Monthly Archives: November 2011

Oaxaca Center Promotes Indigenous Language and Culture, Opens November 26, 2011

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
Centro Histórico
Oaxaca, Oax. CP. 68000
Tel. 51-625-08, email Janet at

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!


Mexico Travel Safety: What Tourists Say

Gotta share this! The Mexico Taxi Project! Even though this video is created and paid for by the Mexican Tourism Board, I think you’ll see the truth and sincerity behind the message. Tourists from L.A., Chicago and New York were asked about their experiences in Mexico as they returned to the U.S. from vacation. Oaxaca fits into the same category as Los Cabos San Lucas and Tulum and Puerto Vallarta — SAFE! My son and daughter-in-law are going to Tulum (flying into Cancun) between Christmas and New Years. Have a great time, I say. I know they will.

Stuart Elliott, NY Times business/media writer says (November 21, 2011) …

Although the name of the campaign is the “Mexico Taxi Project,” there are no Mexican taxicabs involved. All the videos, which can be watched on television, as well as online at, take place in the United States, not Mexico.

The taxis in question are actually black cars, giving rides home to tourists who have just arrived back in this country after taking vacations in Mexico. There are hidden cameras inside the cars, which film the tourists answering questions from the “drivers” about their trips.

The people involved in creating and sponsoring the campaign told me they decided to film the ads in the United States because they believed they would get more honest, forthcoming comments that way than if the ads were filmed in Mexico.

“It was important for the conversations to take place once the visitors were home,” said Gerardo Llanes, chief marketing officer at the Mexico Tourism Board, because if they were filmed in Mexico they might have felt they would “have to be nice and polite.” He offered this comparison: “If I go to your house and don’t like the furniture, I wouldn’t say it.”

When Indigenous Oaxaca Dress Becomes Inspiration for High Fashion

Years ago I discovered Mexican designer Carla Fernandez and her sweet little book (out of print) that taught me the difference between indigenous and Western clothing design.  Rather than form fitting construction with darts, waistbands, zippers, buttons and collars, pre-European style clothing of the Americas is made for easy fit and comfort.  The emphasis is on the weaving techniques and designs integrated into the fabric or embroidered rather than the cut.

[Left:  Odillon, owner of Arte Amusgo, a cooperative on Calle 5 de Mayo in the historic center of Oaxaca, holds an intricately handwoven huipil. The pattern is woven, not embroidered, as part of the cloth. This one sells for about 7,000 pesos.]

Indigenous clothing is flowing, soft, loose, relaxed.  Slip-it-on-0ver-the-head and you are dressed!  The dresses, or huipiles, are made as (more or less) one size fits (almost) all!  Patterns are rectangles, triangles and squares sewn together often with an intricate crochet stitch that can be as beautiful as the cloth.

Indigenous Fashion Inspires Mexican Runways  Now, an Associated Press story picked up by the New York Times tells how Mexico City contempo-Mex designers like Lydia Lavin are incorporating indigenous clothing design elements into high-end fashion.  (Click on her name to see the runway models.] Price tags are upwards of $1,000USD. (One can buy a lovely Oaxaca huipil for under $100USD.  The weaver may get 40-70%.)  Of course the look is entirely different! In Lydia Lavin’s work,  you will recognize bits and pieces of indigenous textile in the couture. [Our friend Ana Paula Fuentes, director of the Museo Textil de Oaxaca, adds to the story’s commentary.]

[Left:  Women at the Guelaguetza wear indigenous dress, all handwoven, from the Alta Mixteca, in Oaxaca.]




Is this an issue of Fair Trade or Fair Game?

Ultimately, it is the consumer who must decide if the indigenous artisan is being fairly compensated for her/his work or role in clothing production.   We all make choices.  I constantly struggle with the question about what is authentic, since adaptation is part of evolution and creativity.  Yet, our choices may be clearer when offered a high-fashion knock-off that incorporates synthetic fabric, is made on a commercial rather than back-strap loom, and perhaps is made in China!

