Today, Sarah Resnick from Gist Yarn & Fiber, talks with Patrice Perillie, an immigration attorney based in Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, and Mixtec weaver Amada Sanchez Cruz from Pinotepa de Don Luis. She also interviews Norma Schafer at the end of the segment.
Indigo, cochineal and caracol purpura huipil, Pinotepa de Don Luis
Patrice started the non-profit Tixinda Dreamweavers Cooperative twelve years ago. Her goal was to keep very talented artisans in Mexico instead of migrating to the USA where jobs are limited to cleaning houses and washing dishes in restaurants.
Tixinda Dreamweavers ethically harvests the endangered sea snail that gives the rare purple dye. The group grows pre-Hispanic native cotton. They use the malacate — drop spindle — to make the thread. They weave extraordinary clothing using the back-strap loom.
Weaving designs, Pinotepa de Don Luis, with cochineal
Oaxaca Cultural Navigator sponsored this Podcast. At the end of the segment, I talk about why we take textile lovers to the Coast of Oaxaca to explore the weaving, natural dyeing and hand-spinning culture.
Spinning and cleaning cotton in San Juan Colorado
Pinotepa de Don Luis is one of five villages we will visit on our January 11-21, 2019 textile study tour on the Oaxaca coast. For our Grand Finale, we attend the Tixinda Dreamweavers Exposition and Sale. A noted cultural anthropologist will travel with us. We go deep into the textile culture of the region. You meet extraordinary artisans where they live and create.
The Stilt Dancers of Zaachila are called Zancudos because stilts are long and leggy like mosquito legs. Stilts are called zancos in Spanish. The Zancudos are very proprietary about this dance. They consider it part of their cultural identity and heritage.
Zaachila Bachos Zancudos Buin Zaa
After I wrote the blog post about the Lila Downs concert during Guelaguetza season and published a photograph of stilt dancers there invited from Santa Maria Tlahuitoltepec that also appeared on Facebook, I received a deluge of messages from Zaachila Zancudos, critical of my calling the dancers from Tlahui Zancudos. Many were quick to tell me that they were the first to use stilts to dance. I explained that I only photographed what was presented at the Lila Downs Concert. Yet, the backlash poured in and I wondered why.
I wanted to go to Zaachila to talk with the group Bachos Zancudos Buin Zaa (Zancudos de Zaachila) to find out more about their history and traditions, to understand why they reacted so strongly.
Erick Aragon Rodriguez (left), me, Pedro Aldair Antonio Aragon
On Thursday, Zaachila market day, I arranged to meet with Pedro Aldair Antonio Aragon, age 21 and a zancudo since he was six years old. Aldair invited his friend and fellow zancudo, Erick Aragon Rodriguez, now age 36 who learned to walk the stilts when he was ten, to join us. Kay and Dean Michaels, friends from North Carolina now living in Oaxaca, joined me.
Zancudos sculpture in Zaachila zocalo
There is immense community pride in this dance, originally called Bachos. It is part of village identity. The dance goes back at least 100 years and Aldair carries on the tradition of his father and grandfather, who were also stilt dancers. A bronze monument of a stilt dancer stands in the center of the village zocalo or main plaza as a testimony to this history.
Erick explains that stilts were originally used to cross rivers and arroyos. The land is filled with rolling hills, swales and deep gullies and it makes sense that this became a necessary mode of transportation and navigation around and through the limitations of the landscape. How stilts came to Zaachila is a matter for research. Were they brought by Europeans or an innovation to deal with the terrain?
Entering town, the Virgin of Guadalupe, artist’s adaptation, greets us
The wooden stilts are made in Zaachila. There is a workshop that fabricates and sells them. I am told by the young men that about ten years ago, a troupe of Zaachila zancudos traveled throughout Oaxaca towns to perform the dance. In Tlahuitoltepec someone asked to buy a pair of stilts, which were then reproduced. Tlahuitoltecos from the Mixe region of Oaxaca learned how to use the stilts and created their own steps, using their own indigenous dress. Aldair and Erick say the stilt dancing has been in existence there for less than ten years.
We met at Comedor Denisse for barbacoa de res, there for 51 years
There is controversy. They emphasize that Zancudo is a word associated with Zaachila and should not be used in association with Tlahuitoltepec. They say the word is part of their tradition, culture and to honor the grandfathers. Anthropologists consider dance, language, dress and other forms of artistic expression to be part of cultural identity. I want to understand, not arbitrate.
The softest, best BBQ beef ever!
