Category Archives: Oaxaca travel

Video: Chinas Oaxaqueñas at the El Tule Guelaguetza 2018

The “alternative” Guelaguetza in Santa Maria del Tule started with the crowd-pleasing favorite, the Chinas Oaxaqueñas. I don’t know how the tradition of the name originated. Can anyone out there offer an answer?

Chinas Oaxaqueñas at El Tule Guelaguetza 2018˜

Perhaps it is simply Oaxaca’s version of the Chinas Poblanas of Puebla. Their beaded blouses had origins in the Philippines and were likely imported on Spanish trade galleons coming from Asia to Mexico. Women from the Philippines came to Mexico in this fashion, too.

Goods landed at Acapulco and shipped overland to Veracruz, with a cross-roads stop at Puebla. It is said that the mantilla and rebozo/shawl with hand-knotted fringes had its origins in Asia, too. Spanish women loved this look then. We love it now.

Fancy Dancing: Video of Huajuapan de Leon Jarabe Mixteco

On Monday night, while the crowd of 11,000 was in the Auditorio Guelaguetza enjoying the main event, I joined friends Winn and Jacki in Santa Maria del Tule for their First Guelaguetza. There are other villages around Oaxaca, too, that produce smaller-scale guelaguetzas for a fraction of the cost, more accessible and affordable to a wider audience. Yesterday I posted still photos. Today, I’ll continue with video. I hope you can go next year. Definitely GREAT.

Here is the couple from the Mixtec region of Oaxaca

 

To Bargain or Not in Mexico?

The on-going discussion endures about whether one bargains in Mexico with vendors for a lower price. Is it a cultural norm or expectation?  Many say, Yes.

Colorful Oaxaca armadillo now tops my bookcase. I paid the ask price.

Others resist for obvious reasons. Why? The exchange rate is in favor of Europeans, Estadounidenses (those from USA) and Canadienses (those from Canada). Mexicans have always been undervalued for their labor.

Chiapas potter/clay sculptor. Small jaguars are 150 pesos.

They say the average daily Mexican wage is 150-200 pesos. I’ve also heard 88 pesos a day and 100 pesos a day. At today’s exchange rate of 18.2 pesos to the USD, 200 pesos is about $11 USD per day. In Chiapas, where I just returned from, skilled women weavers on the back-strap loom, creating garments with intricate supplemental weft, earn about 30 pesos per hour.

Here’s what my friend and colleague Sheri Brautigam, in her book Textile Fiestas of Mexico, says about shopping and bargaining:

“I know everyone likes to get a deal, but I feel this attitude takes advantage of the position of the artisan who made the item; it’s an exploitation model of the past.

For the most part, artisans are quite humble when they present their work, and they possibly have in mind the price they would like to get for their item. Often, almost immediately, they will bring the price down if they see you hesitate more than a few seconds. They want you to buy it. This is because local Mexicans are ruthless when they bargain, and the artisan — if she really is in need of making a sale for her survival — can be reduced to selling the item for barely the cost of the materials.”

hand-woven huipil takes three months to make.

There is more, of course.  I suggest you get this valuable Traveler’s Guide to Celebrations, Markets and Smart Shopping.

The same applies to all artisan craft throughout Mexico, not just textiles. Pottery. Carved and painted wood figures. Masks. Guitars. Silver jewelry. Handcrafted food.

Organic pumpkin pie with corn meal crust, $3 USD, from Jorge Daniel Bautista, Union Zapata

Think about your position when you ask for a discount. You are the person NOT making 200 pesos per day. If an item costs 500 pesos and you want it for 400, in all likelihood it is priced fairly and the extra 100 pesos represents almost a full day of work to the maker. To you, it is a $5 difference. A cup of coffee at Starbucks.

We have this discussion among expats and visitors in Oaxaca all the time — to bargain or not? There is a private Facebook group, Clandestine Oaxaca Appreciation Society, where members address the question repeatedly.

Intricately embroidered blouse, San Bartolome Ayautla, 8 months to make

Many who are proponents of bargaining are like Accidental Tourists, armchair travelers who occasionally get out of their seats, embark on a vacation and think that bargaining is part of the entertainment. Anne Tyler’s protagonist in her novel hates traveling, and does so only “with his eyes shut and holding his breath and hanging on for dear life.” Yet, he enjoys “the virtuous delights of organizing a disorganized country” while pretending he never left home. Does this sound like anyone you know?

Why do artisans lower their prices?

  • The season is slow and sales haven’t been good
  • They need money for food, to pay rent, to buy gasoline, to buy raw materials, to pay for school books and bus fare — in other words, cash flow
  • There’s a family emergency, and since this is a cash economy, they need cash
  • They may have lower self-esteem because they are the underclass, treated to believe that what they make has little or no value

What do you think?

Why do tourists bargain?

