Tickets to sit close to Oaxaca’s Guelaguetza Auditorium stage are costly, about $100 USD per person. Up high in the upper galleries, the seats are free and people start lining up hours in advance of the opening to be able to capture one.
The controversy lies in the accessibility to this annual folkloric performance in an auditorium that can hold 11,000 people. So, the government provides live video streaming on the Internet and broadcasts the performances on a big screen in the Zocalo.
However, this year the Zocalo is an encampment, occupied by another demonstration of teachers who continue to protest poor pay and lack of support for adequate school supplies. Since 2006, it has become much more than that.
In the political tradition of Mexico, this legal demonstration highlights the ongoing conflict between the workers and the bourgeoisie, those in power and those who have no voice, those who have access and those who don’t.
Lila Downs sings about this. Diego Rivera painted it. Jose Guadalupe Posada sketched the iconic images of this Day of the Dead Calavera Catrina mocking the middle class who turned its back on the impoverished.
This is my third year to attend the Guelaguetza. Fortunately, my ticket was a gift this year. Each time, I think about what a privilege it is to be here.
The other controversy is about what Guelaguetza really means. Guelaguetza is not a folkloric performance as most visitors believe, but a way of life for indigenous people. Full baskets of gifts for visitors is a symbol for the hope of there being enough — more than enough, of plenty — for all.
Guelaguetza is a complex word meaning mutual support, giving and receiving, a way to keep communities intact, a way to honor ritual and tradition. You can learn more about this in the Teotitlan del Valle community museum. It is why Zapotecs here have survived and thrived for 8,000 years.
It is beautiful to see this honored on the stage of the auditorium, replete with Oaxaca’s most beautiful women, handwoven textiles, music, and ritual dance.
We watch mating and marriage rituals recreated complete with live guajolotes, and the teasing between young men and women from Pinotepa Don Luis. The women’s purple and red skirts are back strap loom woven with cochineal and purpua dyed cotton.
We see how communities like Juxtlahuaca in the Mixteca-Baja depend on raising, killing and selling cattle as they dance with spurs clicking and rattling.
That is why this performance never tires. It is important to know, however, that this is a re-enactment of daily life. To get to know the real Oaxaca, visit her villages and meet her people. Don’t sit in an auditorium with a camera and binoculars, and believe this is a complete experience!
The evening performances end in a dazzling fireworks display! It can be seen for miles around and went on for what seemed a good ten or fifteen minutes. This is only one of many images I caught. Yes, it’s a great time to be in Oaxaca!
The performances happen on the last two Mondays of July each year. There are two performances remaining, one at 10 a.m. and the other at 5 p.m. on Monday, July 28. Go, if you can. It’s a magnificent experience.