Monthly Archives: January 2009

The Observer, Ethnography and Cultural Commentary

Ruth Behar, the noted anthropologist, wrote “Anthropology That Breaks Your Heart,” in 1996.  It is one of the readings for our documentary filmmaking workshop that starts tonight in Teotitlan del Valle.  I read it on the plane ride between Houston and Oaxaca last night and it raised my consciousness about going through life interpreting what we believe to be happening or the reasons behind other people’s behavior and decisions.  This is especially true when one is living and working in another culture.  It is so easy to observe traditions, differences, ritual celebrations, and bring your own meaning to it.  But, it is just that, my own interpretation of what someone is is thinking or feeling based upon my own cultural history and bias.  So, as we enter this week of documentary filmmaking in the Zapotec village of Teotitlan del Valle, we will raise and discuss these questions as a group.  What we see from our own lens is just that.  We interview others and they will tell us their story.  It may not reveal all that 7,000 years of cultural history has imbedded in their answers.  I will be careful, as an interested observer, to recount, retell, describe.  I will ask those who live here to explain, interpret, give meaning to the visual story and I will do my best to accurately record in writing and on film their voices.  My role is not to evaluate or judge, but to discover.

New Year Letter (2009) from Anne Burns

January 20, 2009

Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico

Dear Family and Friends,

Thank you, thank you, thank you.  For sending generous sums of money, clothes and toys, this year and over the past four years.  For your suggestions, prayers and good thoughts that float down to us on the wind.  And for your interest in the well being of the families who live here in this village, so far away from where you are.

First, Lola’s story.  Lola is almost 12 years old, and has begun the process of diagnosing the cause of her developmental delay.  She has a pediatrician and an endocrinologist, and is now taking thyroid supplements.  She has also started coming to my “English” class on Saturday mornings.  If you have access to U-tube, the following link will take you to a video made by Art Mayers

Art came to our class today, and was swept away by the expressiveness of the children. Lola is the star of the video.  She has a way about her that draws you in.  Her smile, her eyes, her presence. . .makes whatever we do seem like huge fun.

Later in the day, Art and I took the video to Lola’s house to show her Mom and family.  At one point, while we were all gathered in front of the computer screen, Lola took my hand in both of hers, said “gracias”

and then did the traditional greeting of children toward an adult.  She bowed and kissed my hand.  Lola speaks only single words, mostly nouns. But that did not keep her from clearly expressing her very serious

gratitude for the gift of the video.

After getting to know Lola, I have a better understanding of education theorists who say there are at least ten different kinds or aspects of intelligence. In the inter-personal realm, Lola scores higher than average.  Her greatest talent is establishing openness and trust.  Add a strong presence and enthusiasm, and it’s no wonder that she is well loved by her family, cousins and neighbors.

On Monday, Lola, Lidia (Lola’s adoptive mother) and I are going to a neighboring village to check out a school for developmentally delayed children.  Lola has never been to school.  Then, in a month we return to the endocrinologist. One thing will lead to another, as it does in all of our lives, and by the next time I write to you, who knows what news we will have of Lola!

On to Rosa’s story.  Rosa is a single mother of baby Jesus Angelo who was born last September.  I have known Rosa for several years, and have worried about her unusual level of anxiety.  We even consulted with a doctor, who put her on anti-anxiety medication, which Rosa tried and rejected in favor of local herbs.  I have noticed that sincebaby Jesus was born, Rosa has become a calm and contented mother.

When Roberta and I went to take the family photo which we sent to you in our last letter, we discovered that Rosa and her family lacked a front door for their house.  This made for very cold sleeping at night. I mentioned this to Rick, our friendly local carpenter, and he agreed to make a door, which he painted blue.  And then Art made a u-tube video called The Blue Door. htttp:// Rick is the very tall man in the video.

Not only did Rosa not have a door, she also lacked a gas stove. The family was doing all their cooking with wood fires.  In the video, you can see the new little gas burner stove.  Plus we bought a tank

of propane.  Our local handy-person, Juvenal installed the gas stove and helped Rick install the new blue door.

Juvenal and his wife Norma drive to Oaxaca once a month and buy basic grocery supplies from a wholesale grocer, and deliver them to Lola’s and Rosa’s families.  Norma is a professional pastry chef, and she will be making birthday cakes for Lola and baby Jesus Angelo.  Norma also rounded up lots of hand-me-down clothes and toys for the baby.

