Monthly Archives: January 2010

Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, in California

Teotitecos emigrate and settle where their friends and relatives have gone before them.  For most, the intention is to go for a few years, find good work, make some money, send it home, and then return.  I’ve often asked myself, When is the point of no return?  Meanwhile, Teotitecos have been in California for decades and generations, since at least the 1950’s when the bracero program welcomed legitimate labor from Mexico.

Today, there is a strong Zapotec community from Teotitlan del Valle living in Santa Ana, California, where young men are selected to become dancers for the Dance of the Feather, where guelaguetza and quinciniera and traditional festivals are observed and respected.  Zapotec is spoken here and it is home away from home.  Young people tell me that their parents came to Santa Ana twenty years ago when they were just young pups.  They don’t remember much of anything but want to preserve their cultural heritage and village identity.

In Oxnard and Moorpark, California, in Ventura County just over the L.A. County line, the story is similar.  Walk into the McDonald’s in Oxnard and, I am told, you will hear Zapotec spoken by the staff.

When I meet people in Teotitlan they tell me, oh, I used to live in Santa Ana, or yes, I worked in Oxnard for five years growing flowers in the greenhouses.  It is a common story of cross border migration and how to create home away from home.

California is a melange of transplanted Mexican towns and villages, replicated in big city neighborhoods, agricultural communities, and mid-size towns.   After a while, the men who are lonely for their families return to Oaxaca, wanting to watch their children grow up and participate in Teotitlan village life.  The promise of the California dream did not match their expectations.  For others, the choice to return to the small Oaxaca village where livelihood is limited to rug weaving and ancillary village services, the future holds little promise.  So, they decide to stay in Santa Ana or Oxnard and start over again, putting down roots, forsaking the past, starting a new family and another life.

I have talked with those who returned.  They did not like the prejudice and the lifestyle of living in cramped apartments, sharing beds to keep the cost of living low while they worked for minimum wage or less, taking their chances as day laborers.   While, those who stayed in Santa Ana and Oxnard decided that the economic opportunity and chance for an education for themselves and their children outweighed the loss of connection to family and homeland.  

Those who arrive undocumented  are forced to sever connection to home until they are ready to return permanently.  The cost is too high to travel back and forth guided by mercenary coyotes, risking the hazards of stealth travel through the desert.

All immigrants to the United States share a common history of pulling up roots and leaving their homeland behind.  What differentiates people is their desire to hold on to their cultural and social history or to eschew it in favor of assimilation.   It is heartening for me to hear that there is Teotitlan del Valle in California.

Q & A About Oaxaca Safety 2010

Q: I am a college student in Sarasota, Florida, We’ve got a trip planned out for Oaxaca in March, during spring break. I had half a mind to go, but everyone keeps telling me how dangerous it is.
Fortunately, I happened to have stumbled upon your blog, the one beacon of positive light.

I do wish to ask, what the risk is at this time. We’ll be travelling in a group pf 14 or so, doing the regular tourist routes it seems.

In anycase, I am of Guatemalan decent and speak Spanish well, so I’m not concerned with communication very much.

The blog is very useful as is.  I found the recommended materials list for winter months, though I don’t think March will qualify as such.

IF you have any advice whatsoever for students traveling to Oaxaca, I would greatly appreciate it if you shared it with me.  Thank you Norma, Fantastic work!

A: Please tell everyone that Oaxaca is probably as safe as any U.S. city,  and equally as safe or safer than yours. It is a pedestrian town and people are on the streets strolling through the evening and well into the night.  I am in Oaxaca several times a year, just returned after two weeks during the winter holidays and I’m going back again in two weeks for our documentary film workshop.  I have never felt at risk or threatened.  Of course, I am always aware of my environment and who is walking toward me.  I watch my back when withdrawing money at ATMs (just as I would at home in North Carolina).  It is important to respect the fact that you are in another country and take notice.  You are traveling in a group and if you go out in pairs there should be no problem at all.  If your family has concerns, please ask them to read this blog or send me an email.  Your school would not be taking you if they felt there was a risk.  The fear is being generated by the media focused on the drug wars that are far away from Oaxaca, mostly on the border towns.  The fact that you speak Spanish is an advantage.  Go … and have a great time.

Another Reader Says:  “I appreciate the info about the dance. I’ve just spent a month here studying art, architecture, archeology, dance, food etc. with Dr. Stephanie Wood, Dr. Ron Spores and others. Oaxaca is safe and wonderful and I urge all to come and learn about it. Everyone has been friendly and helpful.”

