Tucked behind the tall green-tinged cantera stone wall at the corner of Av. Independencia and Fiallo is the newly renovated 16th century Dominican convent San Pablo de Indios. It is reinvented as Centro Academico y Cultural San Pablo.
The renovation has been a painstaking six-year project funded by the Alfredo Harp Helu Foundation to uncover centuries of neglect and degradation. Intended first to restore the first Spanish church constructed in Oaxaca in 1529, a mere 8 years after the city of Antequera was founded by Cortes, the project has grown in significance. This restoration reinvents the original intent of the convent: a place exclusively dedicated for Catholic worship by the indigenous peoples of Oaxaca by focusing on the importance and value of indigenous populations in the development of Oaxaca. Oaxaca is who she is because of her native peoples.
On November 26, 2011, at 10 a.m., the convent San Pablo de Indios will be dedicated and open to the public as the Centro Academico y Cultural San Pablo. It is an educational and cultural center that honors its indigenous past and focuses on promoting the languages and culture of Zapotecs, Mixtecs, Mixes and other language groups that comprise the state of Oaxaca. A tomb was excavated on the site that dates to the Monte Alban period — a very important discovery to preserve.
“To understand the project,” explains Michael Swanton, the general manager, “you must see it as two distinct phases.” The architectural renovation, the first phase, is the container. This is coming to a close and the building is soon to be dedicated. The second phase is the implementation. The building will be devoted to teaching and promoting indigenous language and culture through seminars, workshops, conferences and exhibitions. This brings San Pablo de Indios full circle.
My adopted niece, Janet Chavez Santiago, is the education coordinator for the center. She explains that the newly designed library by architect Mauricio Rocha will house historic books and papers where people can come to do research. The library integrates and reflects the 16th century architecture of the original structure with an eye to the future. Janet will develop and teach classes in Zapotec, organize conferences, give guided tours in Spanish, English and French. Her colleague, Yasnaya Aguillar, who speaks Mixe, will also participate in this part of the project.
There are big questions that are unanswered that Janet hopes the Center will help unfold. For example, there are weaving techniques and patterns that cannot be translated into Spanish. There is intended collaboration between the Museo Textil de Oaxaca and the Centro San Pablo to better know the relationship between the indigenous language and early textile development.
Janet believes that this work is essential to preserve all the Oaxaca languages and she looks forward to working with linguists from around the world to do this. Her desire is to build links with universities in Mexico and elsewhere to bring students as volunteers and to develop an intercultural exchange program.
Janet Chávez Santiago, Coordinación Docente
Centro Académico y Cultural San Pablo
Antiguo Callejón San Pablo, Av. Independencia #902
Oaxaca, Oax. CP. 68000
Tel. 51-625-08, email Janet at email@example.com
There is so much more to explain about the early history of this place. I will attempt to do that in future posts. Suffice it to say, the early cast of characters who were conquistadores and Dominican friars all had a hand in the development of this extraordinary building — one of the first in Oaxaca!