Category Archives: Cultural Commentary

Oaxaca in Recovery? Let’s Hope So.

Mexico has a long tradition of taking her issues to the streets. Protest is an acceptable way of airing grievances here.

Many of you have heard or been reading about the teacher’s union demonstrations and blockades over the last month that this week became a flare-up of tragic consequences as federal police and demonstrators confronted each other at a blocked toll-road station 50 miles north of Oaxaca.

Templo Santo Domingo at sunset, Oaxaca, Mexico

Templo Santo Domingo at sunset, Oaxaca, Mexico

This is not a post about who is right and wrong. In fact, it is against the law for foreigners to participate in any political activity here or we are at risk of being detained, losing our visas and being deported. The U.S. State Department just warned again of this in the security message it issued for U.S. citizens living in or traveling to Oaxaca.

Last night’s news reported that finally, after years of back and forth, the union leaders and government have agreed to sit down in Mexico City today and talk about their differences to see if they can come to a resolution. Ojala! (word of Arabic origin meaning God willing or let’s hope.)

Friends who work in the historic center of Oaxaca reported things were calm yesterday and there were many people out walking on the streets.

When I woke up Monday morning after an overnight in the city, I heard about the violence and possibly more demonstrations. So, I immediately got in the car and made my way back to Teotitlan del Valle, the little pueblo where I live about 40 minutes from the city. It is calm here, self-governed and never violent. For the past days, I’ve been plugged into social network and local  news sites to stay current.

There’s lot of information out there, lots of pros and cons, spin and interpretation about why the teachers union is protesting. You can read for yourself and come up with your own conclusions.

(Part 1 Video above from The Real News and interview with Center for International Policy, Mexico City’s Laura Carlsen) with commentary about neo-liberalism in proposed education reforms in Mexico.

For complete video — Parts 1 and 2 + transcript, click here.

For right now, let’s all hope that there is resolution to this turmoil through negotiation. If the government and the union are unable to come to terms, then outside mediation is a solution.

Is it safe here, now? Probably. And, yet, one never knows where violence will erupt. There has been plenty of it in the United States of America, too.

News Sources and Opinion Pages

Social Media/Blog Sources

For now, I’m going to do a city reconnaissance tomorrow since I have a shopping list to check off as I get ready to volunteer at the International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe, New Mexico, followed by a California family visit.

Take good care, everyone!

P.S. I’m not open to moderating a forum about who’s in the right and who’s in the wrong. I am open to adding other news sources to offer perspective so that each of us can say we are well informed about the issue.

Gossip and Morning Refreshment: Following the Abuelitas

This morning I arrive at the daily market early, by 9 a.m. I had chicken soup on my mind and want to make some, so I first stop at a stall where I know that cooking teacher Reyna Mendoza buys her pollo. Criollo, advises the woman standing next to me in the aisle as she points to the small whole, white chicken, saying pollo, es pollo, (chicken, it’s chicken) a Spanish lesson for the güera. I smile and nod.

Buying roses, $2.50 a dozen . I always have fresh flowers.

Buying roses, $2.50 a dozen . I always have fresh flowers.

Criollo means natural or wild or organic. They eat maize, she says. She then points to the big, plump yellow chickens sitting with their big breasts, proud birds, twice the size of the criollos, and says, these came from Oaxaca and they eat commercial grain (in Spanish, of course). Then, the vendor and the shopper move into Zapotec, a language I don’t understand. Some chismes (gossip), I’m sure.

Mango vendor with an abundant supply.

Mango vendor with an abundant supply.

I love following the little grandmothers, the abuelitas, through the market, with their wool checked faldas (skirts) folded around their waist and tied with a handwoven red wool cinturon (belt) with tassle ends. In the old days, these belts were dyed with cochineal. Some still are.

Plaid wool skirt tied with a cummberbund, floral top, shawl for sun protection, basket to hold market goodies.

Plaid wool skirt, floral top, shawl for sun protection, basket for market shopping.

Plaid skirts, flowered blouses, sometimes aprons, always a traditional handwoven reed shopping basket balanced on the crook of the left arm, long hair braided with colored ribbons and tied together at the end or piled on top of the head like a crown, a rebozo (shawl) covering shoulders or head, sometimes the shopping basket. This is a passing generation.

Village tuk-tuk carries shoppers who don't carry baskets on their heads.

Village tuk-tuk carries shoppers who don’t carry baskets on their heads.

This was not meant to be a long shopping trip. I left the house gate open because I intended to return immediately.  A quick pass through the market for organic chicken, chard, a dozen fresh long-stem roses (40 pesos a dozen, that’s about $2.50 USD), criollo eggs from the gallina (hen), a couple of squash and mangos (it’s the season).

