Category Archives: Travel & Tourism

Interlude: Road to Venustiano Carranza, Chiapas

This week is one of rest! Hahahaha! I scheduled myself for a calming week between our two Chiapas textile tours. In between, eating, sleeping, walking around and getting super-fixed with shiatsu massage from Kentaro, I asked our guide Gabriela if she would take me to the distant weaving village of Venustiano Carranza. I have never been there but I’ve admired their fine gauze weaving for many years.

Venustiano Carranza is a hill town perched atop a promontory looking out over a vast valley of sugar cane fields and traditional milpa (fields of corn, beans, squash). It’s hot here. Tropical. We travel from cold highlands to warm humidity. Around 10 a.m. it’s time to shed the long sleeves. We drop down from the cloud forest and pine trees. We pass thatched covered huts. Banana and coconut palms accent the landscape. Almost everyone can just pluck a ripe banana from a tree growing in their courtyard.

In front of us on the road are a convoy of trucks laden with cut cane on their way to the factory where the cane is cooked and crushed. It will be used to make pox (posh) the distilled cane and corn beverage preferred in this region or to turn into sugar crystals for export.

Many of the town’s streets are vertical and narrow and winding. It’s a Tzotzil speaking Maya community. It is also a good 2-1/2 to three hours from San Cristobal, so this is an all day outing. We left at 8 a.m. and didn’t return until 6:30 p.m. after a leg-stretch around the Chiapa de Corzo zocalo. Long day. Great finds.

The climate is why the fine, lightweight gauze weave is so popular here. Made on the back strap loom, most of the blouses and dresses are still using the traditional 4-selvedge edge, which means there is no cutting and no hem — sign of a superior textile that showcases weaving skills. I’m looking for white-on-white blouses though the traditional style for the village is white with red designs woven in the cloth. Featured prominently around the hem are figures of chickens and roosters.

While Venustiano Carranza is not on our tour, many of the finest examples of weaving from there are found in designer shops in the historic center of San Cristobal de las Casas.

Let us know if you want to come to Chiapas in 2023. We will add you to the interested list. Just send an email.

Stay tuned. I will be offering some of these goodies for sale soon.

Where is Zacoalpan, Guerrero? Find It on the Oaxaca Coast Textile Tour

The Costa Chica of Oaxaca actually includes the southern part of Guerrero state, stretching from Puerto Escondido north to Acapulco. We don’t go quite as far as Acapulco, but we go deep into Amuzgo territory. The Amuzgo ethnic group encompasses northern Oaxaca and southern Guerrero. As in many parts of the world, political boundaries have nothing to do with tribal affiliations. I have seen this in India, China, Chiapas and Guatemala, too.

Selection of beautiful huipiles

Some years ago, I discovered the weaving family of my friend Jesus Ignacio when Instagram was in its infancy. I saw through his photos that the workmanship was extraordinary and he was dedicated to reviving ancient patterns, many lost to common memory. I knew that our itinerary took us to Xochistlahuaca, Guerrero, and learned that Zacoalpan is a nearby sister village where back-strap loom weaving also has important traditions. I added this family to our tour.

2023 Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour–Registration Open!

Supplementary weft technique yields dense design – 8 months of work

During our first visit a few years ago, Jesus showed us examples of textile fragments he was able to find and replicate. The family grows their own native, pre-Hispanic cotton on a small plot that he and his father tend. They grow coyuchi brown, soft green and creamy white. His mom, aunts and cousins process the cotton by hand, separating the fibers and taking out the seeds which they save for future planting. They roll a petate around dried corn leaves and beat the cotton on top with two hefty sticks to soften it. Then, they card and spin it using a malacate or drop-spindle. The cotton is then ready for the back-strap loom.

Raw native green cotton

I describe all this because the preparation is an integral part of the weaving process and takes a lot of time. To calculate he cost of a hand-made garment, we must factor in all the steps in the vertical production process — from growing to the final blusa or huipil.

Not only does the family use native cotton, they also use natural dyes: indigo, cochineal, wild marigold (pericone), nanche bark, zapote negro (a local fruit), and occasionally purple snail dye which they buy from Pinotepa de Don Luis across the Oaxaca-Guerrero border.

