Tag Archives: Oaxaca

Lupita’s Quinceanera in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca: Culture and Tradition

You might call it a coming out party or a debut to society if you lived in the United States of America thirty years ago. Some of my southern women friends participated in debutante balls just before women’s liberation took hold. For me, growing up in the wild west San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles, California, I went to Sweet Sixteen parties given for my more affluent friends — though I never had one myself.

Lupita with her mom, grandma, Chambelanes, and attendants, after the Mass

Here in Teotitlan del Valle, the tradition of moving from girlhood to becoming a young woman is likely steeped village tradition as a rite of passage to marriage and motherhood. It was once celebrated quietly in homes with hot chocolate, bread or tortillas, a cup of mezcal, a parental blessing.

Lupita, not quite two years old. I’ve known her a long time!
Receiving gifts, 8 a.m. Saturday morning

Fifteen years ago, there may have been a gathering of extended family members numbering fewer than 100 people who came together to recognize this coming of age. There was probably a mass at the church followed by a late afternoon dinner, followed by a traditional ritual village dance called the Jarabe del Valle.

In the home altar room, receiving blessings from uncle and aunt

Then the quinceañera would take to the dance floor to perform a selection to music of her choosing, creating the choreography, accompanied by a group of young men called chambelanes, dance escorts symbolically representing potential suitors.

Breakfast bread, waiting to be eaten
Vaquero-themed event, sombrero in place with ceremony

Today’s quinceanera celebration is a grand affair, with hundreds of well-wishers participating. It’s almost like a wedding, complete with elaborate flower bouquets and gauze garlands adorning the church that are then moved to the home where the after-party will take place.

Festive party gathering under the tent at home
Court attendant in Vaquero costume, a popular quince años theme

The quinceaños, as it is currently observed, is recent history here, practiced in grand style for only the past twenty or thirty years, according to a local friend. In recent years, it has become grander and costlier, costing as much as $25,000 USD.

Breakfast: Chicken, mole castillo, fresh tortillas and atole
Meanwhile, out back the cooks are at work

It is not unheard of to start out with a breakfast of fresh-killed and cooked chicken topped with homemade mole castillo and comal cooked tortillas. Out behind the house, the women cook over wood-fired, make-shift stoves and outdoor kitchens.

First, Oaxaca hot chocolate and bread; Lupita’s Madrina, far left
Perhaps now she’s old enough to drink

In the meantime, the 15-year-old honoree is getting ready. She has already been to the beauty salon the day before for the hair and make-up make-over. She puts on her special dress, traditional gold earrings and necklace with a religious symbol. She is ready for the day.

We begin the day with a mezcal toast; after all, it’s 8:30 a.m.

After the church mass, celebrants return to home for the afternoon into evening festivities. The area is cleared to set-up tables and chairs for the multitude. There are two bands (each costing about 10,000 pesos, I’m told), a disc jockey, decorated cakes, a late afternoon lunch we call comida, plenty of mezcal toasts with beer chasers.

The afternoon meal is a special barbecue pork. The two pigs, raised from piglets in the back stable, were slaughtered the day before by a special maestro. Every part is used for the meat and broth.

We know where our food comes from here

Of course, in a Usos y Costumbres village like Teotitlan del Valle, this expense is not totally out-of-pocket. Many costs are covered by a host of affiliated supporters, like the Madrina and Padrino, usually a couple of high social and religious stature who provide financial, cultural and religious underpinnings. They will instruct the quinceañera in the values and traditions of the community.

After the mass, a band serenades the crowd

Funding also comes in the form of the guelaguetza system where family and friends repay goods and services that have been given to them over the years, this includes labor, too. This a complex collaboration and accounting system keeps families connected, indebted to each other, and promotes strong community values.