Following the abuelitas as they take a respite

Following the abuelitas as they take a respite

As I was loading my car I noticed a stream of abuelitas entering the doorway of the convenience store across the street. Such a good picture, so I decided to hang out. A few more entered, one at a time.

Inside, a congregation of about six grandmothers. Good for the stomach, they say.

Inside the inner sanctum, a congregation of about six grandmothers.

More than coca-cola inside

More than coca-cola here. Time for a chat and refreshment.

It was by now 10 o’clock in the morning. I waited for them to emerge but they didn’t. And, I remember that this is the ladies’ social hour and the convenience store is where they congregate before going back home to work, prepare meals, do laundry and take care of the grandchildren. So, I decided I was done waiting and would join them!

It's dark inside with obscure lighting. In the shadows I can barely see faces.

It’s dark inside with obscure lighting. In the shadows I can barely see faces.

Believe me! A shot of mezcal at 10:30 a.m. can really get you moving. As I sidle up to the counter cum bar to join the ladies, they welcome me with warm smiles, ask where I live, how long I’ve been here, and admire my filigree Zapotec-style earrings and embroidered apron, sign that I am surely one of them. Or at least a trying hard wannabe. Then, invite me to take photos.

I get a Zapotec lesson, Xa-Yu (how are you?) and chichi-bay-oh (salud) as we raise the cup. I already know Zakchi! (hello, good afternoon). This is really a foreign language.

A convenient stop across the street from the market

A convenient stop across the street from the market

Rosa, as she introduced herself, buys my first drink. Good for the panza, she says, patting her belly. I agree. Mezcal is a medicinal when not abused! She offers me another. I smile and decline, realizing I need to drive home without bumping into any burros.

Next time, my turn to buy.

And, that’s village life in Oaxaca.

For sale, fresh cornhusks for tamales, anyone?

This is, too. Fresh native corn and husks for tamales, anyone?

Norma’s Simple Chicken Soup Recipe

  • 1 small, white organic chicken, cut up, skin removed
  • include neck and gizzards and egg sack
  • 1-2 chicken feet (just like grandma used to make)
  • 4-6 cups water
  • salt to taste
  • 1 serrano pepper, dried
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 2 whole onions, peeled
  • 1/2″ fresh turmeric, peeled

Add chicken and all other ingredients to 6 qt. stockpot. Bring to simmer on stovetop, cover and cook for 4-6 hours*. Chill. Remove fat. Muy rico.

These local, skinny free-range chickens are pretty tough, so to get the meat very tender, it needs to good for a really long time! It’ the feet that give the flavor.

Pop-Up Sale: Oaxaca Quechquemitl, Mexico Stylish Scarf/Poncho

This pop-up clothing sale features the indigenous Mexico short poncho or triangular bodice cover-up called a quechquemitl in the Nahuatl language, used by pre-Hispanic women throughout the country.

It’s my favorite accessory and that’s why I have too many of them! Slip one over your head, and your shoulders and bodice are covered beautifully, even if you are only wearing a tank-top or halter. It’s a one-piece scarf, too, that never falls off!

My 2011 Quechquemitl Blog Post

How to Wear a Quechquemitl

Here I am offering — in like-new, rarely worn condition — some beautiful indigenous clothing made by women and men in Oaxaca villages, most made with natural dyes, some hand-spun native cotton. As you might expect, they are from some of Oaxaca’s finest weavers, dyers and designers.

All prices include shipping within 48 U.S. states!  Send me an email and tell me which piece(s) you want. I’ll email you a PayPal invoice. Purchases must be made by June 30. I will ship from Santa Fe, New Mexico after July 7.

Native Oaxaca coyuchi cotton quechquemitl, trimmed in green cotton, $125 USD

Native, rare Oaxaca coyuchi cotton quechquemitl, hand-trimmed in green, $125 USD

  1. Coyuchi Cotton Quechquemitl (above) handwoven in the village of San Sebastian Rio Hondo on the back strap loom by Khadi Oaxaca. Color is a warm caramel. One size fits all. $125 USD.
1B. Coyuchi cotton quechquemitl, close-up

1B. Coyuchi hand-spun wild cotton quechquemitl, close-up

Note about coyuchi cotton: This is rare, wild native cotton grown in the high mountains of Oaxaca that separates the valley and the coast.

2. SOLD. This pericone (wild marigold) dyed quechquemitl (below) is exactly the same style as the one above, made in San Sebastian Rio Hondo by Khadi Oaxaca. It is golden-yellow and the hand weaving shows the variegation of the process. One size. $145 USD.

