About Us

By immersing yourself in another culture, you can explore, imagine, take a step out of your comfort zone, become inspired and stretch to create.        

-Norma Hawthorne, Executive Director

At Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC we are committed to creating extraordinary learning adventures for inquisitive people who want to explore the environment and what they are personally capable of creating.  We develop programs that are stimulating, fun, educational, and leave a small footprint.

We believe by connecting you with Mexico through the arts, you will have a greater appreciation for her people and the culture.  Our goal is to give you a memorable, satisfying and authentic experience.

What we stand for:

  • Understanding and respecting indigenous culture + traditions
  • Supporting craftsmanship, folk and fine art
  • Nurturing local women and youth by awarding workshop scholarships
  • Creating cross-cultural understanding
  • Delivering responsible, culturally sensitive educational programs
  • Practicing socially committed and culturally competent tourism

What we offer:

  • Immersion experiences to connect with local individuals and families
  • Small groups of no more than 10 participants
  • Hands-on learning for creative development
  • Expert instructors with teaching and technical acumen
  • Strong infrastructure with on-site management
  • Detailed pre-workshop information
  • Attentive service to advise you on travel arrangements and answer your questions
For people who want to:
  • Experience another culture and broaden their horizons
  • Enjoy a rich, diverse travel adventure
  • Discover new approaches to creative expression
  • Learn new skills or build upon existing skills
  • Take a step off-the-beaten path
  • Meet local artists and artisans
  • Reinvigorate or jump-start the creative life
  • Imagine, stretch, explore, do
  • Travel with like-minded people

About Norma Hawthorne, Executive Director.   I am a writer, photographer and artist with a background in university administration.  I grew up in Los Angeles, lived in San Francisco, Indiana, and Virginia, and then migrated to Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  I have been invited by an indigenous family to live with them in Teotitlan del Valle, a Zapotec village in Oaxaca, Mexico.

I am committed to preserving the arts and cultural traditions of indigenous people who have lived in the Oaxaca Valley for over 8,000 years. My vision is to facilitate intercultural exchange programs with Oaxaca artists and artisans and to broaden opportunities for visitors to have authentic, personal learning experiences in Oaxaca.

Norma was the lead development officer in the School of Nursing at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she raised over $23 million for scholarships, professorships, and academic programs.  She retired at the end of 2011 after 10 years of service.  A complete resume is available on request.

Recently, she was

  • invited by Guanajuato, Mexico State Tourism Office to consult on sustainable economic development
  • asked by Penland School of Crafts to organize a textile workshop tour of Oaxaca, and
  • consulted on geriatric-psychiatric nursing sustainability project for the John A. Hartford Foundation.

In 2008-2009, she served as chair of the Nursing Advancement Professionals Network of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.  Before that, she served on of the board of directors of the international University Continuing Education Association.

She worked in universities — Indiana University, University of Virginia, George Washington University — for over 25 years, in academic marketing, communications, business development, continuing education, corporate and community relations, and public affairs.

A fiber and jewelry artist and published fiction writer and poet, Norma also has traveled off-the-beaten path in China, Thailand, Australia, Malaysia, Israel, Singapore, Guatemala, Panama and Mexico, in addition to “mainstream” travel in France and Italy.

For five years, she owned and operated a gourmet cookware shop, cooking school, cafe and catering business in South Bend, Indiana, where she produced and taught workshops, hosted a restaurant review show on the local PBS affiliate, and hired noted U.S. chefs to teach a range of cuisines.  She led a Great Chefs of France culinary tour to Paris and Lyon, meeting Paul Bocuse, Georges Blanc and Alain Chapel.

Norma holds the B.A. in history from California State University at Northridge and the M.S. from University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business.  She also attended UCLA Anderson School of Management and San Francisco State University.

Norma’s interest in textiles stems from her heritage.  Her grandfather was a master tailor and furrier.  Her mother taught her how to replicate his fine stitches.  Her art  includes weaving, fiber sculpture and jewelry making, and she has been an artist on the juried Chatham (NC) Studio Tour.

