Tag Archives: Oaxaca

Juvenal’s Funeral: Saying Goodbye in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

Juvenal Gutierrez Alavez died from Covid on January 31, 2021 in Southern California. He was a healthy man in his mid-50’s and left behind his wife Norma, daughters Nancy and Lizet, and son Lionel. Nancy just had a healthy baby boy this week. Life continues.

Juvenal’s body was returned to Teotitlan del Valle on Friday, March 5 and the funeral service was yesterday, March 6 in a traditional Zapotec ceremony.

So many of you made contributions to the fund to send Juvenal’s body home, and we sent the family enough money to cover these expenses. So, again, thank you very much.

My friend, Ani Burns, lives in Teotitlan and was a very close friend with Juvenal. With her permission, I share her experience of the funeral with you:

“I just returned from Juve’s burial, and I feel ten thousand percent better.  The outrageous beauty of the flowers provided by the committees that Juve served on, the outrageous beauty of the Mariachis competing with Souza Mexican music in another section of the Panteon, the outrageous smoothness of the Mezcal….all of this outrageousness matched how we felt.

“Juve died on January 31.  Family and friends did back flips to get his body home, which happened last night at eleven pm.  Now that the outrageousness is finally normalizing, we can get down to the serious business of enjoying Juve’s new grandson born this week to his daughter Nancy; his daughter Lizet’s quest for an iphone; and his son Leo’s possibly achieving the height of six feet in the coming months.  

“Breathe,” I said to myself and whispered the same to Norma, Juve’s wife, who I practice yoga with. “Here and now,” I said to myself. The breeze, the basket of ancestral bones that were extracted from the grave site and later replaced in proper skeletal order! Only in Mexico! Trumpets, strings, the soloist who needed no microphone, the women gathering over here, the men gathering over there, the gringa (me) dreaming under a tree in between, the wide-eyed chihuahua guarding the vendor stand….

Yes, we wore masks. Yes, we oozed with hand sanitizer, and yes, I was the only serious social distancer.  

Thanks to each of you for being such a great friend.

Abrazos fuertes,

Ani

Norma Schafer’s Back Story: I met Ani almost 20 years ago when I lived at Blue Heron Farm in Pittsboro, NC. She had a home there, too. Shortly afterward, she made a permanent move to Teotitlan del Valle for a quiet, more tranquil life in this traditional Zapotec weaving village. In 2005, she invited me to visit and that was the beginning of my sojourn there. I fell in love with the weaving and culture and the Chavez Santiago Family. The rest is history.

As I developed this special relationship with my host family, Ani developed her relationship with Juvenal and his family. She participated as babies were born, baptized, confirmed and married. Juvenal advised and helped her. They were mutually supportive of each other. One more painful loss now because of the pandemic.

You can read about Juvenal in previous posts here and see the list of generous people who made gifts to return his body home:

The Teotitlan del Valle panteon will be included on our 2021 Day of the Dead Oaxaca Culture Tour. This will bring me to final Juvenal’s resting place, where I can sit with him and pay my respects.

Ani references removing the ancestral bones from the gravesite, cleaning the grave. This is done with traditional reverence and prayer before returning the previously deceased and their bones back to make way for the newly deceased. In ancient Zapotec culture, there was a burial plot inside the house. Ancestor respect, which we call ancestor worship, is an integral part of the circle of life. We talk to them to get their counsel and they visit us with spiritual connection during Day of the Dead.

Vaccinated? When to Return to Oaxaca?

This is the big question facing most of us who are not in Oaxaca now. We hear that the U.S. is preparing to have enough vaccine for everyone who wants/needs it (hopefully) by the end of May 2021. The question looms: When is it safe to return to Oaxaca? Naturally, the answer varies among us based on our comfort level for international travel safety and what it is like on the ground in our adopted land.

I received my second vaccine on February 3, 2021, and I’m just beginning to feel somewhat liberated. That means that I am now comfortable inviting a few friends who have also been vaccinated (at least three weeks after their second vaccine) into my home for a meal — yes, WITHOUT face masks! Just a few at a time! It means I’m not as anxious and can breathe easier. I know that I can still get sick, but it won’t be severe and I won’t die from it. This is a HUGE relief. I’m now calling this the New Normal. But, really, it isn’t!

