Tag Archives: Lila Downs

Lila Downs Concert in Oaxaca on November 5, 2011

Lucky us! Lila Downs is performing at the Auditorio Guelaguetza on Saturday, November 5. The concert starts at 7 p.m. and you can purchase tickets at Ahorra Farmacia in Oaxaca or online at Ticketmaster.  I bought two tickets on-line and can’t wait.  Lila Downs is one of my favorite singer-songwriters and her Oaxaca roots make her very special.  From time to time, as friends point out, she will do a free concert on the Zocalo but I haven’t heard any inkling of this and didn’t want to miss the chance to hear and see her perform.

I have this one favorite photo I captured of Lila Downs a couple of years ago when she appeared at the Las Cuevitas celebration in Teotitlan del Valle.  I treasure it.  She is wearing a hand-woven sarape created by Erasto “Tito” Mendoza.

Lila Downs at Las Cuevitas, Teotitlan del Valle

What I love about her music are both the lyrics and the vocals.  She sings in Spanish, English and Zapotec, reflecting the complexity of her origins.  Her songs are lilting as well as socially and politically relevant.  She sings about what touches the hearts of Mexicans with a universality that speaks to all of us.

If you live in Oaxaca or you are here for Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) don’t miss this opportunity to experience this live concert with Lila Downs.


University of Wisconsin Hosts Oaxaca Weaver Tito Mendoza, October 7-12, 2011

News and Events:  Oaxaca, Mexico weaver and artist Erasto “Tito” Mendoza will be in Madison and Whitewater, Wisconsin, October 7-12, 2011, to discuss and demonstrate tapestry weaving techniques.


For weaver Erasto “Tito” Mendoza, weaving is more than a skill passed down through the generations of his Zapotec family.  It is an art form that combines complexity of design, integration of traditional, ancient indigenous patterns with imagination and a contemporary sensibility. The result is a magnificent rendering of color, texture, pattern and interpretation.

Tito with his award-winning rug, Aires Zapotecos

The singer-songwriter Lila Downs has commissioned numerous pieces from Tito that are used in her performances and for public relations events.  His work, “Aires Zapotecos” was a finalist in the VI International Biennale of Contemporary Textile Art.  In 2010, Tito was invited to the juried and very selective Santa Fe International Folk Art Festival to show and sell his work. Carolyn Kallenborn, faculty member at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, chose Tito to feature in her documentary film Vidas Entretejidas–Woven Lives about Oaxaca and its weaving culture.  He was one of six great Oaxaca weavers who were selected.

Lila Downs wearing a Tito Mendoza sarape, photo by Norma Hawthorne

Tito and his wife, Alejandrina Rios, who own the El Nahual Gallery on Av. 5 de Mayo in the Centro Historico of Oaxaca. will be in Wisconsin for the week of October 7-12.  If you live anywhere in driving distance, I urge you not to miss this opportunity to meet them, chat and hear about their work.

An innovative tapestry by Tito Mendoza

Schedule of Events

Friday, October 7, 5:00 p.m. — Centro Hispano, Madison, WI, 810 Badger Road, http://micentro.org/ — Free and open to the public.  A conversation with Tito and Ale and filmmaker Carolyn Kallenborn.  At 6:00 p.m. there will be a screening of the film Vidas Entretejidas–Woven Lives in Spanish with English subtitles.

Friday, October 7, 7:00 p.m., Madison Weaver’s Guild — Oakwood Village, 5565 Tancho Drive, Madison.  Contact Pat Hilts, vlhilts@wisc.edu, with discussion and screening of Vidas Entretejidas–Woven Lives in English.  The event is free and open to the public.

Tuesday, October 11, 3:30 p.m., University of Wisconsin–Whitewater, University Center Room 266, film screening and discussion, free and open to the public.

Wednesday, October 12, 1:20-3:50 p.m., UW-Madison Design Studies Department Weaving Class — Tito Mendoza will give a demonstration of tapestry weaving.

Carolyn’s film also features Federico Chavez Sosa, master weaver of Teotitlan del Valle.  Translation assistance was provided by Eric Chavez Santiago, director of education at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca, and Janet Chavez Santiago, education coordinator at the Centro Académico y Cultural San Pablo.

