Is Cinco de Mayo Mexican Independence Day? NO!

Why is Cinco de Mayo celebrated and where is it celebrated most? More than a great time for a Margarita or a swig of Corona, Cinco de Mayo was the response by Mexican-Americans — mostly Californians — to the French invasion of Mexico, The Battle of Puebla, and fear that the North would lose the Civil War, enslaving those with Mexican heritage along with Blacks throughout the southwest.

Mexican Californians gave hugs amounts of financial support to preserve the Union and defeat the Confederacy. They had a lot at stake.

I wrote about the roots of Cinco de Mayo in 2012 that offers history and a UCLA professor’s research about the topic.

I’m in southern California this weekend for a family reunion and to attend a Cinco de Mayo Fiesta Viva la Vida honoring a dear friend, Michael Stone and his wife Charlotte.  I’m reminded again being in my California homeland about how strong Mexican culture here is and has been for centuries. Afterall, this was once part of New Spain!

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

So, raise one today for the courage of Mexican-Americans who helped defeat France in the Battle of Puebla, and thereby averting French support for the Confederate Army. We owe them a lot.

Viva la Vida.  Viva Mexico!

Meanwhile, I’ll be back in Oaxaca on June 28. Publishing intermittently until then!  Saludos.

Heirloom Beans: Mexico’s Legumes Elevated to a Higher Power

The Hunt for Mexico’s Heirloom Beans, a New Yorker Magazine feature written by Burkhard Bilger and published 4/23/2018, starts and ends with eating.  Thanks to my Teotitlan del Valle friend Scott Roth for sending me this article, lengthy but worth the time to read.

For northern North Americans unfamiliar with bean culture, we think of this legume as filler, to be mashed, seasoned, dipped into with a tortilla chip, pushed aside or preceded with a Bean-O pill to cut intestinal gas.

Eat your lima beans, I remember my mother saying. Ugh. It wasn’t until much later, when I learned to cook fresh limas, that I began to appreciate the oft-maligned bean.

For Mexicans, where the bean originates, it is a staple of life, high in protein and flavorful in its pure and simple state of existence. Cook it simply in water and salt, says Rancho Gordo heirloom bean maven Steve Sando, and you will love the taste and texture.

Rafael Mier holds Jaguar Beans, a rare, ancient strain

Here in the south of the United States of America where I have lived for the past thirty years, the traditionalists gravitate toward black-eyed peas and collards. This is especially true during New Years, when the black-eyed pea is center stage on every table to signify a new year of abundance. I’ve even seen the tradition carried to snow-bound climes by southerners yearning for a bit of home. 

Out west where I grew up, my family’s preferred bean was pinto, always industrially grown and originating from a sixteen-ounce tin that my mother could easily open with her electric can opener.  With contents dumped into the Farberware two-quart saucepan, gas burner turned to high, the beans were ready to serve in minutes to accompany the chewy, gray-center ground sirloin she called hamburger, if they didn’t burn first.

Weighing native beans, Teotitlan del Valle Market

I used to think that black beans were a gourmet delight when I started living in Oaxaca in 2006. I used to think that big, plump beans were better than dwarf-like varieties. Little did I pay attention to the fact that the bigger the bean, the more likely they are to be genetically modified. I didn’t realize that there are almost as many varieties of beans in Mexico as there is corn, based on regional differences and genetic adaptation to soil and climate.

In December 2017, I wrote a blog post, Union Zapata Hosts Biodiversity Fair in Oaxaca. Native corn, squash and beans took center stage. I went there in search of red, purple, yellow, and blue corn. I left with a deeper appreciation for what it takes to sustain a traditional milpa — the bean, corn, squash native agricultural growing exchange that provides complex protein intake for indigenous people.

Here is my challenge: Think about your own experience about beans growing up. Add your memories in the comment section. Share your recipes. Treat yourself to some real beans!

Mexican yellow bean soup, Norma’s made-up recipe

Scott Roth with old Zapotec rug

 

Women’s Writing Retreat in Oaxaca, Mexico: Take a Discount and Express Yourself

This is our 8th year to offer the Oaxaca Women’s Creative Writing and Gentle Yoga Retreat from June 22-29, 2018. We want a full-house and are offering a 10% discount off the already high-value, low price of $895 for a shared room and $1195 for a single room. It’s not too late to get on board and join us.

Who is this for? Beginning and experienced writers, those who believe they can do it and need inspiration and coaching, note-jotters and margin-scribblers. Do you have an idea for a novel, a memoir, a prose poem, a travel piece or family history? This is the place for you.

See the complete course description HERE.

Send me an email with your interest HERE.

Please share with family and friends who would like this retreat.

Folk Art Makers in Oaxaca Artisan Villages: Kinship, Work and Compensation

I subscribe to a website named academia.edu that recently published a paper by Alanna Cant, an academic from Kent University, United Kingdom. Dr. Cant spent almost a decade studying and writing about the relationship between the owners of a large, successful wood carving and painting workshop in San Martin Tilcajete and the people who are employed there making alebrijes.

The article is important because it expands understanding about how folk art gets made and marketed, who gets recognition for the work, and a different form of compensation. It emphasizes how the importance of family relationships and kinship take priority over economic independence and personal recognition for artisan work.

Read it here: ‘Making’ Labour in Mexican Artisanal Workshops

We learn from this that making a name for oneself and making money is not the primary driver for most people who live in community.