And finally we have Ana and Candido’s story.  They have a beautiful and new little house, but can’t move in because they do not have electricity.  We split the cost of bringing electricity to their house.  We

bought all of the materials from the hardware store, and they are paying to install a post and for the electrician.  Juvenal is managing this project too.

I realize that this is a long letter with lots of videos to watch.  But the bottom line is that I want you to know there are three families in Teotitlan del Valle who are feeling very grateful to you.  I don’t have the final figures yet, but we have over $1,200 in donations which is close to 16,000 pesos, with the current exchange rate.

Please send my letter on to any friends who may be interested. We’ll be needing more money for Lola’s transportation to school if she decides to attend. All donations can be sent to my brother Sam Burns,

1147 Johnson Ave, San Jose, CA 95129.

I hope that my letter finds all of you well and reasonably pleased with life on this exceptional planet that we inhabit.

Much love. . . . .(unconditional, no less!)

Ani, Lola, Rosa, baby Jesus Angelo, Candido and Ana

Getting Ready! Documentary Filmmaking in Oaxaca

My suitcase is open and filling up.  On Friday afternoon Erica Rothman and I are taking the Continental Airlines flight from RDU to Oaxaca via Houston.  Our documentary filmmaking workshop is set to start in Teotitlan del Valle on Saturday evening.  We’re excited, to say the least.  Mikel Barton, our other instructor, is already there, scoping out the scenes for B-Roll and gathering last minute items we will need but are too cumbersome to haul.  As it is, we are taking tripods, blank DVDs, laptop computers, video cameras, music CDs, plugs, connectors, cables, and lots of good energy.

Six of us will be making documentary films using the pueblo as a multicultural learning experience, teaming up in pairs to direct and produce the film, with the rest of the group serving as “crew.”  Our subjects are the expatriate experience, the traditional Dance of the Feather, and indigenous weaving techniques.  As the week progresses, I hope to blog about the experience and what it means to interview, edit, select scenes, direct and produce a short documentary film.

Our compadres are from Oregon, Toronto, Chapel Hill, Durham,  Knoxville, and Oaxaca.  Watch for completed video clips to show up on the blog in a couple of weeks!

Tenidos de Reserva Taller — Bound Resist Natural Dye Workshop

Carolyn Kallenborn worked with Eric Chavez Santiago, director of education at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca to offer a natural dye workshop in the technique of bound resist or “tenido de reserva.”  Attendees included indigenous weavers, artists and expatriates from the U.S. and Canada who live in Oaxaca.   Carolyn is assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  Her contact information is at the end of this post.  We have been working together to organize weaving and natural dyeing workshops for university students in the home of Eric’s parents in Teotitlan del Valle.  I asked her if I could publish this workshop experiences (which she just shared with friends and colleagues) and photos.  She happily agreed.


I just got back Tuesday night from a couple of weeks in Oaxaca just in time for some of the coldest temperatures here in WI on record. They say it is supposed to get down to  *minus 27 degrees Fahrenheit* tonight. Brrrr. But as I look through the photos and think about the time I just spent in Mexico, it helps me feel a little warmer.

See a complete photo library of the bound resist natural dye workshop at

This year, perhaps because I am at a new school, perhaps because of the financial crunch, I didn’t get enough students to lead a trip to Oaxaca this year. So I took the opportunity to work with the new Textile Museum in Oaxaca ( and offered a workshop to some very talented weavers from the Oaxaca area. It was a big milestone for me in that it was the first time I have taught a class all in Spanish (translated directions, converted from TBS to grams (they use weight rather than measuring spoons) and Fahrenheit to Celsius) so it was a bit of a challenge. But very fun.

Weaving by Elsa Abigail Mendoza Antonio

I taught a four day class in Bound Resist (Teñidos de Reserva) using natural dyes, and discharge (color removal) on cotton and linen. They had a wonderful exhibit up at the museum on bound resists from all over the world, including a patola from India and double ikat from Japan, adire oniko from Nigeria and wonderful Mexican bound resist from the 20’s. It was great to be able to go into the museum to look at pieces multiple times during the workshop to look at some of the best examples from around the world.

Bound Resist with Indigo, Mexico 1920’s

I also brought along a lot of my own dyed fabrics and pieces that I have collected. Unlike the ones in the museum exhibit, we could touch and fold these.  Some of the students had done some dyeing but all had been working with textiles their whole lives. It was amazing to see how quickly they understood the processes as I described them. And they were excited to be learning something very different than anything they had done before.