All that’s important: Padrinos, family, friends, and Quinceañera symbols
The priestly blessing

Here, one can always count on a relative or friend to make blessings and offerings. They come with an armful of flowers, roses and lilies, a case of beer, a bottle of mezcal, a beautifully wrapped gift that might be a sweater, a dress, an apron or blouse, a pair of earrings, a purse. They come to the altar room where they are greeted formally by the host family and the quinceañera, giving and receiving thanks.

Guelaguetza, after all, really means giving and receiving, sharing, thanks and blessings, honor and tradition.

One of the bands arriving with fanfare

In the past, this was a fiesta to recognize that a young woman was ready to become a wife and mother, to become attached to another, to take on the role of helpmate in the household of her husband. These are vestiges. Today, it is party-time.

Family members preparing and serving the comida

I asked two young women, now in their thirties, if they had quinceañeras. Yes, they answered. One said her parents gave her the choice of a party or a trip. She chose the party. She still loves to party! The other remembers her dance to the song of her favorite recording artist of the time.

The quince is dream time. The time to imagine, giving up the dolls and baby toys and think about how life will unfold. It is a time to celebrate family, culture, youth, energy. I recall how the DJ master of ceremonies called Lupita la muñeca, la princesa, la reina, la mariposa — the doll, the princess, the queen, the butterfly — as she danced and twirled, transformed. For one day she was all of that and hopefully, this will build upon her self-confidence to become her dreams.

Perhaps one day, Santiago will become a chambalane!

Days after, after the tarp came down, the chairs and tables taken away, the millions of dishes washed, the house almost back to normal, I made a visit to Lupita, her mother and grandmother. Do you want to see my gifts? she asked, still glowing.

After the quince años, we have flowers and happiness

Yes, I said, as I took a seat in the altar room next to the family. Everyone was filled with pride. I saw how meaningful this event was for Lupita and her family. The rite of passage was complete.

My own mother was an aspiring feminist who never manifested her own profession but who supported her daughters in our quest for individuation and identity. Education was critical to our family to advance and reach beyond the struggle of immigrant grandparents. Our family spent money cautiously. Grand celebrations and rituals were not part of that experience.

Lupita is studying voice and gave us a song

It is important for any of us here in Mexico to understand, accept and appreciate lifestyle and traditions that are different than our own. Teotitlan del Valle is a village of connection and community, where the constant flow of fiesta is a way of life. I see it as a way of celebrating life, and it is a privilege for me to be living here.

The Altar Room, religious and social center of the home

Oaxaca Women’s Creative Writing Retreat 2020: Winter Holidays, Traditions

This is our 9th year offering this retreat! We will gather in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, from December 15 to 21, 2020, to reflect and write. Holiday traditions run deep here and it is a perfect place to explore our theme: ‘Tis the season for family, traditions, celebration, gift-giving, holiday expectations and disappointments, wishes fulfilled or not. The Christmas season evokes many memories and this is an opportunity to recreate them in a supportive environment. We are often inspired by our shared voices.

Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca church atop Zapotec temple ruins

You may even think about staying on in the village or in Oaxaca after the retreat, inviting your family to join you for the traditional posadas, Night of the Radishes, and other events that happen during this magical time of year.

We accommodate vegetarian and vegan diets

Winter solstice and other seasonal celebrations inspire us to revisit our memories of people and places, to dig in and go deep, and to write in whatever genre speaks to us: memoir, journaling, fiction, personal essay, creative nonfiction, and poetry. You will also participate in the Teotitlan del Valle Christmas posadas. Here you can explore traditional culture, values and celebrations to trigger your own experiences.

The last posada, December 24, when Baby Jesus arrives

New and seasoned writers are welcome. Come to kindle and rekindle the writer’s life.

Cost is $1,369 per person for a shared room, and $1,885 for a private room. A 50% deposit will reserve your space.

Participants meet local weaver in his studio

Retreat is limited to 10 participants.

See the Exquisite Corpse Poem from our 2019 writing retreat.

