Tag Archives: guelaguetza

Oaxaca Guelaguetza 2013: Photographs and Impressions

Conga Line

Guelaguetza on the Hill is a big, professional production.  Villages from throughout Oaxaca state are invited to present their unique traditional traje (dress), music and dance traditions which are bound to centuries old cultural customs and conquest history.  For textile lovers, it’s a chance to see an

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array of beautifully woven, embroidered and embellished shirts, skirts, blouses, dresses, blankets and baskets.

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Dance interpretations include:

  • Courtship and engagement ceremonies
  • Wedding ceremonies and festivities
  • Conquest and conversion of indigenous peoples
  • Life of caballeros and bullfighting

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Yes, she is dancing (above) with a guacalote (indigenous turkey), symbol of sustenance and a special celebration gift, representing San Antonino Castillo Velasco, the home of the Oaxacan wedding dress.  The embroidery there is unparalleled.  The dances are choreographed to give the audience a sense of rural life, some sizzle and more than plenty of dazzle.

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There might be as many as thirty-five or more people in a presentation group.  That takes a lot of coordination and practice!

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Be prepared.  I attended the morning event, arrived at 9:30 a.m. and did not leave the amphitheater until well after 2:30 p.m.

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Music included song and vocal chanting in Zapotec and Mixtec, pre-Hispanic flutes, ancient high-pitched fiddles, and a tune as familiar as the one that accompanies the Dance of the Feather that I know so well from my Teotitlan del Valle experience.  Look at these guys leap! About as good as my pals from the 2009 Teoti group.

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There are certain iconic photographs from Guelaguetza that say it all! Like these beautiful women from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec (below).  Frida Kahlo modeled her dress from this region.  They pay tribute to the pineapple

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with the Flor de Piña dance.  And then there are the caballeros from the Sierra Norte who re-enact a bullfight, part of their every day village life.

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The women from the village of Pinotepa de Don Luis wear the traditional purple and red striped falda (wrap skirt) dyed with murex snail and cochineal and woven on a back-strap loom.  They are modest and white woven cloth cover their torsos.  Traditional older women in the Sierra Norte village are bare breasted.  We were breathless hoping no one would lose their coverings!

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At the end of each group’s performance, they gifted the audience in traditional Guelaguetza style by tossing out an array of things:  woven hats, fans, tortillas, oranges, nuts, small brown paper bags filled with little loaves of bread.  The men and women from the Isthmus sent pineapples into the crowd.  There was even an occasional bottle of mezcal gifted.  Lucky me, I got one, and a pineapple, too (mostly because I hung around to take photos after the event ended and there was stuff leftover).

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People clamored down the aisles to get up close.  The best trick was to put your hat out and catch an empanada or two.  This strange green pod (below)

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is a fruit, I am told, and very tasty.  It was hurled like a missile from the stage. The idea of Guelaguetza is to give and receive freely from your heart, to be part of community.  There was lots of gifting on Monday on the Hill.  Many left with bags filled with goodies!  Good for them 🙂  Part of the fun of being there.

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Both arriving and departing, I climbed and descended the steep steps of the Cerro Fortin, stopping every little while to catch my breath and gawk at vendors.  It was too early in the morning to go shopping on my up!  I was too hungry to stop on my way down.  But folks were doing a brisk business and there was a pedestrian traffic jam every time someone stopped for a drink or something to eat.

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The steps to Fortin hill lead through a tunnel that passes under the Carretera Nacional Pan American Highway 190.  The tunnel recognizes the indigenous and Mexican leaders of Oaxaca, and makes note of the city’s original Nahuatl name, which the Spanish could not pronounce: Huaxyacac.

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Despite the cost, the auditorium was packed.  Most of the audience were Mexicans who traveled to Oaxaca on holiday, with a smattering of extranjeros.  I would say, a good time was had by all!

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Descending the stairs through the tunnel, I decided to wait until the crowd thinned.  The steps to the hill were lined with vendors selling everything from atole to maguey worms to textiles to electrical chords and kitchen utensils.  Anyone who stopped to shop or buy a soft drink created a bottleneck.

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I recommend going to the morning performance, since it’s not as hot, the likelihood of rain is lower, and it is a great time for photography!  Using my Nikon D7000 with 17-55mm 2.8 lens.  Even though I cropped to get closer images, most shots were crystal clear  even from 20 rows away from the stage where I was seated.

Next Photography Workshop:  Day of the Dead Photo Expedition. Still places open!

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Oaxaca Guelaguetza is Authentic: True or False? and Tickets

The week-long Guelaguetza, the last two Mondays in July folkloric dance event on the Cerro Fortin, is Oaxaca’s biggest tourist event of the year. Tickets for reserved seats are expensive, from 900 to 1,250 pesos, and now also hard to come by.   There are two performances left, one at 10 a.m. and one at 5 p.m. on Monday, July 29, 2013.