Demonstrating folding and clamping

We spent three days working in with stitched resist, cochineal for red, pericón for yellow, indigo for blue and Thiox to remove color.

Indigo workshop area

Bound resist in pericón and indigo and Indigo dyed yarn

I brought along some wooden clamps that I had my friend Paul cut out for me. We used these to compress the fabric tight enough so that the dye could not penetrate between the clamps.  With these, they made some beautiful designs.

62e78da 62e78ea 62e78f9 Photos Left to right:
Eufrosina Vásquez López      Fabric by Eric Chavez Santiago     Line of fabrics drying

On the last night, I gave public lecture (also in Spanish – a bit scary but fun to have made it through!) on my own art work, the projects that I have been doing with the weavers in Oaxaca and talked about the work we did in the workshop. It seemed to go really well and I think everyone understood me. No one feel asleep and people seemed to laugh at the right places.

The museum set up a display of the pieces that the students made during the workshop.  After the lecture, the students talked to the guests about what they did and explained the processes.  I don’t know what more they will do with this, but several of them were asking questions about how to do specific projects that they were thinking of. So I am hoping that when I go back again, some of them may have some pieces to show.

62e7909 62e7919
One of 4 display tables       View of workshop area from museum

Reporters from two local newspapers showed up. I was able to get a copy of one of the articles, but the other came out after I already left. (If you can read Spanish, it is on the web at:
Though I don’t think those are direct quotes. The Spanish usage seems much too complex to be anything I actually said.)

All in all, it was a really great experience. It was wonderful to work with such a talented group of artists and with the fabulous staff at the Textile Museum in Oaxaca.

Special thanks to Eric Chavez Santiago for helping to organize everything and who gave wonderful information on natural dyes.  Photos are courtesy of Carolyn Kallenborn and Eric Chavez Santiago.

Carolyn Kallenborn
Assistant Professor
Design Studies
University of Wisconsin – Madison
1300 Linden Drive
Madison WI 53706

Hot Chocolate and Rosca de Reyes: Post New Year’s Tradition

Last night, after supper under the stars at Samburguesas munching on chile relleno torta and sipping Corona, we piled into the van to visit the godchildren of Dolores and Federico and bring them a rosca.  This is a large egg bread ring topped with candied fruits, sugar, and hidden little plastic babies baked inside.  Whomever gets the slice with the baby is obliged to offer a fiesta on February 6.  This morning I was awakened by a knock on my door at 8:30 a.m.  Norma, time for rosca and hot chocolate.  I scrambled to get dressed and join the family around the kitchen table for another Zapotec tradition.  Dolores had cut the bread in slices for each of us to take a piece.  There was a very delicious cup of hot chocolate at my place.  I eyed the ring and chose my slice, dipping it into the chocolate and taking a bite, repeating the ritual, as is the custom for eating pan dulce at breakfast.  I breathed a quiet sigh of relief.  No baby for me.  This is a very ancient tradition, Eric says to me earlier in the week as we snacked on rosca at Elsa’s house.  I wonder where it originates from.

Postscript:  Another supper at Samburguesas.  Federico explains the origins of Rosca de Reyes in Spanish and Janet and Omar, his children, translate and add some details they learned in school.  This was originally a European custom, they say, and explain that when the baby Jesus was born the three wise men (Kings) assembled from all over the world and walked to the manger.  One of the Kings rode a horse, another a camel, another an elephant.  One carried gold, another incense and another myrrh to present as gifts to the virgin.  The Virgin Mary was afraid and she hid.  This is why the little plastic babies are hidden in the bread.  In Europe, the bread contained a baby and a wedding ring.  The lore recounts that the person who gets the baby will be single all their life and the person who gets the ring will be happily married.  When the tradition came to Mexico, only the plastic baby was baked into the bread.  The person who gets the baby will get married and give a fiesta on February 2.

The bread is decorated with with red and green candied fruits — the colors of Mexico.  Janet and Omar say that they learned this explanation through their study at the village church.

This morning, as I sip choco-cafe in the kitchen before the taxi comes to take me to the airport, Federico cuts me a slice of the delicious rosca, then packages up about half the bread for me to take home to Stephen for new year’s wishes.  Buen provecho!