Category Archives: Cultural Commentary

Itzel Rodriguez Tolis Receives OCN Scholarship at Oaxaca Learning Center

Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC established a named scholarship at the Oaxaca Learning Center a few months ago to give back to the community we love and respect. The scholarship fund is supporting deserving students and mentors from indigenous communities who are either enrolled in or plan to enroll in university.

Education is our driving force. While we organize tours, our primary interest is in cultural and community appreciation, while understanding makers and what they make. We pride ourselves on creating experiences that offer in-depth insights into how people live and and work. Our goal is to give you an immersive experience that takes you into remote villages to meet women, men, and their families who create amazing works of art — textiles, pottery, basketry, food, alebrijes, and more — while giving you an understanding for history, social justice, public policy, and opportunities (or lack thereof) for economic opportunity.

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Add your tax-deductible donation to the Oaxaca Cultural Navigator Scholarship Fund

This is why we chose to support the Oaxaca Learning Center. We are investing in the future of Oaxaca. The receipient of our first scholarship is Itzel Rodriguez Tolis, from San Mateo Cajonos, a Zapotec-speaking silk weaving village about 2-1/2 hours from Oaxaca City.

On her application, Itzel Says …

My name is Itzel Rodriguez Tolis, I was born on April 29, 2005, so I am 18 years old. I am originally from the community of San Mateo Cajonos, Villa Alta Oaxaca, located in the Sierra Norte of Oaxaca. My parents are Emilio Rodriguez Martinez and Sandra Tolis Baltazar, and I have two brothers named Yanneth Rodriguez Tolis and Abner Jediael Rodriguez Tolis.

I attended “Unión y Progreso Primary School” in said community. During this time, I was learning the mother tongue of my community, which is Zapotec, and thanks to the fact that my parents taught me, I am very proud to speak my native language. Then I attended Telesecundaria. During my academic stay there was a need for more teachers, and this had an impact since we only had a single teacher who taught us all the subjects. Despite this, I gave my best effort to learn. I developed various workshops, one of them was composing music Zapotec. The teachers who came from the city learned to pronounce some words in our native language. I also participated in basketball tournaments. During my studies, I was months away from completing Telesecundaria when classes were suspended due to covid-19. This affected us, since classes were then given online, and internet connection in my community was very slow. Some of us did not have cell phones and computers to enter the online classes. To continue with my studies at an academic level, I felt the need to leave my community since it does not have this higher level.

So I had to study high school in San Pedro Cajonos, Villa Alta, Oaxaca, which is one hour from my village. A very important detail here is transportation since it was very expensive, so I couldn’t return home every day. Because of this I had another expense to live at the school and pay a special fee.

I started working during vacations to financially help my parents, since it was an expense that they incurred for me. I completed my high school degree, from which I graduated with an average of 9.5 (out of 10), but even there my dreams did not end. I wanted to continue studying. I am enrolled at the Technological Institute University of the State of Oaxaca, studying civil engineering.

The expenses that my parents have to cover for tuition, room and board are not enough. The support from this scholarship fund will help to support my studies. I am also aware that I have a sister who is studying at the university and my brother who is in high school. My parents are unable to support the education for all three of us. I do not have any financial support from the university I attend. That’s why I always look for a way to reduce my expenses as much as possible. For example, I always bring my own food to university and I try not to buy food there, in order to save a little.

I am aware that studying a career involves many expenses and sacrifices. For this reason, I ask that my request for this scholarship be considered. I could contribute to my community by teaching summer classes during my vacations, so I would talk to the municipal authority so that they can grant the possibility of teaching classes. I am writing to you in order to request a Financial Scholarship that will allow me to continue my studies and achieve my academic and professional goals. I thank you in advance for considering my application and will be happy to provide any additional information required to evaluate my application. And I’m waiting for a favorable response.


Itzel exemplifies many who come from remote indigenous villages where higher education is not the norm, and where financial constraints discourage young people from going beyond an eighth grade education. We are so pleased that the Oaxaca Learning Center selected her to receive the Oaxaca Cultural Navigator Scholarship Fund to support her drive, ambition, and talent. She will be a role model and mentor for other young people in her community who want to know and do more.

One of our criteria was to ask that a student be selected to give back to their community. Itzel will do that as she returns during vacation to teach and mentor others.

We hope you join us in making a generous year-end donation to the Oaxaca Learning Center. Thank you.

SALE. Shop Small. Shop Artisan Made. is where you can find the perfect artisan made gift for family, friends, co-workers, and anyone who loves hand-made from Mexico. Perhaps you will find the perfect blouse or huipil for holiday dressing, a hostess gift for someone who has (almost) everything, or something to add pizzaz to your own home decor.

Shop today through December 1 and get a 10% discount off everything you purchase!

Use Coupon Code thankful2023 at check-out.

We rarely discount.

Why Shop Oaxaca Culture?