Norma’s work is dedicated to creating bridges to a more accepting, diverse and multicultural society.

41 Responses to About Us

  1. Hi Norma,
    First up, I’ve tried clicking on a few of the ‘contact Norma’ links, but none of them seem to be working at the moment…
    I’ve been following your blog for a little while, and I’ve just found out I’ve been accepted for a textile artists residency with Arquetopia in Oaxaca later in the year which I’m very, very excited about.
    There’s a ton I want to research and find out about before I arrive, could you suggest any resources I could start with?
    I also wonder if you have any day trip type excursions I could take while I’m there?
    And lastly are there particular local or native flowers that the embroidery styles are based on?
    Sorry my questions are a bit ‘all over the place’. I’m having trouble knowing quite where to start.
    Cheers,
    Tara

  2. Hi Norma,
    I just stumbled into your website while searching on Oaxaca, and “wow!” what an amazing site you have put together! I’m an elementary school teacher in Salem, Oregon and will be traveling to Oaxaca next week with another teacher and we will be volunteering at a school in Vincente Guerrero. There is a non-profit group “Friends of Pimpollo” has been supporting K-12 and now K-College education, and we will be volunteering as representatives of that group at the Pimpollo Home for Children in Juchitan. Of course we would love to know artisans that we should visit while we are in that vicinity, and we are into all types of art! Also, based on your experience, what types of media would be helpful to take with us to share with the children and families (paper, paints, crayons, pencils, etc). Any ideas you can provide would be helpful in our planning.

    • Hi, Loretta, it’s great that you are going to Oaxaca and engaging in this important volunteer work. Let us know how it goes. We’d love to publish your feedback about your experience and recommendations! I am not as familiar with Juchitan as I am about Oaxaca city and environs. It would be great if you could get to Salina Cruz and the little weaving village of San Mateo del Mar (they speak Huave) where the Palafox sisters do extraordinary work on the backstrap loom. Of course, the market in Juchitan will blow you away. Be sure to go upstairs. All the textiles are fabulous — and very reasonably priced. You could probably buy most of what you want/need in the town of Juchitan. There are papelerias everywhere that sell paper, colored pens and pencils, glue, scissors, etc. and that would save you having to haul everything. The seafood is great. Eat your heart out! If I come across any names of restaurants there, I’ll send them your way.

  3. Any luck finding a knife maker or info on one?

  4. Thank You very much!!! Look forward to hearing from you!!!

  5. Hello. My family had a nife that i believe was made in the oaxaca region of Mexico. It had an eagle head on the base, a picture of a a man on a donkey on one side of the blade, and my grandfathers name engraved on the other. This item was either lost in a house fire or stolen. I was wondering if there was anyone who still made this type of knife. I would like to try and have one made for myself and each of my brothers. Any information you could give me would be helpful. If you could email me anything you know on this subject it would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

    • Brad, there is a knifemaker in Ocotlan, Oaxaca. I don’t know his name, but the next time I am at the Ocotlan market (later in June) I will look for him, get a name card, and send you the information. sorry, I can’t tell you any more right now.

  6. Hi Norma, Under you header, Oaxaca Connect, I was wondering if you would post my site, Jaguar Speaks :http://morknme6.wordpress.com/.
    Please take a look at it and see what you think. I live in Oaxaca and post this blog. Before it became Jaguar Speaks it was called, Zocalo Magazine.
    Thank you, Alan

  7. Good Day,
    I am a painter residing in NYC. I will be traveling to Oaxaca on 12/31/2010.
    I would like to take a 1-2 day weaving workshop with a local artisan family in Teotitlán. My interest lies in learning about the natural dyes and all aspects of this textile artform.

    Will you be organizing anything early January 01 -03? It would be interesting to join others.