Planned Itinerary: 2020

  • Tuesday, December 15: Arrive and check-in to our retreat space. Group dinner. Introductions. (D)
  • Wednesday, December 16: Morning yoga (optional), breakfast, writing workshop, lunch, afternoon independent writing, optional activities, group dinner, coaching session (B, L, D)
  • Thursday, December 17: Morning yoga (optional), breakfast, independent writing, lunch, afternoon workshop, participate in Teotitlan del Valle posada, dinner on your own, coaching session (B, L)
Abuelos at the posada. What do you remember about your own grandparents?
  • Friday, December 18: Morning yoga (optional), breakfast, writing workshop, lunch, afternoon independent writing, optional activities/workshop visits or participate in Teotitlan del Valle posada, dinner on your own (B, L)
  • Saturday, December 19: Morning yoga (optional) breakfast, writing workshop, optional activities/workshop visits or participate in Teotitlan del Valle posada, dinner on your own (B, L)
  • Sunday, Sunday, December 20:  Morning yoga (optional) breakfast, writing workshop, lunch on your own, afternoon independent writing, optional activities/workshop visits, group reading and celebration dinner (B, D)
  • Monday, December 21: Breakfast and depart (B)

We reserve the right to make itinerary changes and substitutions as necessary.

Scene from Teotitlan del Valle mountain-top

You can add-on days in Teotitlan del Valle or Oaxaca before or after the retreat at your own expense. To get to Teotitlan del Valle, please buy a ticket at the airport for secure taxi service.

Noche de los Rabanos, December 23, Oaxaca City

There will be optional daily activities in our schedule: gentle yoga, afternoon walks, and mini-seminars on writing topics such as writing effective description and dialogue, grammar, or submitting creative work for publication. Each person will have a private coaching session, too. We will also arrange visits to the home workshops of local artisans so you can delve more deeply into the culture.

Beeswax candle making for the Posadas

What is included?

  • Complete instruction with 5 workshop sessions
  • 3 dinners
  • 6 breakfasts
  • 4 lunches
  • 6 nights lodging
  • transportation to local artisan studios
  • daily gentle yoga and meditation (optional, but included in fee)
  • mini-seminars on writing topics
  • one coaching session
Watching the posada go by on the street

Meet Robin Greene, Writer-Editor-Professor

We are pleased that Robin Greene is returning to lead this intensive writer’s retreat. This will be her ninth year teaching with us to rave reviews.

Novelist and Poet Robin Greene in Oaxaca, Mexico

Robin Greene is Professor of English and Writing and Director of the Writing Center at Methodist University in Fayetteville, NC, where she held the McLean Endowed Chair in English from 2013-2016. Robin has published two collections of poetry (Memories of Light and Lateral Drift), two editions of a nonfiction book (Real Birth: Women Share Their Stories), and a novel (Augustus: Narrative of a Slave Woman). Robin’s second novel, The Shelf Life of Fire, is published by Light Messages Publishing, 2019, and Robin is currently working on a sequel.

Notes, Women’s Creative Writing Retreat

Robin is a past recipient of a North Carolina-National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Writing, and has published over ninety pieces of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction in literary journals. She has received two teaching awards, the latest of which, the Cleveland Award, received in 2017, is the most prestigious award offered by her university. Robin has given over a hundred academic presentations, literary readings, and writing workshops in a variety of venues throughout the US.

In addition, Robin is a registered yoga teacher (RYT200), cofounder and editor of Longleaf Press, and cofounder of Sandhills Dharma Group for Buddhist meditation. She holds a M.A. in English from Binghamton University and a M.F.A. in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Art at Norwich University.

Higadito, scrambled egg and chicken holiday breakfast

What is a Workshop Session? The group meets daily for three hours to actively listen to each other’s writing, giving supportive and constructive feedback about what resonates or not. We offer guidelines for the process. Everyone takes a turn to read and everyone participates. Writers may accept or reject suggestions. Workshops offer an important learning tool for writers to gain feedback about how their words are communicated and understood.