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Claims, Disclaimers + Disclosures: IMHO

It occurred to me that some readers might think, wow, she is really focused on highlighting the talents of only a few weavers or a few shops or a few of the talented artisans in Oaxaca, and might wonder if I receive any compensation for indirect “advertising.”  This blog is created as a way to share information, and everything is written as “In My Humble Opinion.”  I do not accept commissions, kick-backs, or compensation of any kind to write about restaurants, shops or particular artisans here.  I have developed friendships with artists and artisans over the years based upon the quality of work they do, their honesty and integrity, and their personal commitment to their history and culture.  I freely recommend these people to you if you choose to go off the beaten path, explore and not take the easy tourist route around Oaxaca by hiring a guide.

Where to Buy Fabulous Oaxaca Textiles

Once in a while a question shows up on my blog that is part of a key word search that I am compelled to write about, even though you can find this information through a search on this blog.   And the answer is, it depends on what you are looking for.   Oaxaca galleries and shops have abundant selection.  If you go, please let them know you read about them here.  The other option is to travel to particular villages and search out the finest craftspeople — an exercise that can take a lifetime!  As a point of information, I write these reviews based upon my own knowledge and personal preferences, and am not compensated for any of these opinions.  If you have suggestions for others, please feel free to comment.  

Favorite shops for handwoven clothing and table linens:

  1. Museo Textil de Oaxaca.  The museum shop (closed Tuesdays and for afternoon lunch between 2-4 p.m.), features a small collection of very fine handwoven huipiles, scarves and shawls (silk, cotton, wool), pillow covers, handbags and jewelry.  Prices are high, but so is the quality.
  2. Remigio Mestas —  Gallery Shop in the Los Danzantes courtyard on Macedonio Alcala features clothing and bolts of handwoven textiles. Remigio is the “go-to” man for all the major collectors.  The array of textiles is mind-boggling.  He encourages the best indigenous weavers from remote villages all over Oaxaca to use highest quality materials.  The prices are premium and worth it.
  3. Tally.  This small, eclectic shop on Av. Cinco de Mayo between Abasolo and Constitucion, offers a small selection of huipiles.
  4. Malacate by Silvia Suarez.  She is a textile designer and friend of the Museo Textil de Oaxaca director Ana Paula Fuentes who selects high quality huipiles and embroidered fabrics and works with local seamstresses to create handbags and pillows, too.  The shop is located on Gurrion, the short street that borders the side of Santo Domingo church, around the corner from El Che restaurant.  Pricey and worth it.
  5. The shop inside the La Biznaga restaurant courtyard on Garcia Virgil.  They have changed owners and I don’t know the name.  There are excellent textiles here at fair prices.  You need to be able to discern the higher quality from the rest.  Great gifts and contemporary jewelry at excellent prices, including alebrijes and stuffed animals from Chiapas.
  6. Sheri Brautigam, La Lucita Imports, Oaxaca.  (Not a shop, an individual designer). Sheri is a San Francisco textile designer relocated to Oaxaca, where she uses Tenancingo ikat woven cotton fabrics to fashion traditional  quechquemetls, an indigenous shawl that is fabulous for throwing over your head to cover your shoulders.  Contact Sheri directly at or Mexico cell (044) or (045)-951-151-1557
  7. La Mano Magica, Calle Macedonio Alcala pedestrian street between the Cathedral and Santo Domingo Church.  Wide array of high quality folk art handpicked by Mary Jane Gagnier and textiles woven by Arnulfo Mendoza.

What to look for:  uniform weave, tightly woven, strong seams, no fraying, finished edges.

Favorite shops for highest quality handwoven rugs using natural dyes:

  1. Galeria Fe y Lola, Av. Cinco de Mayo between Constitucion and Abasolo, in Oaxaca city
  2. El Nahual, Av. Cinco de Mayo next door to Galeria Fe y Lola, in Oaxaca city
  3. Chavez Santiago Family Weavers, Francisco I. Madero #55, Teotitlan del Valle
  4. Demetrio Bautista, Av. Benito Juarez, Teotitlan del Valle
  5. Pantaleon Ruiz Martinez, Constitucion #12, Teotitlan del Valle
  6. Bii Dauu Cooperative, Av. Iturbide, Teotitlan del Valle
  7. All the young Teotitlan del Valle weavers who exhibited at the anthropological museum at Monte Alban I wrote about on this blog — not all their weavings use natural dyes, so you need to ask

What to look for:  tight weave, double weft chords on each side, 10-12 threads per inch for traditional tapestry weave, 22 threads per inch for Saltillo weave, authentic use of 100% hand spun wool and natural dyes, straight edges so rug lies flat, securely tied fringes.