Tag Archives: Women

Being a Oaxaca Host: Lessons for People and Nations

My friend Debbie from North Carolina came to visit me in Oaxaca this week. It was a fast three nights and two-and-a-half days. We packed a lot in as the news of the world was (and continues to) unfolding, raging, tangling itself up around us. I wanted to show her my world here.

Archeological sites. Markets. Weavers. Mezcal and candle makers. Mountain vistas. High desert.

Amidst Zapotec-Mixtec ruins, San Pablo Villa de Mitla church

Debbie is more than a friend. We share the sisterhood of once living together as neighbors in a co-housing community that was based on consensus decision-making.

Our relationship developed amidst all the attending struggles within a group of having to reconcile differences and come to agreement about how to live with respect, caring and intention. This is not easy, not natural and takes practice.

Evening respite, chiminea aglow, on my casita patio

We were part of a women’s group that shared reading material, discussions, intimacies, success and disappointments. We comforted each other when there was loss.  We celebrated together when there was joy. We lost a friend in this group to cancer that took her fast. We mourned. Picked up. Continued.

Debbie wrote a blog post about how to be a good guest:

Learning to Be a Guest

The counterpoint for me is how to be a good host. Give comfort, security, food. Offer activities, entertainment and quiet. Make introductions to friends. Sit and talk. Understand the then and now. Have fun. Create discovery. A lesson how to be a good host should be a taught to the USA’s new administration.

Fresh carrot/beet/pineapple juice alongside Jugo Verde, Teotitlan del Valle market

This is not only about how to stay in another person’s house. It is about how we live/visit as guests in a country other than our own. It is about how we welcome people in, consider their needs.

Even for those of us who make Oaxaca or Mexico home for several months or the entire year, even for those of us who have taken up permanent residency, we are the other, the guest.  In that capacity, how do we behave? How do we interact with the local community? What do we contribute? Are we observers or participators in local customs and traditions? What is our footprint?

Debbie in the shadows of ancient archeological site

This week, in the United States of America, land of the free and home of the brave, at the end of the first week of the 45th president, we have closed our borders and threatened our immigrants. We are at risk of sacrificing our civil liberties out of fear and isolation.

The country of my birth, where I also make my home, is rampant with xenophobia, arrogance, and has retreated into becoming a very bad host. The risk of losing values — that of welcoming the huddled masses yearning to be free — brings me despair.

Mexico, land of the free and home of the brave, too.

This new president, whom I call Mr. Orange Menace, has a lot to learn about hospitality, although he seems to run hotels. But, oh, yes, they are for the very wealthy!

Ancient Zapotec temple carvings, Teotitlan del Valle church

Here in the Mexican village I call home for much of the year, I am a guest. I try to remember that daily. I live here in respect for my hosts, the indigenous people who are my neighbors. I know many by name and they invite me into their homes to visit, for meals and celebrations. As a good guest, I try to be helpful and not overstep. Keep my footprint in sync with theirs. I live in a small casita and drive an old car. I am not worried about living in the campo.

Sharing mezcal with weaver friend Arturo Hernandez

With the tone of discourse between Mexico and the USA at a low point, with the bullying and bluster of wall-building on the border taking on fearful proportions, I can’t help but wonder if that will have an impact on how I might be treated here.  I can only imagine these parallel universes between cross-border immigrants. Respecting minority rights is a basic principle of humanity, of democracy.

And, all I want to do is say, I’m sorry. 

The high desert gives forth life, prickly though it is

 

 

 

Gossip and Morning Refreshment: Following the Abuelitas

This morning I arrive at the daily market early, by 9 a.m. I had chicken soup on my mind and want to make some, so I first stop at a stall where I know that cooking teacher Reyna Mendoza buys her pollo. Criollo, advises the woman standing next to me in the aisle as she points to the small whole, white chicken, saying pollo, es pollo, (chicken, it’s chicken) a Spanish lesson for the güera. I smile and nod.

Buying roses, $2.50 a dozen . I always have fresh flowers.

Buying roses, $2.50 a dozen . I always have fresh flowers.

