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The Guelaguetza Muy Especial, danced by Los Ángeles de Luz, gets bigger every year.

Convite – China Oaxaqueñas, City of Oaxaca

Early yesterday evening, all seating was filled and it was standing room only at the Plaza de la Danza — and that is a very good thing because Los Ángeles de Luz is group of 18 children and young people with Down’s Syndrome.

Jarabe – Ejutla de Crespo, Valles Centrales region

It was formed in 2003 with the purpose of facilitating the integration of people with Down’s syndrome and offering them creative experiences that exercise their motor skills, intelligence, language, and sensitivity in an environment of respect, trust, and love. (Ángeles le dan luz a las fiestas del Lunes del Cerro, 07/25/2016)

Jarabe – Tamazulapam Espiritu Santo, Mixe region

Their talents also extend to theatrical productions, including performances of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and “Romeo and Juliet.”  In addition, they have mounted an interdisciplinary spectacular, “Ellos le bailan a México, a un México muy especial.”

Wedding jarabe – Huautla de Jiménez, Cañada region

At the Guelaguetza Muy Especial, these young people make the requisite costume changes and perform traditional dances from the eight regions of Oaxaca.

Jarabe – San Melchor Betaza, Sierra Norte region

This year’s show brought Oaxaca’s dignitaries, including Diosa Centeotl, Rebeca Itahí Ortiz Santibañez — she looked incredibly moved when they performed dances from her town of San Melchor Betaza.

Rebeca Itahí Ortiz Santibañez – Diosa Centeotl 2017

As I have mentioned before, perhaps it is because I have a special needs nephew or that both my sister-in-law and daughter-in-law are special education teachers, that I am drawn to this event every year.

Jarabe – Pinotepa Nacional, Costa region

Tears always well up in my eyes as I share in the joy and pride exhibited by the dancers from Los Ángeles de Luz.

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On Friday, Diosa Centéotl was selected to reign over the Guelaguetza festivities.  The eight regions of the state of Oaxaca were all represented by the 33 contestants competing for the honor.  (My photos of each of the contestants are from the morning phase of the competition.)

First a little history…  According to the pamphlet that was distributed to the hundreds of locals, family and friends of contestants, and tourists attending the competition at Jardín el Pañuelito, the little “pocket” garden along the side of Santo Domingo de Guzmán:

“In the pre-Hispanic worldview, Goddess Centéotl possessed the divine power to germinate corn and all the plants of the milpa:  tomato, squash, chile, quelites, beans, and other vegetables that constituted the Mesoamerican diet….”

“For that reason, prayers, dances, music and flowers were offered in each planting cycle…”

“[Later] the relationship between peoples, nature and the gods was manifested through a liturgical calendar carried out with much scrupulousness by both priests and the common people, for the survival of all was at stake, since a failed crop condemned them to famine, disease and moral suffering.”

“By contrast, an abundant harvest filled the people with happiness and they understood that the Goddess of Fertility – Centéotl – had listened to their requests.”  — my translation from the Spanish

The competition to be Diosa Centéotl is not a Miss Universe/Miss America style beauty pageant.  Dressed in the typical costumes of their villages or neighborhoods, these young women had to communicate their knowledge of their communities. They were required to give two 4-minute oral presentations in front of five judges:  Jorge Bueno Sánchez (city chronicler), Celia Florián (chef/owner of Las Quince Letras), María Concepción Villalobos (coauthor of Centéotl en los Lunes del Cerro), María Concepción Guzmán Concha (textile expert), and Claudio Sánchez Islas (writer and journalist).

In the morning session of the competition, each was required to speak about their traditional cuisine, crafts, festivals, customs, myths and legends, or tourist attractions. During the afternoon stage, each had to discuss the history, composition, elaboration, and utility of their costumes.  In addition, as Oaxaca has sixteen distinct ethnolinguistic groups, contestants from the various indigenous communities spoke several lines in their materna lengua (mother tongue).

It is in the dignity, pride, and poise expressed by each of the contestants where we see the essence of their beauty expressed.  And the winner is…

Rebeca Itahí Ortiz Santibañez, San Melchor Betaza

Rebeca Itahí Ortiz Santibañez, from San Melchor Betaza in the Sierra Norte region of the state.  At being selected she exclaimed, “Doxhkenho dazhan” —  Muchas gracias in Zapoteco.

(ps)  If anyone has or can find a list of all the contestants, I would really love to add their names and communities to each photo.  I think they all deserve to be recognized.

