Centro Cultural Communitario Teotitlan del Valle: Tribute to Cultural Heritage

It’s been a week since the new Community Cultural Center debuted on August 18, 2018 with a grand opening event. It was spectacular! What I love about the new Centro Cultural Communitario is it’s tri-lingual explanation of village life and values in Zapotec, Spanish and English. I also love the simplicity of PRODUCTORA’s architectural design that brings past into present.

Bringing food for the celebration, a traditional feast

The center explanations begin with a discussion about what is on display, exploring three core themes: indigenous customs and uses (usos y costumbres), artisanal production, and celebrations and ceremonies.

When we think of Teotitlan del Valle, tapetes or rugs, come to mind

Most importantly, the curators raise the question, What is cultural heritage?  We need a context for this center and what it means. It is not a museum, per se, but a gathering place, an educational space to share, discuss, and learn. They explain that “Cultural Heritage includes tangible goods — works of art, historical and archeological monuments, urban and natural landscapes — as well as the intangible practices of a people — expressions, beliefs, knowledge or techniques, that which are cherished and passed down by the community generation to generation.”

[The Dance of the Feather, video above,  is one key ingredient to cultural heritage. The dancers make a three-year promise to community and church that is a serious undertaking. This is not a folkloric dance, as many think, but essential to identity.]

The grand plaza that joins old adobe and modern concrete.

I don’t think we can talk about cultural heritage without addressing the issue of cultural appropriation. This is an important topic in Oaxaca and worldwide when the dominant culture adopts elements of the minority culture, often for commercial benefit without recompense to the originators.

Designed by PRODUCTORA, Mexico

“The array of tradition-based creations such as worldview, mythology, usos y costumbres, language, literature, music, dances, games, ceremonies, and crafts, among others, constitute the intangible cultural heritage also known as a living heritage,” they say.


The Grand Opening featured traditional dances, including the Jarabe del Valle from this Tlacolula de Matamoros ensemble. The dance is part of every village festivity, especially weddings, quinceanera’s and birthdays.

Ernestina in the comparsa with traditional basket of sugar flowers

Ultra-modern edifice sits between traditional rug market and municipal offices

For me, an important reason to live and celebrate life in Teotitlan del Valle is all bundled up in an ancient, deeply rooted history of thousands of years. More than having survived, Teotitlan del Valle has thrived because her people have innovated, adapted, changed and evolved while continuing to honor and respect tradition. At the core of this is the family and community.

Lila Downs and Paul Cohen are madrina/padrino of grand opening

Abigail Mendoza of Tlamanalli Restaurant* fame wove her skirt, is committee head

[A Note About Abigail Mendoza: Anthony Bourdain discovered her and she became famous. Abigail and her sisters operate famed Tlamanalli Restaurant in Teotitlan del Valle. She has made a two-year volunteer service commitment to head up the cultural center committee, part of usos y costumbres traditions. She told me this responsibility may have an impact on how often the restaurant will be open. Abigail is also the sister of the famous artist/weaver Arnulfo Mendoza who died in 2014.]

Carved wood arrow holder on display with woven strap

The curators continue by saying that: ” Teotitlan del Valle is characterized by its remarkable artisanal production of tapestries and carved candles, the elaboration techniques of which are passed down through generations within the nuclear family.  The workshops are located in households, meaning that the profession plays a part in everyday life.  Making yarn, dyeing, weaving and carving candles are learned from childhood.  The manufacturing of handicrafts is the embodiment of community and family tradition which comes from its origins in the ancient Zapotec people.  It is the vehicle to express their individual creativity, their emotions, and worldview. Additionally, for most of the people of the town, this is their main source of income.”

Hand-made beeswax candles are a core part of celebrations

On display are the hand-made beeswax candles from the family of Grand Master of Oaxaca Folk Art Viviana Alavez Hipolito. The work passes through the generations. Women who marry into the family learn and do it, too. It is not merely decoration. It is part of ceremonial life. Church and home altars are festooned with these candles. Only three candle makers remain in Teotitlan del Valle.

Traditional beeswax candle making

Cochineal and pigment samples on wool

A highlight of the space are videos of traditions, practices and examples of life. All the videos have English subtitles, a nod to the value and importance of English-speaking visitors to Teotitlan del Valle. It helps us understand more!

How well do we teach our children who we are, what we value?

In many traditions, continuity depends on how well we inculcate values and practices in our children. The community cultural center does more than show and tell visitors — nationals and foreigners — about essential practices. It says to local children that they can be proud of their heritage and make a commitment to carry it forward.

Library, learning and workshop spaces

Indigo and pigment samples on wool

The process of using natural dyes on wool to weave tapestries on the two-pedal loom is part of the cultural center exhibit space. This is an intense and time-consuming process, much more complex and expensive than using aniline (chemical) dyes. Only about a dozen families in the village of 6,000 people work in natural dyes, though many more know how to give the demonstration.

We took a break to go to Arte y Seda for sopa de guias lunch. Que rico!

Visitor Hours:  Quien sabe? Who knows?

Even the handrails are a visual delight

I’ve been privileged to live with a Zapotec family in this village for thirteen years. I live on their land in a casita that I built that will revert to the family when I no longer live here. This is also part of usos y costumbres traditions. No foreigners can own land here. We have no written contract. Our arrangement is based on our word of commitment to each other, that we call trust. A model for how the world might be.

 

 

 

 

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18 responses to “Centro Cultural Communitario Teotitlan del Valle: Tribute to Cultural Heritage

  1. Hello Norma, I was fortunate to spend one week in Teotitlan in October/November and 1 week in July. I would love it if you could write more about cultural appropriation. There are so many gray areas…I asked native people about it and tried to get into discussions about it while I was there. I’d love to hear more as an artist and an art educator. Thanks Nancy

    • Hi, Nancy. Yes many gray areas because it is legally difficult to enforce. One must be respectful and aware in order not to appropriate what culturally “belongs” to people. Very closely tied to what the cultural center talks about as cultural heritage. I will try to address it again. Thanks for the request. Norma

  2. Thanks for sharing , Norma . Looks very interesting . I hope to get to Oaxaca next February to study Spanish . Look forward to seeing the new center and possibly meeting you.

  3. I saw this being built but really did not know what it was going to be. Thanks for the great explanation. I love Teotitilan del Valle, it has a special place in my heart.

  4. How very exciting! What a treasure for the local people & all the rest of us!

  5. Norma, I always look forward to your posts. What a wonderful addition to Teotitlan del Valle the new cultural center is. I so enjoyed being able to visit this special Village and your lovely home this year on the textile tour. I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity . Thank you as always.

  6. A beautiful teaching, within the descriptions of this auspicious event, Norma. I appreciate your reporting of cultural vitality and how Teotitlan del Valle, among other villages, is sustained by both honoring past, within evolving present.
    Sending heartfelt congratulations to the Teotitlan community for bringing this dream to life.

  7. Thank you for this loving tribute to Teotitlan del Valle. I enjoyed looking at the photos and reading their captions…and followed a few links to some fun videos. Gracias!

  8. Another fine blog! Resonates deeply with cultural appreciation & love. Much appreciated.
    Below is link to an art form that you may not be familiar with. A paen to the historical importance of corn to it’s birthplace.
    MTN
    https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/art-made-from-corn

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