  • We personally curate and select each item
  • We know each artisan maker and can attest to the quality of their work
  • We ethically source each piece and verify that the process is sustainable
  • We pay artisans directly for their work at the price they ask
  • We do not bargain!
  • We know that makers depend on cash income to support their families
  • We especially support women who use this income to pay for schooling for children and grandchildren, and for health care for elderly family members

Your support gives us the means to continue to support women, men, and their families. By doing so, we help sustain traditional, ancestral artisan arts and handcrafts that are at risk of being lost as indigenous cultures become more Westernized.

Shop today through December 1 and get a 10% discount off everything you purchase!

Use Coupon Code thankful2023 at check-out.

We rarely discount.

What we offer for sale:

  • Handwoven 100% wool rugs from Teotitlan del Valle woven by Eric Chavez Santiago
  • Back-strap loomed clothing from all regions of Oaxaca and Chiapas
  • Home goods to embellish your holiday table
  • Jewelry, including vintage and collectible
  • Shoes, shawls, scarves, handbags
  • More that defy categories!

Please help us spread the word and SHARE THIS POST and shop URL.

Come back often. We post new items regularly. Here are some examples of what you will find on

Day of the Dead Etiquette and Behavior: Teotitlan del Valle Cemetery

Last year, 2022, Day of the Dead in Teotitlan del Valle was a frenzy. Big tour buses and mini-vans each holding 24 to 36 passengers unloaded face-painted visitors in front of our cemetery. I had made a plan this year to go early and not stay very long, expecting the same thing — travelers looking for mezcal shots, pointing their cameras in locals’ faces without asking permission, and having a roaring good time. I noted that tour guides had not prepared the visitors for an experience that included cultural sensitivity and respect. In 2022, foreign visitors outnumbered village residents two to one.

This year, I was very surprised to see only one face-painted visitor, no buses or vans, and very few tourists between 5 and 6:30 p.m. I thought, perhaps it was because the village municipal authorities made a policy to collect a toll from the buses and vans.

Oh, but how I was misled! My good friend Ani, who has been living here since 2003, went to the cemetery to pay her respects to our dear friend Juvenal, who died from Covid at the front end of the pandemic. He was fifty-two. She reported to me that the buses and vans showed up at 7 p.m., disgorging revelers who came to party. I narrowly escaped the assault.

The benefit of visiting earlier is that I saw Teotiteco familes enjoying the balmy fall evening, sitting around the gravesites of their loved ones, telling stories, eating peanuts and oranges, maybe taking sips of mezcal or beer. I mistakenly assumed that the panteon had returned to how it was pre-Pandemic.

So this brings me around to visitor behavior and etiquette for visiting cemeteries in Oaxaca for Day of the Dead.

  1. Please do not dress up in costume or paint your face! Locals don’t like it. This is not the tradition here (nor is it in Patzcuaro). Face painting comes right out of the movie Coco and has nothing to do with Day of the Dead. Nor does Halloween. Like many things, foreigners introduce ways that are culturally inappropriate and erode customs.
  2. Observe how local people dress and comport themselves and do the same.
  3. Come with flowers for graves, Day of the Dead bread, and candles. You can connect with a family this way if you make an offering to their loved one.
  4. Please do not arrive drunk or bring mezcal into the cemeteries. This is not your celebration. You are a visitor who needs to be respectful and circumspect.
  5. Walk slowly. Smile. Say hello. You may be invited to sit when you show that you understand and care.
  6. Please do not point your camera lens in someone’s face. I see this time and again. It happened to me in the village market and it doesn’t feel good. It feels invasive. Ask for permission if you are within six feet of another. Panorama photos can be taken without asking permission.
  7. Understand that you are stepping on sacred ground. This is an 8,000 year old tradition. Please let’s help keep it that way.

If anyone has any other tips or comments they want to add, please send me an email and I’ll publish them. Thank you for reading and listening.

Giving Back: Oaxaca Learning Center Scholarship Funded by Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC

We have just established a Friends of the Oaxaca Learning Center (FOLC) named scholarship fund that will support underserved Oaxaca students to further their university education. Our goal is to help encourage young people and advance their communities. We’ve been working on this over the past several months with FOLC board president Bob Anyon and Jaasiel Quero, Oaxaca Learning Center executive director. Some of you may remember Gary Titus, a transformative visionary. He co-founded the Oaxaca Learning Center (OLC) with Jaasiel in 2005. Gary passed away in December 2015 following a progressive illness, but his legacy continues.

Oaxaca is the second poorest state in Mexico following Chiapas. Access to even basic education is limited, especially in rural communities. Advanced education is almost unheard of, even in villages within driving distance to Oaxaca city. We aim to change this paradigm.

Eric Chavez Santiago, co-owner of Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC, and I decided that we wanted to do even more to give back to the communities where we bring visitors and support artisans directly. We want to encourage the next generation to further their dreams. As educators, we know how important a university education can be for creating possibilities to further economic opportunity and stability.

