Every day that I wake up here on the mesa overlooking the Rio Grande Gorge in Taos, New Mexico, I give thanks. It’s that time of year for giving thanks, for renewal of spirit and reaffirmation of life, for expressing gratitude to family and friends for all they have contributed to my well-being and for helping me get to this place I now call home. In traditional cultures, this is the harvest season and we give thanks for the abundance, a perfect closure to the annual growing cycle. It is also a time to start anew, take stock, make amends, assess our way of being. My thanks giving includes you. So many of you have read this blog since I started writing it in 2007, have taken tours and workshops with Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC, and have purchased many beautiful textiles. You have my thanks and sincerest gratitude. You have helped so many artisans improve their lives and livelihood. My gratitude is on their behalf, too.
It takes a combination of fear and courage to make change. I have a sticker on my sewing box that says, Life Begins at the End of Your Comfort Zone, and I believe that. It’s a testimony to all of us who have recognized what we are afraid of, what it takes to overcome it and how to push through to get to a place of tranquility and well-being. Sometimes, change is stressful and doesn’t offer the kind of outcome we had hoped for. Change is learning. Without change, we are frozen. For me, this move has been a miracle. Covid brought me to New Mexico from North Carolina, to the infinite and amazing skies filled with light and the blaze of red, yellow and purple, to the high plateau of the southern Rockies, where the Spanish conquerors named these mountains the Sangre de Cristo (blood of Christ) because of the blood red reflection of sunset on the escarpment. My son and daughter-in-law moved to Albuquerque last year, too. It all fell into place. It snowed up there yesterday and it’s getting chilly here now. The seasons are changing.
Why am I here? As I age, I realize that being in the embrace of the miracle of nature is even more important to me than ever before. I needed the expansiveness of an infinite vista of mountains and plains with little to interrupt the eye. I came here at age 75 and built a house. Not something many 75-year-olds do. Now, I am close to turning age 77. In the past two years, I have thought about life, its terminus, health, changes in energy level, and how I want to be living in the next ten years. I am healthy, and yet, aging has a huge impact on how vitality plays out. I realize that my pace is slower and at some point (who knows when), it will be more difficult for me to get to Oaxaca regularly. Recently, I realized I needed a Oaxaca Cultural Navigator partner, someone who knows me, who I trust, who knows the culture.
I have been living with the Chavez Santiago family in Teotitlan del Valle since 2005. It has been one of those life-changing experiences to live with a Zapotec family in their village, on their land, and to be part of and participate in life-cycle events. It was back then that I met the 20-year old Eric Chavez Santiago in the village rug market. He was a weaver, natural dyer, and university student unsure of who or what he would become. I helped get him his first 10-year visa to the USA, and sponsored Eric and his dad Federico to come to Chapel Hill to teach and mount an expoventa in 2006. They invited me to build a house and live with them. Our relationship is based on trust and there is no contract. Then, I coached Eric to apply to the not yet opened Museo Textil de Oaxaca, where he became the founding director of education and made his mark establishing programs to recognize the talents of indigenous Oaxaca artisans. After eight years there, he was invited to open the folk art gallery Andares del Arte Popular, owned by Alfred Harp Helu whose foundation has added much to the cultural excitement of Oaxaca.
As I contemplated my own next steps, it was a natural evolution to invite Eric to become a partner in Oaxaca Cultural Navigator. It is my honor to gift him this opportunity in gratitude and thanks for all that he and his family has given me. Now, we are in a transition period and I am involved as Eric and his wife Elsa participate more and more in leading our groups, organizing the infrastructure, handling the administration, and assuming more of an ownership role. This makes the best sense to me to keep Oaxaca Cultural Navigator alive and well far into the future. For the foreseeable future, I will continue to participate in our tours as founder.
Many of you who know Eric, know how capable and engaging he is. He is a fluent English speaker, in addition to communicating in his native Zapotec and Spanish languages. All the artisans he has worked with over the years admire and respect him, and know that he has their best interests at hand. For those of you who have traveled with us recently, where Eric has been the leader, have seen what an extraordinarily knowledgeable and gracious human being he is. I couldn’t be happier to introduce you to him.
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What travelers say about Eric:
I am so very grateful to have had Eric as our leader on the Oaxaca Mountain Textile Tour. Promoting and sustaining artisans is clearly his life work and passion. Eric’s professional and personal experience has given him a seemingly inexhaustible appreciation and knowledge of indigenous cultures, textile origins, weaving methods, motifs and dyeing processes which he shared so eloquently. The artisans we visited, often in quite remote villages, opened their homes, studios and hearts to us due to the mutual respect and friendship Eric has with each of them. Thank you, Eric, for guiding us to expertly and helping us discover the heart and soul behind all the beauty we were lucky to behold. Being with you was such a rich experience! -Connie Michal, Todos Santos, Baja California Sur, Mexico
I thought Eric did great! His knowledge of the ara and artisans is outstanding, he provided an excellent educational experience with professional translation. He also made sure everyone was well-cared for, offering assistance to any of us who needed help getting up the hillside. He knowledge and professionalism is so appreciated. -Marsha Betancourt, Brownsville, TX
The Oaxaca textile trip was wonderful in every way. I am grateful that our home base was in Teotitlan del Valle, as it was restful and calm. I also appreciated the way the trip progressed beginning with Eric, his studio and his family. Both you and Eric are so knowledgeable about everything but with a great Socratic approach to learning — giving us enough information and letting our curiosity lead the way to deeper knowledge and understanding. I particularly enjoyed the philosophical conversations about indigenous people and culture, and how we impact that. I also felt a sense of safety and calmness, and acceptance for everyone in the group. Eric is a wonderfully patient, caring, and insightful man. His ability to connect and communicate with trip members was equal to his obvious connection and camaraderie with the indigenous artists and craftspeople we met! I would not hesitate to book a trip with Eric as a solo leader. Thanks for everything! -Pam Cleland-Broyles, San Diego, California
I am excited to be able to express an appreciation of Eric’s skills as a true leader; his communication style is very engaging, open, and soft-spoken. He is bilingual to the strongest expertise or extent. His history of the local culture, social life and craft evolution is encyclopedic. He was very comfortable letting me be as independent as I needed based on my physical strengths and limitations. I would highly recommend him as a tour guide. -Barbara Cabral, San Francisco
Eric is a world-class gentleman. A Mexican weaving and textile expert extraordinaire. Kind, considerate, respectful and patient. He speaks fluent English and can thoroughly explain his expertise and techniques to those of us with no knowledge of the field! -Charlie Dell, Phoenix, AZ