Category Archives: Cultural Commentary

September 16: Viva Mexico, Independence Day from Spain

In villages and towns large and small, Independence Day is a big deal in Mexico. On September 16, 1810, the Grito, or Cry of Dolores was shouted by Catholic priest Miguel Hidalgo in the Guanajuato town of Dolores (later renamed Dolores Hidalgo). On September 27, the revolutionaries, led by Augustin de Iturbide, marked into Mexico City to overtake the Spanish garrison. The rest is history.

Mexican Flag, La Bandera de Mexico, Zocalo, Mexico City

Even in the days preceding the celebration, even in the rain, I could hear the drum beat of the Banda de la Guerra (the military marching band) practicing in the middle school courtyard. This is a celebration where children are front and center.

Flags for sale from the back of a motorcycle, a size for everyone.

Most homes have flags flying. The moto-taxis are adorned in banners and flags featuring the red, white and green bandera (flag).

Red, white and green as a food display.

On the late afternoon of September 15, my Zapotec family celebrated family matriarch Dolores’ birthday, named so because she was born on this special day. The Cry of Dolores is an important part of political and social acculturation, just like singing the Star Spangled Banner.

My chakira (beaded) flag blouse, stained with guajillo chile sauce at supper, soaking

Here in Teotitlan del Valle, the celebration begins on September 15. After the marching band leads the parade of young costumed girls through the streets, the townspeople gather in the municipal square. The late afternoon brings the threat of rain, but none comes.

A drum for every child? Why not!

At 11:00 p.m. everyone shouts the Cry for Independence together and the event is followed with firecrackers and rockets. The dogs bark and donkeys bray.

Chiles en Nogada at Oaxaca’s Los Danzantes. Traditional for Independence Day.

I put in my earplugs to get a good night’s sleep because I have a long travel day on September 17, starting at 3:30 a.m. and I want to walk the dogs in the campo where it is quiet and meditative.

There is more celebration today. Viva Mexico!

 

Ringing the Bells: San Miguel Arcangel Church, San Miguel del Valle, Oaxaca

San Miguel del Valle, Oaxaca, calls to me. Perhaps because it is hidden — escondido — beyond Santa Ana del Valle and Diaz Ordaz, tucked into the fold of the foothills leading to the Sierra Juarez on the way to the eco-tourism center of Cuajilomoyas.

Stepping up into the church patio

Illuminated Saint Michael on the altar

There are dazzling, artful aprons there that talented women embroider with birds, flowers, animals, and plants in a cascade of color. Wearable art! It is all from their imagination. There is no design that shows up twice. You can find them from this distinctive dress each Sunday at the Tlacolula Market, a 15-minute trip from the village.

Welcome to San Miguel Arcangel

Merry modeling an artful apron

I went back last week with my young friend Lupita. She rarely leaves Teotitlan del Valle and its a big world out there along the Pan American Highway MEX 190. We were lucky. When we arrived, the gates to the church patio were open to me for the first time. This was my fourth visit in recent weeks.

Watch the video!

Inside, I said hello to the man who was doing his church volunteer service. I asked him if we could step up to the altar and then enter an anteroom where there were reliquaries and antique treasures from centuries past. He welcomed us. Invited us in, told us to take our time.

Antonio Miguel invites into the anteroom for a look around

Ancient frescoes were painted on lime plastered walls. Deeply carved wood embellished Zegache-style mirrors. A broken clay figure perched under a gilded miniature pergola. Priestly robes hung in a glass case. It was a feeling of old, mystical, medieval. Without restoration, the space felt even more sacred.

Hand painted frescoes of saints adorn walls

Clay figure perched under gilded pergola

I explained to Lupita that it was her people, the Zapotecs, who were conscripted to become stone masons, wood carvers and painters, doing the labor to decorate these buildings of the new religion after the conquest. This was like being inside a fortress, sturdy, solid, everlasting.

Frame of the antique organ

Ascending through the turret, a rest stop for a view

Antonio asked if we wanted to see the antique organ from the same era as the one in Tlacochahuaya. We would have to climb the narrow winding stairs up the turret to the second floor. He went first. The organ was a wood frame with no musical parts. It must have been splendid once.

From the organ balcony, looking into the sanctuary

Lupita makes her way down steep stone steps. I follow her.

He kept looking at his watch. I have to go ring the bells, he said. It’s noon. So we scaled another round of steps to the top of the bell tower, greeted with spectacular views.

Rope bell is suspended with twisted cowhide

Zapotec symbols decorate church support beams

Antonio rang the bells announcing to the entire village it was twelve o’clock. Then he gave me an interview. He lived in Pomona, California, working as a landscaper for 10 years. He is happy to be home in his village!

An inscription, from 1560?

The Virgin of Guadalupe is everywhere, the patron saint of Mexico

 

 

Introducing Zayzelle. Dress Simply. Made in Oaxaca. Designed in North Carolina.

Zayzelle. Dress Simply.

One dress.  One size fits most. Many fabrics, textures. Affordable fashion.

