Category Archives: Oaxaca Mexico art and culture

Flouncy Aprons of San Miguel del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico

Oh, gosh, how to resist these extraordinary aprons of San Miguel del Valle.  The Zapotec community is nestled into a steep hillside 8 km up into the Sierra Juarez from the Tlacolula crossroads on the way to Cuajimoloyas. Remote but accessible by car.

Merry modeling the flounciest apron, which is for sale.

This is a small village of about 1,000 people many of whom are rug weavers that do contract work for Teotitlan del Valle resellers and exporters.

Four Aprons For Sale, Below.

Church on the plaza, San Miguel del Valle, open every day but Friday

But the fashion has turned to heavily embroidered flouncy aprons and this is becoming a more substantial part of the local economy. These are aprons for us to dance in, to wear to parties, to adorn oneself in the color Oaxaca is known for. When I come back to Oaxaca from North Carolina in November, I’m going to have an apron party! Or, maybe I’ll have one in NC, too.

Me, Epifania and #3 Flouncy Apron (for sale)

These are aprons with lots of gathers, pleats and tucks embellished with flowers and birds, scallops and pockets. They take hours to make even though they are machine embroidered. They take a seamstress of considerable skill to manipulate and change the threads, follow the curvature of the pattern drawn on cloth. No two are alike.

Work in progress on the sewing machine

I made my second visit to San Miguel just a few days ago with friend Merry Foss. I was on a quest to find an apron for Barbara Anderson. My first visit was a couple of weeks ago on an Envia Tour with Jacki Cooper Gordon, and I decided I needed to go back on my own, take my time to meander the streets and discover other apron-makers. Merry likes to meander just like me.

Barbara Anderson’s apron — SOLD

When Barbara saw that Envia post, she wrote to ask me if I would find her an apron. I did at Epifania’s workshop. Fani and her husband both sew and embroider. This one, that I knew would be a perfect fit for Barbara, was sold. Someone in the village had given Fani a deposit to hold it for her. I said, sell it to me and make another one. She did. A bird in the hand, as they say.

SOLD. #1 apron for sale, size M, $95 USD plus mailing.

Now, full disclosure: The beauty is in the embroidery work. The cost is in the time to create the design and work it at the sewing machine. The fuller the embroidery, the more expensive the piece.  Though, the finish work leaves much to be desired! Across all the workshops and on the best embroidered pieces, seams are unfinished and ragged. No pinking shears or sergers here. The pieces are sewn together quickly, it seems.

SOLD. #2. For sale, size S-M. $85 USD plus mailing.

How to Buy

  • Send me an email. norma.schafer@icloud.com
  • Tell me your name and mailing address
  • Tell me the Number of the Apron that you want to buy.
  • I will send you an invoice that includes apron and USPS priority mailing cost.
  • I will ship between September 17-20, after I return to the USA

Finished seams and dangling threads are a problem for quality control throughout our Oaxaca region. But, these garments — as in many other towns — are made for the local women. It’s the embroidery that matters most to them. Many of these pieces are used for daily wear — washing, cooking, baby-tending, cleaning, going to market. So they get used up fast. Another version of FAST FASHION? Perhaps. Is it up to us to influence the quality of something in order to meet a global fashion demand? What changes in the process?

SOLD. #3 apron for sale, size M-L, $95 USD plus mailing.

Perhaps it’s only gringas like me who want a piece to last, with finished seams, edges that match, dangling threads clipped.

I must confess, this type of fanciful, flouncy stitching is a departure for me, but it has also captivated me. Fun to wear. Frivolous. Brings a smile. The fabric can be a cotton-poly blend, or pure polyester or maybe even rayon. Not the best. Shiny — brillo — is what the women here like. Wash it, dry it fast, wear it again. My tendency is to go for natural dyes and hand-woven cloth. But, I’m smitten.

#4 apron for sale, size S-M, $70 USD plus mailing.

A beautiful hill town with a corner chapel

We arrived in San Miguel del Valle around 2 p.m. Just in time for comida — afternoon lunch. The fare of the day at Comedor Tere — an Envia supported enterprise — was fish. Mojarra to be precise. A whole fish, deep fried but not greasy, served with nopal salad, delicious black bean puree, rice, salad and homemade tortillas, plus a pitcher of fresh guava juice. Total cost for two, 100 pesos (that’s about $5 USD total, $2.50 each).

Tere disinfects everything and I eat lunch with confidence.

Meal of the day, mojarra, tender and moist.

Tere used her interest free Envia loan to expand her hours and offerings, opening a family-style restaurant beyond the carry-out service she used to do exclusively.