So much is still unknown.

For example, Mexico just changed its restrictions and its variable based on state. Oaxaca is Orange on the Covid semiforo (stoplight) system of measurement. This means Restricted travel. Is it okay to proceed with caution and is it okay to go? Is this a political gesture to bow to the informal economy and build back tourism? How safe is it, REALLY?

US Embassy warning about travel to Mexico.

What we know.

It’s springtime in North Carolina. The willows are leafing out. The air is temperate. Pollen proliferates. The sun shines. These are the days that Snowbirds usually make their way north from Oaxaca. After all, who goes to Oaxaca in March, April and May, the hottest and driest time of the year when temperatures can rise to 100 degrees fahrenheit and we seek shelter and shade.

Signs of new life surround us now. We are more than ready to put Seasonal Affective Disorder behind us and be hopeful. But, we must be cautious about raising false hopes.

Questions continue.

  • How long will the vaccine protect us?
  • Will we need a booster and when?
  • What about the new variants — will the vaccines give protection?
  • If the health care system in Oaxaca is still strained, what quality of care will we receive there should we become infected?
  • What safety measures do we need to take in order to fly safely to Mexico?
  • What will be required to re-enter the U.S. or Canada? A Covid test prior to departure? Proof of vaccine?

I hear that vaccine is first going to Oaxaca regions where there have not been many cases! Why? My friends say, simply, POLITICS. (Think Texas!) The federal government can then say they have controlled the virus in some areas (because there were not many cases to begin with). My friends say it will be many months before the vaccine has impact because the population is so large and the case numbers are still very high. Mexico has one of the largest infection rates in the world.

On February 25, I reposted a Facebook notice from the Museo Textil de Oaxaca, the Alfredo Harp Helu Foundation project that promotes artisan textile development. The director, Hector Meneses, says that while many businesses are “back to normal” in the city, the museum will remain closed for a few more months. The same is true for the Harp Helu-owned Andares del Arte Popular Gallery.

The Facebook post (click on link above) generated a huge commentary from many, including a retired primary care medical doctor. She questions why it would NOT be safe for vaccinated seniors to return to Oaxaca if they/we take all known health precautions — mask wearing, social distancing, hand-sanitizing, eating outdoors. She notes that First Class plane tickets are inexpensive now and that would be her preferred travel path. But she is’t going just yet. Those in the informal economy would benefit from a visit and hotels are empty right now. True risks, she says, can be minimized.

Others say there is a huge strain on healthcare resources now, and if one needed medical attention for any reason it may be difficult to get it. One said she would return next year and spend twice as much!

Another notes that possible transmission by vaccinated people still poses a risk, citing an Israeli study that people can still transmit once vaccinated. Its essential for all of us to assume we could be infected.

We can support Oaxaca by donating and purchasing from our computer, says a friend. I am desperate to return to Mexico, she continues, but I’m also willing to wait a while longer and listen to the scientists.

The doctor continues: There are limitations to abide by — staying strictly in town, staying out of crowds, renting a car instead of using taxis, wearing masks, no van rides, staying out of closed spots, no cooking classes, eating safely outdoors. The minute one steps out the door the risk probability goes from Zero to Something.

I ask, How many of us can consistently adhere to that and still enjoy our Oaxaca experience? This requires discipline!

Of Note: Richard Baron MD, president and CEO of the American Board of Internal Medicine says vaccinated folks can fly safely (mask, shield, etc.). But there will never be proof of this since there are no studies to compare how vaccinated and unvaccinated people fare after flying.

So, the ultimate questions are: Is it safe to go? How do I protect myself IF I do go. What is my personal tolerance for risk? Is my personal behavior a risk to others?

In the Colonial world of conquered Mexico, we know that foreigners brought disease that decimated much of the population. Will we be transmitters, too?

What else?

Note: Send me your comments via email norma.schafer@icloud.com The comment function of this blog is not working! Sorry. I will consolidate your responses in the next post.

Thank You! Goal Reached to Send Juvenal Home

Gifts that came in since I wrote last have taken us over the top and we reached our $3,000 goal plus more! In total, we have raised $4,055.25 so far. YOU are incredibly caring and generous. Juvenal’s family thanks you from the bottom of their hearts.