Criollo means natural or wild or organic. They eat maize, she says. She then points to the big, plump yellow chickens sitting with their big breasts, proud birds, twice the size of the criollos, and says, these came from Oaxaca and they eat commercial grain (in Spanish, of course). Then, the vendor and the shopper move into Zapotec, a language I don’t understand. Some chismes (gossip), I’m sure.

Mango vendor with an abundant supply.

Mango vendor with an abundant supply.

I love following the little grandmothers, the abuelitas, through the market, with their wool checked faldas (skirts) folded around their waist and tied with a handwoven red wool cinturon (belt) with tassle ends. In the old days, these belts were dyed with cochineal. Some still are.

Plaid wool skirt tied with a cummberbund, floral top, shawl for sun protection, basket to hold market goodies.

Plaid wool skirt, floral top, shawl for sun protection, basket for market shopping.

Plaid skirts, flowered blouses, sometimes aprons, always a traditional handwoven reed shopping basket balanced on the crook of the left arm, long hair braided with colored ribbons and tied together at the end or piled on top of the head like a crown, a rebozo (shawl) covering shoulders or head, sometimes the shopping basket. This is a passing generation.

Village tuk-tuk carries shoppers who don't carry baskets on their heads.

Village tuk-tuk carries shoppers who don’t carry baskets on their heads.

This was not meant to be a long shopping trip. I left the house gate open because I intended to return immediately.  A quick pass through the market for organic chicken, chard, a dozen fresh long-stem roses (40 pesos a dozen, that’s about $2.50 USD), criollo eggs from the gallina (hen), a couple of squash and mangos (it’s the season).

Following the abuelitas as they take a respite

Following the abuelitas as they take a respite

As I was loading my car I noticed a stream of abuelitas entering the doorway of the convenience store across the street. Such a good picture, so I decided to hang out. A few more entered, one at a time.

Inside, a congregation of about six grandmothers. Good for the stomach, they say.

Inside the inner sanctum, a congregation of about six grandmothers.

More than coca-cola inside

More than coca-cola here. Time for a chat and refreshment.

It was by now 10 o’clock in the morning. I waited for them to emerge but they didn’t. And, I remember that this is the ladies’ social hour and the convenience store is where they congregate before going back home to work, prepare meals, do laundry and take care of the grandchildren. So, I decided I was done waiting and would join them!

It's dark inside with obscure lighting. In the shadows I can barely see faces.

It’s dark inside with obscure lighting. In the shadows I can barely see faces.

Believe me! A shot of mezcal at 10:30 a.m. can really get you moving. As I sidle up to the counter cum bar to join the ladies, they welcome me with warm smiles, ask where I live, how long I’ve been here, and admire my filigree Zapotec-style earrings and embroidered apron, sign that I am surely one of them. Or at least a trying hard wannabe. Then, invite me to take photos.

I get a Zapotec lesson, Xa-Yu (how are you?) and chichi-bay-oh (salud) as we raise the cup. I already know Zakchi! (hello, good afternoon). This is really a foreign language.

A convenient stop across the street from the market

A convenient stop across the street from the market

Rosa, as she introduced herself, buys my first drink. Good for the panza, she says, patting her belly. I agree. Mezcal is a medicinal when not abused! She offers me another. I smile and decline, realizing I need to drive home without bumping into any burros.

Next time, my turn to buy.

And, that’s village life in Oaxaca.

For sale, fresh cornhusks for tamales, anyone?

This is, too. Fresh native corn and husks for tamales, anyone?

Norma’s Simple Chicken Soup Recipe

  • 1 small, white organic chicken, cut up, skin removed
  • include neck and gizzards and egg sack
  • 1-2 chicken feet (just like grandma used to make)
  • 4-6 cups water
  • salt to taste
  • 1 serrano pepper, dried
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 2 whole onions, peeled
  • 1/2″ fresh turmeric, peeled

Add chicken and all other ingredients to 6 qt. stockpot. Bring to simmer on stovetop, cover and cook for 4-6 hours*. Chill. Remove fat. Muy rico.

