Tag Archives: New Mexico

La Malinche: Mexico’s Mestizo Origins

For those who don’t know, La Malinche was the young woman-child and slave sold to Hernan Cortes on the Maya coast of Mexico in 1521. She was traded by the Chontal Maya along with 19 other 12-year olds. Her narrative is complex and formidable. An exhibit at the Albuquerque Museum examines her role as survivor, interpretor, and companion. In viewing the exhibit and knowing of her story, I continue to ask myself, Why was she so maligned?

In contemporary history, as interpreted by Mexican writer/poet Octavio Paz in his 1950 essay Sons of Maliinche, he defined La Malinche as a traitor responsible for the Spanish conquest of indigenous Mexico. This is an interpretation that has stuck and is only beginning to be questioned and debunked.

Mestizaje, the mixing of Spanish and indigenous, is the origin story of modern Mexico. It factored prominently during the Mexican Revolution when political leaders were trying to establish a new identity for the re-imagined nation, one based on honoring indigenous roots. And, yet, La Malinche continues to be denigrated as the ultimate betrayal. To be known as a Malinchistas is a derogatory slur applied to those who favor anything foreign.

To understand Mexico is to understand the context of the Spanish conquest and Aztec (Mexica) dominance. The Aztecs controlled the territory from Tenochtitlan to Nicaragua for over 150 years. Heavy tributes were collected from indigenous tribal groups and the Aztecs were hated by many. La Malinche recruited indigenous allies, some of which included the Zapotecs, the Tlaxcalans, and those from Texcoco (surrounding Tenochtitlan) who aligned with the Spanish to defeat the Aztecs. With this backdrop, La Malinche emerges as the negotiator, interpretor (she learned Spanish and knew Nahuatl, language of the Aztecs), facilitator.

Her images are depicted in the codices of the time — the painted pictorials that told the story of the Spanish expedition in Mexico. She wears a red and white huipil, her hair is tied in braids around her crown (sign of a married woman). She sits with Cortes and tribal royalty to broker the alliances that would destroy the Aztecs. Why is she depicted as evil, as the traitor?

it wasn’t until the Chicano movement of the 1970’s that La Malinche began to be reinterpreted as heroine, representing the sacrifices that women made for family and community. Women have culturally had no voice, are controlled and dominated. This is evidenced by machismo, and we see even more of behavior now in the United States with the reversal of Roe v. Wade and the dominance of conservative, repressive values that have migrated into our legal system.

There is no better time to talk about La Malinche as symbol of survival and intelligence. It is also the time to talk about missing and murdered indigenous women in Mexico and in Navtive American tribes of the United States. Domestic violence against women rose signficantly during the pandemic.

In modern Oaxaca, La Malinche survives in the Dance of the Feather. Her duality as an indigenous girl and a convert to Catholicism (legitimate) and baptized Doña Marina is depicted by two distinct individuals, as if one could be separated from the other. Dance as historical interpretation exists in New Mexico, too, with the Dance of the Matachines, depicting the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs. La Malinche plays a prominent role here, too. As a resident of Oaxaca and New Mexico, I find this overlap fascinating. The exhibition concludes with contemporary photographs of New Mexico indigenous villages celebrating the Dance of the Matachines.

As I exited the Albuquerque Museum, I could help but make these observations and a list:

  • Men determining the fate of women
  • Women without choices
  • Women without voices
  • Women without rights
  • Women as slaves and chattel
  • Women who are powerless
  • Women as evil, bearing the Garden of Eden legacy
  • Women as temptress, sexual object
  • Women objectified in fashion, film, photography

I found this exhibition to be provocative and gave me pause to think about the fate of La Malinche and all women who are enslaved in traditional roles with few choices and little chance for escape. This is why this exhibition is so important. I hope it comes to a city near you.

Collecting Indigenous Art: From Oaxaca to New Mexico and Back

On June 16, 2022, the New York Times published a story about Native American artist Cannupa Hanska Luger focusing on the tension between what white collectors’ want and how the native artist responds. Titled Cannupa Hanska Luger is Turning the Tables on the Art World, the story digs deep into artistic expression, art as social commentary and political activism, and why art is made and for whom.

I read this story several times to digest the commentary and implications. I want to write about it because it relates to those of us who travel to Oaxaca to explore indigenous culture and collect.

