Former Selma High School folkloric dance instructor Vickie Filgas had no intention of becoming a teacher, yet she championed the cause for authenticity in Mexican dance throughout her decades in the district.
Born in Fresno and raised in Del Rey, Filgas obtained three teaching credentials: Spanish, Social Science and English, while teaching in 1975 at Selma High and Roosevelt, formerly the middle school. Filgas wrote a curriculum to make dance an actual class under California history, and taught the beginning of the Chicano movement.
She grew the folklórico group at Selma High, Los Paisanos, to be recognized as an authentic Mexican folkloric group. She’s officially trained and was credentialed in dance at La Escuela Superior de Danza Mexicana and under world reknowned Amalia Hernández.
Filgas spearheaded a six-year effort at Selma High taking the dance group to Hawaii, where it performed at the Polynesian Cultural Center. The group also performed in various parts of México. She’s a self-proclaimed activist and continues to voice her opinion for education and immigrants.
Filgas met with Vida en el Valle on Nov. 8 in her home located in the country just outside Selma. The Spanish-style home, which she herself designed, has an open patio on a second-floor lookout with a view of the eastern foothills. Filgas, 68, continues her travels, twice a year, to countries in an effort, she says, to further educate herself.
1. You’re not Latina.
“Yes, I am. On my mother’s side: Margarena Iñez Guize de León. My father’s name was Johnny Franklin Filgas. He’s from Morovia. When Czechoslovakia was formed after the World War I and they put all those countries together, they were ousted and lost their land. They came to Saskatchewan, Canada. One uncle came to California, and took back oranges and then some of the family came here.”
2. Who influenced you into becoming an educator? A dancer?
“The educator part would be my dad because he was the one who said ‘You got to give it a try,’ and I said, ‘No I want to be a diplomat.’ I really wanted to do that. My mother and father were dancers. They jitterbugged. They were excellent dancers. When I was in México, I was drawn to the color and the music. It’s a phenomenon that every state in México has developed their own music, their own dance. When I started I took a class with Amalia Hernández, I was in her institute for one summer, that’s when they were having the competitions for the costuming. They wanted one costume that would be the costume for that state.”
3. What is your education?
“I graduated from Selma High School in 1967. After two semesters at Fresno State, my mother sent me to the University of Madrid because she thought I was becoming a hippie. So she sent me to the most conservative university on the planet. I stayed in a convent 13 kilometers from Madrid during my first semester; one bus in-and-out everyday. Then I went to the University of the Américas just outside México City, and the Universidad Naciónal Autónoma de México. My mother wanted me to graduate from a U.S. university, so I came home, but at Fresno State, they made me take equivalency exams, and I graduated in 1972.”
4. Why did you embrace the culture so much?
“My heart was still in México. I went to UNAM for my master’s degree. I actually got married to a medical doctor. This lasted two years. Afterward I did my masters in Guanajuato, and throughout this time, my hobby was dance. I’d see music, dance; those were my beginnings, a hobby.”
5. What region of México is your favorite dance?
“I always enjoyed the Huapangos from Tamaulipas because it was so rhythmical and it wasn’t hidden by the skirt. You did real footwork and you could see it because the costumes didn’t hide anything.”
6. What was your toughest job in education?
“I think the toughest was to always find something new and different for my classes to keep them going. I wasn’t one to ever repeat repertoire. I always changed repertoire so that the kids would be challenged, they’d learn more.”
7. How has Mexican dance programs changed in the past decades?
“I see a lot of them are getting physical education credits for dance. I totally disagree with that because, I mean it’s very athletic, but it’s artistic. I don’t get giving PE credit for something that’s an art form. It’s performing art. I’m very happy it’s the curriculum at so many schools.”
8. What changes would you like to see in the folkloric dance in schools?
“I think all teachers would need to be credentialed. And that’s not the case. I’d like for all teachers to have formal training. Don’t just get up there and make up the steps; it’s like Zumba. There’s a part of me that’s a real traditionalist. If you vary from that, you’re doing your students and injustice, and the culture, an injustice.”
9. You’ve championed the cause for Latino issues? What issues are you currently pursuing?
“DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). It just breaks my heart. I’ve had so many kids: I’ll never forget Jesús, 2006 or 2007. He was an excellence dancer. The universities were asking for documentation to go to school. A wonderful kid, full of talent and energy. I’d ask each kid their endeavors. He said, ‘Miss Filgas, I just have to find a job.’ I said, ‘Why, can’t you live at home and go to school?’ He said, ‘No, I don’t have my papers.’ Boy, that broke my heart. To be denied the opportunity to be a contributing member of society and use all his talents, so that’s been my thing, is DACA, the injustice.” (Note: Filgas’ eyes welled up with tears answering this question.)
10. You’re an activist: What do you want to say?
“I think that the American public needs to wake up. You can’t sit back and let this happen. I was an activist with the Chicano movement. I was an activist in México with the student movement. I mean I’ve always said, ‘If you want change, you have to be a part of it. You can’t just sit back and expect somebody else to do it for you.’ That’s what I would say.”