Sacramento Poderosa 2022
“El respeto al derecho ajeno es la paz” –Benito Juarez
Angelbertha Leal Cobb is highly respected locally, nationally and internationally as an integral part of the Chicanx/Latinx community. For almost 60 years, her commitment to uplift her community, promote culture, and achieve social justice, is evident in the traditions that flourish in the Sacramento Chicanx/Latinx community. She is affectionately called Mama Cobb, or with deference Señora (Sra.) Cobbs. Her wealth of knowledge has influenced scholars, activists, educators, community leaders, and people both locally and globally. Sra. Cobb’s early years were formative to her identity. From a young age, she was tasked with exhibiting her family and community’s cultural heritage, and to this day, Sra. Cobb continues to transmit her experiences and cultural practices to youth and communities.
Angelbertha Leal Cobb was born October 1st, 1932. At birth, she was given the name Cozamayotl Xihuatlalli which translates from Nahuatl to English as Rainbow Woman of the Earth. She is from Municipio de Cuetzalan, the highest mountains of Puebla, México. Sra. Cobb’s ancestry is Mexica, direct descendant of the Aztecs. At 90-years of age, she is an academic scholar who possesses a wealth of indigenous knowledge, including history and traditions. She is a living codex, a cultural encyclopedia.
In 1938, at the age of six, Sra. Cobb’s dancing talent was discovered by Maestro Florencio Yescas. Florencio Yescas, was a tribal member that worked as a Náhuatl translator for Marcelo Torre Blanca, the dean of La Academia de la Danza Folklórica de México. This occurred during the progressive, Pro-Indígena administration of President General Lázaro Cárdenas (1934-1940) who wanted to recognize Indigenous people for their artistic skills. At that time, Sra. Cobb was a monolingual Nahuatl-speaking child who had been chosen and invited to present her culture’s regional traditional dances at the famous theater hall, Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes in Mexico City. Sra. Cobb’s great-grandfather and great-grandmother, Tato and Nano, granted permission to Florencio Yescas to take her to La Academia de la Danza Folklórica de México where she would share her cultural knowledge and teach her community’s traditional dances. This was a symbiotic relationship where La Academia would incorporate indigenous dances from Sra. Cobb while she would learn the Spanish language and Mexican folkloric dances from the different regions of the country.
Sra. Cobb was taken to Guadalajara, Jalisco, México at the age of 8 where she continued her education alongside Spanish professor Francisco Rodriguez Caracaya. Caracaya taught her how to properly speak and write Spanish at a high academic level. It was then that she began writing versos. At the age of 9, she had her first paying job in a radio station, XEHL and XEHK, in Guadalajara. She was featured in the show, Buscando Estrellitas Infantiles, which showcased children with special talents.
By the time Sra. Cobb was an adolescent, she was a student to renowned artists Florencio Yescas, Armando Ballesteros, Francisco Aguila and Amelia Bell. These instructors were masters of their crafts and their teachings prepared Sra. Cobb for a lifetime of performing. Sra. Cobb has starred in plays and in movies. She was in the play “La Celestina” and played the piano in a concert, una pianista concertista. She has acted in the Disney movie, “Tres Caballeros” (1944), “El Contrabando del Paso” (1980), and “Breaking the Rules” (1992).
When at age 19 Sra. Cobb started a family, she did not let that stop her from spreading the Danza knowledge and appreciation. Having a family further motivated her to study, perform, and teach Aztec dance and Ballet Folklórico along with Maestro Yescas. Sra. Cobb’s academic and artistic achievements, coupled with her traditional Danza knowledge made it possible for her and Maestro Yescas to travel the world. Sra. Cobb traveled extensively in the United States to include Hawaii and Puerto Rico, and abroad to Cuba, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Italy, and France to showcase Mexican cultural arts. In Guadalajara, she organized the truck drivers Sindicato Único de Trabajadores Automovilísticos Jalisco (SUTAJ) to transport and facilitate a traveling theater that took plays to rural areas in México. The SUTAJ was similar to California’s Teatro Campesino (1965). She was in the Círculo Feminista de Occidente María A. Díaz where she encouraged young women, like herself, to become educated and be the example for other women. She was named Embajadora de La Buena Amistad during the political campaign of Licenciado Miguel Aleman Valdez (1945). She received her first degree from Escuela Manuel M. Dieguez Anexa La Normal., a junior college in Guadalajara, Mexico. She graduated with a degree in Secretaria Parlamentaria and worked in the Presidencia Municipal y Cámara de Diputados. Specifically, she worked for the Mexican government where she learned the special coding language estenografía y taquigrafía.
In her twenties, Sra. Cobb relocated to border towns near the US-Mexican border. There, she learned English legal terminology while working with a public notary. English would be her third language. In the 1930s, Sra. Cobb lived in Tijuana, México, where she owned her first restaurant and concurrently worked for the Subsecretaria del Census. Subsequently, she relocated to San Ysidro, CA where she worked as a bilingual translator for the Health Department of San Diego County. In this role, she provided educational services to the children of farmworkers of the San Ysidro School District. On top of that, she established Mexican traditions like Cinco de Mayo among others.