Pericone and indigo quechquemitl from Khadi Oaxaca, soft gold and variegated blue

Pericone and indigo quechquemitl, hand-spun cotton, soft gold and variegated blue

Pericone quechquemitl trimmed in indigo blue cotton thread, hand-dyed. $145 USD

Pericone quechquemitl with indigo blue cotton thread. $145 USD

3. Below. Pericone/indigo/coyuchi dress, size M/L. I made a pattern from a favorite Dosa dress and have sewed it multiple times with French seams, patch pockets, and lots of designer detailing and hand stitching. For this dress, I bought hand-spun cotton fabric from Khadi Oaxaca that is hand-woven and dyed with wild marigold, indigo and integrates native coyuche cotton. $165 USD.

3B. Detail, Dosa-inspired dress with Khadi Oaxaca fabric

3B. Detail, Dosa-inspired dress with Khadi Oaxaca fabric

Here is the full dress below.

Size M/L. A-line dress made with Khadi Oaxaca handspun + woven cotton. $145 USD

3A. Size M/L dress made with Khadi Oaxaca handspun + woven cotton. $165 USD

4. Alfredo Orozco nut-dyed quechquemitl, below, is woven on a flying shuttle pedal loom in the deshillado technique, which means there is an open-weave. You can see the detail in photo 4B. This one is more pale beige than brown. Touches of cream-colored ikat add interest. One size. $85 USD.

Hand-woven, nut-dyed quechquemitl with ikat dyed warp threads by Alfredo Orozco, $85 USD

Hand-woven, nut-dyed Orozco quechquemitl with ikat warp threads, $85 USD

Below is the weave detail of the fabric above. Finish work is done by Alfredo’s wife Veronica on the sewing machine.

4B. Orozco beige quequemitl detail with open weave.

4B. Orozco beige quechquemitl detail with open weave.

5. SOLD. Below, same Orozco style as #4, but with indigo blue dyed threads to add detail of design. One size fits all, $85 USD.

Orozco quequemitl with nut and indigo dyes. Detail is with open weave. $85 USD

Orozco quechquemitl with nut and indigo dyes. Detail is with open weave. $85 USD

#5B. Full view of Orozco nut/indigo dyed quechquemitl. It is more beige than photo shows. $85 USD

#5B. Orozco nut/indigo dyed quechquemitl, more beige than photo shows. $85 USD

6. Melon colored cotton top, below, size medium, from the Oaxaca shop of Remigio Mestas, Los Baules de Juana Cata, the finest in town. Machine chain stitching, commercial thread, signed by back-strap loom weaver. $75

Crop top from Remigio Mestas' Los Baules de Juana Cata, $65 USD

Cotton top from Remigio Mestas’ Los Baules de Juana Cata, $75 USD

6B. Detail of cotton top from Remigio Mestas

6B. Detail of cotton top from Remigio Mestas

7. SOLD. Turquoise quechquemitl, one size, with machine chain stitch detailing, hand-finished seams and hem. From the best shop in Oaxaca, Los Baules de Juana Cata and Remigio Mestas. $125 USD.

Quechquemitl in brilliant turquoise from Remigio Mestas, one size, $125 USD

Quechquemitl in brilliant turquoise from Remigio Mestas, one size, $125 USD

7B. Detail of turquoise quechquemitl.

7B. Detail of turquoise quechquemitl. Not discolored, just photo light variations.

8. Wine Red Quechquemitl, below, from Los Baules de Juana Cata and Remigio Mestas who personally works with indigenous weavers and embroiderers to make the finest garments. One size. $125 USD.

Wine Red Quechquemitl, one size, $125 USD, from the shop of Remigio Mestas

Wine Red Quechquemitl, one size, $125 USD, from the shop of Remigio Mestas

Detail of wine red quechquemitl from Remigio Mestas' Oaxaca shop

Detail of wine red quechquemitl from Remigio Mestas’ Oaxaca shop

Let me know which one you would like to purchase by number —  send me an email. I’ll be going to the USA in early July and will mail to you via USPS after July 7.  Thank you very much!

Pop-Up Vintage Jewelry Sale: Oaxaca Gold Filigree, Mexican Sterling + More

I’m making another trip to the USA and in the move to edit my collection, I’ve taken inventory and will sell the following jewelry. Most pieces are vintage collectible and some are new and newer.

Please make your purchases by June 30, 2016. I will bring what you buy with me and ship from Santa Fe, NM after July 7.  All prices include USPS priority mail shipping within USA. Send me an email and I’ll let you know if the piece is still available, then send you a PayPal invoice. Thank you very much.