Three years ago I cut a pattern and started sewing a simple dress that would take me through the day and into the evening here in Oaxaca, in North Carolina and wherever else I traveled. I chose linen and cotton. Pure cloth with fabric slubs and wrinkles that are part of the design. No ironing needed. Easy to wash by hand. Will line dry quickly.

I took them  with me to remote areas in Mexico, to Spain and then to India.

I layer the dress with local color: accessories, shawls, scarves, capelets, aprons, ponchos, vest or topcoat. You get the idea. Simple dressing that can take on a unique flavor of place. Layering for warmth and comfort. Lightweight and versatile to beat the heat.

Wherever I go, women ask me, Where did you get that dress? I want one.

I love to wear this dress. I love to sew this dress. I made several. Then several more. I bought linen in San Francisco, hand-spun and natural dyed cotton yardage in Oaxaca, and ikat cotton in India. I found a small boutique fabric shop in downtown Oaxaca with Made in Mexico cotton. I sewed it in mid-calf and tunic versions. Pretty soon, I had too many dresses. Duh!

Zayzelle. Dress Simply. In pumpkin linen. One size fits most.

When the dresses started to show wear, I transitioned them to wear-around-the-house and nightgowns.

Read more about the Zayzelle story here. 

Back to Where did you get that dress? and employment for women friends who live in my village.

Some women here sew and have machines. They want and need extra income. I thought, perhaps I could create more of these hand-made dresses, employ women to make them, pay them more than a fair and just wage, and offer the dress for sale to the universe via an online store.

How to Shop. We have a small inventory. Go to the website. Make your selection and buy online. I will bring your piece with me to NC and ship from there after September 18, 2018.

Modify the Dress to a Tunic. If you prefer the tunic style, let me know which dress you want and I will make it shorter!

This is slow-fashion and slow production. Dresses are one-of-a-kind based on fabric I personally choose. We can make about two or three dresses a week. All the garments made here in Oaxaca by me or by women I work with. I inspect each one for quality. Enclosed and finished French seams guarantee there are no raw edges that will ravel or fray.

I invite you to meet Zayzelle and let me know what you think!

Zayzelle. Dress Simply. Mustard linen pullover capelet-shawl with hand-stitching.

Zayzelle. Dress Simply. The brand is inspired by a friend’s North Carolina family name.  I like this name. It is unique. Uncommon. It evokes taste and elegance. Has zing and pizzaz. Sings of sizzle. Evokes memory and imagination. Harkens to a time when there was time to sit and visit, sip fresh-squeezed lemonade in the afternoon and add a little zest to the mix as the sun sets.

Of course, this does not imply that I have forsaken my Oaxaca and Mexico traje (indigenous, hand-made clothing). I just like to mix it up and mix-and-match! I will often wear this Zayzelle dress with a Oaxaca over-the-shoulder textile that is woven on the back strap loom and dyed with natural colors. For a more Asian look, wear the dress over loose and comfy linen pants.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Podcast: Tixinda Dreamweavers Plus Our Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour

Listen to the WEAVE Podcast from Gist Yarn & Fiber

Today, Sarah Resnick from Gist Yarn & Fiber, talks with Patrice Perillie, an immigration attorney based in Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, and Mixtec weaver Amada Sanchez Cruz from Pinotepa de Don Luis.  She also interviews Norma Schafer at the end of the segment.

Indigo, cochineal and caracol purpura huipil, Pinotepa de Don Luis

Patrice started the non-profit Tixinda Dreamweavers Cooperative twelve years ago. Her goal was to keep very talented artisans in Mexico instead of migrating to the USA where jobs are limited to cleaning houses and washing dishes in restaurants.

Listen to their story — a 26-minute investment of your time

Tixinda Dreamweavers ethically harvests the endangered sea snail that gives the rare purple dye. The group grows pre-Hispanic native cotton. They use the malacate — drop spindle — to make the thread. They weave extraordinary clothing using the back-strap loom.

Weaving designs, Pinotepa de Don Luis, with cochineal

Oaxaca Cultural Navigator sponsored this Podcast. At the end of the segment, I talk about why we take textile lovers to the Coast of Oaxaca to explore the weaving, natural dyeing and hand-spinning culture.

Spinning and cleaning cotton in San Juan Colorado

Pinotepa de Don Luis is one of five villages we will visit on our January 11-21, 2019 textile study tour on the Oaxaca coast. For our Grand Finale, we attend the Tixinda Dreamweavers Exposition and Sale. A noted cultural anthropologist will travel with us. We go deep into the textile culture of the region. You meet extraordinary artisans where they live and create.

4 Spaces Open: Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour

Women of the Ji Nuu Cooperative, San Juan Colorado

 

Zaachila Zancudos: Dancing on Stilts is Cultural Heritage

The Stilt Dancers of Zaachila are called Zancudos because stilts are long and leggy like mosquito legs. Stilts are called zancos in Spanish. The Zancudos are very proprietary about this dance. They consider it part of their  cultural identity and heritage.