The Zaachila Zancudos have never gone to an official Guelaguetza because their village leaders field their group of Los Danzantes de La Pluma (Dance of the Feather). About five Zapotec villages in the Valles Centrales de Oaxaca perform the Dance of the Feather. Which is selected each year to go to Guelaguetza depends on the office of tourism/government Committee of Authentication.
At Comedor Denisse, mole amarillo, too
Today, there are about 80 people in the Zancudos group. Thirty are ages three to ten years old who are learning the dance. Eleven year olds dance with the adults. From time to time, about 10 to 30 people can show up for a dance or calenda (parade), but for major fiestas more dancers will turn out.
Coming up on Thursday, September 6, 5 p.m.
Zaachila will celebrate her Saint’s Day honoring Santa Maria Natividad. There will be a big parade of Zancudos, going from the church to the Zocalo.
Everyone is invited.
Go early! Go to the market. Have lunch. Eat nieves.
Is it disrespectful for a Mixe group to use the stilt dancing developed by a Zapotec group?
Is it disrespectful for the Lila Downs concert producer to invite the group from Tlahuitoltepec and not the dancers from Zaachila?
Was the Tlahui group chosen because they look more professional or because their traditional village dress is more interesting for a stage production?
Is it disrespectful that a Guelaguetza Committee of Authentication has never included the Zancudos in the official tourism office produced Guelaguetza event?
These are issues here for Mexicans to decide.
Your comments and opinions are welcome!
After lunch, we said goodbye to Aldair and Erick. Kay, Dean and I could not resist the nieves stalls on the zocalo. There is a line-up of about six permanent puestos. Which one to choose? We picked the busiest, of course, owned by Doña Chabelita who has been there sincce 1966, the oldest in Zaachila. Her grandson just returned from 20 years living and working in Connecticut. Impeccable English. Not sure about immigration status, but who cares!
Dean savoring nieves de vainilla
Doña Chabelita, ready to retire after a lifetime of ice cream making
Melon and pecan nieves. The Best!
A treasure trove of pitaya (dragonfruit) in Zaachila market
Oh, gosh, how to resist these extraordinary aprons of San Miguel del Valle. The Zapotec community is nestled into a steep hillside 8 km up into the Sierra Juarez from the Tlacolula crossroads on the way to Cuajimoloyas. Remote but accessible by car.
Merry modeling the flounciest apron, which is for sale.
This is a small village of about 1,000 people many of whom are rug weavers that do contract work for Teotitlan del Valle resellers and exporters.
Four Aprons For Sale, Below.
Church on the plaza, San Miguel del Valle, open every day but Friday
But the fashion has turned to heavily embroidered flouncy aprons and this is becoming a more substantial part of the local economy. These are aprons for us to dance in, to wear to parties, to adorn oneself in the color Oaxaca is known for. When I come back to Oaxaca from North Carolina in November, I’m going to have an apron party! Or, maybe I’ll have one in NC, too.
Me, Epifania and #3 Flouncy Apron (for sale)
These are aprons with lots of gathers, pleats and tucks embellished with flowers and birds, scallops and pockets. They take hours to make even though they are machine embroidered. They take a seamstress of considerable skill to manipulate and change the threads, follow the curvature of the pattern drawn on cloth. No two are alike.
Work in progress on the sewing machine
I made my second visit to San Miguel just a few days ago with friend Merry Foss. I was on a quest to find an apron for Barbara Anderson. My first visit was a couple of weeks ago on an Envia Tour with Jacki Cooper Gordon, and I decided I needed to go back on my own, take my time to meander the streets and discover other apron-makers. Merry likes to meander just like me.
Barbara Anderson’s apron — SOLD
When Barbara saw that Envia post, she wrote to ask me if I would find her an apron. I did at Epifania’s workshop. Fani and her husband both sew and embroider. This one, that I knew would be a perfect fit for Barbara, was sold. Someone in the village had given Fani a deposit to hold it for her. I said, sell it to me and make another one. She did. A bird in the hand, as they say.
SOLD. #1 apron for sale, size M, $95 USD plus mailing.
Now, full disclosure: The beauty is in the embroidery work. The cost is in the time to create the design and work it at the sewing machine. The fuller the embroidery, the more expensive the piece. Though, the finish work leaves much to be desired! Across all the workshops and on the best embroidered pieces, seams are unfinished and ragged. No pinking shears or sergers here. The pieces are sewn together quickly, it seems.
SOLD. #2. For sale, size S-M. $85 USD plus mailing.
Tell me the Number of the Apron that you want to buy.