The family tells me that Juvenal’s body will be sent to Mexico City where he will be greeted by family members who will escort the casket home to Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, in a traditional funeral procession. Most of California’s governmental offices are closed, so it is a slower process than normal to get the paperwork approved for his exit and transport.

The first group of donors is listed HERE. Another BIG thanks to you!

And more thanks to those below who made gifts in the last few days:

Pam Patrie
Joseph Lockhart
Nena Creasy
Natalie Klein
Martin Ted Nelson
Robin Greene
Whitney Beals
Susanne Corrigan
Kathie McCleskey
Lisa Michie
Tom Tillemans
Cathy Platin
Felicity More
Emily Rubin
Tracy Hobbs
Hettie Johnson
Linda Mansour
Susie Robison*
Katharyn Rayner*
Vaughan Greene
Mary Anne Shaw
Kathryn Leide
Jennifer Brinitzer
Elizabeth Pomeroy
Christine Marshall
Carolyn Urbanski
Sheri Brautigam
Julia Erickson
Larry Ginzkey
Thanks to recent donors, February 16-18, 2021

Read about Juvenal Gutierrez Alavez from Teotitlan del Valle and why we are raising funds to send his body home from Los Angeles for a proper funeral in Teotitlan del Valle. Juvenal, a healthy man in his mid-50’s, died from Covid-19 alone in a San Diego hospital.

What Friends Say …

“Our hearts are grieving for all those who loved this beautiful and generous man. Thanks for coordinating this, Norma. Abrazos fuertes!”

“My heart goes out to the family. These are cruel enough times but being in a foreign country and isolated, he didn’t even have the comfort of his family with him. “

“It felt so good to help, especially in these challenging times … incredibly glad to help.  And thanks for organizing this effort on behalf of Juvenal and his family!”

“I want to help bring Juvenal home.”

“Much love and respect to all his family.”

“Rest in Peace in your home, Teotitlan del Valle, Juvenal.”

“I am so very sorry to hear about Juvenal. Tragic! Too many good people lost to this pandemic.”

“So perfect! Thank you, thank you!”

“Bless you for helping this beautiful family cope with their tragic loss. Please keep us posted about Juvenal’s homecoming.”

“Sad times. My deepest sympathy to the friends and family of Juvenal.”

Help Bring Juvenal Home to Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

My friend Juvenal Gutierrez Alavez died from Covid-19 last week alone in a San Diego hospital. He was in his mid-50’s. A young man by my count. Oh, to be in my mid-50’s, full of life with years ahead of me. But, for Juvenal, this was not to be. His wife Norma and teenage children were with him in California while he was working, but they were not allowed in the hospital — a tragedy we hear so often, when there is no familial comfort in those last days and hours.

Help with a gift to bring Juvenal’s body home!

I am writing to ask you to help because it is expensive to return a body home. The family estimates that they need about $3,000 USD for transportation. This does not include funeral expenses. This is the amount we want to raise to help them. Can you help?

Choose Your Gift Level

Please DO NOT select Buying Goods or Services at check-out!

If you don’t use PayPal, we can receive your gift via personal check, VENMO or Zelle. I can also send a Square invoice. Let me know and I will send instructions. I am able to transfer your gifts directly to the family.

There is no question that Juvenal’s body will be returned for burial next to his ancestors in Teotitlan del Valle. He was a traditional Zapotec. My friend Annie Burns, who lives there and knew Juvenal like a brother, says that is what he would have wanted. It’s the family’s wish, too. In an 8,000 year old culture, traditional burial is a sacred part of life.

Juvenal Gutierrez Alavez and family

I met Juvenal when I first visited Teotitlan del Valle in 2005. He had lived and worked in Los Angeles for some years by then, going back and forth, sending money home to his young wife as he was starting a family. He loved his work: driving long-haul tractor trailers all over the USA. That’s what took him back to L.A. this time — an offer of work to drive a load of liquid sugar from the border to the city every day. The company wanted him because Juvenal was a reliable and safe driver.