How to Register:  Cost is $1,369 per person for a shared room, and $1,885 for a private room. A 50% deposit will reserve your space. Send us an email to say you want to attend and if you want a shared or private room. We will send you an e-commerce invoice to secure your space.

Holiday decor in the markets to decorate mangers. What is/was yours?

Required–Travel Health/Accident Insurance: We require that you carry international accident/health/emergency evacuation insurance with a minimum of $50,000 of medical evacuation coverage. Proof of insurance must be sent at least 45 days before departure. In addition, we will send you by email a PDF of a witnessed waiver of responsibility, holding harmless Norma Schafer and Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC. We ask that you return this to us by email 45 days before departure. Unforeseen circumstances happen! Be certain your passport has at least six months on it before it expires from the date you enter Mexico!

Plane Tickets, Arrivals/Departures: Please send us your plane schedule at least 45 days before the trip. This includes name of carrier, flight numbers, arrival and departure time to/from our program destination.

Christmas turkey shopping in Tlacolula market

Reservations and Cancellations.  We accept payment by credit card with an e-commerce service. We will send you an itemized invoice when you tell us you are ready to register. After October 1, 2020, refunds are not possible. If there is a cancelation on or before October 1, 50% of your deposit will be refunded. After that, there are no refunds.

All documentation for plane reservations, required travel insurance, and personal health issues must be received 45 days before the program start or we reserve the right to cancel your registration without reimbursement.

Flocked, fake trees from El Norte, an imported tradition to Mexico

Terrain, Walking and Group Courtesy: The altitude is almost 6,000 feet. Streets and sidewalks are cobblestones, mostly narrow and have uneven paths. The stones can be a bit slippery, especially when walking across driveways that slant across the sidewalk to the street. We will do some walking. If you have mobility issues or health/breathing impediments, please let me know before you register. This  may not be the workshop/study tour for you. Traveling with a small group has its advantages and also means that independent travelers will need to make accommodations to group needs and schedule. We include plenty of free time to go off on your own if you wish.

Poinsettias are native to Mexico

How to Get To Oaxaca: United Airlines operates direct flights from Houston. American Airlines operates direct flights from DFW. Delta Airlines has a codeshare with AeroMexico with a connection to Oaxaca from Mexico City. All other major airlines fly to Mexico City where you can made independent connections on Interjet, Aeromar (code share with United), Volaris and VivaAerobus. Check Skyscanner for schedules and fares before you book.  Note: I always book directly with the carrier for better customer service.

Workshop Details and Travel Tips: Before the workshop begins, we will email you study tour details and documents that includes travel tips and information.

To get your questions answered and to register, contact Norma Schafer. This retreat is produced by Norma Schafer, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC.


Mexico Art Show Brings Oaxaca Artisans to Lake Chapala, Jalisco–Party Time

The 18th annual Feria Maestros del Arte happened last weekend at Lake Chapala, Jalisco, about 40-minutes from Guadalajara. I had never been before and I decided it was time! Plus, it gave me a chance to spend some time with friends Chris and Ben, who moved to Ajijic from North Carolina last year.

Estela Montaño with natural dyed wool pillow cover

I knew that Oaxaca would be well-represented among the 87 artisans participating. I was especially eager to see Teotitlan del Valle weaving friends Estella Montaño and Family, and mother-son team Maria de Lourdes Lazo Sosa and Isaac Armando Lazo.

Maria de Lourdes and son Isaac from Teotitlan del Valle

And, there was another good friend, flying shuttle loom weaver Alfredo Hernandez Orozco with his son Yaolt, who make extraordinary cotton cloth home goods and clothing. Their workshop is in El Tule.

