Chiquy Mejia teaches Zumba classes to help her stay fit and young

Chiquy Mejia walks on stilts during many of Morgan Hill’s events, including the Taste of Morgan Hill and the Mushroom Mardi Gras. Photo courtesy Chiquy Mejia

By Vanessa Soto

When she was a teenager in Caracas, Venezuela, after school Chiquy Mejia began working as a professional clown. Because her father was strict, she kept her occupation a secret from him until she was independent of his control. By then she was the owner of her own successful business entertaining people.

Years later, after she moved to California, Mejia found herself needing a job. She flipped through the classified pages of newspapers in search of a recreation position where she could use her clown skills such as stilt-walking. By luck, she came across an ad for a position with the city of Morgan Hill. Her personality and performing arts talent helped her in the interview.

“In 2004 they opened the recreation coordinator position, which I applied for and I got,” she said. “Thanks to the time I had invested, I already had experience over all the other applicants.”

Now Mejia serves as the Centennial Recreation Center’s coordinator. As a bonus he also teaches Zumba classes, allowing her to stay physically active. She is also a substitute for the functional fitness for senior citizen’s course.

“My class is for people who want to have fun, don’t worry about anything, and dance like nobody is watching,” she said.

Also, Mejia is the advisor of the Youth Leadership Morgan Hill Program. She trains teens 13 to 18 who are interested in developing their leadership skills and/or serving with the Youth Action Council. A subcommittee called Warriors Against Vaping and E-Cigarette intends to help youth from becoming addicted to these vices.

On the side, Mejia also has been teaching Zumba in the Morgan Hill and Campbell public libraries for many years as well as leading the exercise classes at Alum Rock Elementary School in San Jose.

During the COVID-19 lockdown, people started calling Mejia and asking her if she could teach Zumba through the Zoom video-conferencing system.

“So, I did six classes of Zumba per week for free for nine months,” she said. “It was to keep the community together and myself sane. What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.”

In Caracas, she  attended the public elementary school Instituto Experimental de Formación Docente for 13 years. Her growing up years were full of adventure and sports.

“I was a tomboy,” Mejia said. “I always grew up with boys and it was not until I was 13 that I started hanging out more with girls in middle school. All my elementary school years, it was just about playing basketball, volleyball, and handball.”

In 1997 at the age of 26, she immigrated to the United States, finding a home in Santa Clara living with a Venezuelan family who hosted her as a babysitter. She came to study English. She knew she would not succeed in making a new life in America if she failed to learn to communicate. She attended San Jose State University and majored in Studies in American Language.

In a few months she will have a special milestone in her life.

“I’m so proud to tell you, I am turning the big 50,” Mejia proclaimed. “Dancing and working with youth make me younger.”

Mejia was the first recreation coordinator hired by the city of Morgan Hill. At that time, the recreation center was a trailer behind City Hall, she said.

Mejia started dancing when she was six years old and stopped when she was 12, because she lost all the after-school programs she did when she was younger.

“I did Venezuela folk music, tambores, música Andina (Andes music), polka, contrapasso,” Mejia said.

Then, in 2010 she took her first Zumba class at the South Valley Family YMCA in Santa Teresa.

“One day I saw an Iranian woman dancing salsa and she called herself a Zumba instructor,” she said. “And I thought, if she can do that, I can do this.”

Mejia decided to take the training.

“So, this year, I am celebrating 10 years of teaching Zumba,” Mejia said.

Mejia will continue to teach Zumba on the side at Morgan Hill and Campbell public libraries and at Alum Rock Elementary School. The name of her Zumba group is “Chiqlets,” which was given by a group member.

Jennie Tucker, recreation manager at the CRC, said Mejia will also be working with the volunteer base at the Magical Bridge Playground that’s coming to the Community Park.

“It should be open in the next couple of months,” Tucker said. “Some of her responsibilities will be helping with recruiting volunteers to keep the playground clean and to provide programs.”

Recreation Supervisor Debbie Vasquez said the Youth Action Council program and the Youth Leadership Program in Morgan Hill are instrumental in building leadership skills.

“She teaches young people leadership skills,” Vasquez said. “She teaches them all about the Developmental Assets.

“Chiquy is very passionate, enthusiastic, and fun,” she said. “She’s very organized and detailed. She’s also definitively a team player.”

Mejia wants to meet her goal of working for the city for 30 years in the year 2034. She would like to create programs for seniors and see how she can develop a new opportunity for them.

“I want to provide a good quality of life for them through music, dancing, and interacting,” she said.

Vanessa Soto

Vanessa Soto is a Gilroy resident who writes the Latino Leaders column published occasionally.

Robert Airoldi