Christmas Eve at the Taos Pueblo is punctuated with bonfires large and small, hand-built pyres of aged ponderosa pine called ekote. In Oaxaca, we call it the same but it’s spelled differently: ocote. This wood is infused with sap that makes it easy to ignite, and it burns hot and fast. I use it to start my wood-fired barbecue in Teotitlan del Valle. The magic of people congregating, the fires burning, the smoke curling, the ashes flying, the posada with the palanquin of the Virgin Mary carried by elders, with Taos Pueblo men holding stanchions of burning wood out front, reminds of me of Teotitlan del Valle. Behind the young men holding the stanchions are others with rifles shooting blanks. Those of us in proximity have our fingers in our ears. The sound is deafening and punctuates the atmosphere. It is shocking and alarming. Next come small children dressed in Native American attire. They are dancing, chanting, and shaking rattles. But this is different.
I am wondering where this tradition comes from, so I ask a Pueblo man who was responsible for lighting the pyre I was standing next to. Oh, it’s an ancient tradition, he says. Then, he goes on to explain that it is a re-enactment of the invasion of the U.S. Cavalry at the end of the Mexican-American War in 1867, when the Taos Pueblo was the last hold-out to succumb to territorial occupation. Roots here go deep into Mexican, American, and Indigenous history.
This is a history fraught with battle and confrontation and territorial expansion when the U.S. government sought to control Hispano and Pueblo people. The original adobe church was burned; clerics, military and locals lost their lives.
Here we are in the 21st century participating in a display of pyrotechnics. Many see it as entertainment on Christmas Eve with little understanding or knowledge of the history of indigenous survival in the Americas. We know a similar history in Mexico.
So, here’s the question: Which country treats its indigenous people better … now and in the past … Mexico or the USA?
Coming to California from Mexico was going to be a family reunion. All that changed in a flash. I arrived at my son’s in Huntington Beach after diligently sanitizing every airplane surface I could touch. My hands are raw from washing and sanitizer. Small sacrifices. Every sniffle and cough is alarming. I’m hoping it’s allergies. One site I read says, if you can hold your breath for 10 seconds without coughing or chest tightness, you don’t have it.
Hard to know what to believe.
Meanwhile, the party we were all going to was cancelled and we decided to stay put, institute social distancing and flatten the curve: sister and brother-in-law in Santa Cruz, and brother in Thousand Oaks. I’m here chilling and cooking with my boy. I’m sure we all have similar stories.
Meanwhile, I brought four rolls of toilet paper from Mexico and eight bottles of hand sanitizer. There is no TP to be found in Southern California. I’m getting photos from friends in Denver, Santa Fe and Chicago that shelves are bare. We have resorted to paper napkins as back-up. I’m rationing as I wipe.
Now for the Comic Relief. I received an email from my friend Ellen Benson. I suggested after reading this that she become a Stand Up Comic. She said her only gig was the Oaxaca Lending Library presentation she gave in February when she mistook the podium lamp for a microphone. She gave me permission to share this with you:
“Hi all! I came home from Oaxaca on Wednesday, March 4, which now seems like many weeks ago! No one on the plane or at the airport had on masks or gloves and i saw very little wiping down of surfaces. So, in the face of a potentially lethal worldwide epidemic, i did what i was born to do, and a few days later i went to Marshall’s!! Actually i was on my way to Target, and i have to confess that i grabbed a shopping cart without a second thought. I also grabbed a 4 pack bundle of kleenex, paper towels, liquid hand soap, granola bars, peanut butter crackers and purified water. Later, at the food co-op where i toted the shopping basket without wiping it down, i added mango popsicles, tomato sauce, chocolate chip cookies and canned string beans (which i rarely eat, but this time may be different!) and i went to the ATM and then pumped gas, without wearing gloves! And of course i’ve had no guidance from any authorities on whether plucking a beard hair, fiddling with my hair and putting in earplugs to mask zak’s snoring, count as touching my face!
“I had lunch with Rita, at highpoint Cafe WHERE I TOUCHED THE BATHROOM DOOR HANDLE ON THE WAY IN, but used a paper towel to grab it on the way out, thank goddess. Of course i leaned on the counter and then pulled out my chair—but that was just for a few seconds. The real problem is that Harin joined us and SHE HAD JUST RETURNED FROM SEATTLE THE NIGHT BEFORE! So—this may be the last newsletter i ever write. I just called the Phila Health Dept hotline to find out what it means for me that my husband is still going to work at a senior citizen health care facility, but the voicemail message that told me to stay on the line, also said i was 67th in the order of calls!
“So now i have reverted to what i was born to do in an emergency if i can’t go to Marshall’s: i am stuffing myself with starches, fats and sugars. I had planned to go back to Weight Watchers when i got back from Mexico but hey, it’s NOT MY FAULT THEY MEET IN GROUPS IN SMALL SPACES!! I do wash my hands a lot. however i know it’s supposed to be big lathers and long enough to say the whole alphahebt, but i keep getting stuck at “P” and the lather is pretty weak. I guess i should not have bought the hand soap at DOLLAR GENERAL. None of this is as bad as the reporter who actually asked if we should stay away from Chinese food! As everyone knows, you should only stay away from Chinese food that uses recipes from Wuhan!