It’s very important for us not to judge by our own standards, but to observe and understand the differences and similarities between cultures.

In many small villages throughout Oaxaca, in fact throughout Mexico, safety, security and economic well-being depends on mutual support. These practices are ancient and deep, embedded in tribal relationships rooted in loyalty and commitment. It is far more important for many talented crafts-people to support strong family relationships than it is for them to break away and start their own enterprise.

I’m not a cultural anthropologist, yet I extrapolate that this may be the norm in many villages of weavers, potters and embroiderers. Cooperatives are usually extensions of family units of parents, children, aunts, uncles and cousins — a social organization that differs in practice from co-ops in the USA. Producing quantities of artisan-made work depends on more than a few pairs of hands.

If you are a collector or appreciator of Mexican craft, this article may interest you. It will give you insight into the making of Mexican folk art and how indigenous communities are able to survive and support each other over 8,000 years of existence.

Their experience is very different from ours. Entrepreneurship and commercial success, too, comes at a cost as television and the internet make the world of things more important than the world of people.

 

A Story About Five Wool Rugs for Sale with 100% Natural Dyes, Oaxaca, Mexico

Omar Chavez Santiago went back to Mexico on Saturday but he left these five beautiful hand-woven tapestry rugs (tapetes) behind for me to sell for him and his family.

Omar’s family from Galeria Fe y Lola, use 100% churro sheep wool that is hand-spun on the drop spindle (malacate) in the Mixtec region of Oaxaca, high in the Sierra Madre del Sur about six hours from the city. Here, many women each raise a few sheep and twice  year when the fleece is thick enough, they shear them and spin the wool by hand.  They then collect the balls from among the group for the Chavez Santiago family to buy enough to work. Hand-spun wool, a rarity now, is more costly but is the strongest fiber for rug weaving.

Listen to this GistYarn podcast with Omar Chavez Santiago

#1, 4×6 ft, Mountains and Rain tapestry rug, $1,325

#1. Detail. Cochineal, indigo, natural sheep wool

That’s one reason why these wool rugs are collector and heirloom pieces. 

The other reason is because the family uses ONLY 100% natural dyes. That means they prepare wool that they dye themselves using local plant materials and cochineal. This is a completely vertical process all done in the family home studio. They do not work in synthetic or chemical dyes at all — so everything from them is designed to be environmentally sustainable and healthy.

#2. A Thousand Stars, 4×6′, $1,325. All natural dyes.

#2 Detail. Cochineal, indigo, wild marigold, zapote, pomegranate

Many in Teotitlan del Valle know how to give the cochineal dye demonstration, squeezing lime juice or baking soda on a bit of ground bugs to show visitors how the color explodes and changes.  This does not always mean that the makers use natural dyes in their tapestries. Only about a dozen families actually work with natural dyes because it it more expensive and time consuming.

SOLD. #3. Relampajo, 2-1/2×5′, $550. Indigo and wild marigold

After buying the handspun balls of wool, Omar, his mom Lola (nickname for Dolores) and his dad Fe (nickname for Federico), make the skeins of wool, wash and mordent the wool, then prepare the dye baths.  They will grind dried cochineal bugs, grind and ferment the Oaxaca-grown indigo, prepare other plant materials like wild marigold (pericone), pomegranate, pecan shells and leaves, zapote negro, tree moss, huizache (acacia vine seed pods), palo de aguila (alderwood) and other dye sources. They have developed formulas to get over 40 shades of red, purple, orange and pink from the cochineal insect itself.

They are weavers, chemists, herbalists and artists.

SOLD. #4. Mariposas, 2-1/2 x 5′, Cochineal and wild marigold. $550.

This is #slowfiber and #smallbatches. It can take a week to dye enough yarn for one medium-sized rug. Another week to dress the loom and attach the warp threads. The weaver creates his or her design and executes it, standing at the two-pedal loom for several months working a six-hour day, six days a week. That’s about all the back can take!

When you visit a weaver, ask to see the dye pots. Weavers who work in small volume production have small inventories and are more likely to use natural dyes.

#5. Campo Rojo. 2-1/2×5′. $550. Cochineal, marigold, natural sheep wool.

In the fiber world we ask #whomademyclothes. The #fashionrevolution brings our attention to asking if what we buy is #fastfashion and disposable or made to last with excellent quality.  This is not just about clothes. It is about supporting makers who are using ethical practices, paying fair wages and selling at fair value for time and materials.

It can take 90 days to weave a rug made in this way. If it costs $500 USD, please do the math. That’s a little more that $5 USD per hour.

One of the most gratifying things for me living in Mexico is the opportunity to buy direct from the maker. I know my purchase is meaningful and valued. This is also an important reason that I organize textile study tours — to bring visitors directly to the women and men who make the clothes and home goods and jewelry, and all the beautiful artisan work that Mexico is famous for.  Afterall, in the end, it’s all about the relationship, not the thing!

I hope you will consider purchasing one of these beautiful rugs from Galeria Fe y Lola. Funds go directly to the family. Then, you will know the answer to #whomademyrug

How to Buy: Send me an email with your name, the item you want to buy, and your mailing address. I will respond with availability, send you a PayPal invoice (or you can mail me a check) that includes the cost of the rug and mailing.  Fixed price shipping is $35 per small piece and $60 per large piece anywhere in lower 48 states. Inquire about mailing prices to Canada.