These are the questions that came up for me that I’d like to share with you as a point of consideration and self-reflection as you read further:

  • What does it mean to be a collector?
  • When we buy something, does our relationship with the maker change?
  • Do we consider that we buy something of beauty and nothing more? What more is there for you?
  • If we are motivated by helping an artisan by making a purchase, does this put us in a power position?
  • How does it make us feel personally to buy indigenous art?
  • When we travel, are these souvenirs or something else?
  • What’s the difference between buying from a gallery and directly from the maker?

The western trading posts of the early 20th century, owned by white traders, drove the marketplace and shaped the type of art and craft that would be salable to tourists/collectors. Trading post owners (re)introduced techniques that had been lost during the forced migration of tribes onto reservations. Today, gallery owners fulfill much of that role, buying only what will sell to their particular clientele, encouraging artists and artisans to focus and shape their wares for the commercial market. Original utilitarian pieces made for personal use –cooking, clothing, and using during ceremonial festivals were adapted, and I would say embellished, to appeal to visitors coming west on the Santa Fe Railroad looking for a romantic ideal, a souvenir of Old Town. Oaxaca and Santa Fe are collector destination points, hubs for Native American art.

Cannupa Hanska Luger, the featured artist of the story, is based near Santa Fe, NM, about an hour and a half south of where I live part of the year in Taos. It is easy for me to make the translation between the American indigenous artist of the southwest and indigenous people of Oaxaca who are also makers of beautiful textiles, pottery, carved wooden figures, jewelry, tinwork, etc.

The article triggered my thinking about how creativity and innovation (which connotes change) is influenced, and whether the collector’s expectations serve to keep makers in their place doing production work rather than thinking about possibilities of what could come next. I also ask myself if, as collectors, we want what is traditional and what we consider to be authentic, which I have talked about before. I believe this is a form of colonialism. We must examine our own motivations to want to keep people as they were for our own vision and enjoyment of what is native. It is easy to stereotype. Are we locked into buying vintage pieces (or contemporary pieces made in the image of what was done before), that are representational of some ideal, or are we open in our own collecting to look at contemporary pieces that push the boundaries of self-expression?

Oaxaca is a mix of pre-Hispanic tradition and Colonial Spanish influences, as is New Mexico. Pre-conquest women used backstrap looms to weave native cotton and fiber garments. Sheep, wool and the European pedal loom were introduced around 1524 to provide warmth and comfort to Spanish settlers. They taught locals to use the technology. As the Spanish moved north into New Spain, they introduced the pedal loom and churra sheep wool to New Mexico. Navajos in NM and Zapotecs in Oaxaca took tapestry weaving to a new level.

Teotitlan del Valle tapestry rugs, churra wool, natural dyes–Galeria Fe y Lola

In the early 1970’s young travelers from the USA saw Zapotec-made wool horse blankets and sarapes and said, Wow, they can make rugs and I can export them to the American southwest, using Navajo designs and selling them for a fraction of the originals. Lots of white people made money. So did many Zapotec weavers from Teotitlan del Valle. Are all designs up for grabs? What is original or authentic?

San Marcos Tlapazola red clay pottery, pit fired

Today, some Oaxaca pottery from Santa Maria Atzompa and San Marcos Tlapazola is made in high-fire gas kilns or enclosed wood-fired kilns that bake the clay at even temperatures. Using these modern techniques, there is no longer the beautiful black flashing that gives wood-fired pottery its visual complexity and texture. This innovation, imported from the USA and Japan, is a way of improving the respiratory health of the makers (they are no longer breathing the toxic wood-fire in the outdoor pit). For those who want the traditional look, are we perpetuating respiratory disease in favor of our aesthetic desires?

Alebrijes, San Martin Tilcajete, Oaxaca

Alebrijes, the Oaxaca carved wood figures depicting anthropomorphic beings and scenes of daily life, were an adaptation of Mexico City’s Linares family papier-mache constructions, designed for tourism in the 1970’s. A very recent innovation, and a successful one at that.

