Category Archives: Cultural Commentary

Rare Opportunity, Day Trips, July 27 + July 29: San Pedro Cajonos and Santa Maria Tlahuitoltepec

We are doing a cultural textile tour from July 25-31, 2022 where extraordinary garments are made by very talented weavers. This includes two days up into the Sierra Madre del Sur mountains. We want to fill our van! So, we are offering one-day travel opportunities to Oaxaca residents, collectors and visitors. Join our travel group for one or both days! We have space for 4 more travelers on each day.

Day 1–July 27: San Pedro Cajonos Silk Weaving Village

On July 27 we depart Teotitlan del Valle at 8 a.m. for a two and-a-half hour luxury van ride up the mountain to San Pedro Cajonos. If you haven’t been there, this is your opportunity! We visit one of the finest, most distinguished silk weaving cooperatives in all of Mexico. Here, high in the Sierra Madre del Sur, Moises Martinez and his group created a sanctuary to cultivate and preserve silkworm production, with hand-spinning, natural dyeing and weaving. Yes! They grow the mulberry trees to feed the silkworms before they spin their cocoons. The cocoons are silk! You will see the entire process — growing, spinning, dyeing and weaving — and meet these talented weavers. They will prepare a homemade lunch for us and show us their silk textiles and accessories that are for sale. Garments include blouses, dresses, shawls, scarves and jewelry. We return to Teotitlan del Valle before suppertime.

Day 2–July 29: Santa Maria Tlahuitoltepec

On July 29, we depart Teotitlan del Valle at 8 a.m. to travel two hours on our luxury van to the mountain village of Santa Maria Tlahuitoltepec. Many of you may have heard of the village when several years ago a French designer appropriated the cultural heritage design of the blouses that are made here and marketed them as her own. Here you will meet weavers and embroiderers who work on the back-strap and pedal looms in wool and cotton. They use locally dyed alderwood tree bark called Palo de Aguila in Spanish to yield soft, creamy brown, beige and orange colors that are distinctive and beautiful. We will discuss with the family the issues of cultural appropriation and copyright, and what we as buyers can do to support their cultural patrimony. They also use banana tree bark, indigo, cochineal and wild marigold to dye the threads before weaving. After lunch, we will visit a large format potter famous for his amazing pieces featured in museums and private collections around the world. We return to Teotitlan del Valle before suppertime.

Cost: $395 each day. Or, register for both days at $735. Cost includes luxury transportation originating from and returning to Teotitlan del Valle, lunch, snacks and water, cultural commentary and textile expertise, bilingual English-Spanish translation services with a native Spanish speaker, and an adventure into remote mountain villages that you may never be able to do on your own.

Send us an email to register. Payment can be made in full with a Zelle transfer (no service fee) or with PayPal or Venmo (with a 3% service fee). Let us know which payment method you prefer.

Your knowledgeable guides are Eric Chavez Santiago, co-director and Norma Schafer, founder and co-director of Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC.

Eric is an expert in Oaxaca and Mexico textiles and folk art with a special interest in artisan development and promotion. He is a weaver and natural dyer by training and a fourth generation member of the Fe y Lola textile group. He and his wife Elsa are founders of Taller Teñido a Mano dye studio where they produce naturally dyed yarn skeins and textiles for worldwide distribution. He is trilingual, speaking Zapotec, Spanish and English and is a native of Teotitlan del Valle. He is a graduate of Anahuac University, founder of the Museo Textil de Oaxaca education department, and former managing director of folk art gallery Andares del Arte Popular. He has intimate knowledge of local traditions, culture and community.

Norma founded Oaxaca Cultural Navigator in 2006 while she was a senior staff administrator at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Since then, hundreds of people have traveled with Norma to experience the art, culture and textiles of Oaxaca, Chiapas and other parts of Mexico. About 65% of all participants return to take workshops, day tours and extended travel programs, an indication of client loyalty and satisfaction.

