While my sister Barbara has been to Oaxaca many times and spent her honeymoon here in the 1980’s, this is my brother Fred’s first visit. They are only here a week. Hardly enough to scratch the surface.
But a priority visit is mezcal tasting in Matatlan and one of my favorite palenques is Gracias a Dios. Thank God for mezcal.
I’ve known mezcalero Oscar Hernandez since almost the very beginning of the brand. His daughter Emmy runs the retail and tour side now. Over the years they have grown, added on a bottling facility, and they just built a new big pit where they roast and smoke the agave cactus. They export to the USA and internationally, too.
My son Jacob likes their tepeztate and Gin mezcales. He put in an order for my brother to bring a bottle of each back to California.
I also wanted to introduce my Zapotec family to this palenque so we did a road trip to Mitla. It ended up being an all-day event, with an added visit to the archeological site and to meet Epifanio, my favorite dealer of antiquities.
Mitla is a post-classical Zapotec archeological site that came into dominance after the decline of Monte Alban. Many of the buildings’ carved designs are replicated in the rugs woven in Teotitlan del Valle. On the day after Christmas, the site was packed with visitors.
The admission fee is 75 pesos per person and entry closes at 5 p.m. You need at least an hour to see the primary site, climb down into the tombs and climb up the steep stairways to the ceremonial patios.
It’s a good 30 minutes to get to Mitla or Matatlan from Teotitlan del Valle. If you are coming from the city of Oaxaca, plan for at least an hour on the road. Many people stop to look at rugs in Teotitlan del Valle either coming or going. If you are traveling independently (without a tour guide) consider visiting the workshop of Fe y Lola rugs. They are my host family and their work is exceptional.
Mitla (Mitclan in Nahautl) was the burial site for Zapotec royalty and priestly class. A very important precursor to Day of the Dead celebrations.
Have lunch in Mitla at a lovely little comedor, Doña Chica. We did. It is always delicious. Try the mixed grill molcajete and order your tlayuda with chicken instead of tasajo if you are so inclined.
I’m smitten with this story about women who weave and use natural dyes under the shadow of Orizaba in the state of Veracruz, just over the border from northern Oaxaca state. It is a testimony to ancient wisdom, the grandmothers, folklore, cultural preservation and the strength of women to remember and to make and to teach it to the next generation. It is a tribute to everyone in Mexico who works hard and under extreme circumstances, to create the wonderful textiles that we love.
This is a long video, almost 30 minutes. I encourage you to watch it. Then make a gift to ensure support the immigrants who are mistreated in the USA, by choosing one or several of these organizations.
If you have a favorite Not-for-Profit USA 501 C 3 that helps Mexican immigrants in the USA or helps textile weavers in Mexico, please feel free to share a link in the comments, with a reason why you support them. Thank you!
And, please remember, when you make a purchase of a textile that is made by hand, you are helping to support individuals, families, villages, communities and cultures to do more than survive, to thrive and continue their traditions.
Felices Fiestas con abrazos fuertes from Oaxaca, Mexico.
We are fascinated by the Madonna, the Virgin, the Mother Earth Goddess known as Our Lady of Guadalupe, celebrated as The Queen — La Reina — of Mexico. Her feast day, December 12, has come and gone, yet the discussion about her meaning and origins continues.
The most complex came in the form of questions from Tim Tempel. Since I’m not a scholar of Mexico and the virgins — Juquila, Guadalupe and Soledad — that are celebrated here in Oaxaca, I asked Tim to research his questions and share with me his findings. He did, and agreed to my publishing what he found here.
Thank you, Tim, for adding your insights. I’m quoting Tim’s original questions below with his follow-up communication with me. Plus, I’ve offered comments, too.
Based on your article on the Virgin of Guadalupe I had asked the following questions of you:
“How does the Virgin of Soledad relate to the Virgin of Guadalupe and the Virgin Mary? Somehow I thought the Virgin of Soledad was specific to Oaxaca. Also, I thought that both Virgins were the equivalent of the Virgin Mary. In Mexico you generally see either the Virgin of Guadalupe or the Virgin of Soledad at the altar. You don’t also see the Virgin Mary. This led me to believe that they were all a likeness of the Virgin Mary.”
In addition to these questions I have been interested in understanding better how religious faith has evolved in Mexico and the impact, not only on “socio- religious identity” but also on the culture, politics and economy of Mexico.
After doing a little, and I do mean little, research on the subject at your suggestion, I have the following unscientific observations:
1. An article from the “International Journal of Frontier Missiology” which provides an interesting discussion of the origin of the Virgin of Guadalupe. The article is entitled “The Virgin of Guadalupe: A Study of Socio-Religious Identity.” Type in the search area of Google international journal on frontier missiology Virgin of Guadalupe and you will see a PDF of the article.