Maria Martinez clay pot with slip decoration

I recently read that the famous San Ildefonso Pueblo potter Maria Montoya Martinez departed from making traditional simple black coiled pots to meet the demands of collectors in the 1960’s and 1970’s by adding slip-painting feather, snake and eagle designs on the stone-polished pieces. She collaborated with her son Popovi Da, doing the coil work while he did the painting. Her pieces are highly valued and collected. Why? Certainly, there are Rio Grande River Valley potters working today and making outstanding pieces for far less.

Let’s come around to why we collect and who determines what art should look like. Makers need to feed, clothe, educate, provide health care for their families. Often, they are responsible for the financial well-being of extended family members. There is no social security in Mexico. Everyone takes care of their own. By collecting traditional work, are we buying into Native stereotypes, as the Time article suggests? Are we confining artists to the world of crafts and keeping them out of the mainstream art market? Are we supporting artists/artisans who trade on traditional indigenous symbols of culture? Do we embrace a romantic vision of indigenous America? By collecting, are we attempting to absolve ourselves of collective guilt for the transgressions of the conquerors: Manifest Destiny, the taming of the west, annihilation, the hacienda system of servitude, land appropriation?

I often overhear our Oaxaca travelers talk about admiring the simple life of indigenous people. On the surface, we want to project that this life is simple — life in small, clustered communities of mutual support, ancient traditions. We must look more closely. People suffer from poverty, lack of health care and access to education, spousal and child abuse, substandard sanitation. Husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons migrate to the cities or to the United States for paying jobs, leaving women and families alone often for years at a time. Some never return. Subsistence farming provides little in economic support. It is understandable that art/craft adapts to what buyers want and what designers dictate. If a woman uses natural dyes to weave a cotton blouse over three months and she can sell this blouse for $350, those pesos will feed her children and elderly parents. Would you work for $115 a month?

Monica Hernandez huipil, Pinotepa de Don Luis, Oaxaca, $370 direct from maker. Indigo and purple snail dye. Contact Norma to purchase.

The conversation, then comes around to our role as collectors. Do we take a risk on a carving or a painting or a garment that is a departure from the usual? Is there enough income coming in for the artist to take a creative risk? And, what about bargaining or haggling on price? Never, I say, when buying. If you can’t pay the price, then walk away. Bargaining is NOT fun, it is not entertainment, and it is not appreciated by the maker/seller. If they offer, that’s another thing!

Cannupa Hanska Luger, Mirror Shield Project

Finally, the artist Luger posits that we as collectors are in search of meaning, belonging, something deep within us that yearns for connection to our own homeland from which we were uprooted as immigrants, often left to adapt to a hostile environment in a new land. I have read that as children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, we carry with us the emotional upheaval of our ancestors and are not immune from the deep memory of resettlement pain. Indigenous Oaxaca culture is rooted in 8,000+ years of history, of community, and reverence for the land. The same holds true in New Mexico, where native peoples have established communities on ancestral lands thousands of years old. We are migrants, moving, relocating, searching for home. Therefore, we want to embrace those who have what we don’t. Having something they made fulfills that.

In Oaxaca, there are painters, graphic artists and rug weavers taking steps beyond the traditional, pushing envelopes, experimenting, creating, innovating.  Seek them out and support them. One fine example is Teotitlan del Valle weaver Omar Chavez Santiago (IG: @omarchasan), who adapts traditional designs and contemporizes them. Others are painters Gabriel (Gabo) Mendoza (IG: @mendoza_gabo) and printmaker Alan Altamirano (IG: @grafica_mk_kabrito) at Taller La Chicharra (IG: @tgallerlachicharra)

Questions? Comments? email Norma Schafer mailto:norma.schafer@icloud.com

Salida: Sah-lee-dah or Sah-lye-dah–What’s In a Name?

Spanish names are ubiquitous in the western part of the United States of America, especially in the southwest, which was part of New Spain under the Spanish conquest and rule. The region then became part of Mexico in 1821 after the Mexican Revolution. It’s very pronounced here in New Mexico, where the Spanish language is a dominant feature of language and culture. Almost every street in Taos has a Spanish name. This got me to thinking about pronunciation and how language is spoken based on those who dominate and subvert it, intentionally or not. Hanging out in Albuquerque last weekend with my son Jacob, a one-week New Mexico resident, he suggested the topic as a blog post.