These local, skinny free-range chickens are pretty tough, so to get the meat very tender, it needs to good for a really long time! It’ the feet that give the flavor.

Pop-Up Sale: Oaxaca Quechquemitl, Mexico Stylish Scarf/Poncho

This pop-up clothing sale features the indigenous Mexico short poncho or triangular bodice cover-up called a quechquemitl in the Nahuatl language, used by pre-Hispanic women throughout the country.

It’s my favorite accessory and that’s why I have too many of them! Slip one over your head, and your shoulders and bodice are covered beautifully, even if you are only wearing a tank-top or halter. It’s a one-piece scarf, too, that never falls off!

My 2011 Quechquemitl Blog Post

How to Wear a Quechquemitl

Here I am offering — in like-new, rarely worn condition — some beautiful indigenous clothing made by women and men in Oaxaca villages, most made with natural dyes, some hand-spun native cotton. As you might expect, they are from some of Oaxaca’s finest weavers, dyers and designers.

All prices include shipping within 48 U.S. states!  Send me an email and tell me which piece(s) you want. I’ll email you a PayPal invoice. Purchases must be made by June 30. I will ship from Santa Fe, New Mexico after July 7.

Native Oaxaca coyuchi cotton quechquemitl, trimmed in green cotton, $125 USD

Native, rare Oaxaca coyuchi cotton quechquemitl, hand-trimmed in green, $125 USD

  1. Coyuchi Cotton Quechquemitl (above) handwoven in the village of San Sebastian Rio Hondo on the back strap loom by Khadi Oaxaca. Color is a warm caramel. One size fits all. $125 USD.
1B. Coyuchi cotton quechquemitl, close-up

1B. Coyuchi hand-spun wild cotton quechquemitl, close-up

Note about coyuchi cotton: This is rare, wild native cotton grown in the high mountains of Oaxaca that separates the valley and the coast.

2. SOLD. This pericone (wild marigold) dyed quechquemitl (below) is exactly the same style as the one above, made in San Sebastian Rio Hondo by Khadi Oaxaca. It is golden-yellow and the hand weaving shows the variegation of the process. One size. $145 USD.

Pericone and indigo quechquemitl from Khadi Oaxaca, soft gold and variegated blue

Pericone and indigo quechquemitl, hand-spun cotton, soft gold and variegated blue

Pericone quechquemitl trimmed in indigo blue cotton thread, hand-dyed. $145 USD

Pericone quechquemitl with indigo blue cotton thread. $145 USD

3. Below. Pericone/indigo/coyuchi dress, size M/L. I made a pattern from a favorite Dosa dress and have sewed it multiple times with French seams, patch pockets, and lots of designer detailing and hand stitching. For this dress, I bought hand-spun cotton fabric from Khadi Oaxaca that is hand-woven and dyed with wild marigold, indigo and integrates native coyuche cotton. $165 USD.

3B. Detail, Dosa-inspired dress with Khadi Oaxaca fabric

3B. Detail, Dosa-inspired dress with Khadi Oaxaca fabric

Here is the full dress below.

Size M/L. A-line dress made with Khadi Oaxaca handspun + woven cotton. $145 USD

3A. Size M/L dress made with Khadi Oaxaca handspun + woven cotton. $165 USD

4. Alfredo Orozco nut-dyed quechquemitl, below, is woven on a flying shuttle pedal loom in the deshillado technique, which means there is an open-weave. You can see the detail in photo 4B. This one is more pale beige than brown. Touches of cream-colored ikat add interest. One size. $85 USD.

Hand-woven, nut-dyed quechquemitl with ikat dyed warp threads by Alfredo Orozco, $85 USD

Hand-woven, nut-dyed Orozco quechquemitl with ikat warp threads, $85 USD

Below is the weave detail of the fabric above. Finish work is done by Alfredo’s wife Veronica on the sewing machine.

4B. Orozco beige quequemitl detail with open weave.

4B. Orozco beige quechquemitl detail with open weave.

5. SOLD. Below, same Orozco style as #4, but with indigo blue dyed threads to add detail of design. One size fits all, $85 USD.