2. My original limited understanding of the subject was that the Virgin Mary is the Virgin Mary regardless of the name ascribed to Mary. The article attached points out that: “The fact that nearly every Latin American country has its own version of the Virgin shows that the conquered people all desired an image with whom they could identify. In Cuba, she became known as the Virgin of Caridad del Cobre; in Bolivia she is Our Lady of Copacabana; in Brazil she is Our Lady Aparecida; in Nicaragua she is Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception of El Viejo; and in Venezuela she is the Virgin of Coromoto.” I also add that in Oaxaca there is the Virgin of Soledad as well as the Virgin of Guadalupe.
3. I subscribe to the article’s point of view that while Mary is Mary, there may be differences in how Mary is perceived by country or region, or region within a region, based on each region’s need to identify with someone who can understand and relate to their specific issues. For example, in Oaxaca, there is a celebration of the Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe on December 12th and a celebration of the Day of the Virgin of Soledad on December 18th each year. Each represents an adoration of the Virgin Mary but each is accommodating different needs of segments of the population.
4. In Catholic Churches I have attended in the US or Europe, the focal point of the altar is Jesus Christ nailed to the cross. In the churches I have been to in Mexico the focal point is the Virgin of Guadalupe or the Virgin of Soledad. The attached article points out that the Virgin, in some ways, has a greater status that Jesus Christ in Latin America for several interesting reasons identified in the article.
5. As another variation on the subject, in a town near Lake Chapala in Guadelajara, Cajititlan, there is a church where the three kings are the focal point of the alter, not the virgin.
6. In a church in the village of Chamula, outside of San Cristobal in Chiapas, the formally Catholic Church now practices the indigenous faith of the region, not the Catholic faith. There are also some villages outside of San Cristobal that are so fully invested in the Catholic faith that the village encourages people with other faiths, such as evangelical or protestant, to leave the village even to this day.
7. Relative to the subject of your blogs (i.e. Mexican arte popular, culture, etc.), the Catholic Church, via Bishop Vasco de Quiroga was appointed Bishop of Michoacan in 1537, was somewhat responsible, on the upside, for arte popular and crafts in Mexico. The skills Quiroga implanted among Purépecha of the Pátzcuaro region have been passed down to their descendants, who some consider among some of the most skilled craftspersons in Mexico. Quiroga’s method of specialization by community continues to this day: Paracho produces guitars, Tzintzuntzán pottery, Santa Clara copper products and Nurío woven woolens.
Norma’s comments in response:
Re: #2 — Regarding the Oaxaca celebrations, we celebrate the Virgin of Juquila, the Virgin of Guadalupe and the Virgin of Soledad. All three are important here. Juquila and Soledad are more regional, whereas Guadalupe is universal throughout Mexico. As Mexicans have migrated to El Norte, they take their saints with them. Celebrations extend beyond borders, either state or federal.
Re: #3 — Santa Catarina Juquila is very important here as well. Her feast day is December 8. Throughout Oaxaca, villages make pilgrimages to the Juquila shrine in the Costa Chica region of Oaxaca, center of the Chatino people.
Re: #6 — In Chiapas, especially in San Juan Chamula, non-Catholics who have converted to evangelical Christianity, are expelled from villages.
Re: #7 — Each region of Mexico was evangelized by different Catholic denominations: Dominicans, Franciscans, Augustinians, Jesuits. It is true that Quiroga introduced artisan craft specialties to Michoacan and especially the Lake Patzcuaro area. The region was evangelized primarily by Franciscans and it was a jockeying of power there between all. In Oaxaca, the Dominicans controlled the region and trained Teotitlan del Valle artisans in rug weaving using the European treadle loom and imported sheep/wool. Pottery and back-strap loom weaving were pre-Hispanic skills. Alebrijes are a 1970’s innovation.
I’ve been corrected. The Virgin of Guadalupe is not a saint. She is Our Lady of Guadalupe, giver of miracles. In reality, she is the quintessential symbol of Mexican syncretism, combining indigenous roots/beliefs with Spanish Catholicism. In reality, she is more indigenous than Catholic receiving much more attention than the Virgin Mary or Jesus.
As a spiritual symbol, Guadalupe, or Lupita as many call her, sings to us. Especially women. She is Queen. She is Corn Goddess. She is Mother Earth. Protectress. She is Tonantzin.
To celebrate her, regardless of religious beliefs or spiritual disposition, is therefore easy and fun.
In the spirit of fun-ness, I participated in a Virgin Play Day at the home of Linda Hanna, who has been hosting this event for years. This was my first time and it was a glorious respite from my routine (whatever that is).
About forty women, extranjeras and Zapotecas, gathered in the courtyard to create our own version of the Divine Lupita. There was a wood form which we would spend the day breathing life into.
