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.
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:
- Post One: Help Bring Juvenal Home
- Post Two: Sending Juvenal Home
- Post Three: Thank you! Goal Reached
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.
My friend Annie, known locally as Ana del Campo, lives on the hillside on the other side of the river Rio Grande that runs through town from the presa (dam) throuh the cleavage between two mountains. We came to visit her some years ago and that is how we got to Teotitlan del Valle. Annie was the second gringa to connect with a local Zapotec family and be invited to build a home on their land. A former psychologist, she is an expert Shiatsu massage therapist and has a loyal clientele in the village and in Oaxaca. One of the treasures and pleasures of coming back to Teotitlan is to enjoy time with Annie, sipping tea, catching up, looking out over the village below from her hillside perch, and then laying down on her mat to give myself and my body over to the expert pressure touch of her hands and fingers in her sublimely tranquil space. This evening was my third massage of the week — a totally relaxing experience, and I feel I can splurge with this expense because the cost is 200 pesos (about $18 USD) per hour. As I walked up the winding rocky drive to her brick and stucco casita, the stars sparkled in the sky and were mirrored by village lights below creating a seamless vision of dancing stars with no horizon. Annie has asked me to visualize who I am in the form of an animal to take as my talisman as a form of meditative relaxation. I am a gazelle, sleek, agile and grazing. Annie tells me that my body will respond and become the form that I visualize.
After the massage and to honor my gazelle, Annie makes me a plate full of salad containing at least four different lettuces, fresh grated beets, cherry tomatoes and bright red nasturtiums from Valentina’s garden. This is for grazing, she says. Valentina, who was once Valerie, moved to Oaxaca some years ago from somewhere in el norte and started an organic garden. She sells her bounty every Friday and Saturday at the Pochote Market in the Arcos, just beyond Santo Domingo Church on Macedonio Alcala. Annie sprinkled goat cheese and pecans on the salad and topped it with a homemade balsamic vinaigrette. I followed her lead. This is the ONLY way I will eat lettuce in Mexico — organically grown and washed in purified water by someone you know and trust. To top it off, Annie brings to the table a red tortilla, handmade by Esther (Ess-tare) her neighbor, who ground the village grown red maize herself. Below us, the band is playing its posada repertoire, drum beats, tubas, and saxaphones call out to the night sky. A firecracker rocket is a shooting star. I imagine the tables full of revelers eating fiesta tamales with amarillo mole, downing shots of mezcal followed by beer chasers, sucking limes and salt, dancing the slow Zapotec two-step far into the night, men in one line facing the women opposite them, never touching. The firecrackers pop and the dogs bark in response. The bray of a donkey punctuates it all. Tomorrow, Mary and Joseph will move to another home where the cycle repeats the harmony.
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Posted in Cultural Commentary, Oaxaca Mexico art and culture, Teotitlan del Valle, Travel & Tourism
Tagged Oaxaca Mexico, Pochote market, Posadas, shiatsu massage, Teotitlan del Valle, Zapotec culture