For information, contact:

Carolyn Kallenborn, cmkallen@wisc.edu

Film Website: www.wovenlivesoaxaca.com

Tito and Ale’s Oaxaca Gallery: www.elnahualfolkart.blogspot.com

and their email address:  elnahual75@prodigy.net.mx 

Book Review: Weaving, Culture and Economic Development in Miramar, Oaxaca, Mexico

Book: Weaving Yarn, Weaving Culture, Weaving Lives: A Circle of Women in Miramar, Oaxaca, Mexico; published by Almadia, 2010; photography by Tom Feher, text by Judith Lockhart-Radtke; ISBN: 978-607-411-059-3

Book Review by Norma Hawthorne

Stunning photographs and intimate personal interviews of indigenous Mixtec women weavers accentuate what it means to keep culture, community, and weaving traditions alive in this remote mountain village of Oaxaca, Mexico.

One of my favorite photographs in this book is a close-up of the calloused, gritty soles of a woman’s feet elegantly peeking out from under the hem of a fanciful floral skirt as she sits on her knees.  While I only see her feet and hemline, I know she is at work weaving on a back strap loom.  It is a sensitive depiction of both the obstacles and the hopefulness of an ancient culture struggling to survive and thrive.

The glorious full-color photography is by Tom Feher and the written narrative is by Judith Lockhart-Radtke.  The book is a culmination of almost a decade of work between the volunteer group, The Circle of Women in Boston, MA, and what developed into a self-sustaining cooperative of women weavers in the Alta Mixteca, far from Oaxaca City.   The book was published to coincide with an exhibition for the weavers at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca in 2010.  It documents and is a beautiful testimony  to a cultural interchange that encouraged learning and literacy, economic independence, and access to better health care.

Eleven Mixtec Women Share Their Life Stories in Their Own Words

The charm of this book is in its ethnographic storytelling.  Each of the eleven Miramar women who are members of the cooperative are interviewed and share their personal experiences about being a Mixtec woman, a weaver, a wife or mother or daughter.  Some are eloquent in describing the experience of their empowerment by learning to read and write. Others poignantly describe the pain of separation and isolation from husbands, sons, and brothers who are, by necessity, working in El Norte and sending money back where there is no work.

Through these visual and written stories we see and hear the struggles of poverty, deprivation, and limited access to health care.   We are also clearly reminded of the universality of womanhood: when women support each other through mutuality and connection they have much greater opportunity to thrive, especially in traditional patriarchal cultures where women have always been physically, economically and emotionally dependent.  The photographs are powerful, simple, and elegant. They are complete stories in and of themselves.

Text is in both English and Spanish

The layout of this book — left side of the page in English, right side in Spanish — creates a bridge to understanding.  The forwards by Ana Paula Fuentes Quintana, the director of the Textile Museum, and famed Mixteca singer-songwriter Lila Downs, add considerable heft to the story.  The book is definitely for those with an interest in women’s studies, grassroots organizing, intercultural exchange and the role of the outsider, economic development and sustainability, weaving, textile art and design, and anyone interested in Oaxaca, Mexico.

Effecting change and making a difference in another culture

Judith Lockhart-Radtke, a clinical social worker and writer, gives us an honest and clear account of the risks, rewards, disappointments, and joy for volunteers from other countries who want to make a difference and effect change. Ultimately, she reminds us, the generation of ideas and their implementation must originate from within to take root and have lasting impact.

The addendum, written in 2010, provides a concise summary of the village economy, the community’s approach to income earning and distribution, the ongoing challenges of maintaining a Boston-Oaxaca collaboration and a move to self-sufficiency, and the impediments to bringing these handmade textiles to foreign markets.

For Information and Book Orders – Contact: Judith Lockhart-Radtke, President of The Circle of Women, Boston, MA; judithlockhartradtke@gmail.com









Las Cuevitas, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico

They call it “the little caves.”  The road there curves through the village from the church, up the narrow cobblestone paved streets, crosses over a bridge, then becomes dirt at the outskirts of town.  If you closed your eyes, you could be in medieval Europe, but you are in southern Mexico and it is January 2.  No buses operate today.  The shops are closed.  Families are readying for the late afternoon pilgrimage to the caves to build their dreams from small stones and rocks scattered on the hillsides. Everyone goes together and participates, from infants to ancients.

Flags at Las Cuevitas

Today, I am sitting in my North Carolina living room for the first time in years that I have not been in Teotitlan for Las Cuevitas.  It is a family tradition we share with Federico and Dolores.  In homage to this, I write again about what it means to have family ritual, dreams and aspirations. I imagine I am there and today I will build my dreams in symbolic unity with my friends.