Recycled bottle recycling bin. Now that’s creative.

In Mexico and anywhere, I find it’s important to have time to wander villages, meet people serendipitously and see what one can discover. Time and being open to a new experience gives us a chance to explore possibilities beyond the beaten path. It’s the approach I like to take on my tours, too. Keep enough open time to see what and who pops up!

Niche in the church wall. How old is this? Centuries.

Susie’s Regrets Sale: Three Fine Rebozos (Shawls)

Three fine rebozos at a glance: Tenancingo de Degollado and Oaxaca

Susie’s traveled with Oaxaca Cultural Navigator to Tenancingo de Degollado to explore the ikat weaving and rebozo making culture of Mexico. She has since returned with us to other parts of Mexico, including Chiapas and the Oaxaca Coast. Meanwhile, on that trip she picked up a few beautiful pieces she hasn’t yet worn and after seeing that I was helping Leslie sell her regrets, asked me if I could try to resell these for her. We know the provenance!

#1. The intricate fringe, all hand-knotted on the Rose Rebozo

#1. Rose Rebozo. This rebozo, or fringed shawl, is hand-woven on a flying shuttle, four harness loom in Tenancingo de Degollado, Estado de Mexico (State of Mexico) by one of the finest weavers in town, Jesus Zarate. What makes this textile most remarkable is the fringe. It is completely hand-knotted by Fitalina, considered to be the greatest puntadora or fringe-knotter in all of Mexico. It took her three months to make this luxurious fringe after the weaver sold her the fine cotton hand-woven cloth.  This is a large shawl, called a Chalina because it has no pattern in the cloth, is akin to what Frida Kahlo preferred, and is part of Mexican female identity. It measures 90″ long (including the fringe) and 29″ wide.  This exceptional piece is $335 USD. Price includes mailing via USPS Priority Mail to anywhere in 48 U.S. states.

#1. Full length view of pink rebozo

How to Buy

Send me an email: norma.schafer@icloud.com

  • Tell me which piece(s) you want by number.
  • Tell me your complete name, mailing address and email.
  • I will send you a PayPal invoice.
  • As soon as I receive payment, I will confirm and we will prepare for mailing. You should be receiving your order within 5-7 days.
  • This group will be mailed from a remote corner of Northern California in the Lake Shasta region.

#2. Double weave cotton rebozo from the Sierra Mixe, Oaxaca

#2. This rebozo was commissioned by the famed Remigio Mestas of Oaxaca, who works with the finest back-strap loom weavers in villages throughout the state. This is a double-faced weave, soft and cozy cotton, difficult to execute, woven by Maria Teodora from the Sierra Mixe Alta. One face shows indigo blue natural dye. The red-brown rust color on the second side is achieved with encino or red oak. The Sierra Mixe region of Oaxaca is about eight hours from Oaxaca city on the way to the Pacific coast, high in the mountains. Fringes are hand-twisted. It measures 102″ long (including fringe) and 29″ wide. $345 USD and includes USPS priority mailing to continental 48 U.S. states.

#2. Indigo blue dyed rebozo

#2. View of side dyed with encino (red oak)

#3. Cotton ikat hand-woven fabric, with fringes

#3. This Magenta Rebozo is from the Xoxopastli studio in Malinalco operated by designer Camilla Ramos, famous throughout Mexico for her intricate ikat rebozos and Colonial-style puntas or fringes. It is among the finest workmanship in the country. This one is woven on the four-harness flying shuttle loom. Ikat is achieved by dyeing the warp threads. Every one of the 6,000 threads of the warp must be exactly on register for the pattern to match up. This pattern is called Chispas and is created from brown, hot pink and white cotton threads. It measures 80″ long (including the fringe) and 29″ wide. Cost is $225 USD including mailing via USPS priority mail to anywhere in 48 US states.

#3. Full length view of Xoxopastli ikat rebozo

It’s not likely I will take another group to Tenancingo, so this may be your best chance to get as close to the source as possible!

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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Video: Danza de los Diablos, African Roots in Mexico, El Tule Guelaguetza 2018

Danza de los Diablos is connected with the Afro-Mestizo history of Oaxaca’s Costa Chica, the Pacific coast region between Puerto Escondido and Acapulco, Guerrero. Now referred to as Mexico’s Third Root, people of African descent are an integral part of what it means to be Mexican, more than only the mix of Europeans and AmerIndians. With the conquest of Mexico, Spanish brought African slaves here in the 16th century to work sugar cane fields, mines and agriculture. Most were men and married indigenous women. Race and class was far more permeable in Mexico than in the United States.