Creating a goddess icon was easier for others than for me. Too many choices of bric-a-brac, magazine images, cloth, glitter, paint, and every other creative type of decorative materials you could imagine. I managed to burn my fingers using the glue gun, another first for me.
I was reminded about how important it is to take a creative day away from the everyday. It was good to catch up with women I rarely have the opportunity to be with. And, of course, the potluck interlude for lunch was over-the-top! There are a lot of good cooks in Oaxaca — even extrajeras!
Then, to put a cap on an already glorious day, at the end of the day I returned to Teotitlan del Valle. In the church courtyard, Los Danzantes de la Pluma were paying homage to the Virgin with their traditional Dance of the Feather. As evening descended into darkness and warmth turned to chill, the village gathered here in celebration of ancient traditions. Pre-Hispanic traditions.
I served the nicuatolerecipe I made and published last week to my Zapotec friend Janet. She said it was good, very good, but it wasn’t the traditional nicuatole recipe she was used to eating here in Teotitlan del Valle. The traditional cooks of Oaxaca use white corn, not comal (griddle) toasted and ground yellow corn, like I used. I confess, it’s what I had on hand for the cornbread and I didn’t know the difference until now!
December 12 is the feast day for the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico. I’m celebrating Lupita by going to a Virgin Play Day, where a bunch of us will make something related to the pre-Hispanic Goddess of Corn who is the syncretic icon more popular than the Virgin Mary or Jesus. I want to bring nicuatole to contribute to the potluck and I want it to be just like its pre-Hispanic origins.
This is a dessert I’m fond of for many reasons. It is corn. That means, it’s gluten free. I use almond milk instead of cow milk. That means it’s dairy free. (I imagine one can also substitute other nut and plant milks, too, but I think coconut milk will give a distinct flavor that will alter the taste.) This dessert is comforting, creamy, like pudding, eaten with a spoon it is almost like a mousse.
In my research, I could not find a specific recipe for a white corn nicuatole. So, I watched some videos that came up in the search — all in Spanish, and all with no measurements of ingredients provided! Traditional cooks here make food like their mothers and grandmothers — by touch, sight and consistency. Great, but not good enough for the precision we need in the USA.
Receta de Nicuatole de Maiz Blanco — Las Delicias Lupita, this is a high-calorie treat that uses whole milk and condensed sweetened milk. As we would say here, muy rico. This is fun to watch to see how great food comes from humble kitchens. No measurements. I made up the recipe below from just watching and from making the previous recipe. Here, I’ve added specific measurements.
Norma’s Nicuatole Ingredients
2 cups white corn, ground fine
4 cups of water
1 cup of almond milk
1/2 to 3/4 cups of white cane sugar
4 pieces of stick cinnamon, broken or 1/4 t. ground cinnamon
2 T. sugar colored with red food coloring
Combine 2 cups of cornmeal and 3 cups of water in a blender and process mixture until smooth.
Note: I bought whole kernel, organic white corn that had been dried, from a puesto (stand) in the Teotitlan del Valle village market. One kilo. I’m certain it was grown on local land by her family. I then took the corn to my corner molino (mill) where the kernels were ground into a fine meal. I told them I wanted it to make atole!
Pour water/corn mixture through cheesecloth or a fine sieve to filter out any large corn particles. If you buy commercially prepared cornmeal, you probably won’t need to do this step.
Pour filtered liquid into stainless steel saucepan or heavy clay cooking pot. Put pot over a heat diffuser and turn heat to medium. Add remaining liquid and stir. Add sugar. Stir. Add cinnamon. Stir. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally for the first 15 minutes. Turn heat to low, and then stir constantly for the remaining 30 minutes (45 minutes cooking time total). I set my timer to stir every 5-7 minutes until the last 10 minutes of cooking time, making sure the bottom doesn’t stick to pot.
Mixture will become the consistency of heavy cream, then thicken to a consistency of heavy porridge like Cream of Wheat. When you stir and see the bottom of the pan, you know it is done. Watch the video to see the proper consistency.
Pour the hot corn mix into a square pan. Let it cool. Top with colored sugar and refrigerate. Prepare 12-24 hours in advance to chill sufficiently so that it is firm and easy to cut into squares.
Serves 8-12, depending on portion size.
Here is another nicuatole video to tickle your taste buds for a smaller batch, but it uses GMO corn. Substitute organic.
It’s December 11 and almost 9:00 p.m. in Teotitlan del Valle as I write this. The cojetes (firecrackers) have started. There is a full moon, the last of the year. On December 12, the Dance of the Feather, Los Danzantes de la Pluma, will honor the Virgin of Guadalupe in the church courtyard. Take a taxi and come on out to join the festivities. Maybe there will be nicuatole, too.
Why We Left, Expat Anthology: Norma’s Personal Essay
Norma contributes personal essay, How Oaxaca Became Home
Norma Contributes Two Chapters!
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