Yaolt and his dad, Alfredo, accomplished fly shuttle loom weavers

There were other Oaxaca artisans whose work I know and respect: alebrijes makers, ceramic artists and sculptors, basket weavers, and some very fine clothing weavers from remote areas of the Oaxaca coast and Mixe regions. Many of these are included on our Oaxaca Discovery Tour coming up at the end of January 2020 (yes, a few spaces are available).

Fine, back-strap loomed cotton blusa, San Juan Cotzocon
Women who make red clay pottery, San Marcos Tlapazola
Zeny Fuentes and Family, San Martin Tilcajete
Hand-woven palm necklace by Monica Diaz Martinez

An added bonus of going to the Fair was participating in events hosted by Los Amigos del Arte Popular. This is a non-profit group that supports Mexican folk art. They are appreciators and collectors, and do a lot to underwrite this Feria and provide scholarships for artisans to travel here.

Sally, Chris, Mariann, Norma, Ellen

I also had a chance to connect with friends Mariann who moved to Ajijic from Philadelphia, friend Ellen who comes to Oaxaca every winter, her sister Sally, and locals Elizabeth and Greg who live in Chapala. I also bumped into David and Barbara from San Diego, too.

Meat lovers’ paradise, ribs at Gosha’s, Ajijic, Jalisco
Lake Chapala from the Fair grounds

Unlike the International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe that covers the world, this Fair reunites those of us with Mexico-LOVE. While I’m most happy living in Oaxaca, coming to the shores of Lake Chapala is a refreshing change of pace and a great party all the way around. I had to come home to rest!

A collector’s niche
Otomi embroidered wall hanging adds drama to bedroom
Papier-maché Virgin from developmentally challenged Chapala school for women
(R) Michoacan potter Guadalupe Garcia Rios in traditional Purepecha dress

Exquisite Corpse Poem: Day of the Dead — Nine Women Writing

What is an Exquisite Corpse Poem? The root of the exquisite corpse poem comes from the Parisian Surrealist Movement, and is a method by which a collection of words or phrases is assembled. Each collaborator adds to the composition. In our case; Professor Robin Greene, our writing instructor and coach, constructed this poem from lines that each of us contributed, taken from pieces we wrote during our five day Women’s Creative Writing Retreat.

Day of the Dead — Nine Women Writing

We are all made from mole

and the daily tortillas that hold us

to life. Hold us, that is until

mescal creates thunder

and all our clichés work.

But how much is a songbird worth?

And are birth and death only

an entrance and an exit,

or are they the constant cadence

of beginning, becoming, ending —

much like the stories we write?

We watch the shadowed Zapotec

mountains from the cemetery

tonight — Dia de los Muertos —

and want to understand

how the dead know where

their families live now? And what

will happen if everybody moves

to El Paso or Cincinnati? Will thunder

still roll across a purple sky,

or perhaps we’d have to take it

undercover until no one laughs

again, or we find ourselves

drinking Créme de Menthe

frappes, sickly green minty stuff,

poured over crushed ice

and diluted with vodka.

***

After Robin read this poem to open our last evening together, we each took turns reading a piece we had written which we chose to share. After the reading, we celebrated with dinner and a mescal toast!

Our next Women’s Creative Writing Retreat will be held December 15-21, 2021, again in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca. During this winter holiday season, so magical here, we will delve into writing about holiday traditions, meaning, family gatherings, and anything else that celebrations conjure up. It’s a time to reflect and write about what was meaningful, disappointments, yearnings and relationships. Send me an email if you are interested in participating: norma.schafer@icloud.com

Sitting With the Ancestors: Day of the Dead, Teotitlan del Valle Cemetery

Not only do I organize the Day of the Dead Women’s Creative Writing Retreat, I am a participant. This means I take Natalie Goldberg’s advice for Writing Down the Bones seriously. I sit with my thoughts and emotions, dig in, write. We are based in Teotitlan del Valle, where I live many months each year and most of my creative writing energy is spent with this blog. Day of the Dead and the retreat give me the freedom to look back in a more personal way.