Only recently have academics and cultural anthropologists begun to uncover and investigate the importance of African roots in Mexican culture.

Dressed as the devil with mask, horns and horsehair, African roots

The dance and its music, with its stomping and whirling, are said to symbolize the breaking from the repression of slave owners and the church. The woman in the dance represents the mixing of races. She carries a white doll. Traditionally, the dance is performed on November 1 during Day of the Dead.

White mask, dark skin, white baby, symbol of Afro-Mestizo roots

Oaxaca Costa Chica Textile Study Tour, January 11-21, 2019–Spaces Open

Behind the mask, a beautiful countenance

Today, the dance is a testimony to Oaxaca’s rich diversity and deepening respect for her roots.

One of the pleasures I have from writing this blog is the research I do to investigate the culture and history of Oaxaca and Mexico. When I was at the Costa Chica in the last two years, I became more aware of African slave roots as as I talked with cultural anthropologists and locals.

A First Person Commentary

About Afro-Mexicans

Much more has been written about the African experience on the Caribbean coast of Mexico, at the port of Veracruz and south. The Son Jarocho music of Mexico, Cuba and the Caribbean are rooted in Africa, as is the donkey jawbone and drum percussion instruments. There is still a lot to learn.

 

Lila Downs Concert Is Mini-Guelaguetza Extravaganza

How could each Lila Downs Concert be better then those that came before? The Best Ever is what I heard people say who have gone to many in the past. I don’t know, but Lila Downs knows how to dazzle a crowd.

Grammy Award Winner Lila Downs

The Guelaguetza Stadium on the Cerro Fortin in Oaxaca city was full on Friday night, July 27. We got there early to be sure to beat the crowds and that gave us a chance to settle into our seats and audience oggle.

Our diverse group from Israel, South Africa, Italy, Mexico and USA

Love this tapete — handwoven sarape

I was lucky enough to be invited to join a group of friends at the last moment. They had an extra ticket and offered it to me. Thank you, Patrice and Neal! Seems that to snag a primo seat means standing in line all night and someone they know did that for them. I was happy to pay the premium.

Lila loves wearing indigenous dress (traje) from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec!

Beribboned and twirling figures with  hand-woven hats

I had some serious doubts about whether my shout out for tickets would yield results. I was not successful finding online tickets via Ticketmaster. Nothing materialized and I gave up … until a few days before!

Whirling dervish cowboy dancer devils

We were in the third row, far left of center, behind the mixing station staff. Not great for photos, but a fabulous spot for listening and watching Lila’s husband Paul Cohen on his badass sax.  Even Lila made her way over on occasion. I did my best to get photos, but the strobes and movement of dancers made the conditions very challenging.

Little girl Flor de Piña dancers

In the row behind me, he sang every word along with her

I think what was fantastic about this concert is that Lila brought us her incredible traditional play list, the oldies but goodies. Everyone around us sang along. AND, the performance was built around the dancing and costuming of the annual Guelaguetza event held on the last two Mondays in July at the same venue.

Tlacolula de Matamoros Delegation

Benito Juarez, iconic Zapotec president of the Republic: respect human rights

With Lila’s singing mastery, great musicians and representative delegations invited from Tlacolula de Matamoros from the Valles Centrales de Oaxaca, Santa Maria Tlahuitoltepec from the Sierra Mixe, Juchitan women from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, girls from the Papaloapan region of Oaxaca near Veracruz giving us the Pineapple Dance, and groups that are masked, twirling and whirling, the show couldn’t have been better.

La Bandera, the Mexican Flag, iconic and powerful revolutionary image

Lila Downs and Paul Cohen have a strong commitment to social justice issues in Oaxaca and Mexico. Her songs tell the struggle of poverty, lack of education and health care, discrimination, disenfranchisement, pain and tears, hopes and dreams. Together, they have been a powerful voice for human rights.

Lila sings La Llorona and the audience goes crazy

Artist woodcut projected as stage backdrop to band

The dynamic visual backdrop to the stage were photos and video of migrant farm workers, artist woodcuts of peasant life, the work of artisans and craftspeople, marching soldiers with bayonet rifles, heroic President of Independence Benito Juarez, a Zapotec from Oaxaca.

Sax and trumpet with lots of marimba band back up

Saxaphonist Paul Cohen takes a break to enjoy the Flor de Piña dancers

The fun was mixed with the message that we cannot be complacent about politics and world events. Half the seats in the audience were available to adoring fans for free.

The Grand Finale included everyone on stage

Guns at the border — NO