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Despite 2000 miles between here and there, similarities abound between the two places I call home.

Art on walls.  (Left) A massive new mural in Mill Valley, above the side wall of the Sequoia Theater, by Zio Ziegler.  (Right)  One of the many murals by Sanez (Fabián Calderón Sánchez) in Oaxaca.  By the way, I’ve previously posted murals by both artists:  click Sanez and/or Zio Ziegler.

Agave.  (Left) Of course in Mill Valley (California), it’s solely ornamental for those meticulously landscaped gardens.   (R) Whereas in Oaxaca, it’s vital crop — land without agave means life without mezcal!

Fluttering swags of flags.  (Left) Cloth Tibetan prayer flags flying outside the 142 Throckmorton Theatre in Mill Valley welcome patrons to the Mountainfilm festival.  (Right) Ubiquitous papel picado found inside and out in Oaxaca, in paper or plastic, for events special or just because.

Sacred mountains.  (Left) Mt. Tamalpais, the Sleeping Lady and mountain of my childhood dreams, teen driving lessons, and adult peace, joy, and renewal.  (Right) Cerro Picacho (in Zapoteco, Quie Guia Betz), brother/sister mountain — the sacred mountain in Teotitlán del Valle, where, among other times, villagers make a pilgrimage to the top on Día de la Santa Cruz (Day of the Holy Cross).

And, last but not least, colorfully costumed couples.  (Left) Soon after arriving at the Mill Valley Fall Arts Festival, I ran into this twosome.  Turns out, in the “it’s a small world” universe, they are actually friends of a couple I know in San Miguel de Allende.  (Right) During July’s Guelaguetza in Oaxaca, the delegation from Putla de Guerrero representing their celebration of Carnaval, is garish and gaudy and wild and wacky — in other words, fantastic!

Creativity is a challenge. It requires us to be fully human — autonomous yet engaged, independent yet interdependent. Creativity bridges the conflict between our individualistic and our sociality. It celebrates the commonality of our species while simultaneously setting us apart as unique individuals.  —Greg Graffin

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The celebration of Día Internacional de los Pueblos Indigenas continues in Oaxaca this weekend, with music, dance, food, and an artisan expo-venta (sale) in Jardín El Pañuelito.  As I walked through the exposition, one woman’s embroidery drew me back for a second look.  I was especially drawn to a huipil that had been hanging next to the one below.  It’s not in this photo, because one of the “Diablos” from the Santiago Juxtlahuaca dance troupe (who were performing later) had already volunteered to climb up on a chair to take it down for her to show to me.

However, before I could get my money out, a delegation of dignitaries came by for a photo shoot.

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This popular and exceptionally talented woman is Carmen Vásquez Pérez, from San Mateo Yetla, Valle Nacional, located 172 kilometers northeast of Oaxaca city in the Papaloapan Region.  According to the article, Mujeres preservan bordado en Yetla, the village is surrounded by waterfalls and lush vegetation and is rich in Chinanteca customs.

P1130484Doña Carmen learned to embroider as a child and has been instrumental in an effort to preserve and promote the local traditional designs and techniques.  As you can see below, her workmanship is exquisite.

P1130489 After returning home and doing a little research, I’m even more pleased with my purchase.  And, by the way, I did not “bargain” — my new treasure is worth every peso of its 600 peso price tag, and then some!

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The Plaza de la Danza was filled with cheering crowds early Sunday evening as ten girls and eight boys from Los Ángeles de Luz took the stage for the 13th edition of this very special Guelaguetza.  Perhaps it is because I have a special needs nephew or that both my sister-in-law and daughter-in-law are special ed teachers that I am drawn to this event every year.  In any case, the joy and pride exhibited by these young people with Down’s Syndrome, as they make the requisite costume changes and perform traditional dances from the eight regions of Oaxaca, always lifts my heart.

I had to leave before it ended, but hopefully through this slideshow I can share a little of the professionalism and accomplishment of these performers and the emotion experienced by those of us who had the privilege of being in the audience.

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President of Los Ángeles de Luz, Flor Verónica García Ávilan explained in El Imparcial, that the group was formed after “realizing that contact with music, dance, and the audience makes them happy, cheerful, communicative, committed and disciplined beings, facilitating their development holistically within society.” [translated from Spanish]

And, I would like to add, for those of us watching their performance, it facilitates our acceptance of those who many be a little different from us.  If you are in Oaxaca for next year’s Guelaguetza festivities, try to attend this heartwarming and uplifting event.  Also, there is always a calenda (parade) a couple of days before AND scrambling for gifts tossed into the crowd after each dance.

