Tag Archives: family

India Journal: Textiles and My Family in Delhi

This is a tribute to family, dispersal and reconnection.

It was a remarkable afternoon at my cousin Sharon Lowen‘s apartment in New Delhi, India. The city has been her home for the last 43 years. My 99-1/2 year-old Aunt Ethel lives with her youngest daughter Sharon who is her primary caregiver. It was a remarkable feeling of reconnection, as if I was seeing my mother alive once more. In my cousin’s face I recognize my mother, sister, uncles.

Sharon Lowen shows incredible brocade sari with gold threads

Sharon went to India 43 years ago on a Fulbright scholarship to do post-graduate study. She fell in love with the culture and the people, settled in, became a renowned performer of Odissi classical dance, and teacher at the American Embassy School.

Cousin Sharon with her mom and my aunt Ethel, with photo of my mom Dorothy

I’ve only seen Sharon a few times over the years. She came to a Smithsonian Institution program while I was living in Washington, D.C., and later we visited in North Carolina when she participated in the American Dance Festival.

Our mom, Dorothy Schafitz Beerstein, 2/14/16-11/15/15

One key reason I spent a week in Delhi was to reconnect with them and I intended to make at least two visits during this time. But extreme jet lag and the onset of a head cold (perhaps a reaction to dust and pollution), altered the plan.

Family portrait on Sharon’s wall: our mothers, uncle and grandparents

I didn’t want to infect my aunt, who is becoming more frail as she approaches a century of life, so I cancelled our second visit.

My mom was the oldest of four children and my aunt was born fourteen months later. Their Eastern European immigrant parents worked hard to raise their family in a small Pennsylvania town not far from the Ohio border. My tailor grandfather sewed suits, dresses and fur coats. Our family has a love of cloth, fine stitches and those who create them.

Sharon shows fine Rabari Toran.

Spending the afternoon with family was emotionally satisfying on many levels. Our experiences are different, yet we share genetic code. Life is a mystery and disperses us, brings us together for a moment, sends us on our way again.

Sharon treated me to a preview of her Indian textile collection, many vintage pieces amassed over the last forty years: embroideries, double ikat, weaving, gold brocades and tribal mirror work. Most were gifts presented at dance performances she gave traveling throughout India and the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrating 50 Years of Marriage in Teotitlan del Valle: Felicidades Gloria y Porfirio

Family is more than important here in Teotitlan del Valle. Being and staying connected, committed to each other’s well-being, is a way of life. The social fiber of the village is based upon maintaining strong family ties and mutual support. That manifests by participating in ancient rituals and celebrations tied to life cycle events such as birth, death, birthdays, engagements and marriage.

Porfirio and Gloria with their six children

Porfirio and Gloria with their seven children

Yesterday was no exception when at least a hundred extended family members — brothers, sisters, children, nieces, nephews, cousins and in-laws — gathered to celebrate the 50th wedding anniversary of Gloria Bautista and Porfirio Santiago.

Family gathers at the altar to congratulate the couple

Family gathers at the altar to congratulate the couple

We first gathered in Teotitlan del Valle’s beautiful church for a 1:30 p.m. mass to honor the couple. While I am not Catholic, I am spiritual. So, being inside the Preciosa Sangre de Cristo church, now undergoing fresco restoration in its interior, gave me time to reflect on what it means to be married to one person for half-a-century.

Gloria and Porfirio with wives and husbands of their sons and daughters

Gloria and Porfirio with daughters-in-law and sons-in law

Many in the United States are unable to endure the longevity of marriage and respect its attending responsibilities. There are many reasons for divorce. There is ample cause for celebration when a couple honors this promise and commitment they have made to each other for a lifetime. This was a reason to celebrate. In addition to their 50th, Porfirio recently celebrated his 75th birthday.

And now, all the grandchildren!

And now, all the grandchildren

Gloria and Porfirio were surrounded with love. They have devoted their lives to their family and now it was their children’s turn to honor them. At the end of the mass, everyone took turns surrounding them at the altar, taking group photos and exchanging hugs and kisses.