Native coyuchi brown and creamy white cotton

I want to share with you these words that Jesus wrote to me a few days ago. He doesn’t speak English, but he uses Google Translate. I’m copying what he wrote verbatim. When I read it, it makes me cry.

“Thank you friend Norma for visiting us. The Zacoalpan textile workshop teacher has been very talented, I have focused on helping her to spread her backstrap loom arts, even though I do not have compensation from the teachers, but my passion is to spread our ancestral knowledge. I feel so grateful for your visit in my humble home where we are struggling with stereotypes.

A study in humble— Jesús ‘ aunt

“I have always dreamed of going very far for the world to know our arts. I know our textiles are in danger of extinction, but I have not been able to make a lot of progress due to lack of support. The only support we have had is from your trip to our workshop. I have been a young dreamer, sometimes it makes me sad because I have not found a job in my profession, which is civil engineering. I have become very sad because our Mexico lacks employment. My dream is to become a better construction engineer but I have not been able to find work to practice my profession.

“My only dream is to have a house of my own and work. Sincerely, I am deeply grateful for your support in purchasing the art we make. I also have a dream that one day I will get to know your country, the USA, friend Norma. It is my only wish.

“I used Google translate.”

Jesús, Norma and his mom

Find Jesus on Instagram: @textil_zacoalpan

I’m sharing the contact because we don’t want them to have to wait another year for our visit to sell something! They ship internationally. Please support them. Our group was the only one to visit in the last two years. The work is finely made and exceptional. You must be able to do a wire transfer to his bank account. I use the App Remitly to send wire transfers to Mexico.

Ancient double-headed eagle design revived

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

 

 

Happy Thanksgiving From Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico

I woke up early with the wind at my back, ready to get a jump on the Day of Giving Thanks. In Mexico we call it Dia de Accion de Gracias. It is a good day to take a walk and think about all the goodness of life.

An early walk in the campo, Thanksgiving morning

It was close to eight o’clock this morning when I set out to the campo, the wild, unpopulated area of the village, beyond the pale of settlement. The sun was warm on my back. There was a breeze. The day was promising.

The first boundary marker, a stelae from another century

My three dogs were with me, Butch close to my heels, always guarding. Mamacita out in front. Tia running off after birds and rabbits, stopping from time to time to turn around and check my progress.  These are campo dogs, rescue dogs, dogs who have learned to be obedient and stay close.

Butch (foreground), Mama (right) and Tia along the path

This was a day of exploration. I went far beyond where I usually go along the narrow foot path ascending toward the mountain range that is a backdrop to Teotitlan del Valle, part of the Sierra Madre del Sur.  I imagine this to be an ancient trail, the border between our village and the two adjoining us — San Mateo Macuilxochitl and Santiago Ixtaltepec, that the locals call Santiguito.

From the third marker, views toward Tlacochuhuaya

As I made my way along the incline, I was careful not to stumble on loose lava and sedimentary gravel. Rock outcroppings offered natural stepping-stones.

Moonscape-style cactus off the beaten path. Baby Biznaga?

There are three border markers along this route. I had never been to the third. It was glorious out. I figured, Why not?  Life begins at the end of your comfort zone, I reminded myself once again. Let’s figure out where this goes.

A bouquet of lantana by the roadside, growing wild here.

As we reached the third, I could see there was no path up to it, so I made my own switch back path to scale the hill. The dogs followed. A ridge of rock offered me a natural seat from which I could see across the valley to San Jeronimo Tlacochuhuaya, beyond Santiguito. A perfect spot to meditate.

I imagined those who came before me, centuries past, who sat in this very place, keeping a lookout on the landscape below. In the distance, cooking fires curled skyward and a red-shirted farmer grazed his bull in the lush fields.

Downhill was easy, with a stop at the natural spring for quenching thirsty dogs. Then, a brisk walk home on the back road lined with dried corn stalks and wild marigold fields lining the road.

I covered three-and-a-half miles.