Note: To travel with us, you must be Covid vaccinated. Everyone over age 50 is required to have two boosters. Please send us a copy of your vaccine card upon registration. In addition, N95 and KN95 face masks are required for all indoor activities. We observe US CDC guidelines regarding same. We do this out of respect for each other and for native peoples who have not had access to the quality of vaccines that we enjoy. We will ventilate the van and most of our activities will take place outdoors.

We also strongly recommend for these two day tours that you have travel insurance for accident protection.

Travel to/from Teotitlan del Valle is on your own. Please make your own arrangements to arrive by the departing time. When you register, we will send details of where to meet and recommendations for Teotitlan taxi drivers who can pick you up in the city and return you there at the end of our day.

Thank you very much! Let us know if you have any questions.

Pre-Hispanic Oaxaca Cooking Class with Vicky Hernandez

High up the hill in the shadow of Oaxaca’s famed archeological site of Monte Alban is a humble comedor on a dirt side street down the hillside from a paved access road. Carefully make your way down a curved, steep stairway cut into the hill to find the simple kitchen of Cocina Pre-Hispanica con Fogon where Vicky Hernandez teaches about the origin of Oaxaca food. Simple yet complex, organic and healthy, flavorful and rich with tradition.

Carol, who has known Vicky for years, arranged this cooking class for her daughter and her daughter’s fella. I tagged along. While I used to own a gourmet cookware shop and cooking school, there is always more to learn, especially about the roots of Oaxaca food. Moreover, I remember meeting Vicky six years ago when she taught her first cooking class in Carol and David’s miniscule kitchen on Huzares.

First, what is a FOGON? This is the adobe mud table-height cooking stove fueled by wood and topped with a clay comal (griddle) that is nixtamalicized (coated with white calc so the corn doesn’t stick).

Mamela with yellow corn masa, beans, cheese, salsa verde

We start the morning at 8 a.m. Vicky picks us up in the Historic Center where Carol lives, hiring two taxis to ferry the four of us and her to Abastos Market first to do the shopping. Central de Abastos is one of the largest market in Mesoamerica. It is a maze, a warren, a hub of everything Oaxaca — food, drink, pottery, clothing, animals and feed. The uninitiated can get lost — easily. It is best to follow an expert like Vicky, who led us to her favorite organic vendors.


Vicky at Abastos Market, smelling a lime for ripeness

On the cooking class menu today are memelas, sopa de guias, quesadillas with squash blossoms, chicken with mole rojo, atole — all traditional pre-Hispanic foods. So we gather ingredients, wending our way through narrow aisles just as the market vendors start to set up shop. The bustling begins.

Vicky shopping for ingredients ts

We are like ducklings and somehow, we end up on the other side of the market only to exit to find the taxis waiting for us on the street. We climb in and begin the drive up the winding Monte Alban hill.

Cheese vendor, Abastos Market

The day is starting to heat up but the hillside shade keeps us cool. We start off with traditional sweet bread to dunk into a cup of steaming cafe de olla (sweetened coffee flavored with cinnamon). On the table are plump cobs representing different pre-Hispanic colors of corn. Vicky asks Becky to choose which color corn to use for the memelas, and Becky points to the red.

Chicken vendor, Abastos Market
Becky and Tyler with Chipil

Vicky puts the corn kernels into a pot on the charcoal burner and adds calc. Corn needs human intervention to eat. The corn soaked and cooked in calc will soften the hard protective shell, making it edible. Then, the grinding begins. For speed, Vicky uses an untraditional hand-cranked grinder instead of a metate (original stone grinding platform).

Nixtamalization, corn cooking in the olla

We learn that corn soaked in ash is used for corn beverages like atole and tejate, while corn soaked in calc is used for food preparation. We learn that pre-Hispanic cooking translates to using only natural materials: clay, wood, calc and ash, and native plants.