Orozco quequemitl with nut and indigo dyes. Detail is with open weave. $85 USD

Orozco quechquemitl with nut and indigo dyes. Detail is with open weave. $85 USD

#5B. Full view of Orozco nut/indigo dyed quechquemitl. It is more beige than photo shows. $85 USD

#5B. Orozco nut/indigo dyed quechquemitl, more beige than photo shows. $85 USD

6. Melon colored cotton top, below, size medium, from the Oaxaca shop of Remigio Mestas, Los Baules de Juana Cata, the finest in town. Machine chain stitching, commercial thread, signed by back-strap loom weaver. $75

Crop top from Remigio Mestas' Los Baules de Juana Cata, $65 USD

Cotton top from Remigio Mestas’ Los Baules de Juana Cata, $75 USD

6B. Detail of cotton top from Remigio Mestas

6B. Detail of cotton top from Remigio Mestas

7. SOLD. Turquoise quechquemitl, one size, with machine chain stitch detailing, hand-finished seams and hem. From the best shop in Oaxaca, Los Baules de Juana Cata and Remigio Mestas. $125 USD.

Quechquemitl in brilliant turquoise from Remigio Mestas, one size, $125 USD

Quechquemitl in brilliant turquoise from Remigio Mestas, one size, $125 USD

7B. Detail of turquoise quechquemitl.

7B. Detail of turquoise quechquemitl. Not discolored, just photo light variations.

8. Wine Red Quechquemitl, below, from Los Baules de Juana Cata and Remigio Mestas who personally works with indigenous weavers and embroiderers to make the finest garments. One size. $125 USD.

Wine Red Quechquemitl, one size, $125 USD, from the shop of Remigio Mestas

Wine Red Quechquemitl, one size, $125 USD, from the shop of Remigio Mestas

Detail of wine red quechquemitl from Remigio Mestas' Oaxaca shop

Detail of wine red quechquemitl from Remigio Mestas’ Oaxaca shop

Let me know which one you would like to purchase by number —  send me an email. I’ll be going to the USA in early July and will mail to you via USPS after July 7.  Thank you very much!

Humble Apron Elevates to Fashion Statement and Identity in Oaxaca, Mexico

Here in the Tlacolula Valley, and most villages surrounding the city of Oaxaca, the apron is more than a utilitarian article of clothing used to protect the wearer’s garment from getting soiled. It is a statement of identity, style, and social class.

Tlacolula market scene with aprons as personal and village identity.

Tlacolula market scene with women’s aprons as personal and village identity.

Walk around the Tlacolula Market on Sunday, or any day for that matter, and you will see women, old and young, covered in aprons. You can identify their villages by apron style.

For example, women from San Miguel del Valle wear a bib apron with an attached gathered skirt that has a heavily embroidered hem. The aprons worn by women from San Marcos Tlapazola are cotton with pleated skirts often trimmed in commercial lace or bric-a-brac.

Evaluating apron style, quality and price. Do I really need a black one, too?

Evaluating apron style, quality and price. Do I really need a black one, too?

Teotitlan del Valle women prefer gingham cotton aprons with scalloped bodices and hems, trimmed in machine embroidered flowers, plants, fruits and sometimes animal figures.

There are fancy aprons, more densely embroidered for Sunday wear and special fiestas, and simple ones for everyday to cook, wash clothing and tend to babies, grandchildren and guajolotes.

He likes to cook, too. Having fun in the Tlacolula market.

He likes to cook, too. Having fun in the Tlacolula market.

The apron is worn by grandmothers and granddaughters alike. It is a uniform that conveys personal identity, social status and wealth. The heavily embroidered apron cost much more,  as much as 350 pesos compared to the everyday 150 peso variety.

Rosario wears her apron with hand embroidered bodice

Rosario wears her apron with hand embroidered bodice

You would want to wear your fanciest apron to the market to bring the oohs and aahs from contemporaries who admire your choice of color and design. Market day, a daily occurrence in Teotitlan del Valle and a regional weekly event in Tlacolula, is the social center for towns and villages. It is the time when women greet and mingle with each other, some even sneaking off together for a morning mezcal.

