First, thank you friends and readers for your years of following Oaxaca Cultural Navigator. I’ve been writing this blog since 2007. That’s 14 years reporting about Oaxaca (and Mexico) culture, traditions, textiles and the changes that have taken place over this time. There is a lot in the archives! I also want to thank you for your support of the artisan makers who I feature here. So many are grateful for our help and have expressed this to me recently, especially since COViD has all but truncated their ability to bring the beautiful things they make to visitors and collectors. You are their lifeline.
Elizabet Vasquez Jimenez, Triqui weaver, says, ¨A million thanks. You helped me so much because I had no sales in months. Thanks to God and for knowing all of you. Saludos y benediciones.”
Estela Montaño, woven bag maker, cried as she told me, “You kept us alive during COVID with your help. You sent us customers and we are grateful. You are all angels.”
We have been living with COVID for almost two years (since March 2020) and the pandemic has altered (am I’m thinking perhaps for my lifetime) how we make our way in the world with people we love and care about. I recently returned to Oaxaca after being gone for 19 months. I’m grateful my two adopted campo dogs, Tia and Butch, remembered me! I’m grateful to my Chavez Santiago family for their love and support over the last 16 years, making it possible for me to live with them and enjoy the astounding beauty of Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca.
The COVID era brought many changes to all of us. We lost friends and neighbors to the virus. Some of us lost family members. Some of us still feel at risk and are wary of gathering this Thanksgiving and of socializing with those who are vaccine resistant. I hear from many friends that they are fearful of traveling outside their local area, let alone getting on an airplane to go to a distant land. These are polarizing and discomfiting times.
This said, I’m extraordinarily grateful to those of you who are traveling with me to Mexico this year — 2021 and 2022. Thank you. I feel very reassured that when we practice COVID safety with vaccines and masks and hand sanitizer that we can stay healthy. Everyone on our recent Day of the Dead Culture Tour tested COVID negative the day before returning to the USA. For this, I’m incredibly grateful.
This has been a year of dramatic change for me. COViD isolation did me in and I made the decision just a year ago at Thanksgiving (where four of us huddled on the Taos Rio Grande Gorge mesa for an outdoor dinner), to change my lifestyle, leave downtown Durham, NC condo living in exchange for the austere beauty of northern New Mexico and the wide open spaces. Without COVID, I doubt this would ever have happened. At age 75, I decided to build a house! Crazy? Maybe. Liberating? Definitely.
When I left Oaxaca on March 12, 2020, my plan was to stopover in Huntington Beach, CA, to visit my son Jacob for a week and then to go up to Santa Cruz to see my sister Barbara before heading back to Durham for a while and then return to Oaxaca. I stayed with Jacob for two-months in a one-bedroom apartment. We juggled space and time. We bonded even more as mother and son. It was a blessing. I also got to know Shelley, who became his fiancee this year (they are getting married in March 2022). Her mom, Holly, has become a friend. COVID brought them closer together and they decided to make a life together.
Little did I know then that my boy would get approval from his office in March 2021 to work from home on a permanent basis and move to Albuquerque. We are now both living in the same state after being separated for over 30 years. Jacob and Shelley will be here this week for Thanksgiving, joining a group of 15 family members and friends under a heated tent outdoors on the Rio Grande Gorge Mesa. We are monitoring invitees for vaccines, exposure and overall COVID health.
It’s cold here in Taos, but the sun is shining, delivering beauty and hopefulness. Even the drying sagebrush is green today. Reminding me that even in the worst of times, there are many things to be grateful for. This, to me, outweighs the commercialism of the season and Black Friday.
Francisca Hernandez, master blouse embroiderer from Chiapas, says: “Thank you for the special orders over the last year. You have helped sustain my family. Otherwise, we would have earned very little, if anything.”
I remember Oaxaca losses from COVID: Estela, a woman from San Bartolome Quialana, in the Tlacolula valley foothills who worked at Tierra Antigua Restaurant, always gracious, cheerful, helpful. Juvenal, my 52-year old friend, generous and compassionate, who left behind a wife, three children and new grandchild born after he died in a San Diego Hospital in February 2021. Juan Manuel Garcia, Grand Master of Oaxaca Folk Art, silversmith and filigree jewelry maker extraordinaire, died at age age 77 in January 2021. I miss them, and so many more. 700,000 is an unfathomable number. I am grateful to be among the living. I mourn our losses.
Ím grateful for the vaccines that offer a miracle for life without risk of death or severe illness necessitating hospitalization. So much to be grateful for among the tragedy of our times.
This coming week, in the spirit of the season, I will be posting a Black Friday Sale either Tuesday or Wednesday. What I offer will all be hand-made, made in Mexico — and will be sure to bring joy to whomever receives them.
I also want to follow-up with the continuing discussion about Day of the Dead, commercialization of a pre-Hispanic tradition that has changed dramatically in the last two years. I want to share what readers sent to me and talk about whether Muertos has been co-opted by the film Coco, by the influx of mezcal drinking young tourists, or by COVID itself.
Sending you blessings for a holiday filled with gratitude, giving thanks, abundance, good health and joy, however you celebrate and with whom.
P.S. I’d love to hear what this year has wrought for you and your thoughts about gratitude and giving thanks at this season. Write me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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
Posted in Cultural Commentary, Teotitlan del Valle, Travel & Tourism
Tagged Mexico, Oaxaca, Teotitlan del Valle, Thanksgiving