am very surprised with what I have accomplished in Philadelphia,” he says, though he acknowledges that it has been a hard road, as an immigrant and without his family around him. The vibrant cultural hub he has created serves as a safe haven for people seeking to keep the connection with their roots, fostering a sense of belonging and pride in one’s heritage — as well as the courage to stand up and be seen.

This blog is part of PHILADELPHIA250’s Share Your Stories program, which celebrates all Philadelphians, past and present who are a part of our history — making sure no one is left out of the story. If you have a story about a special person or place you’d like to share with us, please contact us through this form.

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PHILADELPHIA250

Coordinating the United States’ 250th anniversary in Philadelphia. Creating a commemoration that is truly by the people, for the people.