Hear Juvenal sing, April 25, 2019

Like many Teotitecos, Juvenal and his family received US citizenship during the Ronald Reagan amnesty of 1986. He settled in LA with his kinfolk who had migrated there years before. Like many Teotitecos, he traveled back and forth to the USA seamlessly. Everyone from Teotitlan del Valle has family in either Santa Ana or Moorpark. His English skills were excellent. He was a quick study. So he taught English classes on the patio several times a week to adults and children alike who wanted language skills to interact with tourists who were coming to buy hand-woven rugs.

On that first 2005 visit, Juvenal invited me and the wasband to visit his class and speak to them in English. It would be good practice for them, he cajoled us. His smile was invitation enough. A big, wide, generous grin that evoked a life filled with satisfaction and joy. We spoke slowly using simple language and where needed, Juvenal translated. We became friends.

Lizet holding the wedding photo of her parents, Juvenal and Norma

In the years that followed, Juvenal’s wife Norma, opened an apron stall in the village market and I would take visitors there to get theirs so they could look like the locals before taking a cooking class from El Sabor Zapoteco–Reyna Mendoza. Norma, a proficient baker, became my go-to person for baking birthday and quinceñera cakes. I was especially fond of her carrot cake with fresh grated carrots. Bite into it and still taste the crunch! The last time I saw Juvenal was on February 12, 2020, when he delivered two cakes for a small birthday party.

Juvenal with daughter Lizet

Norma earned her own pocket money by selling aprons and baking cakes. Juvenal was the primary income earner and would travel periodically back to Los Angeles to work, adding dollars to whatever pesos they had on hand from weaving and selling rugs. Then, Covid came and tourist income for the entire village dried up. This time, Juvenal left with his wife and children so he would not be separated from them for very long. Los Angeles became a hotbed for the virus this winter.

Lizet, Parade of the Canastas, Teotitlan del Valle

Juvenal leaves his wife Norma, 21-year old daughter Nancy who is pregnant with her first child, Lizet, age 17 and Lionel, age 15, and grieving family members in Los Angeles and Teotitlan del Valle.

This is Lionel, Juvenal’s son, singing La Cucharacha — kindergarten!

Thanks to Lizet Gutierrez and Anne Burns for sending me photos and music! and to Scott Roth for his memories.

Choose Your Gift Level

Please DO NOT select Buying Goods or Services at check-out!

Thank you very much for considering how you can help! -Norma

A Vignette from Anne Burns:

If I was walking down the street and saw a wad of bills on the ground, what would I do? What Juvenal did was go on the locals radio broadcast and tell the village that if anyone could name the exact amount, they could reclaim their money. And that’s what happened. A family came forth naming the exact amount. They had been saving that money for a long time and had been devastated when they discovered the loss.

This past week, as I have tried to come to terms with my loss of Juvenal, it has not escaped my notice that a praying mantis appeared in my kitchen patio and stayed a long while as I sat on the brick floor, or that an owl flew out hooting at me while I was walking one evening on the side of Picacho, the mountain sacred to this village.

Mexico Home Decor Collectibles Sale

Today, we are featuring three Ex-Votos, whimsical folk art paintings on metal. The vintage ones were painted on tin or whatever found materials the naive, untrained artist could find. They were offered at shrines and spiritual places for life-saving thanksgiving. I have one vintage piece for sale below. The other two are reproductions painted by Mexico City artist Rodriguez. Plus, hearts and mirrors, and more. 19 pieces total.

To Buy: Please email me normahawthorne@mac.com with your name, mailing address and item number. I will mark it SOLD, send you a PayPal link to purchase and add $12 for cost of mailing. Please DO NOT SELECT buying goods or services at check-out. We also accept Venmo and Zelle. I can send you a Square invoice (+3% fee) if you don’t use PayPal. All sales final.

19-3/4″ wide x 9-1/2″ tall. Reproduction ex-voto by Mexico City artist Rafael Rodriguez. $165

“Pascual Ortiz al estar trepado en la locomotora me calli de tatema y casi me la rompo y dedico esta laminita. Chihuahua a 4 de octubre 1937.”