“So now it’s days later and i’m wearing rubber gloves (but only to brush my teeth), have wipes and purell everywhere, have bought the last 3,000 rolls of toilet paper in the city (no logical explanation except other people felt it was important), and am at home because everything’s cancelled and i hate taking walks in nature. I would love to use a 50% off coupon at MICHAEL’S but have to keep telling myself it’s not worth it, even if the Lord and Taylor shoe department is right next door. My plan is to clean out my studio, make art, try cooking something, talk on the phone a lot, give myself a pedicure, and of course, to write to YOU!!
Are we having fun yet? love, ellen”
As for Mexico, the minister of public health says the virus will hit in full force between March 20 and March 30.
Anyone traveling from Mexico to the USA should bring a suitcase filled with TP and hand-sanitizer and distribute it to family and friends upon arrival, and before Mexico goes crazy about tushie hygiene, too.
Stay healthy, everyone. I’m trying my best.
Next big question: Should we eat out at a restaurant tonight? What do you think?
Our iconic Frida Kahlo, her life, art, clothing, jewelry, pain, sorrow, tragedies, affairs and everything else worth examining about her is featured in 2015 exhibitions around the United States of America.
Frida Kahlo: Art, Garden, Life is an exhibition at the New York Botanical Garden featuring the plants that Frida loved to wear and had in her Mexico City gardens.
For about the same price to travel to Detroit or New York, why not come to Mexico City for our art history tour that will take you to Frida’s paintings, Diego’s murals, Casa Azul and the Dolores Olmedo Museum where you can see it all (except those pieces out on loan!)
What is a Study Tour: Our programs are designed as learning experiences, and as such we talk with weavers about how and why they create, what is meaningful to them in their designs, the ancient history of patterning and design, use of color, tradition and innovation, values and cultural continuity, and the social context within which they work. First and foremost, we are educators. Norma worked in top US universities for over 35 years and Eric founded the education department at Oaxaca’s textile museum. Our interest is in creating connection and artisan economic development.
Why We Left, Expat Anthology: Norma’s Personal Essay
Norma contributes personal essay, How Oaxaca Became Home
Norma Contributes Two Chapters!
Click image to order yours!
Norma Schafer and Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC has offered programs in Mexico since 2006. We have over 30 years of university program development experience. See my resume.
Study Toursd are personally curated and introduce you to Mexico's greatest artisans. They are off-the-beaten path, internationally recognized. We give you access to where people live and work. Yes, it is safe and secure to travel. Groups are limited in size for the most personal experience.
Programs can be scheduled to meet your travel plans. Send us your available dates.
Designers, retailers, wholesalers, universities and other organizations come to us to develop weaving relationships, customized itineraries, study abroad programs, meetings and conferences. It's our pleasure to make arrangements.
*Selvedge Magazine-London, UK
*Esprit Travel and Tours
*Penland School of Crafts
*North Carolina State University
*WARP Weave a Real Peace
We offer textile experiences in our studio where we weave and work only in natural dyes.You can see the process during our textile tours, dye workshops or customized weaving experiences. Ask us for more information about these experiences, customized scheduling, and prices.
One-Day Custom Tours: Tell Us When You Want to Go!
Oaxaca has the largest and most diverse textile culture in Mexico! Learn about it.
When you visit Oaxaca immerse yourself in our textile culture: How is indigenous clothing made, what is the best value, most economical, finest available. Suitable for adults only. Set your own dates.
1-Day OaxacaCity Collectors Textile Tour.Exclusive Access! We take you into the homes and workshops of Oaxaca State's prize-winning weavers. They come from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, the Mixteca, Mixe, Amuzgos and Triqui areas and represent their weaving families and cooperatives here. For collectors, retailers, buyers, wholesalers, fashionistas.
October 27, 2023: Day of the Dead Ocotlan Highway Tour. It’s Market Day! The biggest of the year. See special altar food and decor, visit artisans, explore culture, eat at a traditional open air cocina de humo (grill kitchen).
October 29, 2023: Teotitlan del Valle Altars and Studio Visits to natural dye and weaving artisans who invite you to their altar rooms to share family traditions. Meet a traditional beeswax candlemaker. Eat mole and mezcal in a local family comedor.
Go on all 3 Day of the Dead Tours -- Get a 10% Discount
2024 Tours Go Deep, Not Wide
January 13-21, 2024: Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour. Very popular! Get your deposit in to reserve. For intrepid travelers. Visit 7 back-strap loom weavers. Explore the culture of cloth and community. SIX SPACES OPEN!
Stay Healthy. Stay Safe. In Oaxaca, wear your mask. Questions? Want TO REGISTER or more info? Send an email to Norma Schafer.
Maps: Teotitlan + Tlacolula Market
We require 48-hour advance notice for map orders to be processed. We send a printable map via email PDF after your order is received. Please be sure to send your email address. Where to see natural dyed rugs in Teotitlan del Valle and layout of the Sunday Tlacolula Market, with favorite eating, shopping, ATMs. Click Here to Buy Map After you click, be sure to check PayPal to ensure your email address isn't hidden from us. We fulfill each map order personally. It is not automatic.
Dye Master Dolores Santiago Arrellanas with son Omar Chavez Santiago, weaver and dyer, Fey y Lola Rugs, Teotitlan del Valle