Preciosa Sangre de Cristo church, Teotitlan del Valle

Preciosa Sangre de Cristo church, Teotitlan del Valle

People lingered. They took photos. Took turns gathering. First the sons and daughters. Then their husbands and wives. Then the grandchildren. My friend Hollie said we were in the middle of a love fest.

 

Then, we all went to the family compound for a meal of goat consomme, barbecue goat, handmade organic corn tortillas, plenty of beer and mezcal. The toasts were ample. A trio of musicians entertained the group under a large fiesta tent.

 

Guests flowed in with flowers, cases of beer, bottles of mezcal and wrapped gifts. We all went to the altar room to greet Gloria and Porfirio and offer gifts, a customary tribute. The altar room is where all family celebrations take place, where promises are made, people honored, prayers offered.

Daughter Carina Santiago Bautista, Tierra Antigua Restaurant owner

Daughter Carina Santiago Bautista, Tierra Antigua Restaurant owner

The younger women of the family prepared and served the meal. Their husbands, brothers and sons pitched in, too to make sure there was enough for everyone. In this land of abundance and plenty, containers were passed for the leftovers to carry home. One sister told me six organic goats were slaughtered for the meal.

 

The ritual meal that can serve hundreds is part of this village tradition. I think of it as “let no person go hungry.” I think it is part of the strong values here to maintain family and community support, so show respect.

A 50th wedding anniversary cake like no other, baked by Norma Gutierrez

A 50th wedding anniversary cake like no other, baked by Norma Gutierrez

For the grand finale, we had cake. Not just any cake, but a multi-layered almond confection that looked like it belonged at a wedding. This was accompanied by the ubiquitous gelatina — a mosaic jello mold, only lightly sweetened, that everyone here loves, including me.

Young boys busied themselves on smart phones

Young boys busied themselves on smart phones

Gloria’s brother is director of the village symphony orchestra. They marched in, horns out front, and we all waited for them to strike up the Jarabe del Valle, the traditional Zapotec line dance, men on one side, women on the other, that is played at every fiesta gathering.

 

People here take their commitments seriously. There were three or four generations sitting together around these tables, each knowing their roles and what they were responsible for doing. This usos y costumbres village is based on the guelaguetza system of give and take, mutual support and harmony. To maintain the village, there are volunteer responsibilities that residents must accept and do.

An astounding practice is the way all guests are greeted individually. Instead of a receiving line, all arriving guests go around the tables and offer two hands extended to each person seated. They say hello in Zapotec (zak schtil) or Spanish (buenas tardes). This is practiced by adults and children alike, a show of respect and thanks for participating together. P.S. Zapotec is an oral, not written, language. There are researchers who are writing a transliterated oral dictionary. 

Gloria in a tete-a-tete with her mother. Chismes?

Gloria in a tete-a-tete with her mother. Chismes?

Porfirio served as president of the municipio, the village governing body, some years ago. That means that Gloria was by his side to serve the village, too. Honor, ritual, connection, keeping the chain of tradition going are admirable values. There is time given to celebration and to being with people. Lots of time for an eight hour fiesta. There were few cell phones in sight.

I love this photo of Gloria. It honors her strength, dependability and work ethic.

I love this photo of Gloria. It honors her strength, dependability and tenderness.

And, to cap it all off, just a couple of out-takes to keep you entertained!

 

 

 

 

Day 3: Portraits of the Lupita Lazo Family

Today, our portrait photography workshop participants visited three families in Teotitlan del Valle who had graciously accepted our request to take their photographs. One of these is the family of Lupita Lazo.

Lupita, Hugo, Cristobal and Danny Portrait of Lupita

Several months ago I wrote about Lupita Lazo’s diagnosis of breast cancer (a growing problem in Mexico) and her need for financial help. So many of you responded with gifts of all sizes and we were able to raise over two thousand dollars to help to cover a mastectomy, early chemotherapy treatments and pain medications.