Where to Get Tickets

At Teatro Macedonio Alcala, no tickets are available and a handwritten sign directs you to go to the Tourist Office on Av. Benito Juarez across from Llano Park.  At the Tourist Office, they tell you that tickets are sold out and direct you to a travel agency.  Seems like the agencies bought up lots of advance tickets in order to charge a 200+ peso commission on each one.  Ticket Master Mexico is also sold-out.  Try the travel agency in the Quinta Real hotel on 5 de Mayo.  They are very helpful and the commission is less than most.

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Guelaguetza: Tourist Attraction or Traditional Custom

The three-hour extravaganza that features the indigenous dress of pueblos throughout Oaxaca state along with their particular dance traditions, draws people here from all over the world.  

The spectacle is grand entertainment, though not everyone can afford to see this version of it.  True, there is free seating in sections C and D of the Guelaguetza Auditorium, the white-tented amphitheater on the hill, but seats are way up in the peanut gallery far from the stage.  People tell me you have to get in line by 5 a.m. for the 10 a.m. performance in get in free.  Not for the faint of heart.  Chilangos and gringos have far more money, so the economic class system prevails.

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Nevertheless, throughout Oaxaca, free performances abound under tents near Santo Domingo Church, on the Zocalo, and in public spaces at San Pablo Academic and Cultural Center on Calle Independencia.  Or, anyone could catch a parade of masquers down Macedonia Alcala, the walking street that connects the Zocalo and the plaza in front of Santo Domingo.

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This week, Oaxaca is sizzling with excitement — a mezcal fair at Llano Park and a festival of seven moles.  It is a great time to be here.

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Yet, the controversy and discussion around Guelaguetza continues.  Earlier in the week, San Pablo hosted academics from Mexico City and Oaxaca, and indigenous leaders from Oaxaca to talk about the authenticity of what has become this city’s tourism masthead.   Public definitions are influenced and changing through the lens of tourism.

Guelaguetza Definitions

In traditional villages throughout the state, Guelaguetza is the form of mutual exchange and support for the community good.  It is how indigenous people have survived and continued for thousands of years.   I ask you for something that I need now that you have.  I ask and you give it to me freely. In years to come, I owe you this same thing back plus a bit more — a cow for a wedding feast, a band for a quinciniera, tamales for a baptism, mezcal for a birthday, etc.  We keep a record so the interchange is accurate.  It is not considered a debt nor is it a gift.  It is giving and giving back.  The price one pays to be in community.

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What happens when the general public believes that Guelaguetza is a folkloric dance performance that is disconnected from its cultural roots?

We see the baskets on the stage filled with nuts, candies, bread that the dancers throw out to the audience.  We see the gourds filled with mezcal that are traditional offerings that predate the Spaniards and Aztecs.  Little cups of mezcal are offered to the audience.  How are we able to understand the symbolism of these discreet events that become intertwined with a performance.

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Yes, tourism is important to Oaxaca.  It is vital to Oaxaca’s economy.  It is good that there are ways to draw and attract visitors.  Yet, somehow it seems, we need to be doing better to make Guelaguetza more accessible, affordable and understandable.

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Oaxaca Guelaguetza: 2013 Folkloric Festival

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They call it Mondays on the Hill.  The original Zapotec meaning of Guelaguetza is transformed into a folkloric dance festival held in the auditorium on the Cerro del Fortin on the last two Mondays in July each year (except when the date falls on Benito Juarez’ birthday).  There are two performances today, Monday, July 22, 2013 — one at 10 a.m. (as we speak) and another this afternoon at 5 p.m.  The schedule repeats next Monday, July 29.

 All You Want to Know: Oaxaca Guelaguetza on Oaxaca Wiki

Tickets are not cheap!  They cost 1,250 pesos per person which translates to $97.62 USD in today’s exchange rate.  Pay a premium if you buy on Ticketmaster.   Another option is to go to the Llano Park tourism office and buy your ticket(s) there.  I’m still debating about whether to go next Monday for the second week live performance.

Computer Ringside Seats!  Live Streaming from Oaxaca! at

10 a.m. and 5 p.m. today — Central Daylight Time.

Disfruta bien! Enjoy!

A few years ago, I wrote about the history of Guelaguetza here.  What I wrote then is still true today.  And, you can read more about Guelaguetza meanings and celebrations held in California.

Guelaguetza Photography Workshop in Oaxaca, Mexico

7 nights, 8 days, July 26-August 2, 2013.  Our Guelaguetza Photography Workshop gives you an opportunity to capture indigenous folkloric traditions and build upon your photography skills.  Guelaguetza is a magical time in Oaxaca when indigenous people come to the city from throughout the rural areas of the state adorned in their finest handmade traje (indigenous dress). On Monday, July 29, we will take you to an extraordinary dance production of Guelaguetza where you can see the extravagant costumes, hear local music, and gain an understanding of the customs.