[Left: Santa Fe, NM textile designer Sheri Brautigam describes huipil designs on display at Los Baules, the shop owned by Remigio Mestas on Macedonio Alcala in the Los Danzantes restaurant patio.]

Pablo Neruda 2011 Prize Finalist Inspired at Oaxaca Women’s Creative Writing + Yoga Retreat

Poet Katie Kingston was selected as a 2011 Finalist for the Pablo Neruda Poetry Prize for her poem written during our Women’s Creative Writing and Yoga Retreat in Oaxaca.  Katie gave us permission to publish the poem and to share her workshop experience (below).

Woman Resting

Teotitlán del Valle, Mexico

 I have been waiting days to move

to the hammock, to drift

beneath the white portal into a white

dream delineated by black


Above me, the green tree

full of green grapefruit and a cluster

of yellow birds. My sky sways

with palm leaves and wingspan.

Footsteps approach

like a lullaby.

In the distance a child

wails blue syllables and the rooster

releases another qui-qui-ri-qui-qui.

I sketch their sounds on paper

alongside the corrugated bray

of burro.

The hammock swings

in the key of G. I am surrounded by tuning

forks and pomegranate blossoms.

I call this place


                     Lull is the word that comes

to mind. Lull says the wood smoke, lull

says the sheet on the line, lull says

the loom’s shuttle tapping wool strands

of indigo and cochineal

into the snug fit

of weft.

Sometimes the name for gold

dye escapes me, so I put down the pen, feel

the rhythm of my body as if I too

am a leaf lulled by breeze,

as if I too am held to the branch

by a nub of stem.


–Katie Kingston, Finalist in the 2011 Pablo Neruda Prize,

First Published in Nimrod International Journal, Vol.55 Titled What Time Is It?


What Katie Kingston says about the Women’s Creative Writing and Yoga Retreat:

Immersion in a new culture with a group of talented and inspiring women was definitely the catalyst for this poem, “Woman Resting.”  One day I found myself resting in the hammock, and while letting its hypnotic sway take over, I experienced the flooding of the five senses in this magical place, Teotitlán del Valle. I was motivated to write this poem, to try in one small way to capture the experience of this slower paced lifestyle. I haven’t experienced such a “lull” since childhood.

Teotitlán del Valle is all about weaving; indigo and cochineal dye hangs in natural wool skeins from the roof top lines. It fact, it seems that everything hangs from the sky in Teotitlan: the drying threads, the hammocks, the pomegranates, the grapefruits, the laundry, and even the sounds: birds, burros, roosters, pigs.  The experience at the Oaxaca Woman’s Creative Writing and Yoga Retreat was enhanced by the meditative atmosphere that allows for interpretation with a gathering of women who believe in writing as a spiritual plunge into the unknown.

When I returned to the United States, I submitted the poem to Nimrod International Journal’s 2011 Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry,, where it placed as a finalist and was published in the Nimrod Award Issue titled, “What Time Is It?”  Other good news followed. I submitted my manuscript, What Does Lorca Own?, which had been reviewed at the conference by Professor Robin Greene, our instructor.  We discussed the manuscript in depth, and I sent out the revision to several competitions.  It placed as a finalist in the 2011 Idaho Prize for Poetry,, and will be published in October 2012 by Lost Horse Press (distributed by the University of Washington  Press, Seattle) under the new title Translating Clouds.

No writer ever writes alone, and I have many individuals to thank for their support including Norma Hawthorne, Robin Greene, Susan Florence, and the other talented participants of the 2011 Oaxaca Women’s Writing Retreat.  For me, the experience was a success, giving me the time to write new poems, forge new friendships, and experience a new culture, where I felt welcome and safe as I hiked the village roads and spoke to goat herders, children learning English, and women who smiled back.

Arts, Culture, Textile Journey to Santa Fe and Oaxaca

Postponed until Summer 2013: Oaxaca Cultural Navigator collaborates with Australia’s Desert Traditions to bring you Beyond Santa Fe.  Join textile artist and group leader Carole Douglas from Sydney, Australia, Santa Fe textile expert Sheri Brautigam, and Norma Hawthorne for a cultural immersion experience of a lifetime.