On the final stretch home, between marigolds and cornstalks

Today, a group of Estadounidenses will gather at Los Danzantes for a special Thanksgiving meal after a mezcal toast at the home of my friend Shannon. An adjoining table is with NC restauranteurs who are opening a Oaxaca destination at the Durham Food Court, two blocks from my apartment.

Thanksgiving menu at Los Danzantes, not traditional!

Today will be a change-up from years past. I won’t be cooking. Neither will Kalisa! (I hope.) Instead of sliced, roast turkey, stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, Jacki’s fabulous cranberry sauce, and an array of pumpkin pies, it will be turkey balls and pumpkin pancake at 7 p.m. Nothing traditional about this year for me!

Nature’s display of color, pure and simple

I’m reminded by my friend Betsy, an Anthony Bourdain afficionado, who said, Travel is the gorgeous feeling of teetering in the unknown.  And, my friend, Madelyn, who says, Take life with the wind at your back, moving forward, rather than fighting the headwinds that always set you back.

Happy Day for Giving Thanks.

A field of yellow next to the casita

The gift of the season, 75 degrees Fahrenheit

 

 

 

 

Documentary Film: Zapotec in Oaxaca, Mexico, Dizhsa Nabani, A Living Language

All ten, five-minute episodes of the documentary film, Dizhasa Nabani/Lengua Viva/Living Language, premiered last night in San Jeronimo Tlacachahuaya. This is an ancient and important village in the Tlacolula Valley, center of the Catholic diocese. The film is in Zapotec, with Spanish and English subtitles. Just wonderful!

Yet, the risk of indigenous Zapotec language loss is powerful here, and in other Zapotec-speaking villages throughout Oaxaca State.

The documentary, produced by Haverford College, Pennsylvania, in collaboration with Moises Garcia Guzman and Dr. Brook Danielle Lillehaugen, professor of linguistics, tells the story about the essential link between language and cultural identity.  It features the farming village of Tlacochahuaya where Moises and his family have lived for generations.

I met Moises many years ago in West Los Angeles. We found each other through Facebook. He was living there and working as a Spanish-language customer service translator with Verizon.  His mom was in Tlacochahuaya growing garlic on the family farm, while his dad was repatriating after working in L.A., too. We became friends.

Moises, me and his wife Lois

When Moises moved back to Oaxaca he started teaching Zapotec to young people and hosting Brook’s university students who were studying linguistics.

Both Moises and Brook hosted the showing of the documentary last night at the Tlacochahuaya cultural center. Townspeople, leaders and Haverford students were there. I brought my young charge, 14- year old Lupita, who had never been to this village, though it is only ten minutes from Teotitlan del Valle.

The Zapotec dialect spoken in Tlacochahuaya is different than that spoken in Teotitlan del Valle. This is a common theme among Zapotec villages. Though they are in close proximity, they have remained isolated from each other, resulting in enough language variation that results in minimal mutual understanding.

My friend Janet Chavez Santiago, who also works with Brook, tells me that many villages have incorporated more Spanish words into the Zapotec language and the original words are lost.  As an oral language, Brook, Janet and others have worked together to create a standardized written transliteration and an oral dictionary that is online.

There are sixteen different indigenous languages spoken in the State of Oaxaca, and within each of those language groups there are variations that are significant enough that few are able to understand each other.

I think the key take-away questions for me are: Does language define us? How do we define ourselves? Is language preservation necessary for cultural identity?  And, then to ask the ultimate questions: Who am I? Where do I belong? These are the great existential questions of life, continuity and community.

Well worth your time, each five-minute segment takes you into a Zapotec village to meet the people, hear the language spoken, and understand traditional life and the challenges of contemporary cultural pressures.
Episode 5: Dizhsa Nabani–Tlacolula Market
Episode 6: Dizhsa Nabani–The Musician
Episode 7: Dizhsa Nabani–Dance of the Conquest
Episode 8: Dizhsa Nabani–Chocolate
Episode 9: Dizhsa Nabani–Gabriela’s Workshop
Episode 10: Dizhsa Nabani–Zapotec People