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Last Saturday, in the end, it did not rain on the parade.  With only minutes to spare before the first desfile of the Guelaguetza delegations was to begin, the torrential downpour stopped, the rockets sounded, bands played, and the delegates danced their way down Independencia.  I can’t believe how UN-bedraggled and energetic they were!

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Here’s hoping I managed to include one photo from each of the delegations in the slideshow above.

By the way, if you are in Oaxaca and planning to attend the second desfile tomorrow (July 25), see below for the parade route  — it has been changed!

Desfile2 ruta

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Before the rains came to put a damper on Saturday’s Guelaguetza pre-parade photo-ops, there were these moments with with moms and dads readying their impossibly cute kids for the desfile.

This last was my favorite moment.  I think dad was hoping for a lovely portrait of his beautiful daughter in all her finery, but as he began to take her digital device away, she gave him a look that said, “If you think your going to get a smile out of me, you’ve got another think coming.”  So, I said, let her keep it — still no smile, but there was another hour before the scheduled start time and parental experience told me, better to keep her occupied!

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Blogger buddy Chris and I have been talking about returning to Santa María Tlahuitoltepec since our first visit in May 2013.  Time flies when you’re having fun and it took the current Theft of a cultural kind controversy to motivate us to hit the long and winding road up into the Mixe.  To reach our our journey’s end in the Sierre Norte, our road trip took a little over two and a half hours from the city — on a much improved route 179, I might add.

179 to Tlahui

Reaching the center of town, known for its musical literacy and textiles, Tejas, a youth band, was warming up on the multipurpose municipal basketball court.

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Their performance was part of the Domingos de Concierto (concert Sundays).  We joined villagers to watch and listen.

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Most all of the women “of a certain age” were wearing the traditional dress that is a symbol of this community.

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However, our stomachs began grumbling and led us in search of comida.  The comedor we had been directed to wasn’t open but there were women sitting under the portales selling tamales.  This gal’s amarillo tamales (3 for 10 pesos) were muy sabrosos!

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Once we had eaten, fed a couple of street dogs the crumbs (until a woman walking softly and carrying a big stick, chased them away), and our energy levels were restored, we walked across the street to the sextagonal textile kiosk — the day’s destination.

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We headed to Artesanias Kojpk Okp, the tiendita of Doña Honorina Gómez Martínez, the embroiderer we had met on our previous visit to Tlahuitoltepec.  Ahhh, yes, she was well aware of the Inspiration or plagiarism dispute with French designer, Isabel Marant, that even Vogue UK has covered.  As I later discovered, she spoke for the embroiderers at the press conference held at Oaxaca’s Textile Museum ten days ago.

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This spirited, strong, and delightful woman has been embroidering for 46 years and, as she explained at the press conference, “my heart tells me what I’m going to embroider because I have it in memory, born with that idea or feeling, experience, it is the daily life as Mixe.  It is a representation of blood, food, and nature. ” [translated from the original Spanish]

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She recognized us and she and her assistant (husband? son?) were more than willing to plunge into piles of her creations, pull down blusas hanging on the walls, and dismantle displays.  Here is the blusa and ceñidore I came home with…

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Should you be inclined to go to the source, but can’t manage a trip up into the Mixe, as always, she will have a stall in July at the special artisan market in Oaxaca city during La Guelaguetza.  She can also be contacted by telephone:  01 283 596 26 05 and cell:  951 198 79 42.

Stay tuned for a blog post on Oaxaca-The Year After…  (Chris has a lot more photos to weed through!)

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High in the mountains of the Sierra Norte, the village of Santa María Tlahuitoltepec sits perched on a ridge top in Oaxaca’s Mixe region.  The terrain is rugged and unforgiving; it took rescue crews ten hours, much of it on foot, to reach the municipality following a lethal mudslide at the end of an extremely wet 2012 rainy season.  Eight months later, in May of 2013, when blogger buddy Chris and I ventured up there for their Fiesta de Mayo, we still had to detour around the remains of the slide.

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Santa María Tlahuitoltepec, May 11, 2013.

Despite the harsh conditions and its remote location, Santa María Tlahuitoltepec is home to the Center for Musical Training and Development of Mixe Culture and it is estimated that 70% of the population can read music and many who can’t, play by ear — a source of great pride.