Apron as fashion statement! Who needs a fancy dress?

Apron as fashion statement! Who needs a fancy dress?

When you get home, you change to the daily apron for working.

Aprons are handy because they have deep pockets. Perfect for holding the coins of commerce. They are also convenient because you don’t have to wear a bra.

There are about eight different apron vendors in the concrete building of the permanent Tlacolula market. One of my favorites is along the exterior aisle closer to the bread section. They are from San Pablo Villa de Mitla and the machine embroidered aprons are filled with fanciful images of birds, fruit and flowers.

Rocio, left, demonstrates how this apron looks. She is proud of their work.

Rocio, left, demonstrates how this apron looks. She is proud of their work.

  • Tejidos y Bordados Alondra, Rocio Lopez Mendez, Proprietor, Pipila 9, Mitla, Oaxaca, abel_971@hotmail.com, cel 951-203-8333

Every apron is different. You need to try on at least several to compare size and quality. Make certain there are no stains and that the embroidery around the neck and the pocket placement is even.

One for her, one for him!

One for her, one for him!

 

 

Women Weavers’ Cooperative Vida Nueva, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca: Part Two

This post continues the narrative about women weavers in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca. See Part One for my introduction.

Honoring Mother’s Day: For all women who gave and received life!

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Vida Nueva (“New Life”) Cooperative at the International Folk Art Market

Twenty years ago, Vida Nueva cooperative was founded by six single women from the same extended family group, three of whom where sisters. Some of the women had husbands who never returned to Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, after migrating out for work. Some had not married. Some were widows. They needed to support their families and weaving had the biggest potential economic reward for their labor.

But, weaving was not women’s work.

Pomegranate dyed wool

Pomegranate dyed wool

The traditional role for women was (and still is, for the most part) to stay at home, keep house, tend the children, cook and raise small animals like chicken, sheep, pigs and goats.

Twenty years ago, weaving and then selling/marketing the product was not a usual role for women, plus it was unheard of to go to the city to develop customers. Most women of the time went barefoot, wore indigenous dress and did not go beyond the family compound expect to daily market. Entering the city was foreign, uncomfortable, intimidating.

Cleaning the finished rug

Cleaning the finished rug

Since the height of the Bracero program, when men migrated to the U.S. as temporary farm workers, and women learned to weave out of economic necessity, the number of women who now weave is substantial.  Today, most women work alongside husband, father or brother, to weave in a family centric enterprise. A few also participate in selling and receive recognition for their contributions.

It took a while for Vida Nueva to get started, but they had the help of a non-governmental agency, Grupo del Apoyo a la Educacion de la Mejor (now defunct). Through donations and business development guidance, Vida Nueva began producing rugs for sale in 2001. Their first clients, arranged by the NGO, were adult Spanish language students who were visiting Oaxaca from the United States.

Take a One-Day Natural Dye Weaving & Textile Study Tour

The cooperative meets regularly, makes decisions together, created a mission statement, a vision, goals and objectives for the organization that includes a marketing plan, and have built distribution markets over time. They also put money aside each year to invest in an annual community project that can benefit everyone in Teotitlan del Valle.

Using the stone metate to crush indigo to powder for dye

Using the stone metate to crush indigo to powder for dye

Not all the rugs woven by Vida Nueva are made with natural dyes. Most are woven with synthetic colors because most buyers don’t want to pay the price for a naturally dyed rug and prefer bright, electric colors. But, the cooperative will do custom orders for naturally dyed rugs and from time-to-time, may have some on-hand.

Today there are 12 cooperative members, two of whom are married. Their clientele has developed by word of mouth over the years, and they also have been invited to participate in shows/sales in the U.S.A. including the International Folk Art Market and the Feria at Lake Chapala, Mexico Arts Show. 

Vida Nueva Women’s Cooperative Contact Information

Pastora Gutierrez
Centenario 1
Teotitlán del Valle, Oaxaca
estrelladelvalle@hotmail.com

Telephone: 951 524-4250

Some Useful Resources