Vicky’s mom preparing a mamela

The memelas are the best I’ve eaten, smeared with bean paste and topped with Oaxaca queso fresco (the crumbly local cheese). The corn base is shaped into a huarache (a shoe). The native red corn turns blue in the cooking. It is crunchy, nutty, filled with flavor. Corn and beans combined are an excellent protein source.

Sopa de Guías ready to eat

For the sopa de guias — squash vine soup — three local herbs are needed: chipil, chipiche and piohito. The base is water to which is added small round squashes called calabacitas that are quartered, squash blossoms (remove the stamens), shredded squash vine leaves, and 2” cut sections of the vine (thick outer strings removed like you do with celery stalks). Nothing of the plant goes to waste. We set about stripping the leaves and flowers from the chipil stalks, careful not to add the seed pods.

Vintage Molcajete with salsa, plus ingredients for quesadillas

Next comes the herb epazote. This very aromatic green is used to flavor beans and squash blossom quesadillas. We use quesillo for this, the Oaxaca string cheese. Don’t be skimpy with the cheese! Vicky tells us epazote is also used as a tea to kill parasites and to eliminate gas and bloating when added to beans during cooking. She a scrambled egg sandwich with epazote and chopped onions is the best.

Tyler consuming a quesadilla

The mole rojo, the red sauce for the chicken, is started by cooking together roasted, skinned organic tomatoes and two tablespoons of vegetable oil, then adding two cups of chicken broth. Once this is combined and cooked, we add about one cup of mole paste Vicky bought in the market earlier. Later, we eat this slathered over a piece of cooked chicken, scooping up the sauce with pieces of tortilla. Yum.

Chicken slathered in mole rojo

Kitchen accoutrements are basic: a molcajete to make the salsas, a metate to grind the corn or cacao, a clay olla or cooking pot, a comal (griddle) on which to cook the tortillas. For the salsa to accompany the Sopa de Guias, Vicky puts sliced onion, lime juice, salt and chiles de agua in the molcajete her father made 50 years ago, smashing all the ingredients together. Aromatic and flavorful. If you can’t find chile de agua, you can substitute jalapeño or serrano chiles.


Vicky and Carol go way back together
Tomatoes roasting on bed of charcoal

We sit to eat at a table in the humble comedor with views of the mountain above and the city below. The sun is shining and we are satisfied. At the entry, Vicky’s mother prepares an order for customers at the next table. I sip the hot atole. It is the best I’ve ever had, a rich corn liquid punctuated with small particles of floating corn. I ask to take home the corn residue left after squeezing the liquid through the gauze cloth. I’ll use this to add crunch to my homemade, gluten-free biscotti. In Italy, the residue is what makes polenta. Mexico, the source of corn, provides sustenance around the world.

View from the comedor

When we finish, we walk to the crossroads a short distance from the comedor and hop on a new Oaxaca city bus that takes us back to the zocalo in the historic center I. 20 minutes. Cost: 8 pesos or 40 cents.

Bus to town

Note: Class is taught in Spanish. If you need translation, Vicky can arrange for a translator to be there with you.

How to find Vicky Hernandez:

Telephone: 52-951-396-2621

email: vickyher70@gmail.com

Instagram: cocinaprehispanica

Reserve class with linktree — linktr.ee/cocinaprehispanicaoaxaca

Website: cocinaprehispanicaenfogon.com

Cost: $1,800 pesos per person cash for a 5-hour experience

Four stuffed and satisfied people

Highly recommend for great food and culinary education.

Permanent Resident of Mexico: Green Card Equivalent

Today, after my third trip to Migracion in as many weeks, I picked up my official Residente Permanente card granted by the federal government of Mexico. I was surprised at myself: I couldn’t stop smiling.  I’m thrilled, in fact, to now be an official part of this country I call home most of the year.

That’s not to say that the USA is not my home. I am a citizen, I vote, I take part in my community, I own property that I return to often, my family is there and I have a deep friendship network. I know my final resting place — in Santa Cruz, California, in a redwood grove, next to our mother, the Pacific Ocean in the distance.