In 1964, Sra. Cobb relocated to Sacramento. She was 34 years of age and participated in the Chicano Movement by bringing the Danza Azteca to the US and helping establish indigenous culture. Her dance group was called Grupo Quetzalcoatl Folklórico de Sacramento. She was also instrumental in founding Deganawidah-Quetzalcoatl University (DQU). Incidentally, DQU was the first and only Native American-Chicano University in California (1971). There, Sra. Cobb taught indigenous cultural classes such as Historia Leyendas, Música y Costumbres de México, Danza Azteca, and Folklórico. These classes were also offered to UC Davis undergrads and the first folklórico group was established which was called Aztlán Davis. These were the first courses of the Chicano Studies curriculum major. Sra. Cobb traveled to the Quinto Teatro Chicano y Primer Encuentro Latino Americano in Mexico City with Luis Valdez. She co-taught classes in acting and translated plays for Theater Mark Rose. Sra. Cobb received great reviews from numerous newspapers for her role as maid in Bodas de Sangre, and for her role in la muerte. Some newspapers include The Union, the Sacramento Bee, and the theater in CSUS, which was under the direction of Romulo Zamora. Sra. Cobb was the lead in the CSUS production of Severed Roots along with Manuel Pickett.
Throughout the 1970’s, Sra. Cobb was an active participant in the Chicano Movement. She has greatly contributed to the inclusion of indigeneity in higher education. At Sacramento State University, she advised the cultural arts group, and professors in the Royal Chicano Air Force (RCAF). Sra. Cobb was 3-units shy of earning a baccalaureate degree in Education from CSUS, however, due to institutional racism she did not fulfill the requirements. Nevertheless, she led classes for Dr. Armando Ayala, Dr. Jose Montoya, Dr. Frank Bautista, and Dr. Jorge Santana. During the 1980’s, when Sra. Cobb ended up as a single parent with teenage children and young adults, she decided to enroll in Lorenzo Patiño School of Law and pursue a career as a paralegal. She worked for Leonard Padilla and was recognized for being a great bounty hunter. In the 1990’s, she held three jobs; one at the elementary school, another at her restaurant in Sacramento called 511, and one in El Comité Patriota de Sacramento. Sra. Cobb juggled her work obligations all while leading her Grupo Folklórico de Sacramento and Quetzalcoatl danza group with Chuy Ocelotl Ortiz. Her dance groups presented at various venues, educating people from diverse age groups and backgrounds. Sra. Cobb’s dance groups performed at universities in California, at the Sacramento Fairgrounds, and at other locations. Importantly, for 27 years, Sra. Cobb took cultural shows to the wards of California Youth Authority. She was given the title of “Mother of the Cinco de Mayo Celebrations.” Sra. Cobb is responsible for establishing many cultural celebrations in the greater Sacramento region. She was the founder of February 24th Mexican Flag Day at Sutter’s Fort, and one of the founders of El Comité Patriótico Mexicano de Sacramento. El Comité Patriótico Mexicano de Sacramento operated under the direction of the Mexican Council Zenaido Acosta, who started Las Fiestas Patrias. Over time, Sra. Cobb has become one of the most distinguished indigenous women in the United States. In the late 1970’s, she brought the beauty of los pueblos Indígenas through her Aztec dance group Ballet Quetzalcoatl of Sacramento when she performed for President Carter at the White House in Washington D.C.
During the early 2000’s, Mamá Cobb – as she is affectionately referred to by the community- gave cultural conferences at colleges and universities throughout the United States. Since she is highly esteemed and honored by countless communities, her palabra carries a lot of clout. She is respected not only among her contemporaries, but also with her protégés and the youth.
Angelbertha Cobb has earned many awards, certificates and recognitions at the national, state, county, and city levels. She was granted the Eagle Award in 1993. Sra. Cobb has inspired many female scholars and has been featured in various books including, “Indigenous Education Through Dance and Ceremony: A Mexican Palimpsest” by Ernesto Collin, as well as in Rose Borunda and Melisa Moreno’s book, “Speaking from the Heart: Her Stories of Chicana, Latina, and Amerindian Women” (2014). Sra. Cobb is also mentioned in “500 years of Chicano History” by Elizabeth “Betita” Martinez (1990) and in Roberto Cintli Rodríguez’s book, “Our Sacred Maiz is Our Mother Indigeneity and Belonging in the Americas” (2014). In addition, there’s quite a few scholarly articles featuring her. One is titled: Torchbearers Forging Indigenous Pathways: Transcending the Forces of Wétiko (2020) by Borunda, Murray, Acosta, and Gutiérrez. A UC Davis scholar, Jennie Marie Luna, wrote her dissertation: Danza Mexica Indigenous Identity, Spirituality, Activism and Performance (2011) and dedicated an entire chapter to Sra. Cobb.
At 90 years of age, Sra. Cobb continues to travel throughout California spreading her knowledge and participating in celebrations that she established. Most recently, she celebrated the 40-year anniversary of Xilonen, the coming of age ceremony for girls, which she started in Watsonville, California. Sra. Cobb celebrated the 50th anniversary of Aztec Dance in the United States. Ultimately, her greatest accomplishments have been the dedication to her family and maintaining cultural traditions in the community. She has traveled the world teaching, dancing, and representing the culture and the history of México. Sra. Angelbertha Cobb reached a status of excellence when she was named Capitana Generala in the Danza Azteca circle, making her the highest ranking title in the United States.