Vintage rare ex-voto, 10″ w x 8-1/2″ tall. Was $595. Now $295

It says: Gracias a la virgencita y el niño por senar a mi hijo enfermo de Tifoidea a anto de morir. El sans infinitamente agracidas. (signed) Lupe Ma. Miraflores Lopez, Chapala, Jalisco. (Thanks to the little virgin and her son for saving my son from typhoid before he died. He is infinitely thankful.) Measures 10-1/4″ x 8-1/2″

SOLD. Set of 3 Zapatista wall plaques, Chiapas. 4-1/4″ high x 6″ wide. $25
Venustiano Perez dedicates this ex-voto, 9-1/2″ wide x 7-1/2″ tall. Oaxaca 1938. $145

“Venustiano Perez dedica esta laminata por salvarme de una alimaña bien grandota. Oaxaca a 23 de Abril de 1938.” Reproduction by Mexico City artist Rafael Rodriguez.

SOLD. Happy Valentine’s Day: Oaxaca wood + gold leaf heart. 6-1/2″ w x 8-1/2″ tall. $45
SOLD. Happy Valentine’s Day. Oaxaca tin heart mirror. 4×5″ $10
SOLD. Rare Zegache carved wood + silver leaf mirror, 6×6″ round $75

Zegache is the workshop founded by Rodolfo Morales in Santa Ana Zegache near his home in Ocotlan. It was a training ground for woodworkers to create pieces in the style of the European colonial church decor with hand-carved pieces embellished with paint and either gold or silver leaf. The technique was used in the restoration of several churches funded by the Morale Foundation. These pieces are no longer being made. They are wonderful, reflective wall decor for any room.

SOLD. Zegache rare hand-carved wood with gold and silver leaf, 6″ round. $75

To Buy: Please email me normahawthorne@mac.com with your name, mailing address and item number. I will mark it SOLD, send you a PayPal link to purchase and add $12 for cost of mailing. Please DO NOT SELECT buying goods or services at check-out. We also accept Venmo and Zelle. I can send you a Square invoice (+3% fee) if you don’t use PayPal. All sales final.

SOLD. Chiapas, hand-wrought iron mirror, 7×9″ $55
Huichol yarn art on wood, 6″ square. $75

Beautifully rendered, this yarn “painting” by the Mexican Huichol tribe from Nayarit depicts reverence for corn, the harvest and the spiritual, healing properties of peyote.

Chiapas, Los Leñateros paper mask. 10×9″ $40

Los Leñateros is the hand-made paper studio in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, where artisans make art books, boxes, and picture frames from recycled paper. They use a stationery bicycle to power the paper shredding and then put the paper mixed with flowers and seeds into bins to process. Sometimes, they create these colorful hanging masks that twirl in the breeze.

SOLD. Oaxaca painted gourd bowl. 2-3/4″ tall x 5″ diameter. $45

This piece reminds me of aboriginal painting from Australia or the pointillist style of the French Impressionists. It is from the studio of Arrazola artist Bertha Cruz Morales. Great for serving dried nuts.

SOLD. Is it an anteater? Chiapas miniature stuffed animal. $25

Gosh! Isn’t s/he cute? Hand-woven wool and embroidery is used to fashion this precious stuffed animal made in San Juan Chamula, Chiapas.

SOLD. Reindeer with red eyes. 3″ long x7″tall. $25

Oh, this one is made from handwoven natural sheep wool. Antlers are wrapped in shimmering gray yarn. Red embroidery outlines the black eyes and of course, there is a black nose just waiting to nuzzle you. Beautifully crafted.

What About These RUGS? When you purchase, you are supporting the weaver. Help me send funds back to Oaxaca with your purchase.

Indigo ikat + zapote negro, 22×33″. $295 $275
Cochineal, indigo, marigold, pomegranate, 23×23″ $195 $175
Indigo, cochineal, pomegranate dyed wool, 23×23″ $195 $175

To Buy: Please email me normahawthorne@mac.com with your name, mailing address and item number. I will mark it SOLD, send you a PayPal link to purchase and add $12 for cost of mailing. Please DO NOT SELECT buying goods or services — so we don’t pay commissions. We also accept Venmo and Zelle. I can send you a Square invoice (+3% fee) if you don’t use PayPal. All sales final.