There is much to appreciate in these two worlds — Estados Unidos Mexicanos and the United States of America. Neither is perfect. At the moment, I am happy to have focus here away from the turmoil of nationhood that has gone awry in my home country. As a friend recently said, we live in an imperfect world.

There is solace living in a small Zapotec village thirty minutes from a smallish town that is rich in cultural heritage and indigenous traditions.

I made this decision to apply for a permanent residence in September after I was invited to contribute a chapter to a book featuring the voices of women in the United States who have chosen to live in Mexico. I wrote almost 4,000 words about how I first came here, what kept me coming back, and the difference that living in Mexico has made in my life.

As an exercise in self-reflection, I realized how meaningful life here is for me, my relationships with people who come from an 8,000 year old heritage, and how my creativity is energized by the experience.

When I got to North Carolina in October, the first thing I did was contact the Mexican Consulate in Raleigh to make my application and arrange a personal interview. I was welcomed and treated with respect. I know that Mexicans do not have a similar experience when they appear for their appointments at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City to apply for a simple tourist visa.

The paperwork required is extensive: one year of printed bank records documenting income to meet a threshold to qualify for this type of visa. I did not tell them anything about me in advance and I did not bring a resume. They must have found this blog and while at the interview invited me to meet with the cultural attache to talk about ways we could work together to educate Carolinians about the artistic and cultural richness of Mexico and her people.  I received the preliminary approval with a stamp in my Passport within two hours.

That was just the beginning. Then, in Oaxaca, on recommendation from friends, I hired German Osorio, a very helpful English-speaking attorney who facilitated another application, payment of a fee, and the series of meetings with officials to complete the process that took several weeks. This included surrendering my Passport for several days, surrendering my Tourist Visa permanently. Without the Tourist Visa, I could not leave the country until the Permanent Resident Visa process was complete.

Not much will change for me with this Permanent Resident Visa, except that the official approval solidifies my commitment to people and place.

 

 

Best of Oaxaca’s Biodiversity at Ejido Union Zapata: Day of Plenty

Oaxaca celebrates indigenous food and handmade at the annual Agro-biodiversity Fair in Ejido Union Zapata. This once a year event is building traction. The main street of several blocks, cordoned off for booths and foot traffic, was packed by noon. The natural food color was beyond belief.

Day of Plenty: native corn varieties with tortillas

Criollo, organic-natural tomatoes + More

Billed as a seed exchange, farmers came from as far away as Chiapas, the Coast of Oaxaca and the Mixteca Alta, the high mountain range that borders the states of Oaxaca and Guerrero. Weavers working in natural dyes and mask makers joined in. For sale were seeds, fruit, vegetables, flowers, tortillas and tamales.

Coconut from Oaxaca’s coast. Have you tasted coconut crackers?

Fitting for Thanksgiving Weekend, it was a day of plenty.

Amaranth seeds, protein-rich, makes sweet treat

There is a big and growing movement in politically active Oaxaca to conserve native food: chiles, tomatoes, corn, peppers, squash, coffee, chocolate, amaranth, jicama and more. There are so many different varieties of each.

Sierra Mixe handmade ceramics, utilitarian beauty

One of the leaders, Rafael Meir, was present along with government representatives of Oaxaca and Mexico. Leaders are becoming more conscious about the importance of keeping GMO contained to what has already infiltrated the commercial tortilla business. Yet, there is still much more to do.

Public education has so much to do with the success of programs like this one.

House made sesame crackers — yummy, or buy seeds and make your own.

Backstrap loomed textiles rom San Juan Colorado

I was so happy to see Yuridia Lorenzo and her mom, Alegoria Lorenzo Quiroz from the Colectivo Jini Nuu in San Juan Colorado. They were selling their beautiful blouses and dresses made with native coyuchi, white and green cotton and natural dyes. Participants in my Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour will visit them in mid-January.