The retreat/workshop focuses me, helps me dig deeper and remember stories, especially about my dad, who was the supporting role in our 1960’s San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles, California, family movie. I loved this experience. Day of the Dead in Teotitlan del Valle transported me back to my youth and it was an important way to bring my dad to life again.

Dia de los Muertos in Teotitlan del Valle is low key compared to many extravagant city celebrations, which is why I love it here. From three in the afternoon on November 1 to three in the afternoon on November 2, people go visiting extended family, godmothers and godfathers, to pay their respects to the dead.

They come bearing gifts of bread, flowers, a candle, chocolate, a bottle of mezcal or beer to add to the altar. They sit a while, usually an hour or more, in the altar room to talk about memories and catch up. Relationships take time.

Here, the difuntos make their own way back home, following the aroma trail of copal incense, marigold flowers, and their favorite foods placed on the altar to entice them back. On November 2, they join the family for tamales (traditionally, yellow mole amarillo with chicken) for lunch before making their way back to their tombs.

We follow them, making sure they are safe and secure going back to the underworld. We want their spirits to be at rest. By dusk, usually the Teotitlan del Valle cemetery is filled with locals who settle in at grave sites with a picnic, beer, mezcal, fruit and nuts, both for themselves and their loved ones.

Children do not fear death, a part of life. Note Halloween creep.

There is the village band playing joyful music under the outdoor shelter. There are village volunteers inside the small chapel praying and chanting in ancient, tonal Zapotec. It is a contradiction to the band. I imagine they are asking for guidance and support from a higher power to help them fulfill their charge. This is their cargo; they are responsible for cemetery care. With them are volunteer constables who carry a baton for just-in-case.

Band plays at grave site. Tunes are joyful, celebratory.

It is different this year, I see. There are newly paved cement cemetery paths. We are no longer stumbling between graves to get to the distant side of the cemetery. There is strobe light that illuminates some areas as if it were daylight and fewer candles. The periphery is still obscure. And, there appear to be more tourists now. Five years ago, I was among one or two foreigners.

Most of the families I know come to the cemetery early now, decorate the graves and go home, or they don’t go at all. By seven in the evening, the cemetery is alive with visitors and by eight there are only a few locals hanging on to tradition. Sitting with the difuntos all night was the practice then.

Streetlight casts eerie shadows

The grandmothers still wear their faldas, their plaid, wool woven wrap around skirts held in place at the waist with a red-dyed wool sash. Their long braids, woven with ribbons, are wrapped like a crown on their heads. They are the last generation in traditional traje and they will be here next.

I see village friends and sit with them. Debbie joins me. So does Poppy and Claudia. We are offered beer, a cup of potato chips. We sit on a concrete skirt serves us as a bench. It contains the dirt of an adjacent grave. Children play, running across the mounds of the ancestors. No one seems to care. It is natural.

Garbage pile reveals discarded grave marker

A boy of about five comes over and hands each of us peanuts. He is grinning. We are grateful. We had lunch a long time ago. His father explains that we are sitting at the grave of his grandmother and great grandfather. We can use the same tomb if people are buried fifteen years apart, he says.

In the cemetery chapel, prayers for guidance

As a land conservation plan, I think this makes sense. In the ancient world, Zapotec tombs where at the center of each dwelling. People practiced ancestor worship. I call that respectful and it is how to keep memory alive.

Digging a grave is a human process

What I noticed was the serenity of being in the obscurity. Away from the sharp light and the gaggle of visitors, I could feel the meditation of sitting in a cemetery celebrating life.

We will hold the next Women’s Creative Writing Retreat from December 15-21, 2020, to explore the winter holiday/Christmas season, what it evokes for memory, traditions, expectations and disappointments, giving and receiving. Ask your family to join you in Oaxaca after the retreat. It’s a magical time here.

If you are interested, send me an email: norma.schafer@icloud.com

Reyna makes us a beautiful lunch before we go to the cemetery