For all levels, beginners and beyond!  Limited to 10 participants.

At the end of July and early August are the famed Mezcal Fair and a tribute to Oaxaca’s seven moles.  We’ll introduce you to both.

Your guides and instructors are published art photographers Tom and Sam Robbins, our husband-wife team from Columbus, Ohio.  The Robbins’ are versatile and experienced, whose work is featured in national photography magazines.  This will be their fourth year to teach in Oaxaca with us.

  • Tom and Sam are excellent teachers and photographers. They have an incredible passion for photography and showed great care for each participant, taking time to understand each of our needs and looking through our photos with us.

 

  • Sam and Tom are the ideal instructors.  Any experience with them is one that is worthwhile.  I would recommend this program to others.  It is life changing and breathtaking.  — Emily Moore, The Ohio State University

The program focuses on the use of  digital SLR photography to capture, record and document indigenous life, the Guelaguetza festival, local markets, famed Mesoamerica archeological sites, folk art and artisans, landscapes, and people.  This is cultural immersion at its best!

We include all lodging, most meals, tickets to the Guelaguetza performance, and local transportation associated with the workshop in the cost of registration!

 

The colonial city of Oaxaca de Juarez is located 375 miles south of Mexico City.  It is safe, warm and inviting, and can be reached directly from the U.S. by United Airlines from Houston, TX or via Mexico City connections.

  • Every experience with Sam and Tom is one for the books, every minute in their company a gem. The order of places we went was excellent, very well planned and executed workshop.
  • The workshop was inspiring. Not only did it open up my world to a new culture, I gained a new passion for photography.

We will stay in Oaxaca City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and in the family friendly Zapotec village of Teotitlan del Valle.  Throughout the week, we will take you to private homes and artist studios to enrich and personalize your photography learning experience.

  • The instructors are exceptional, and there are endless picture subjects here. -Kellie Fitzgerald, The Ohio State University

   

We’ll visit San Pablo Villa de Mitla archeological site, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and stop to photograph the 3,000 year old cypress tree that is 160 feet in diameter in nearby Santa Maria del Tule.

 

  • With very little formal background in photography, the most valuable aspects of this workshop were the technical ones, as well as the time to practice and think about my work.
  • The most valuable part for me was being immersed in a completely different culture.
  • The whole experience of being in Mexico was very eye-opening and getting the chance to capture that with photography was fun!

Topics Covered:

  • Using manual camera settings
  • Understanding composition
  • Capturing light, shadow and reflection
  • Knowing more about aperture and shutter speed
  • Determining when to use flash, night photography
  • Experimenting with black and white, and sepia
  • Exploring the essentials of landscape and portraiture
  • Getting feedback for steady improvement

During the workshop, we will review each other’s work, give and receive feedback, and receive expert guidance and coaching from Tom and Sam.  A group presentation at the end of the week will give you an opportunity to showcase your best work and select a theme, if you choose.

  • Being immersed in the culture by sleeping in a local bed and breakfast with very kind, generous villagers helped make the cultural immersion a life-changing visit.  My direct experience of Teotitlan, Oaxaca and surrounding artisan villages is so far removed from any concern of personal safety it’s almost laughable.  Thank you for the opportunity to learn of more beautiful people and places in the world in a safe and inviting workshop atmosphere

Sam (behind the camera) and Tom Robbins lead summer 2013 Oaxaca Photography Expedition.

About Husband and Wife Photographers Tom and Sam Robbins, Your Expedition Guides and Workshop Leaders

Tom Robbins, a photographer for more than 40 years, recently retired as professor of architecture at Columbus (Ohio) State Community College.  His careers in architecture and education have deepened his love for,  and understanding of design, composition and visual impact.  Tom and his wife, Sam, have exhibited widely and their work has been published in “Black and White Magazine.”  Tom has photographed extensively in rural Ohio, New Orleans, and Southern Mexico where he finds the landscapes, the architecture and the people wonderfully photogenic. In the last five years, Tom and Sam have made Mexico the primary subject of their photography and have visited Oaxaca and the surrounding villages many times.  Most of Tom’s work has been with 35 mm SLR and medium format cameras.

A serious photographer for over 20 years, Sam Robbins considers herself to be a “photographic hunter.”  Like her husband, Tom, she is most comfortable walking and wandering with her camera at the ready. While she has done studio portrait work, she is happiest allowing photographs to present themselves.  Sam is an award-winning New Albany (Ohio) High School teacher of art, English and photography.  She sees sharing her passion for photography with students as one of the most rewarding experiences of her life.  Sam is also a quilter, and believes that her work with color and design have contributed to her photographic eye.  Though most of her work has been with a 35 mm SLR, she also has shot with medium format and really enjoys using a plastic toy camera.  Recently, Sam taught and exhibited at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca, where English and Spanish-speaking participants applauded her thoughtful, supportive style.