Alegoria Lorenzo Quiroz and me.

If you missed it, I hope you will mark your calendar for next year. Although the dates may float, so I’m not sure exactly when it will be held. Check out these Facebook pages to keep track: Rafael Meir, who is director of Fundacion Tortilla de Maiz Mexicana. Watch a VIDEO of the fair. 

Zapotec words describe native food

Another benefit of attending is to taste and buy mezcal, Oaxaca’s organic, artisanal alcoholic beverage distilled from fermented agave.  I bought a bottle of sylvestre (wild) jabali mezcal grown and distilled in Teozacoalco in the Mixteca Alta  by Mezcalero Javier Cruz. Que Rico!

San Juan Colorado Katyi Yaa coop, native coyuchi cotton, natural dyes

I’m noticing that Oaxaca is becoming inundated with foodies and followers of What’s Hot on the food and beverage scene. We’ve got free walking tours led by guides holding colorful umbrellas and flags downtown who get paid with tips. We have USA restauranteurs coming for cooking classes to bring the cuisine home. Rent prices are escalating in the historic center. If one lives on the peso, everything is at a premium now. Those of us who live here always ask if the influx of tourist dollars trickles down to the pueblos, the makers, the field and kitchen workers.  What is your experience?

Corn, snake, cacao symbols on wool, back-strap loom

Back-strap loomed wool, San Pablo Villa de Mitla, corn, snake, cacao symbols. That’s why fairs like this one are so important — to buy direct from those who produce.  Slow food. Slow fashion. Slow mezcal. Saludos.

Know the Natural Richness of Mexico

Chiles, squash, Mexico’s gift

 

 

Biodiversity Fair in Union Zapata, Oaxaca, Saturday, November 24, Plus New Vegan Cafe

The Biodiversity Fair celebrates Oaxaca’s organic food. This includes not only the criollo (natural, unmodified, original) corn of the Oaxaca Valley. The fair encompasses all parts of Oaxaca State where farmers are using organic fertilizers and native seeds: peppers, squash, tomatoes, sunflowers, and more!  There is no GMO here!  Please come to support the small scale growers who make our food nutritious and honest. Eat good food. Support small scale farming.

2017 Biodiversity Fair Retrospective with Photos

Here’s the poster. Union Zapata is a small village just before you get to the Mitla-Matatlan crossroads on MEX 190 Carretera Nacional.

Meet me at the Biodiversity Fair, Saturday, Nov. 24, 2018

My Friday Oaxaca Meander

After Thanksgiving at Los Danzantes with friends, I spent the day after NOT shopping on Black Friday, but meandering Oaxaca city, running errands and in a constant state of discovery.

Discovery One: Hierba y Dulce, a new vegan restaurant tucked in the patio behind Oro de Monte Alban silver and goldsmithing workshop on Calle Porfirio Diaz 311, between Matamoros and Morelos. Check it out! Comida Curativa. Curative Food.

In Need of Coffee: Nuevo Mundo

I made a quick stop at Nuevo Mundo, my go-to coffee purveyor. I love their roast. I’ve tried others and keep going back to this Oaxaca mainstay on M. Bravo between Garcia Virgil and Porfirio Diaz.

Discovery Two: They have a new roast at Nuevo Mundo called Gourmet. Darker and more flavorful than the house blend.

Pastry still life at Nuevo Mundo Coffee Roasters. Great sweets.

The messages at Nuevo Mundo: Wean yourself from using plastic bags …

Oaxaca environmentalism: Don’t use plastic bags.

and stop using straws that end up in the guts of marine mammals, are toxic and contaminate the environment. I say, Use your lips!

Straws are an environmental hazard, says Nuevo Mundo. Use your lips.

Global warming is real. Of course, eliminating straws from our juice sipping habits is only a small part of what it takes to reserve environmental destruction. Let’s get more teeth into the EPA and tell our governments to control big business emissions that pollute our environment.