I think about this question in terms of cultural, political and socio-economic disparities. It might include being unconscious about where we are and our relationship to the people around us. We might conjure up the stereotypical image of Mexico thirty or forty years ago and apply it today. Perhaps, we are totally unaware of the daily or artisan wage. We might say, Oh, it’s cheaper to live here, they don’t need as much. We assume that the government takes care of its poor. (There is no social security in Mexico.) We like the power that the exchange rate gives us and the ability to strike a deal.

What is the value of a natural dye wool rug, 8 weeks in the making?

What about the foreign community from the USA and Canada who live in Oaxaca full-time or for many months of the year? We might say:

  • Tourism drives up local prices, from artisanry to rents
  • We learn to identify higher prices and walk away from them
  • We understand that if we buy five or 10 items, we can ask if there is a discount
  • We know that if we use a credit card, the merchant/vendor is paying 16% tax at a minimum
  • We ask if there is a discount for cash
  • We want to buy local and direct from the artisan, so we don’t pay overhead
  • We want the price to be in pesos, not US dollars
  • We are careful because we are retired, on a fixed income, and while we love the art, we can’t usually afford it
  • Art is subjective, and the price is based on what the seller and buyer agree to

What do you think?

I’ve been thinking about bargaining in today’s Mexico consumer environment where class and race drives business and success. Is it institutional racism to bargain and drive a hard bargain with an indigenous person who has few resources, little or no education, and limited health care access?

Juana and her granddaughter, Luz Angelica. Her future?

Only each of us can answer this for ourselves. Are we willing to look at our own buying behavior and make adjustments? What is our personal view of cultural sensitivity?

What do you think?

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t Forget: Feria del Carrizo — Basket Fair — Today in San Juan Guelavia, Oaxaca

This is the last day for the Feria del Carrizo until next year. If you are going to Tlacolula, why not take a detour off the Carretera Nacional MEX 190? Here you will see village life — hand-woven basket artistry, great food and dancing. All day.

Jessica and the ladies shopping for handmade baskets

 

Feria del Carrizo, San Juan Guelavia — Sunday, February 4, 2018 — Don’t Miss It!

Carrizo is hand-woven river reed. It’s another form of artisan weaving here in the Valles Centrales de Oaxaca — the Central Valleys of Oaxaca. The village most well-known for their baskets made from this plant material that is similar to bamboo is San Juan Guelavia. It’s just across MEX 190 Carretera Nacional from where I live in Teotitlan del Valle, about 40 minutes outside Oaxaca City on the road to Tlacolula.

Jessica and the ladies shopping for handmade river reed baskets

The Basket Festival runs two Sundays each year, the last Sunday in January and the first Sunday in February. It has grown to become an extravaganza, complete with a mini-Guelaguetza style dance festival, amazing homemade food including barbecue lamb, hot-off-the griddle tortillas, quesadillas, memelitas, fresh fruit waters, beer and mezcal.

This was a mini-Guelaguetza with lots of dancing

In fact, these local festivals bring out artisanal mezcal distillers who do not export but have managed to bottle and label their elixir. After sharing an agua miel, the first juice of the pulque cactus before it begins to ferment into pulque,  and after lunch on our way out, Jessica and I decided to stop for a mezcal tasting along the roadside.

This giant balloon is not easy to twirl while walking

The 200 peso bottle of local Madrecuishe was every bit as good as those I have bought and tasted from brands that are marked with a fancy art label and exported to the USA where you can buy it for $200 USD. Two hundred pesos, my friends, is $11 USD.

A prayer at the altar with mezcal toast signals that the festival can begin

Some say Oaxaca is changing because of the mezcal craze. Foodies and beverage hounds are arriving by the plane full to frequent mezcal bars and upscale restaurants.

Young children learn the dance traditions early

But, life in our pueblos continue as it has over time with just a few modifications.

The Feria del Carrizo something I always look forward to and I’m very happy when I am here at the end of January to savor the experience. I’ve attended this fair since 2013, its second year.

Barbacoa de borrego (lamb BBQ)–served with fresh squeezed lime & shredded cabbage

Early on, the fair featured the basket makers who sold their craft from the raised platform surrounding the zocalo. Perhaps a few hundred people attended.

Do you see the guajalote feet? Part of the offering to the mayordomos.

Now, the basket vendors line the main street along with carnival rides, pulque and mezcal sellers, and red clay potters from neighboring San Marcos Tlapazola. The raised platform is filled with people eating on portable tables and folding chairs. The zocalo is a constant flow of performers, the periphery is lined with food stalls. Thousands were enjoying a sunny Oaxaca day.

Opening ceremonies featured a group honoring the mayordomos

If you want a taste of village life, spend Sunday, February 4 in San Juan Guelavia. Sip agua miel for 15 pesos. Get a bowl full of barbacoa for 70 pesos. Drink a beer for 20 pesos. Buy a beautiful basket for 150 pesos. Enjoy the dancing and music, and people-watching. It’s free.