During the Civil War there was a mass exodus from the American south to the west. For example, the Territory of Colorado (1861–76) was the predecessor to the state of Colorado. The territory was created on February 28, 1861, formed in response to the secession crisis as well as a massive influx of white immigrants seeking their fortunes during the Colorado Gold Rush.

This brings me to Salida, Colorado, near where my friend Sue summers along the Arkansas River.

Those of you who know Spanish, know that salida means “exit,” in reference to the exit to the Arkansas River Canyon. In Spanish, it is pronounced Sah-lee-dah, but here it is said, Sah-lye-dah. Origins are definitely Spanish. Pronunciation is probably derived from a Southern twang and early settlers who needed to Anglicize (also a form of conquest).

Here in New Mexico, which became a U.S. territory in 1850 but didn’t gain statehood until 1912, we have Madrid, pronounced MAAAH-drid, with the emphasis on the first syllable. A far cry from Mah-DRID, the capital city of Spain. Today, the old miner’s houses there have been restored into tony shops. Madrid is an arts destination.

In Albuquerque (named after Spanish royalty), we have The Bosque, locally pronounced as Boss-key (not Bohs-kay), which is the cottonwood tree-lined parkland flanking the Rio Grande River. Okay, let’s talk about Rio Grande. Grande is locally pronounced to end with a hard D, rather than the correct Rio Gran-day). Strange to me because New Mexico is 48% Hispanic, and 26.5% are Spanish speakers.

What else comes to mind in the translation of place names from Spanish to the English vernacular? Lima, Ohio (pronounced Lye-mah). Peru, Indiana (pronounced PEH-rue, however early settlers called it PEE-ru, which you still hear today). What about Amarillo, Texas? Is it Amar-ill-oh or Amar-ee-yoh?

For U.S. place names of Spanish origin click HERE.

Can you think of a Spanish place name that has been altered to fit Anglo pronunciation? Please send me an email to share your thoughts (the comment section doesn’t work on this blog). norma.schafer@icloud.com

Charlie Dell Says …

Not places per se, Norma, but I always get a tickle out of 2 streets in Austin, TX. Manchaca is pronounced Man-shack. And Guadalupe, the University of Texas drag, is called Guad-a-loop.

Terri Hamlin says…

Colorado also has a town called Buena Vista pronounced locally as byūna vista. It’s even clarified on their website.

Where is the Chili Pepper Capital of the World?

In a nod to Mexican Independence Day today, and in appreciation for all that Mexico has given us, me thinks the answer to this question is MEXICO. However, New Mexico thinks otherwise. It’s newest license plate proclaims this as truth and features big red and green chili peppers next to the identity number of the plate and the slogan: New Mexico, Chili Capital of the World. It’s true, New Mexico was once a part of Mexico and before that New Spain. Spanish and Mexican roots run deep here. So we don’t get confused, the license plate here also says, New Mexico, USA.

The origin of the chili pepper is clear. The indigenous peoples of Mexico had fully domesticated chili peppers far earlier than 1492 and the arrival of Columbus in the Americas. Archaeologists date the origin of chilis back to 5000 BC in the country’s Tehuacán Valley.  The word “chili” can be credited to Nahuatl, an Aztec language from which many modern terms are derived, such as chocolatl and tomatl. The history of chili is a fascinating read.

There are over 60 types of chilis that claim Mexican origins. These include jalapeño, habanero, poblano, Anaheim, and more. These are the names for fresh chilis. Once they are dried, they take on a different identity because the flavor changes. For example, the chilaca chili, rarely used in its fresh form, becomes chili pasilla when dried, a staple of Oaxaca mole sauce. For more about biodiversity and origins, click here. For a varietal explanation, click here and here.

Here in New Mexico, chili pepper history comes much later. By all accounts, seeds were introduced by the Spanish in the late 1500’s to many of the pueblos and by the early 1600’s, became an important cultivar to use in southwest cuisine. Chili, as in the stew that combines spicy chili pepper flavor, meat, onions and tomatoes, traces its origins to Texas and rapidly spread throughout the region. Adaptations in the Midwest added beans and fat. Have you ever been to a chili cook-off?

Now is the season for roasting Hatch Chili in New Mexico.

