Skip to main content
Preston & Helena Arrow-weed
Preston J. Arrow-weed (in blue denim shirt) and Helena Quintana Arrow-weed (on the right) participate in a protest in Ocotillo, California, against a construction project that threatened Quechan cultural sites.
Preston J. Arrow-weed (in blue denim shirt) and Helena Quintana Arrow-weed (on the right) participate in a protest in Ocotillo, California, against a construction project that threatened Quechan cultural sites.
Photo courtesy of the artists

Preston J. Arrow-weed (Quechan/Kamya) is an educator, environmentalist, actor, playwright, and singer with a deep and comprehensive understanding of tribal songs, history, and ceremony. A member of the Quechan Tribe of California and raised by his Kumeyaay grandmother, he is a native speaker of both languages, which are Hokan dialects spoken by people living around the U.S.-Mexico border in California and Arizona.

He is one of only a few who know the sacred songs celebrating the rites of passage from birth to death—and who can sing them in the correct order. He is the last singer of Urave, the Quechan Lightning Song. A dedicated educator, Arrow-weed has taught tribal songs and language through the Advocates for Indigenous California Language Survival and the Alliance for California Traditional Arts mentorship program.

He has been recognized for these efforts with the California Indian Heritage Preservation Award by the Society for California Archaeology. He has also served on the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s Desert Advisory Council.

Arrow-weed’s theatrical experience includes films and stage performances. He founded the California Inter-Tribal Theatre and worked as a drama teacher at D-Q University, the only college in California founded for and by Native Americans. He is a member of the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA).

Helena Quintana Arrow-weed (Pueblo) is a bilingual educator and environmentalist. She has worked as a reference librarian, elementary school and ESL teacher, and assistant professor of education in New Mexico, Texas, and California. Originally from New Mexico, she knows the dances that accompany her husband Preston’s tribal songs. She has served on the board and exhibits committee of the Imperial Valley Desert Museum.

Together they run the Ah-Mut Pipa Foundation, stimulating tribal culture and increasing understanding of Native American history, culture, and art by blending traditional and contemporary teaching styles. Through the foundation and other activities, they have been strong advocates for the protection of sacred sites and the desert ecosystem in and around the lower Colorado River region.

Occupying a significant swath of the western edge of the United States, facing the Pacific, and emerging from a historically significant exchange with Latin America, California is a crossroads. It continues to be shaped by the conflict, creativity, and energy of people creating a home in a region whose cultural and social ground is as ever shifting as its geology.

Among the fifty states, California is the most populous and one of the most diverse, comprised of people who have emigrated from all parts of the globe. It is home to the largest Native American population, one of the largest populations of people who identify as mixed race, as well as people whose families migrated to the state generations ago. Today, at a time when public discussion around immigration is clamorous, one in four immigrants in the U.S. lives in California. No single racial or ethnic group forms a majority in the state, and foreign-born residents represent more than a quarter of California's total population.

At the 2016 Folklife Festival, Sounds of California presented a series of evening concerts as well as daytime performances and activities, offering a glimpse into how musical culture mirrors the movements reshaping the state and the nation today. We featured artists who contribute to the soundscapes of California, who demonstrate the social power of music and cultural heritage.

While rooted in the terrain of their communities, these artists work across borders - in many senses. They sustain traditions to bridge distant homelands to their present homes. They remix traditions to forge new variations and collaborations. They deploy traditions to engage and invite others to action. These resilient artists cultivate community by both tending to and extending beyond what is near and familiar, honor tradition while looking forward, and contribute to creating a diverse, resonant landscape.

The program's Curatorial Team included: Olivia Cadaval, James Deutsch, Quetzal Flores, Lily Kharrazi, Sojin Kim, Amy Kitchener, Adriel Luis, Samuel Orozco, Russell Rodríguez, and Ranald Woodaman.

The program was co-produced with the Alliance for California Traditional Arts, Radio Bilingüe, the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, and the Smithsonian Latino Center. Presenting partners included the Aga Khan Music Initiative, Tumo Center for Creative Technologies, and My Armenia, a collaborative project between the people of Armenia, USAID, and the Smithsonian Institution. The program received Federal support from the Latino Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Latino Center, and the Asian Pacific American Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center. Other supporters included the Sakana Foundation and Smithsonian Grand Challenges Consortia for the Humanities.


Support the Center and our important work, including the Folklife Festival, Folkways Recordings, exhibitions, films, and educational materials.

.