Lupita is hopeful. So is her doctor and her many friends. She has completed four rounds of chemo, with the fifth and most powerful dosage coming up on February 10.  There will be three more rounds after that.

Three Brothers, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico Lupita Lazo, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico

The doctor says she is strong. Lupita has changed her diet. She is eating mostly chicken and no red meat, no dairy and lots of fresh fruits and raw vegetables. She tells me that a regular tonic is a mix of beet, carrot, parsley and orange juice. Since she is now unable to work, Lupita’s oldest son Hugo has quit university and is working to help with household expenses. Hugo is twenty years old. Danny is sixteen and Cristobal is ten. Lupe is a widow.

Portraits_3_Best43-42

It was a wonderful experience to be with the family today. Lupita is joyful and positive. Her three boys are loving and giving her lots of care, as are her many friends. It meant a lot to us to share this time with them in their home.

Portraits_3_Best43-22

For the photographs, some of us are using iPhones and some of us are using digital cameras.  In low lighting, we are learning about using the reflector to take advantage of natural light coming into dimly lit interiors. We are not using flash or any artificial lighting, adjusting the settings on our cameras to accommodate each situation.

Is Oaxaca Safe for Families?

I asked this question to my friend Lauren who spent a year there in 2009-2010 with her husband and three children.  They rented a house in San Felipe del Agua, took Spanish lessons, and immersed themselves in the cuisine, the culture, and the very agreeable climate.  “We had an amazing year in Oaxaca,” Lauren said.

She goes on to endorse the experience for others by describing Oaxaca as a family-friendly place that is safe for kids.  Her take on it is that the narco-wars are not occurring remotely close to Oaxaca, and although they took the same precautions anyone should in a large city, Lauren says the family generally felt SAFER in Oaxaca than they did in their home town — a large U.S. city.

We recommend “The Family Sabbatical Handbook” by Elisa Bernick.

Lauren used it to prepare her family for their residency in Oaxaca.  She says it covers perspectives from many different countries but the author and her family lived in San Miguel de Allende, so there is plenty of info specific to Mexico.   Though the book is not specific to Oaxaca, much can be extrapolated, generalized, and put to good use when considering Oaxaca as a destination for your family.  The Family Sabbatical Handbook describes how to go about choosing housing, type of schooling (immersion or bi-lingual),  finding medical care and health insurance, traversing cultural differences, coping with homesickness, and lots of resources to help you plan and enjoy the adventure.

Let the Parade Begin: Zapotec Weddings in Teotitlan

The preparation begins days, even months ahead. A few days before, the party truck pulls up to deliver hundreds of chairs and raise the huge red and blue striped tent that will cover the courtyard. The wedding celebration is about to begin. On the morning of the wedding, the couple welcomes their relatives in the altar room of the groom’s parent’s house. First, the men from the two families line up and, one by one, walk in to give their blessings to the couple, any advice they have for a good marriage, and any regrets about their relationship that they want to express. Then, the women line up and take their turn. After this, all assemble and form a parade walking around the streets of the village before going to church for the wedding mass, the band leading the way, the priest following, then the couple and their parents, and then all the guests – stringing out for several blocks.

The woman’s relatives do not pay for the wedding. In Zapotec tradition, the man’s side of the family covers all the costs: the mass, the band, the food and drinks, everything. People never rent a party house or hotel for the reception like we do in the U.S. Teotitlan del Valle families use their own house, rent the tent, hundreds of chairs, and provide food to feed all the guests. Everyone is invited (or so it seems) — all the close and distant relatives, aunts, uncles, godparents, cousins, nieces, close friends, and MORE. Anyone who has ever had an association the family is included on the guest list. You will see town folk lingering at the tall entry gates to the family compound where a wedding is taking place, waiting for an invitation to come in – which will always be extended. A wedding celebration could include hundreds of people. For example, Eric’s parents were recently invited to the wedding of the daughter of the man who delivers their drinking water. The man didn’t know Eric’s parents very well, but liked the way they acknowledged him when he delivered the water, so they were sent an invitation.