Tom holds the Bachelor’s in Architecture from the University of Illinois.  Sam holds the B.A. in political science from Ohio University and the M.A. in English Education from The Ohio State University with an art minor from Otterbein University.

See their work at   www.robbinsx2.com

  

Preliminary Itinerary (subject to change): 72 hours of instruction

Day One,  Friday, July 26:  Travel to Oaxaca. Arrive and settle in to our bed and breakfast. (D) Overnight Oaxaca.

Day Two, Saturday, July 27: Breakfast and learning session. A walking orientation to explore Oaxaca’s churches, museums, Zocalo.  Group lunch.  Afternoon market visit.  Best of the Day show.  (B,L).  Overnight Oaxaca.

Day Three, Sunday, July 28:  Visit Monte Alban archeological site and Atzompa pottery village after the morning learning session.  Best of the Day show. Group dinner.  (B, D). Overnight Oaxaca.

Day Four, Monday, July 29: After the morning learning session, we will travel to the afternoon Guelaguetza Folkloric Performance in the El Fortin Auditorium.    Then prepare for Best of Day show. (B, L)

Day Five, Tuesday, July 30: After breakfast and the morning learning session, we will pack and travel to Teotitlan del Valle, the Zapotec weaving village, making a stop at El Tule.  (B, D) Overnight in Teotitlan.

Day Six, Wednesday,  July 31:  After breakfast and the morning learning session, we’ll travel to San Pablo Villa de Mitla to photograph this famed archeological site then visit a master weaver for a weaving/natural dyeing demonstration.  Best of Day show at end of day.   Group dinner (B, D)

Day Seven, Thursday, August 1: After breakfast and the morning learning session, you will begin to prepare your final presentation for Best of Week Show with Gala Grand Finale Dinner.  (B, D)

Day Eight, Friday, August 2:   Departure.

What You Should Bring
  •  Your energy and enthusiasm
  • Digital SLR camera
  • Laptop computer and editing software (such as Lightroom or Photoshop
  • Batteries and battery charger
  • Memory card(s) and card reader
  • Pen and notepad
  • Memory stick–jump drive

Plus, sturdy, comfortable walking shoes, sun protection, sun hat

(Upon registration, you will receive a complete packet and information guide with suggested packing list and other useful information.

Lodging/Accommodations

In Oaxaca City we will stay at a delightful, safe and upscale bed and breakfast that is highly rated by Trip Advisor.  In Teotitlan del Valle, we stay in a local bed and breakfast operated by three generations of women — grandmother, mother, daughter — all great cooks! The food is all handcrafted and delicious.  Vegetarian options are available.

Cost:  The base cost for the trip is $1395.00 USD double occupancy per person.  This includes 7 nights lodging in a shared room, 7 breakfasts, 2 lunches, 4 dinners, transportation to villages and archeological sites, Guelaguetza performance ticket, and all instruction.  Most travel programs of this type and length cost more than twice as much!

Optional Add-ons:

  • Single occupancy with private bath, $1,595.
  • Come early or stay later, add $135 per night lodging in Oaxaca City and add $55 per night lodging in Teotitlan del Valle
  • Include travel health insurance, ask for quote based on age and length of stay
  • Cooking Class with noted Oaxaca chef, $85 per person

It does NOT include airfare, taxes, admissions to museums and archeological sites, tips/gratuities, and some meals.

Reservations,  and Cancellations

A 50% deposit ($700) is required to guarantee your spot.  The final payment for the balance due (including any supplemental costs) shall be postmarked by May 1,  2013.  We only accept Payment with PayPal.  We will be happy to send you an  invoice.

Note: Last year filled quickly. Don’t hesitate if you want to attend!

If cancellation is necessary, please notify us in writing by email.   After June 1, no refunds are possible; however, we will make every possible effort to fill your reserved space.  If you cancel before June 1, we will refund 50% of your deposit.  We strongly recommend that you take out trip cancellation, baggage, emergency evacuation insurance before you begin your trip, since unforeseen circumstances are possible.

Comments About Safety

  • I can’t recall one instance the entire time where I felt threatened.  Almost everyone we encountered was very receptive and endearing – only adding to the beauty of this wonderful place.
  • I never felt unsafe during the workshop, including getting to it by flying to Mexico City and taking buses to Puebla and then Oaxaca.  The organizers helped us by providing useful tips. 
  • I always felt safe in Teotitlan and Oaxaca, the people are so warm and welcoming. 
  • I felt completely 100% safe all of the time.  Perhaps more safe than in my hometown, if that’s possible!

To register or for questions, contact:  normahawthorne@mac.com

This workshop is produced by Norma Hawthorne, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC.  For more information, see:  http://oaxacaculture.com

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.