Gratitude and Giving Thanks: ‘Tis the Season

First, thank you friends and readers for your years of following Oaxaca Cultural Navigator. I’ve been writing this blog since 2007. That’s 14 years reporting about Oaxaca (and Mexico) culture, traditions, textiles and the changes that have taken place over this time. There is a lot in the archives! I also want to thank you for your support of the artisan makers who I feature here. So many are grateful for our help and have expressed this to me recently, especially since COViD has all but truncated their ability to bring the beautiful things they make to visitors and collectors. You are their lifeline.

Elizabet Vasquez Jimenez, Triqui weaver, says, ¨A million thanks. You helped me so much because I had no sales in months. Thanks to God and for knowing all of you. Saludos y benediciones.”

Huipil woven on the back strap loom by Elizabet Vasquez Jimenez, Triqui indigenous tribe
Elizabet at our Day of the Dead expoventa, Oaxaca. She traveled 6 hours by van to show us her work.
Elizabet in her village, traditional Triqui huipil
Natural dyes, handwoven wool and leather bag, by Estela Montaño

Estela Montaño, woven bag maker, cried as she told me, “You kept us alive during COVID with your help. You sent us customers and we are grateful. You are all angels.”

We have been living with COVID for almost two years (since March 2020) and the pandemic has altered (am I’m thinking perhaps for my lifetime) how we make our way in the world with people we love and care about. I recently returned to Oaxaca after being gone for 19 months. I’m grateful my two adopted campo dogs, Tia and Butch, remembered me! I’m grateful to my Chavez Santiago family for their love and support over the last 16 years, making it possible for me to live with them and enjoy the astounding beauty of Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca.

The COVID era brought many changes to all of us. We lost friends and neighbors to the virus. Some of us lost family members. Some of us still feel at risk and are wary of gathering this Thanksgiving and of socializing with those who are vaccine resistant. I hear from many friends that they are fearful of traveling outside their local area, let alone getting on an airplane to go to a distant land. These are polarizing and discomfiting times.

Left to right: Fernando, Barbara (visitor), Estela and Juana — Montaño family bag makers

This said, I’m extraordinarily grateful to those of you who are traveling with me to Mexico this year — 2021 and 2022. Thank you. I feel very reassured that when we practice COVID safety with vaccines and masks and hand sanitizer that we can stay healthy. Everyone on our recent Day of the Dead Culture Tour tested COVID negative the day before returning to the USA. For this, I’m incredibly grateful.

This has been a year of dramatic change for me. COViD isolation did me in and I made the decision just a year ago at Thanksgiving (where four of us huddled on the Taos Rio Grande Gorge mesa for an outdoor dinner), to change my lifestyle, leave downtown Durham, NC condo living in exchange for the austere beauty of northern New Mexico and the wide open spaces. Without COVID, I doubt this would ever have happened. At age 75, I decided to build a house! Crazy? Maybe. Liberating? Definitely.

House under construction, Taos Rio Grand River Gorge Mesa

When I left Oaxaca on March 12, 2020, my plan was to stopover in Huntington Beach, CA, to visit my son Jacob for a week and then to go up to Santa Cruz to see my sister Barbara before heading back to Durham for a while and then return to Oaxaca. I stayed with Jacob for two-months in a one-bedroom apartment. We juggled space and time. We bonded even more as mother and son. It was a blessing. I also got to know Shelley, who became his fiancee this year (they are getting married in March 2022). Her mom, Holly, has become a friend. COVID brought them closer together and they decided to make a life together.

Little did I know then that my boy would get approval from his office in March 2021 to work from home on a permanent basis and move to Albuquerque. We are now both living in the same state after being separated for over 30 years. Jacob and Shelley will be here this week for Thanksgiving, joining a group of 15 family members and friends under a heated tent outdoors on the Rio Grande Gorge Mesa. We are monitoring invitees for vaccines, exposure and overall COVID health.

It’s cold here in Taos, but the sun is shining, delivering beauty and hopefulness. Even the drying sagebrush is green today. Reminding me that even in the worst of times, there are many things to be grateful for. This, to me, outweighs the commercialism of the season and Black Friday.

Francisca Hernandez, master blouse embroiderer from Chiapas, says: “Thank you for the special orders over the last year. You have helped sustain my family. Otherwise, we would have earned very little, if anything.”

Francisca’s French knot embroidered blouse

I remember Oaxaca losses from COVID: Estela, a woman from San Bartolome Quialana, in the Tlacolula valley foothills who worked at Tierra Antigua Restaurant, always gracious, cheerful, helpful. Juvenal, my 52-year old friend, generous and compassionate, who left behind a wife, three children and new grandchild born after he died in a San Diego Hospital in February 2021. Juan Manuel Garcia, Grand Master of Oaxaca Folk Art, silversmith and filigree jewelry maker extraordinaire, died at age age 77 in January 2021. I miss them, and so many more. 700,000 is an unfathomable number. I am grateful to be among the living. I mourn our losses.

Juvenal with his family

Ím grateful for the vaccines that offer a miracle for life without risk of death or severe illness necessitating hospitalization. So much to be grateful for among the tragedy of our times.

This coming week, in the spirit of the season, I will be posting a Black Friday Sale either Tuesday or Wednesday. What I offer will all be hand-made, made in Mexico — and will be sure to bring joy to whomever receives them.

I also want to follow-up with the continuing discussion about Day of the Dead, commercialization of a pre-Hispanic tradition that has changed dramatically in the last two years. I want to share what readers sent to me and talk about whether Muertos has been co-opted by the film Coco, by the influx of mezcal drinking young tourists, or by COVID itself.

Day of the Dead, Teotitlan del Valle, photo by Carrie Wing

Sending you blessings for a holiday filled with gratitude, giving thanks, abundance, good health and joy, however you celebrate and with whom.

Norma

P.S. I’d love to hear what this year has wrought for you and your thoughts about gratitude and giving thanks at this season. Write me at: norma.schafer@icloud.com

6 responses to “Gratitude and Giving Thanks: ‘Tis the Season

We Welcome Your Comments