Line-up for Las Cuevitas

The road is packed with cars, trucks, vans, taxis, and tuk-tuks.  The walkers are in single file hugging the space between tall courtyard walls and street.  They can walk faster than we can ride, but the ritual is also in the getting-there.  Our small sedan holds seven people all adult-sized, three in front, four in back.  We are on top of each other.  Ahead of and behind us, the truck-beds are outfitted with chairs and benches to make the ride more comfortable for the older folks.  We park and walk to get in line to first make our prayers and offerings at the Cave of the Virgin.

Sparklers After Dark, Las Cuevitas, Teotitlan del Valle

This pre-Hispanic Zapotec worship site is simple and sacred.  The cave is a small grotto beside a creek.  Spanish Catholicism is overlaid atop ancient cultural practices with traditional religious symbols of the Virgin of Guadalupe and wood-carved crosses.  Yet, there is something more spiritual here than meets the eye.  As our line moves slowly toward the grotto, I scan the hillside as the sun begins to set.  The bonfires begin to glow in the dusk and children are playing with sparklers.  When we reach the shrine, we each add an offering of pesos to others along with an unspoken prayer for the new year.   The grotto is filled with coins, larger denomination peso paper bills, and dollars.  The pilgrimage attracts returning family members who live in the U.S., too.

Building Dreams, Las Cuevitas, Teotitlan del Valle

As we exit, we pass by the small chapel built into the hillside where the village band plays traditional Zapotec tunes and the food vendors have set-up tented  stalls.  The aroma of fresh tamales, churros, sweet buns, and tacos fill the air.  The pop of firecrackers add a perfect exclamation point.  Couples and families emerge from the chapel; women’s heads are covered with traditional Tenancingo ikat scarves.  The sun fades behind the hills and chill overtakes us.  The elders cover their shoulders with churro wool woven on local looms.  The youngsters bundle up in parkas and vests.

Lila Downs at Las Cuevitas, 2010, Wearing a Handwoven Poncho by Erasto "Tito" Mendoza

We climb the rocky hillside, picking our way carefully between the outcroppings and stone rubble of tumbled dreams from years past to find a spot to settle and build this year’s dream.  Around us, families huddle and build:  a house under construction needs a new roof; the unfinished third bedroom needs stucco and paint; the burro that died last summer needs replacement; grandfather’s land would be a perfect place for a new house.  The small rocks, sticks, moss and dried grasses become grand palaces with thatched roofs, corrals, cars and animals.  If you don’t build the dream here you won’t achieve it!

Building a new house

At this moment, there is a fire roaring in our North Carolina wood stove.  When sun sets in Teotitlan the fires will roar, the firecrackers will spark, and the sky will be lit with a million twinkling stars.  Extended families will visit, embrace their children, share food and a sip of mescal, and life will begin anew as the cycle of celebration and ritual continues.  On January 6 during the Day of the Three Kings, the Christmas season will close and families will gather again.

Traditional New Year Sugar Cookie, Las Cuevitas, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

Today, Stephen and I will go into the fields of our farm and gather stones to construct our dreams and make our wishes.

Prospero ano neuvo a todos.  May good health and contentment guide your path.

Our contribution to Las Cuevitas from Pittsboro del Valle


Las Cuevitas 2010

We arrived late in the afternoon at that magic hour between daylight and sunset when everything is aglow.  Village people had been gathering on the mountainside behind the village since last night, many of them camping overnight.  There are some shallow caves there that are holy altars and each year a pilgrimage takes place to this spot where families gather, eat, take the rocks from the hillside and build miniature structures that represent the grand houses they wish for.  Everyone wants a house and everyone wants their house that is under construction to be complete.  This is what dreams are made of and the biggest dream for a Teotiteco family is to have a large casa where all the extended family of multi-generations can live together comfortably.

As we got in line to make our wishes at the altar, I saw this stunning, tall woman coming out of the small hillside chapel.  She was dressed like an angel in a gorgeous handwoven silk and wool sarape.  I got as close as I could to take photos of this incredible garment, which you will see in the gallery above.  Today, I found out that this was woven by my friend Tito Mendoza and the person wearing it was none other than Lila Downs.

This year, Federico and Stephen gathered rocks helped by Dolores, Janet and me, and completed the houses we have had under construction for two years as miniatures right before our eyes, complete with garden, roofs, courtyards, driveway and fencing surrounding the property.  Others sat alongside their completed rock houses, nibbling on sweets or drinking beer, or lighting bonfires and shooting off firecrackers.  By the time it was dark, the hillside was aglow with firelight, families gathered together, contemplating their dreams.