I will send you an invoice that includes apron and USPS priority mailing cost.
I will ship between September 17-20, after I return to the USA
Finished seams and dangling threads are a problem for quality control throughout our Oaxaca region. But, these garments — as in many other towns — are made for the local women. It’s the embroidery that matters most to them. Many of these pieces are used for daily wear — washing, cooking, baby-tending, cleaning, going to market. So they get used up fast. Another version of FAST FASHION? Perhaps. Is it up to us to influence the quality of something in order to meet a global fashion demand? What changes in the process?
SOLD. #3 apron for sale, size M-L, $95 USD plus mailing.
Perhaps it’s only gringas like me who want a piece to last, with finished seams, edges that match, dangling threads clipped.
I must confess, this type of fanciful, flouncy stitching is a departure for me, but it has also captivated me. Fun to wear. Frivolous. Brings a smile. The fabric can be a cotton-poly blend, or pure polyester or maybe even rayon. Not the best. Shiny — brillo — is what the women here like. Wash it, dry it fast, wear it again. My tendency is to go for natural dyes and hand-woven cloth. But, I’m smitten.
#4 apron for sale, size S-M, $70 USD plus mailing.
A beautiful hill town with a corner chapel
We arrived in San Miguel del Valle around 2 p.m. Just in time for comida — afternoon lunch. The fare of the day at Comedor Tere — an Envia supported enterprise — was fish. Mojarra to be precise. A whole fish, deep fried but not greasy, served with nopal salad, delicious black bean puree, rice, salad and homemade tortillas, plus a pitcher of fresh guava juice. Total cost for two, 100 pesos (that’s about $5 USD total, $2.50 each).
Tere disinfects everything and I eat lunch with confidence.
Meal of the day, mojarra, tender and moist.
Tere used her interest free Envia loan to expand her hours and offerings, opening a family-style restaurant beyond the carry-out service she used to do exclusively.
Recycled bottle recycling bin. Now that’s creative.
In Mexico and anywhere, I find it’s important to have time to wander villages, meet people serendipitously and see what one can discover. Time and being open to a new experience gives us a chance to explore possibilities beyond the beaten path. It’s the approach I like to take on my tours, too. Keep enough open time to see what and who pops up!
Niche in the church wall. How old is this? Centuries.
It’s been a week since the new Community Cultural Center debuted on August 18, 2018 with a grand opening event. It was spectacular! What I love about the new Centro Cultural Communitario is it’s tri-lingual explanation of village life and values in Zapotec, Spanish and English. I also love the simplicity of PRODUCTORA’s architectural design that brings past into present.
Bringing food for the celebration, a traditional feast
The center explanations begin with a discussion about what is on display, exploring three core themes: indigenous customs and uses (usos y costumbres), artisanal production, and celebrations and ceremonies.
When we think of Teotitlan del Valle, tapetes or rugs, come to mind
Most importantly, the curators raise the question, What is cultural heritage? We need a context for this center and what it means. It is not a museum, per se, but a gathering place, an educational space to share, discuss, and learn. They explain that “Cultural Heritage includes tangible goods — works of art, historical and archeological monuments, urban and natural landscapes — as well as the intangible practices of a people — expressions, beliefs, knowledge or techniques, that which are cherished and passed down by the community generation to generation.”
[The Dance of the Feather, video above, is one key ingredient to cultural heritage. The dancers make a three-year promise to community and church that is a serious undertaking. This is not a folkloric dance, as many think, but essential to identity.]
The grand plaza that joins old adobe and modern concrete.
I don’t think we can talk about cultural heritage without addressing the issue of cultural appropriation. This is an important topic in Oaxaca and worldwide when the dominant culture adopts elements of the minority culture, often for commercial benefit without recompense to the originators.
Designed by PRODUCTORA, Mexico
“The array of tradition-based creations such as worldview, mythology, usos y costumbres, language, literature, music, dances, games, ceremonies, and crafts, among others, constitute the intangible cultural heritage also known as a living heritage,” they say.
The Grand Opening featured traditional dances, including the Jarabe del Valle from this Tlacolula de Matamoros ensemble. The dance is part of every village festivity, especially weddings, quinceanera’s and birthdays.
Ernestina in the comparsa with traditional basket of sugar flowers
Ultra-modern edifice sits between traditional rug market and municipal offices
For me, an important reason to live and celebrate life in Teotitlan del Valle is all bundled up in an ancient, deeply rooted history of thousands of years. More than having survived, Teotitlan del Valle has thrived because her people have innovated, adapted, changed and evolved while continuing to honor and respect tradition. At the core of this is the family and community.
