Graduation Fiesta at the Elementary School

We walked up to the Presa (reservoir) that day, it was a Friday, very early before it got too hot, and on the way back stopped by to say hello to Ester, Russio and their three girls–Jazmin, Ester and Rocio–who live in the house with the golden bull and the cackling guacalotes just in front of our friend Annie on the hillside at the outskirts of town. What was once a donkey path in front of their modest adobe casita has become a graded thoroughfare, enabling small cars and trucks to come into town from the remote mountain villages. The walking is easier now, not as many granite outcroppings to traverse as we pass through cactus meadows with grazing sheep, cattle and horses. Development is extending its reach even in Teotitlan.

Please come to the escuela this afternoon at 3 p.m., Ester and Russio invited us. Today is the elementary school graduation; daughters Ester and Rocio will be participating in the fiesta. Come, they said, even if you’re late. After noodling around the village, stopping for coffee at The Sacred Bean Cafe, and visiting with Josefina and Magda at Las Granadas Bed and Breakfast, I went to the elementary school, drawn by the music coming from the plaza. It was after 4 p.m. and things were just getting going.

This is the second graduation ceremony I attended during this visit. As I watched this group of first through sixth graders at the elementary school, I was struck by how children are taught at an early age to dance, sing, play, laugh, honor their cultural traditions through dance, revere their history, and demonstrate appreciation for the customs that define their identity as Zapotecs and as Mexicans. What I noticed was how the ceremony of something even as simple as an elementary school graduation takes on epic proportions. Here is the village’s very own Guelaguetza. It appeared to me that the entire village turned out in support. People dressed up in their finest frocks and fanciest shoes,

there were reserved seats of honor for parents and close relatives of the graduates. Everyone participated to collectively bless the future of all these young people with their presence, whether they were graduating or not. The village as extended family promoted a feeling of well-being, joy and comfort. The area was bedecked with balloons and flowers. Drinks were handed out gratis to family members of the graduates. Along the periphery and outside the school, vendors sold refrescas (soft drinks), helados and nieves (ice cream and sorbet), and postres y dulces (pastries and sweets). Students giggled, laughed, were nervous about whether they would do well, played tag, hung on their mother’s

skirts, stood soldierly while posing for photos, took their roles seriously, fell down and got up again, shouldered the burden of heavy baskets balanced on small heads, smiled in satisfaction of having done well at the end. All will go on to middle school, some of those will go on to high school, and then very few will continue on to university. Most will become weavers or laborers, others will work in Oaxaca or travel with coyotes to work in the U.S. Celebrations of village life cycle events are a constant, mixed with joy, tragedy and continuity.

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