Help Bring Juvenal Home to Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

My friend Juvenal Gutierrez Alavez died from Covid-19 last week alone in a San Diego hospital. He was in his mid-50’s. A young man by my count. Oh, to be in my mid-50’s, full of life with years ahead of me. But, for Juvenal, this was not to be. His wife Norma and teenage children were with him in California while he was working, but they were not allowed in the hospital — a tragedy we hear so often, when there is no familial comfort in those last days and hours.

Help with a gift to bring Juvenal’s body home!

I am writing to ask you to help because it is expensive to return a body home. The family estimates that they need about $3,000 USD for transportation. This does not include funeral expenses. This is the amount we want to raise to help them. Can you help?

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Please DO NOT select Buying Goods or Services at check-out!

If you don’t use PayPal, we can receive your gift via personal check, VENMO or Zelle. I can also send a Square invoice. Let me know and I will send instructions. I am able to transfer your gifts directly to the family.

There is no question that Juvenal’s body will be returned for burial next to his ancestors in Teotitlan del Valle. He was a traditional Zapotec. My friend Annie Burns, who lives there and knew Juvenal like a brother, says that is what he would have wanted. It’s the family’s wish, too. In an 8,000 year old culture, traditional burial is a sacred part of life.

Juvenal Gutierrez Alavez and family

I met Juvenal when I first visited Teotitlan del Valle in 2005. He had lived and worked in Los Angeles for some years by then, going back and forth, sending money home to his young wife as he was starting a family. He loved his work: driving long-haul tractor trailers all over the USA. That’s what took him back to L.A. this time — an offer of work to drive a load of liquid sugar from the border to the city every day. The company wanted him because Juvenal was a reliable and safe driver.

Hear Juvenal sing, April 25, 2019

Like many Teotitecos, Juvenal and his family received US citizenship during the Ronald Reagan amnesty of 1986. He settled in LA with his kinfolk who had migrated there years before. Like many Teotitecos, he traveled back and forth to the USA seamlessly. Everyone from Teotitlan del Valle has family in either Santa Ana or Moorpark. His English skills were excellent. He was a quick study. So he taught English classes on the patio several times a week to adults and children alike who wanted language skills to interact with tourists who were coming to buy hand-woven rugs.

On that first 2005 visit, Juvenal invited me and the wasband to visit his class and speak to them in English. It would be good practice for them, he cajoled us. His smile was invitation enough. A big, wide, generous grin that evoked a life filled with satisfaction and joy. We spoke slowly using simple language and where needed, Juvenal translated. We became friends.

Lizet holding the wedding photo of her parents, Juvenal and Norma

In the years that followed, Juvenal’s wife Norma, opened an apron stall in the village market and I would take visitors there to get theirs so they could look like the locals before taking a cooking class from El Sabor Zapoteco–Reyna Mendoza. Norma, a proficient baker, became my go-to person for baking birthday and quinceñera cakes. I was especially fond of her carrot cake with fresh grated carrots. Bite into it and still taste the crunch! The last time I saw Juvenal was on February 12, 2020, when he delivered two cakes for a small birthday party.

Juvenal with daughter Lizet

Norma earned her own pocket money by selling aprons and baking cakes. Juvenal was the primary income earner and would travel periodically back to Los Angeles to work, adding dollars to whatever pesos they had on hand from weaving and selling rugs. Then, Covid came and tourist income for the entire village dried up. This time, Juvenal left with his wife and children so he would not be separated from them for very long. Los Angeles became a hotbed for the virus this winter.

Lizet, Parade of the Canastas, Teotitlan del Valle

Juvenal leaves his wife Norma, 21-year old daughter Nancy who is pregnant with her first child, Lizet, age 17 and Lionel, age 15, and grieving family members in Los Angeles and Teotitlan del Valle.

This is Lionel, Juvenal’s son, singing La Cucharacha — kindergarten!

Thanks to Lizet Gutierrez and Anne Burns for sending me photos and music! and to Scott Roth for his memories.

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Please DO NOT select Buying Goods or Services at check-out!

Thank you very much for considering how you can help! -Norma

A Vignette from Anne Burns:

If I was walking down the street and saw a wad of bills on the ground, what would I do? What Juvenal did was go on the locals radio broadcast and tell the village that if anyone could name the exact amount, they could reclaim their money. And that’s what happened. A family came forth naming the exact amount. They had been saving that money for a long time and had been devastated when they discovered the loss.

This past week, as I have tried to come to terms with my loss of Juvenal, it has not escaped my notice that a praying mantis appeared in my kitchen patio and stayed a long while as I sat on the brick floor, or that an owl flew out hooting at me while I was walking one evening on the side of Picacho, the mountain sacred to this village.

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