The Hatch Chili is uniquely New Mexican, first cross-bred in Northern New Mexico in the early 1900’s by a horticulturalist wanting a milder version of jalapeño. It is available in August and September, depending on the weather. This short window of buying and eating opportunity gives it a caché of being rare and has taken on a mystique of desirability. There is a Hatch Chili frenzy here now. In front of the Taos Albertson’s and Smith’s supermarket, on the historic plaza, in the Walmart parking lot, I see outdoor roasters fueled by propane, with serious young men loading and tending the roasting bins. Bags of fresh roasted Hatch Chilis are offered for sale inside. The aroma of smokey chili goodness fills the air, invades naval passages, causes eyes to tear if you get too close.

Does the Hatch Chili make New Mexico the Chili Capital of the World? Not likely. However, I concede, my adopted state is the Hatch Chili Capital of the World, and I salute her for that. Hatch Chili pancakes Slot Online anyone?

Where to Buy Hatch Chilis fresh and frozen:

Family, Culture, Community and Covid in Mexico and New Mexico: Thoughts

Preface: It’s Labor Day. We depend on labor wherever we live to work the fields, harvest food, wash dishes or cook in restaurants, sew clothes, tend our nursery-school age children and grandchildren, build, repair or clean our homes. Before I learned the word, Huelga from Cesar Chavez when I participated in the California Farm Workers Union demonstrations, I knew from my teacher-father the value and importance of taking a stand to protect basic human rights — a fair wage, health care, education. He was part of the California Federation of Teachers Local #1021 that went out on strike in 1969. He was proud of that. Our mom was scared. There was no income for months.

Now that I’m in New Mexico, I am constantly reviewing the similarities and differences between living here and in Oaxaca. The similarities are startling, especially as it relates to our indigenous First Peoples. This week, The Washington Post published an opinion piece about how the Navajo Nation has suffered during the covid pandemic: Navajo Culture is in Danger. I encourage you to read this. It offers insights into a way of life that is essential to cultural survival.

Here and in rural Oaxaca villages, Native American families live together in multi-generational households, often encompassing four or five generations. They care for each other in close-knit communities where language, values and culture are shared and transmitted. This is an important way cultural survival mechanism.

Living in close community poses huge risks to the vulnerable, especially the aged. We know from history that disease ravaged indigenous peoples with the European conquests, decimating huge swaths of the population. The covid pandemic reiterates how a rapidly spreading airborne disease can bring sickness and death to rural communities. Most hold the attitude that they want little to do with government intervention because of historical mistrust, abuse and discrimination. Lack of access to clean water, health services, education, and economic opportunity shape these attitudes. Poverty and isolation are huge factors.

The Washington Post article addresses how the Navajo Nation, hard-hit by covid early in its cycle, is weathering the disease. Small houses are built adjacent to family dwellings to house grandparents to make sure they stay safe, separated from family but not too far away! The tribe has a successful vaccination campaign and a high percentage of their people are vaccinated now.

What I loved about this article was the effort to keep loved ones safe in auxiliary dwellings, and still keep them close to the family and community. I’m not certain that this is a practice in Oaxaca, where family celebrations and observances are a priority and people gather in large groups despite the on-going threat of the pandemic. Most often, it is the octogenarians who are the keepers of culture.

For those of us traveling soon to Oaxaca, we will need to stay vigilant to maintain safe distance and wear face masks during Day of the Dead celebrations at the end of October. It is very likely that celebrations will not be curtailed much at the cemeteries or in the streets. Traditions are powerful. It is also doubtful that elders will be housed in adjacent small homes for protection there like the Navajo are here.

Footnote: Today begins the 10 days of the Jewish New Year. This is a time to reflect on our place in the world, what we can do to actively “repair the world,” our relationship within it and with others. On Rosh Hashanah (today), the Book of Life is opened and for the next days, we review behavior, intentions, deeds and misdeeds. We use this time in self-reflection to set things right with ourselves and others. On Yom Kippur, the Book of Life is closed and the promises for change we make is “sealed.” This open book period gives us a chance to start fresh and steer a new course. We reconnect with family and friends, renew spirit by being in nature, take action to make change where it is needed.

I have been in New Mexico for almost four months. New beginnings are intentional, spark creativity, and create opportunity. At this moment, I’m grateful to again ask the questions: Who am I? Who do I want to be?