About Us

By immersing yourself in another culture, you can explore, imagine, take a step out of your comfort zone, become inspired and stretch to create.        

At Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC we are committed to creating extraordinary learning adventures for inquisitive people who want to explore the environment and what they are personally capable of creating. We develop programs that are stimulating, fun, educational, and leave a small footprint.

We believe that by connecting you with Mexico through her arts and artisanry, you will have a greater appreciation for her people and the culture.  Our goal is to give you a memorable, satisfying and intimate experience.

What we stand for:

  • Understanding and respecting indigenous culture + traditions
  • Supporting craftsmanship, folk and fine art
  • Nurturing local women and youth by awarding workshop scholarships
  • Creating cross-cultural understanding
  • Delivering responsible, culturally sensitive educational programs
  • Practicing socially committed and culturally competent tourism

What we offer:

  • Immersion experiences to connect with local individuals and families
  • Small groups of up to 15 participants
  • Hands-on learning for creative development
  • Expert instructors with teaching and technical acumen
  • Strong infrastructure with on-site management
  • Detailed pre-workshop information
  • Attentive service to advise you on travel arrangements and answer your questions
For people who want to:
  • Experience another culture and broaden their horizons
  • Enjoy a rich, diverse travel adventure
  • Discover new approaches to creative expression
  • Learn new skills or build upon existing skills
  • Take a step off-the-beaten path
  • Meet local artists and artisans
  • Reinvigorate or jump-start the creative life
  • Imagine, stretch, explore, do
  • Travel with like-minded people

About Norma Schafer.   I am a writer, photographer and artist with a background in university administration.  I grew up in Los Angeles, lived in San Francisco, Indiana, and Virginia, and then migrated to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, for work.  In late 2020, in the midst of covid, I decided to sell my Durham, NC condo, buy land and build a home in Taos, New Mexico, where I live now. In 2005, I was invited by Eric’s  family to live with them in Teotitlan del Valle, a Zapotec village located forty minutes from the colonial capital of Oaxaca, Mexico.

We are committed to preserving the arts and cultural traditions of indigenous people who have lived in the Oaxaca Valley for over 8,000 years. Our vision is to facilitate intercultural exchange programs with Oaxaca artists and artisans and to broaden opportunities for visitors to have authentic, personal learning experiences in Oaxaca.

Norma was the lead development officer in the School of Nursing at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she raised over $23 million for scholarships, professorships, and academic programs. She retired at the end of 2011 after 10 years of service.  A complete resume is available on request.

In 2008-2009, she served as chair of the Nursing Advancement Professionals Network of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.  Before that, she served on of the board of directors of the international University Continuing Education Association.

She worked in universities — Indiana University, University of Virginia, George Washington University, University of North Carolina — for over 25 years, in academic marketing, communications, business development, continuing education, corporate and community relations, and public affairs.

A fiber and jewelry artist and published fiction writer and poet, Norma also has traveled off-the-beaten path in Japan, China, Morocco, Thailand, Australia, Malaysia, Israel, Singapore, Guatemala, Panama and Mexico, in addition to “mainstream” travel in Spain, France and Italy.

For five years, she owned and operated a gourmet cookware shop, cooking school, cafe and catering business in South Bend, Indiana, where she produced and taught workshops, hosted a restaurant review show on the local PBS affiliate, and hired noted U.S. chefs to teach a range of cuisines.  She led a Great Chefs of France culinary tour to Paris and Lyon, meeting Paul Bocuse, Georges Blanc and Alain Chapel.

Norma holds the B.A. in history from California State University at Northridge and the M.S. from University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business.  She also attended UCLA Anderson School of Management and San Francisco State University.

Norma’s interest in textiles stems from her heritage.  Her grandfather was a master tailor and furrier.  Her mother taught her how to replicate his fine stitches.  Her art  includes weaving, fiber sculpture and jewelry making, and she has been an artist on the juried Chatham (NC) Studio Tour.

Norma’s work is dedicated to creating bridges to a more accepting, diverse and multicultural society.

Eric Chavez Santiago is Norma’s godson who she met in 2005 selling rugs as a college student in the Teotitlan del Valle village market. In late 2022, Norma invited Eric to join her as a partner in Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC to transition the business to the next generation.  Eric is a weaver and natural dye expert. He learned to weave at the age of eight from his father, master weaver Federico Chavez Sosa. While in college, he developed over one hundred cochineal dye recipes that he still uses today.

A Oaxaca native, Eric was born and raised in Teotitlan del Valle, and speaks Zapotec, Spanish and English.  He was the founding director of education at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca. and held that position from 2008 to 2016. In 2017, Alfredo Harp Helu and Isabel Granen Porrua asked him to open, manage and promote indigenous craft through their folk art gallery Andares del Arte Popular. He resigned in September 2022 to grow the family enterprise, Taller Teñido a Mano with his wife, Elsa Sanchez Diaz, and to join Norma as a partner in Oaxaca Cultural Navigator. Eric is a graduate of Anahuac University and has made textile presentations throughout the world. He is knowledgeable about all forms of Mexican textiles and folk art.

Elsa Sanchez Diaz is a natural dye master who teaches one- to three-day workshops exploring the natural plants and cochineal found in Oaxaca. She also is our tour partner in Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC and is married to Eric Chavez Santiago. The dye workshops focus on cochineal, indigo, wild marigold, fruits and tree bark. Elsa teaches at her rooftop terrace studio in Oaxaca city and also in the new Taller Teñido a Mano workshop in Teotitlan del Valle. She is knowledgeable about many aspects of weaving, artisan craft, and Oaxaca folk art, knows the artisans personally, and has been leading our tours for four years. Elsa is a graduate of Anahuac University and speak English, too.

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