Guelaguetza desfile, July 28, 2012

Guelaguetza desfile, July 28, 2012

In addition to the musical talents of its residents, the village is known for the intricately embroidered blouses the women make and wear.  The design of both the cut of the blouse and the patterns of embroidery are uniquely Santa María Tlahuitoltepec.  If you see someone wearing one on the streets of Oaxaca, you know immediately where it came from.  I have a blouse and Chris bought a couple to decorate the walls of his house.

Santa María Tlahuitoltepec, May 2013.

Santa María Tlahuitoltepec, May 11, 2013.

However, in January of this year Oaxaqueña singer Susana Harp raised the alarm when she tweeted her outrage that the exclusive US department store Neiman Marcus was selling identical copies of the blouses of Santa María Tlahuitoltepec for $290 US dollars (six times what the originals cost in Oaxaca) — without even an acknowledgement of the origin of the designs.  And, last week ReMezcla (a digital publisher, creative agency, and entertainment company targeting Latino millenials) took up the issue of this kind of cultural appropriation with it’s article, The $290 Isabel Marant Huipil Rip Off That Pissed Off Oaxaca’s Mixe Community noting that, “In the case of Isabel Marant’s new ‘bohemian’ Étoile line, however, it’s hard to even muster a flimsy cultural inspiration defense, since the Oaxacan Mixe culture the clothes were ‘inspired’ by have been completely erased from the narrative.”

Dancers in action from Santa María Tlahuitoltepec

I urge you to forgo these and other high-priced knock-offs.  Instead, go to the source and buy originals from the talented artisans who created them.  And, a note to ReMezcla, especially given the subject of your article, I would have appreciated credit for your use of my photograph (above) from the Guelaguetza desfile, that I originally posted July 22, 2013.

Update:  A press conference by municipal authorities and embroiderers from Santa María Tlahuitoltepec was held on June 3 at at the Textile Museum of Oaxaca protesting the lack of respect by Isabel Marant for the creativity and work by the women of Tlahuitoltepec and the history and worldview that gave birth to their designs.

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Feliz Día del Niño (Day of the Child) to children everywhere!

Forever Young
by Bob Dylan

May God bless and keep you always
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others
And let others do for you
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young.

May you grow up to be righteous
May you grow up to be true
May you always know the truth
And see the lights surrounding you
May you always be courageous
Stand upright and be strong
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young.

May your hands always be busy
May your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift
May your heart always be joyful
And may your song always be sung
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young.

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Yesterday was Día de la Bandera (Flag Day) in Mexico.  Hmmm, I don’t think these were the flags they had in mind…

The flags that were flying on the streets of Oaxaca were those carried by the members of the Integrantes del Frente de Organizaciones Sociales, Campesinas, Urbanas, Pesqueras y del Transporte (FOSCUPT), an umbrella group of more than forty social organizations, peasants, urban workers, fishers, and transport workers.  Thousands marched from the Fuente de las Ocho Regiones (Fountain of the 8 Regions) to the zócalo.  Besides flags, there were banners and burros…

And Devils Dance street theater from an Afromexicano group, probably from the Costa Chica.

After marching and playing for miles, the destination was reached; the bote player took a break and gals from San Pablo Tijaltepec went and got something to drink.

According to this article, the mobilization was to reject bad structural policies and funding cuts being made in the peasant sector and requesting the federal government turn their eyes to Oaxaca.  In addition, Jesus Romero López, leader of FOSCUPT, among other demands, called for justice for the social and political leaders who have been killed and for better urban planning, stating that the city is growing in a disorganized way, often resulting in neighborhoods with no water, electricity, or paved streets.

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Today, south of the zócalo, the streets were well protected…

Don’t tread on the women of Oaxaca!

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“Beauty is whatever gives joy.” — Edna St. Vincent Millay

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Some of the beautiful women, young and old, of this year’s Guelaguetza desfiles.

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I love arriving early at the assembly site for the Guelaguetza desfile.  There is time to mingle with the delegations as parade participants gather.  Tourists, bloggers, and professionals aren’t the only ones taking photos…

Finishing touches are put on costumes and canastas.

Adjustments are made to sandals and feet are rested before beginning the 3 hour procession through the streets of the city.

We won’t ask what alteration she is making!

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More parade photos to come…

 

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Remember my recent posts from Santa María Tlahuitoltepec up in the mountains of the Mixe?  They are one of the 13 delegations who will be dancing at this morning’s Guelaguetza performance on Cerro Fortín.

Dancers in action from Santa María Tlahuitoltepec

To watch today’s and next Monday’s 10 AM and 5PM performances, click HERE or HERE.   Enjoy!

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