Zaachila Bachos Zancudos Buin Zaa

After I wrote the blog post about the Lila Downs concert during Guelaguetza season and published a photograph of stilt dancers there invited from Santa Maria Tlahuitoltepec that also appeared on Facebook, I received a deluge of messages from Zaachila Zancudos, critical of my calling the dancers from Tlahui Zancudos.  Many were quick to tell me that they were the first to use stilts to dance. I explained that I only photographed what was presented at the Lila Downs Concert. Yet, the backlash poured in and I wondered why.

I wanted to go to Zaachila to talk with the group Bachos Zancudos Buin Zaa (Zancudos de Zaachila) to find out more about their history and traditions, to understand why they reacted so strongly.

Erick Aragon Rodriguez (left), me, Pedro Aldair Antonio Aragon

On Thursday, Zaachila market day, I arranged to meet with Pedro Aldair Antonio Aragon, age 21 and a zancudo since he was six years old. Aldair invited his friend and fellow zancudo, Erick Aragon Rodriguez, now age 36 who learned to walk the stilts when he was ten, to join us. Kay and Dean Michaels, friends from North Carolina now living in Oaxaca, joined me.

Zancudos sculpture in Zaachila zocalo

There is immense community pride in this dance, originally called Bachos. It is part of village identity. The dance goes back at least 100 years and Aldair carries on the tradition of his father and grandfather, who were also stilt dancers. A bronze monument of a stilt dancer stands in the center of the village zocalo or main plaza as a testimony to this history.

Erick explains that stilts were originally used to cross rivers and arroyos. The land is filled with rolling hills, swales and deep gullies and it makes sense that this became a necessary mode of transportation and navigation around and through the limitations of the landscape. How stilts came to Zaachila is a matter for research. Were they brought by Europeans or an innovation to deal with the terrain?

Entering town, the Virgin of Guadalupe, artist’s adaptation, greets us

The wooden stilts are made in Zaachila. There is a workshop that fabricates and sells them. I am told by the young men that about ten years ago, a troupe of Zaachila zancudos traveled throughout Oaxaca towns to perform the dance. In Tlahuitoltepec someone asked to buy a pair of stilts, which were then reproduced. Tlahuitoltecos from the Mixe region of Oaxaca learned how to use the stilts and created their own steps, using their own indigenous dress. Aldair and Erick say the stilt dancing has been in existence there for less than ten years.

We met at Comedor Denisse for barbacoa de res, there for 51 years

There is controversy. They emphasize that Zancudo is a word associated with Zaachila and should not be used in association with Tlahuitoltepec. They say the word is part of their tradition, culture and to honor the grandfathers. Anthropologists consider dance, language, dress and other forms of artistic expression to be part of cultural identity. I want to understand, not arbitrate.

The softest, best BBQ beef ever!

The Zaachila Zancudos have never gone to an official Guelaguetza because their village leaders field their group of Los Danzantes de La Pluma (Dance of the Feather). About five Zapotec villages in the Valles Centrales de Oaxaca perform the Dance of the Feather. Which is selected each year to go to Guelaguetza depends on the office of tourism/government Committee of Authentication.

At Comedor Denisse, mole amarillo, too

Today, there are about 80 people in the Zancudos group. Thirty are ages three to ten years old who are learning the dance. Eleven year olds dance with the adults. From time to time, about 10 to 30 people can show up for a dance or calenda (parade), but for major fiestas more dancers will turn out.

Coming up on Thursday, September 6, 5 p.m.

Zaachila will celebrate her Saint’s Day honoring Santa Maria Natividad. There will be a big parade of Zancudos, going from the church to the Zocalo. 

Everyone is invited. 

Go early! Go to the market. Have lunch. Eat nieves.

We have been talking about cultural appropriation at Oaxaca Cultural Navigator for some time. The new cultural center in Teotitlan del Valle addresses the question of what is cultural heritage and who “owns” it, who has rights, if any, to copy or adapt.

  • Is it disrespectful for a Mixe group to use the stilt dancing developed by a Zapotec group?
  • Is it disrespectful for the Lila Downs concert producer to invite the group from Tlahuitoltepec and not the dancers from Zaachila?
  • Was the Tlahui group chosen because they look more professional or because their traditional village dress is more interesting for a stage production?
  • Is it disrespectful that a Guelaguetza Committee of Authentication has never included the Zancudos in the official tourism office produced Guelaguetza event?
  • These are issues here for Mexicans to decide.

Your comments and opinions are welcome!

After lunch, we said goodbye to Aldair and Erick. Kay, Dean and I could not resist the nieves stalls on the zocalo. There is a line-up of about six permanent puestos. Which one to choose? We picked the busiest, of course, owned by Doña Chabelita who has been there sincce 1966, the oldest in Zaachila. Her grandson just returned from 20 years living and working in Connecticut. Impeccable English. Not sure about immigration status, but who cares!

Dean savoring nieves de vainilla

Doña Chabelita, ready to retire after a lifetime of ice cream making

Melon and pecan nieves. The Best!

A treasure trove of pitaya (dragonfruit) in Zaachila market