The woman’s family is responsible for giving the presents and money to the couple. The man’s relatives would customarily take a bottle of mezcal and flowers, but nothing more. Gifts could include major and small appliances, the size depending upon the closeness of the relationship. In wealthy families, gifts could be a car, a washing machine, a chest filled with gold coins, refrigerators, stoves, television, closets, and dishes. These are delivered to the girl’s house to store until the wedding day. At the end of the mass, the guests form the second parade of the day, the band plays and all promenade to the boy’s house for the reception. A truck or two, filled with the gifts, bring up the rear. Guests will take seats and watch as the trucks are unloaded and the gifts displayed in the center of the patio for all to see. Before cars and television, Eric thinks his people probably gave gifts of rugs, blankets, food and clothing, plus goods traded with other villages.

Guelaguetza: A System of Mutual Support

Weddings cost upwards of $15-20,000 USD. The groom’s family pays for about 60 to 70 percent of the expenses. This is a substantial sum for a weaver, whose annual income might be about $10,000 USD. The bride’s godparents always buy her wedding dress. That is the expectation when agreeing to become a godparent. Many families cannot afford to give a wedding but they feel an obligation to do it according to custom regardless of one’s means. A wedding party can last up to three or four days. When a family doesn’t have enough money, they will ask a relative or close friend to help them cover the costs, and promise to repay it later. This loan is known as the guelaguetza. There is no contract or written agreement. The spoken promise is honored regardless of how long the time passes. It could be one, five or 10 years later before repaying the guelaguetza. The man who made the original gift might say, “my son is getting married now and I would like you to provide the (fill in the blank …. music, barbeque, beer, mezcal, money). The repayment is always in the same form that was given. This is the Zapotec custom and Eric believes this is how his people have learned to honor their traditions, be mutually supportive and get along with each other over the centuries. Every time there is a dance of the feathers, a quince anos (Sweet 15), a wedding, a Christmas posada, or a baptism, there is a guelaguetza – the obligation of giving and paying back.

Eric believes that the women never enjoy the parties. Yet the social fabric of women’s lives are knit together in the camaraderie of life cycle events. Together, they make the fresh tortillas from scratch, starting two days before the event. They are cleaning the chickens, washing dishes, preparing the kitchen, chopping fruits and vegetables. The men are busy, too, trying to get the bull slaughtered to prepare for the barbacoa (goat barbeque), bringing in tanks of propane gas for the cooking stoves, buying the beer and soda, setting up the tent, and also cleaning the house. If the house is small and more space is needed, the men will dismantle the looms and take them out. They might clear out a bedroom or storage room to make more seating and dining space. There are weeks of chores in preparation for these events. Eric feels the women have harder work because they are in the kitchen constantly. That’s the primary reason why he doesn’t want a big traditional party — he is not eager for his mother to work that hard. He is sympathetic to the role of traditional women who prepare and serve the food, give first to the guests and the men, and eat last. And, he also knows that traditions are important to keeping a culture vibrant.

He notes, “When my cousins, the doctors, got married, they rented a party house in Oaxaca. But I saw that the women were bored, they didn’t have anything to do. They waited to be served but were very uncomfortable and didn’t understand this non-traditional practice. There were place cards for seating but in our culture everyone is used to sitting where they want. So, everyone got up and sat where they wanted to. The wedding reception ended after only a few hours, compared with a traditional Teotitlan wedding celebration that continues until 5 or 6 a.m. the next day.”

Some families are leaving the village because they cannot afford to participate in the guelaguetza system. Young people see that there are other choices for courtship and marriage via television and exposure to living in the city or working for a time in El Norte. Family expectations are powerful. Because so much depends upon extended family interaction, acceptance and interdependency, one wonders how these courtship and marriage customs will continue or be shaped by the pressure of external forces that all societies are challenged by.