Lila Downs and Paul Cohen are madrina/padrino of grand opening
Abigail Mendoza of Tlamanalli Restaurant* fame wove her skirt, is committee head
[A Note About Abigail Mendoza: Anthony Bourdain discovered her and she became famous. Abigail and her sisters operate famed Tlamanalli Restaurant in Teotitlan del Valle. She has made a two-year volunteer service commitment to head up the cultural center committee, part of usos y costumbres traditions. She told me this responsibility may have an impact on how often the restaurant will be open. Abigail is also the sister of the famous artist/weaver Arnulfo Mendoza who died in 2014.]
Carved wood arrow holder on display with woven strap
The curators continue by saying that: ” Teotitlan del Valle is characterized by its remarkable artisanal production of tapestries and carved candles, the elaboration techniques of which are passed down through generations within the nuclear family. The workshops are located in households, meaning that the profession plays a part in everyday life. Making yarn, dyeing, weaving and carving candles are learned from childhood. The manufacturing of handicrafts is the embodiment of community and family tradition which comes from its origins in the ancient Zapotec people. It is the vehicle to express their individual creativity, their emotions, and worldview. Additionally, for most of the people of the town, this is their main source of income.”
Hand-made beeswax candles are a core part of celebrations
On display are the hand-made beeswax candles from the family of Grand Master of Oaxaca Folk Art Viviana Alavez Hipolito. The work passes through the generations. Women who marry into the family learn and do it, too. It is not merely decoration. It is part of ceremonial life. Church and home altars are festooned with these candles. Only three candle makers remain in Teotitlan del Valle.
Traditional beeswax candle making
Cochineal and pigment samples on wool
A highlight of the space are videos of traditions, practices and examples of life. All the videos have English subtitles, a nod to the value and importance of English-speaking visitors to Teotitlan del Valle. It helps us understand more!
How well do we teach our children who we are, what we value?
In many traditions, continuity depends on how well we inculcate values and practices in our children. The community cultural center does more than show and tell visitors — nationals and foreigners — about essential practices. It says to local children that they can be proud of their heritage and make a commitment to carry it forward.
Library, learning and workshop spaces
Indigo and pigment samples on wool
The process of using natural dyes on wool to weave tapestries on the two-pedal loom is part of the cultural center exhibit space. This is an intense and time-consuming process, much more complex and expensive than using aniline (chemical) dyes. Only about a dozen families in the village of 6,000 people work in natural dyes, though many more know how to give the demonstration.
We took a break to go to Arte y Seda for sopa de guias lunch. Que rico!
Visitor Hours: Quien sabe? Who knows?
Even the handrails are a visual delight
I’ve been privileged to live with a Zapotec family in this village for thirteen years. I live on their land in a casita that I built that will revert to the family when I no longer live here. This is also part of usos y costumbres traditions. No foreigners can own land here. We have no written contract. Our arrangement is based on our word of commitment to each other, that we call trust. A model for how the world might be.
Thanks to everyone for your generosity! Yesterday’s fundraiser to support the Teotitlan del Valle Spay Neuter Clinic was a huge success. We raised over 8,000 pesos through local donations and 10,000 pesos from antique and collectible sales from Merry Foss’ bodega. Plus, I’m calculating that an added $485 USD came in via online donations through PayPal from friends who were unable to be here.
This totals about $1,438 USD. This covers a lot of sterilizations for dogs and cats here in Teotitlan del Valle, plus enables Merry Foss to start a more comprehensive education program about why it is important to spay/neuter animals.
Even with the threat of rain and eventual sprinkles, about 30 people came from Oaxaca City and Teotitlan del Valle, plus other nearby pueblos of Tlacochuaya and Huayapam. Some we knew and some we didn’t! It was great to have this show of support. We enjoyed Rosario’s handmade flautas de papas — the homemade organic tortillas were filled with a spicy potato puree, pure yum. Ernestina crafted 50 black bean tamales flavored with an avocado leaf, plus 125 tamales with chicken and yellow mole sauce. Not much was left!
Teotitlan Spay Neuter Clinic Mission Statement
I provided the food. Guests brought their favorite beverage. I’ll have another fundraiser party for the clinic in January 2019. I’m grateful to Merry for what she does to improve quality of life for animals and people here in our village. And, the service allowed me to easily sterilize the dogs I call pets: Mamacita, Butch and Tia.
My right hand person, Rosario!
Our friend Winn, who carried donations from friends in the city
Moises and Lois brought the most delicious horchata
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