    Please feel free to email:
    anna@annasouvorov.com
    Many thanks,
    Anna

  8. Hello Norma,
    Your writings are remarkably impressive on Oaxaca, I plan visiting Southern Mexico soon and am encouraged by your overall comments , on safety in particular. I am an artist, and do oil paintings mostly of historic venues in Mexico. I would be quite grateful if you could send /recommend me a couple of local addresses, where I could get some organized tour and accomodation info.
    Many thanks in advance,
    Archie

    • Archie, thanks for your kind words about Oaxaca Cultural Navigator. I
      appreciate it. I am copying my friend Roberta Christie who is the
      general manager for Las Granadas Bed and Breakfast in Teotitlan del
      Valle. This is in the Tlacolula Valley close to Mitla, Dainzu and
      Yagul archeological sites. She may have some recommendations for taxi
      drivers who could guide you around the valley if you decide to stay
      there. I hope this is helpful.
      Norma

  9. Francisco Flores Aragon

    como funciona un mercado de artesanias?
    y que es un mercado de artesanias?

  10. Almost immediately after completing my last to you (minutes ago) my wife showed me an article in today’s Los Angeles Times about “8 slain in Oaxaca”. “Attackers shot eight men to death and piled their bodies in a pickup in the southern state of Oaxaca… ” Granted this was in the L.A. Times, whose bills are paid by advertisers who want tourist dollars to remain north of the border, but I can find nothing significant from U.S. Government, Mexican Government, or Mexican press to enable an informed decision as to whether I should terminate my forthcoming tour now. My personal deadline is 15 September.

    • The last violence in Oaxaca (April 2010) that I’m aware of was in a remote mountain Triqui village six hours from the city of Oaxaca, and far from where tourists venture. It involved a political dispute between the vigilante arm of Governor Ulises (PRI) and local leaders. This incident is the only reference I could find on the L.A. Times site. That is not to dismiss the importance of the situation or the impact, but I only say this to point out that the city and environs of Oaxaca is SAFE — the city and surrounding villages where tourists visit the craftspeople are tranquil and welcoming. From my own experience and comfort level, I would not be deterred. There is always risk and ways to minimize it by staying close to where other travelers congregate.

  11. FOR NORMA;
    Thank you for your timely reply. I am 80 yrs of age, married for 52 years, have traveled extensively in Mexico for many years and have been conducting tours to southern Mexico (every 2 years) since ’99. Whereas I normally take 46 persons (the size of our bus), last year we were 63 (to Merida, Playa del Carmen and key sites surrounding each of those cities). Next Feb it will be Colima (6 days) and Guadalajara (7 days). The following year (2012), my destination will be Oaxaca (the only trip—2005—my wife could not make) although I have not yet completed my itinerary (I usually work 2 years in advance). This one is to be my last with a group and, therefore, I want to make it as enjoyable as possible. I don’t want to go over 18 days and, an internal struggle, I (still) want to spend a few in Puebla. My main planning criterion is to minimize the number of hotels along our route. I am, however, open to recommendations.

    • I don’t know where you are located relative to Puebla, but an overnight or two in Puebla is what I usually prefer after I land in Mexico City. It is a two hour bus ride from Mexico City to Puebla. It is then a four hour bus trip to Oaxaca, completely do-able in one day with enough time to arrive and settle in before dinner. That would be my recommendation. In Puebla, I usually stay at the Camino Real Puebla and book it online — hotelsdotcom.
      It is lovely and only two blocks from the Zocalo.

  12. Because I conduct tours into southern Mexico (from Baja California) I have a LOADED question. Owing to the present drug-related violence, including the silencing of press reporters, can you give me a true statement regarding the present, and foreseeable future, safety of traveling in southern Mexico? My question relates to the safety of my next tour, which will involve 46 of us.