Add to the tax-deductible Scholarship Fund to help us make an even bigger impact.

Please note this is for the Oaxaca Cultural Navigator Scholarship Fund!

We have agreed that OLC will select the most deserving student(s) and manage the award. From time to time, we will meet with the award recipient(s) to learn more about their personal hopes and dreams, to recognize them for their accomplishments, and to share this with you, our readers.

The Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC Scholarship Fund will support students and/or tutors who:

  • Are from areas where we have artisan relationships, including but not limited to Tlacolula de Matamoros, Teotitlan del Valle, San Marcos Tlapazola, San Pablo Villa de Mitla, Ocotlan de Morelos and surrounding villages, Santa Maria Tlahuitoltepec, Santiago Matatlan, San Pedro Cajonos, San Mateo del Mar, The Mixteca Alta and Triqui communities, Pinotepa de Don Luis, and San Juan Colorado.
  • Demonstrate academic excellence and a will to complete their education and graduate.
  • Are university or high school students.
  • Are committed to giving back to their communities through advocacy, capacity building, and social justice.

Some students participate online because their communities are some distance from the city, where the Center is located.

The scholarship fund would also include the extra training and support students need with job skills, resume writing, practical skills, transportation and incidentals to be determined by OLC staff.

We have established this as an annual expendable fund that can be renewed each year.

Our Hope! Contributions to this scholarship fund are tax-deductible in the USA when made through the Friends of the Oaxaca Learning Center, which is a USA 501(C)3 not-for-profit organization. We hope and encourage you to augment our efforts to give back to Oaxaca communities by making a 2023 Donation — just in time for year-end giving! Your gift can double or triple our impact and make a difference in more than one student’s life! Please note your gift is for the Oaxaca Cultural Navigator Scholarship Fund!

  • $50 supports university acceptance prep course
  • $140 funds a month of classes, tutoring & workshops
  • $550 covers scholarships for meals and transportation
  • $1,500 funds classes, tutoring, & workshops for one year
  • $5,000 supports two tutors´ annual salary

Thank you for all your support over the years. Your loyalty has helped make this scholarship fund a reality.

Yes, Let’s Celebrate. Cinco de Mayo Rooted in Civil War Anti-Racism!

Why is Cinco de Mayo celebrated and where is it celebrated most? Yes, it’s a great time for a Margarita or  swig of Corona, but let’s know the reason we raise our cup on Cinco de Mayo. (Bonus: Shelley’s Margarita recipe below!)

Facts:  Cinco de Mayo, first celebrated on May 5, 1862, was the response by Mexican-Americans — mostly Californians — to the French invasion of Mexico, The Battle of Puebla, and fear that the North would lose the Civil War, enslaving those with Mexican heritage along with Blacks throughout the southwest. French Emperor Napoleon III was an ally of the Confederacy and likely to become the first to endorse Southern secession and nationhood.

Backstory: On the cusp of the Civil War between the Union and the Confederacy, California became part of United States in 1848 with the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo. Before that, the Mexican Constitution, as part of its separation from Spain in 1821, guaranteed freedom from slavery and codified that all citizens were equal and free. Becoming part of the United States put that all in question and there was considerable concern among Hispanos that California might become a slave state as the Confederacy asserted its superiority and elitism in Congress, and won early Civil War battles.  Other Southwest states that were originally part of New Spain and then Mexico, joined the movement.

Since most of Californian’s were of Mexican descent at that time, there was huge concern. Californios and those throughout the Southwest raised large amounts of financial support to preserve the Union and defeat the Confederacy, in addition to volunteering and sending funds to Mexico to defeat the French. They volunteered to fight for the Union and participated in the Second Battle of Bull Run in Virginia. They had a lot at stake.

So, raise one today for the courage of Mexican-Americans who helped defeat France in the Battle of Puebla, and joined the Union to fight the Confederacy.

Racism, elitism, and anti-democratic movements continue to raise it’s destructive head in the United States of America. History is a way to help us understand how we got here and what we need to do to be vigilant. This is also a study in how Latinos have always been part of the social fabric of our nation and allies in fighting for freedom, deserving of honor and respect.

Now, for the A Su Salud!

Shelley Singleton’s Fresh Margarita Recipe

  • 3/4 C. fresh squeezed lime juice
  • 1/2 C. orange juice
  • 1 C. tequila (or espadin mezcal joven)
  • 1/2 C. Cointreau
  • Agave syrup to taste

Shake with ice. Serve neat or on the rocks. For a salted rim, rub with lime juice and dip on plate of Kosher salt.

Alternate recipe:

  • 4 parts juice
  • 3 parts tequila or mezcal
  • 1 part Cointreau

And, Shelley’s Quickie Marg

  • 1.5 oz. tequila or mezcal
  • 1/2 oz. Cointreau
  • 1.5 oz. Trader Joe’s Jalapeño limeade (not spicy)
  • 1/2 lime, juiced

Prepare as above.