Vintage 10K Gold filigree + pearl earrings, Muñeca's, 2-1/8" long, $350 USD

Vintage 10K Gold filigree + pearl earrings, Muñeca’s, 2-1/8″ long, $350 USD

  1. SOLD. Muñecas. This earring style, little dolls, is worn by Teotitlan del Valle Zapotec women for special occasions. This pair is over 50 years old. Everything is hand-made and the pearls are affixed with 10K gold wire. Red cut glass. I bought them to help out a local friend.
10K Gold Filigree earrings, Veracruz, 1-1/2" long, $225

10K Gold Filigree earrings, Veracruz, 1-1/2″ long, $225

2. SOLD. Veracruz, Mexico flower earrings, 10K gold. Handmade filigree. Vintage. Intricately made, hangs beautifully from sturdy wires. $225 USD.

10K Gold filigree earrings, Veracruz, 1-1/4" long

10K Gold filigree earrings, Veracruz, 1-1/4″ long, $185

3. SOLD. Veracruz filigree flower earrings, vintage, handmade, smaller and a bit more delicate than #2. $185 USD

10K Gold filigree flower ring, Veracruz, size 4-1/2, with 1" flower, $95

10K Gold filigree flower ring, Veracruz, size 4-1/2, with 1″ flower, $95

4.  Veracruz Flower Ring, vintage. $95 USD.

10K Gold filigree ring, Veracruz, size 4-1/2, with 1" flower, $95

10K Gold filigree ring, Veracruz, size 4-1/2, with 1″ flower, $95

5. Veracruz 10K gold filigree flower ring. Vintage. $95 USD.

Patzcuaro, Michoacan. Handmade silver and coral dangle earrings, $110

Patzcuaro, Michoacan. New, handmade silver and coral dangle earrings, $110 USD

6. Patzcuaro handcast silver and coral earrings, 2-1/2″ long dangles. $110

Mazahua New Silver + Coral Bird Earrings, $145

Mazahua New Silver + Coral Bird Earrings, 2-1/2″ long, $145 USD

7. SOLD. Silver and Coral Bird Earrings made by the Mazahua people in Estado de Mexico. These are cast and carved with lots of moving parts for movement when you walk. Very traditional design. 2-1/2″ long. $145 USD

Santa Clara del Cobre, Michoacan, Copper Ball Earrings, new, 1" long, $65

SOLD Santa Clara del Cobre, Michoacan, Copper Ball Earrings, new, 1″ long, $65

8. SOLD. Copper Ball Earrings have a non-tarnish finish. $65 USD. I was in Santa Clara del Cobre last year where I bought these. Love the sheen.

Matl-style vintage earrings, sterling, turquoise, coral, amethyst, $225

Matl-style vintage earrings, sterling, turquoise, coral, amethyst, $225

9. Matl-style, sterling, turquoise, coral and amethyst earrings. I bought these at a Mexico City antiques market. They have post-backs. All stones in excellent condition. 2-1/4″ long. Stamped Mexico 925. $225 USD.

Jadeite + Sterling Vintage 40's Choker & Bracelet, $250

Ballesteros Jadeite + Sterling Vintage 40’s Choker & Bracelet, $250 USD, 2 pieces

10. SOLD. Carved Masks necklace and bracelet set. Jadeite and sterling. Necklace is 16″ long with a secure hook clasp. Bracelet is 6″ long and will fit a small wrist. All carved masks in perfect condition. Marked Ballesteros, Hand Made, Taxco Mexico. Ballesteros was one of the finest silversmith studios. More photos below:

Ballesteros hand made necklace and bracelet set. Photo 10B.

Ballesteros hand made necklace and bracelet set. Photo 10B.

Black Onyx Vintage Bracelet, 7" long, $155

Black Onyx Sterling Silver Vintage Bracelet, 7″ long, 3/4″ wide, $145 USD

11. Black Onyx, Sterling Silver Filigree with sturdy box clasp, 7″ long bracelet. This is a vintage piece found in a North Carolina rural antique shop. They knew what they had! Stamped Sterling Mexico. $145 USD. Another photo below.

11B. Black Onyx + Sterling filigree bracelet, box clasp.

11B. Black Onyx + Sterling filigree bracelet, box clasp.

 

Art Deco Jadeite Sterling Silver Ball Bracelet, with rope detail, 8" long, $155

Jadeite Sterling Silver Ball Bracelet, with rope detail, 8″ long, 1/2″ wide, $155

12. SOLD. Jadeite and Sterling Ball Bracelet with sturdy box clasp. $155 USD.

12B. Jadeite + Sterling Bracelet clasp detail.