    • Bruce, I write extensively about Oaxaca safety on this blog. Please use the SEARCH function to find my posts about SAFETY. Of course, none of us is absolutely safe wherever we are or wherever we go. I have never found Oaxaca to be threatening to my safety, even when APPO was on the Zocalo in the summer of 2006. O have traveled by car to the Isthmus across the mountain passes and along the coast with my husband, from Puebla to Mexico City to Oaxaca and back again via bus on multiple occasions, and around the city and villages of Oaxaca. Everyone has been warm and welcoming.
      P.S. WHERE exactly in southern Mexico are you planning to take your group?

  13. Hi: I have been a rug buyer at Teotitlan del Valle. I have extensive video in the village. Feel free to visit me on Facebook and enter my Albums.. The Weavers of Teotitlan del Valle. In the event you want to use any photos, just let me know. Chuck Farrar

  14. Hi! I’m in Denver, Co. and am trying to get in toch with Apolinar Aguilar, He is a very well known Knife maker there in Octlan. I can’t seem to find his telephone # or e-mail address. Since you are close to his Sisters, the Aguilar Sisters, is there a possibility you could send me either his Sister’s phone #, e-mail address or maybe Apolinar,s own #’s. I thank you very kindly.
    -Noe-
    P.S. Love your page!!

    • I’ve gone to the home and workshop of the Aguilar sisters in Ocotlan many times. I do not have a phone number for them and I doubt that they have an email address. They live very humbly, surrounded by their families and the folk art clay sculpture they create. I’ve never met Apolinar. I have asked a few friends if they have contact information for the Aguilar sisters and if they respond with information, I will let you know. Thanks for the compliments on my site.

  15. I’ve collected huipiles over the years, but I’ve been wanting to find the halter tops made from the “tehuantepec” style of embroidery, or any of the Oaxaquen style of design. Can you tell me how to get one?

  16. Hi,
    I was hoping to get some more information about the last blog you posted back in June about the student, Alex Mckenzie, that interviewed you from UNCG. I’m trying to start some research into textiles and natural dyeing in NC and thought maybe he (or you) could be of help. Thanks so much- you can email me with further info or questions as to not take up space on your message board!

    • Alex was creating a documentary for the education department at the Mint Museum in Charlotte. I am not sure if the project was completed; it was part of his summer externship. I’m happy to answer any questions you might have about textiles and natural dyeing in NC. Fire away!

  17. Norma,

    I am awestruck and inspired by what you have done with your vision. You’ve made an amazing amount of progress with your project. It reminds me that all one needs is vision and commitment to create wonderful things in the world.

    Love and hugs to you and the gang!!

  18. Norma,
    Very impressed with your work in Oaxaca to preserve culture and the arts. I would love to be able to meet up with the Chavez family to discuss potential artist-in-residency at my school in Atlanta. How may I be in touch with them directly or through you? Thanks so much!
    Joy

  19. Hi Norma,
    I have been writing to Erich to see if he will be in North Carolina this Spring to come to the Youth Arts Festival again at East Carolina University.
    I haven’t heard from him….hope all is well with him and Janet…

    Dindy

  20. Norma, I’m just back from a first trip to Teotitlan. Your post What is Authentic is marvelous — so enlightening. By the end of my few days there I realized my ignorance about rugmaking, fortunately only bought one very small one for my bathroom. I’m already planning my next trip back! Thanks very much and hope maybe our paths will cross someday. I’m an American writer and retired anthropologist living in Guanajuato. — Rochelle

  21. Greetings,

    I am a freelance photo journalist currently residing in Austin, TX. My interests include documenting threatened (and unique) environmental, agricultural, and social landscapes. I will be traveling in Oaxaca from Dec. 27th through the 3rd of January. I would be interested in discussing the cultural landscape of Oaxaca and talking about potential project ideas. Feel free to contact me via email.

    Best,

    Eva

  22. …love “Navigating with Norma”
    I’m ready for another ‘personal travel experience in Oaxaca’ – hope it won’t be too long before that happens!
    Linda

  23. Norma, you have outdone yourself. i love it. You go girl, boy people haven’t seen nothing yet! I love Cultural Navigator. that is you!
    Love, Hollie
    I will see you at your open studio this weekend!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>