12B. Jadeite + Sterling Bracelet clasp detail. Taxco 925.

Huichol hand beaded earrings. 3" long. $28 USD

Huichol hand beaded earrings. 3″ long. $22 USD

13. Huichol peoples make gorgeous beadwork. These are great summer casual fun. $22 USD.

Huichol beaded earrings, 3" long, new $30 USD

Huichol beaded earrings, 3″ long, new $22 USD

14. Brown, Pink, Cream, Black beaded Huichol earrings, with sterling hooks, 3″ long, $22 USD

Waxed Linen Crochet Flower earrings, 2-3/4" dia. from Estado de Mexico, $35 USD

Waxed Linen Crochet Flower earrings, 2-3/4″ dia. from Estado de Mexico, $30 USD

15. Hot pink, purple with a touch of yellow, makes this pair of earrings a knock-out for summer. All hand-crochet work, tight, and strong. I bought these in Malinalco, Estado de Mexico. $30 USD

Injustice, Coping: Fine Oaxaca Black Pottery Maker Goes to Santa Fe International Folk Art Market

Right now, there’s mango cardamom chutney cooking on the stove. It’s a clear, cool day after a series of heavy rains and the sky is brilliant blue. White puff clouds hug the mountain just beyond my reach, and I’m thinking about the injustices in our world and how people cope.

In about three weeks, I’m leaving Oaxaca and traveling to Santa Fe, New Mexico, for the International Folk Art Market where I’m volunteering. For artisans, it’s a privilege to be invited to this juried and highly competitive exhibition market.

This year, the market welcomes Jovita Cardozo Castillo, an exceptional master artisan of black pottery from the Oaxaca village of San Bartolo Coyotepec. It is her first visit outside of Mexico and to the United States, as part of Innovando la Tradicion and associated cooperative Colectivo 1050 Grados.

I appeal to you to give to The Wayfinders crowdfunding campaign to help cover her expenses to travel, sleep, eat and ship her beautiful work. And More!

Jovita needs all the help she can get! Why?

Wayfinders 04 | Haz que Jovita llegue a Santa Fe, NM. from Innovando la Tradición a.c. on Vimeo.

Jovita’s husband, Amando, a fine potter, too, and head of their family workshop, has been diagnosed with Guillain-Barré Syndrome, a pretty rare disease with unknown causes. Medical researchers believe it is linked to the Zika virus. The couple have three children. Amando is in hospital for the past two months, unable to speak, with paralysis and the prognosis isn’t clear. The family has spent more than 150,000 pesos for public health treatment. This is a huge sum in Mexico, equivalent to about $10,000 USD. The long-range implications of a head-of-household not working will have a huge family impact.

Donate Here!

Note: If you are making the gift from the U.S. or Canada, please log into Generosity with your Facebook account. Otherwise it won’t work because we just discovered this Indiegogo donation site was created in Mexico! So Sorry! Don’t use your email address. It won’t work. Many thanks for your support.

Or make your gift with PayPal to: 

1050grados@gmail.com

They won’t have to pay a transaction fee if you send it to family/friends!

One of the children stopped going to school for a semester to help at the ceramic workshop, since they have orders to fulfill and Amando is not able to work. 

Jovita does not want you to feel sorry for her and was reluctant for us to share this very personal information about family circumstances. She wants your support for the Wayfinders crowdfunding campaign because she is an exceptional artisan and nothing more.

 Celebrating the Humanity of the Handmade

But that is not the complete story, and the family situation makes this appeal even more urgent and necessary. I talked about it with Kythzia Barrera and Diego Mier y Teran, who lead Innovando la Tradicion. They spoke with Jovita, who agreed that without support, the financial stress on the family for out-of-pocket expenses to go to the Folk Art Market would be a burden they would not easily recover from.

Will you help? Any amount will make a difference.

I don’t personally know Jovita, but I know her work. I know that handmade Oaxaca artistry and craft take time, is a family heritage, is multi-generational and the best quality can be hard to sustain as some cut corners and turn to more commercial production methods.

 Help for Jovita

$1,331 raised toward $8,000 goal. That’s 17%. We can do better!

What your gift will help underwrite:

  • Market registration fees
  • Air and bus travel to Santa Fe, New Mexico
  • Lodging and food
  • Shipping cost (I can’t imagine what it costs to build wood shipping containers, package and send pottery to make sure there is no breakage!)
  • More possibilities for Jovita, Amando and their family

If Jovita sells out without encumbrances, she will have the funds to help her husband recover. Will you join me as a donor? Thank you.

All my best, Norma