Posts Tagged ‘World Heritage Site’

Monte Alban and the historic center of Oaxaca are coming up on the twenty-sixth anniversary of being designated UNESCO World Heritage sites.  And, as I write, the city is hosting the XII World Congress of the Organization of World Heritage Cities, with delegations from 230 other World Heritage cities in town for the 4-day conference.

It is to be expected that any host city would get out the spit and polish to show itself in the best light and Oaxaca is no exception.  The city is being cleaned to the nth degree and, much to driver and passenger delight and relief, the ubiquitous baches (potholes) throughout the city have been patched.

And graffiti?  It’s history, as soon as it appears.

Besides the much-welcome repair of treacherous streets, squeaky clean sidewalks, and pristine building facades, there is something else missing.  Where have all the ambulantes (street vendors) gone?  If you have ever been to Oaxaca, you will no doubt remember the indigenous vendor puestos (across from the Cathedral) that line the Alameda de León from the Post Office to the Hotel Monte Alban.  They are gone, along with the ambulantes in the plaza alongside Carmen Alto.  Even the lovely women from San Antonino Castillo Velasco, who sell their beautiful, intricately hand-embroidered wedding dresses and blouses along Macedonio Alcalá, have been removed from the street.

I later discovered, the latter have been temporarily relocated to the courtyard of the Biblioteca Pública Central.

But what of the other vendors?  Where are they?  Are they being compensated for lost revenue?  According to this article in Proceso, market trader organizations, “agreed to withdraw for six days without compensation.”  Hmmm….

I have to ask, why?  Is it just colonial buildings and archeological sites that warrant a World Heritage site designation?  I don’t think so.  Oaxaca is an incredibly vibrant, living breathing city whose primary value and cultural heritage lies not in her buildings, but with her people, especially her indigenous citizens, who have given and continue to give much of what makes Oaxaca so special — their food, music, artistry, and kind, strong, and gentle presence.  In 2007, on my first visit, it’s what had me at, hola!

According to the UNESCO World Heritage Centre website, regarding Oaxaca and Monte Alban, criterion IV states, “Among some 200 pre-Hispanic archaeological sites inventoried in the valley of Oaxaca, the Monte Alban complex best represents the singular evolution of a region inhabited by a succession of peoples: the Olmecs, Zapotecs and Mixtecs. The City of Oaxaca, with its design as a check board and its iconic architecture, has developed over more than four centuries as evidence of the fusion of two cultures Indian and Spanish.”  [my emphasis]

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After a delightful but whirlwind (6 days is too short) visit, my stepson and his wife have come and gone; this year’s Guelaguetza festivities are over; life at Casita Colibrí is gradually resuming a more leisurely rhythm; and our current historic rain has gone on hiatus.  A quiet solo Sunday morning walk beckoned, as did the APPO banners, strung along the arches of the Palacio de Gobierno, that I wanted to photograph.

Oaxaca se levanta

The banners are a work of art, but ephemeral — here today, gone tomorrow — and I never seem to have my camera with me when I come across them.

"Respeto a la autonomia de San Juan Copala"

And, more importantly, they are a graphic reminder that behind the vitality, beauty, and quaint cosmetics of “new” cobblestone streets of this UNESCO World Heritage Site facade, class warfare lurks in the shadows.

Oaxaca’s contradictions are mine.  I turn the corner and walk over to puesto 80 at Mercado Juárez to see if they’ve gotten in the chocolate covered coffee beans.  No, maybe tomorrow…  I stop by the temporary pocket market in front of the Jesuit church on the corner and satisfy my sweet tooth by buying a bag of melt-in-your-mouth Merengue Sabor Cafe, instead.

The Zócalo has awakened during my 45 minutes of shopping; young and old strolling arm-in-arm, vendors selling their wares, shoes being shined, outside tables occupied with diners chatting or simple watching the scene before them.

People strolling; vendors selling

And, there is music — always, there is music — today an orchestra has set up under the laurels for the final day of the Festival Nacional de Danzón.  The dance, with its origins in Cuba, is stately and prescribed, with inexplicable pauses where dancers turn to face the orchestra, women move to the right side of their partners, fan themselves, and then several measures later dancing resumes.

Dancers in traditional Oaxacan dress

I’m captivated by the dancers who are at once, serious and joyful, and by their varied attire — once a costumer, always a costumer!

Dancers - woman in slacks

Most dancers are in the latter third of their life, though there are a few earnest young people.

Young dancers

It’s a prosperous crowd — a dance of the elite — but mesmerizing to watch.


After an hour of observing this very “civilized” scene under an intense sun, I headed to Independencia, the shady side of the street, and home, only to stop, reel around, and follow the sounds of a calenda coming into the Alameda; band, dancers, fireworks — celebrating Día del Comerciante!


I leave feeling conflicted about my three hours on a sunny Sunday.  The lines from the song inspired by the 1912 Lawrence, Massachusetts textile strike come to mind…

As we come marching, marching, unnumbered women dead
Go crying through our singing their ancient cry for bread.
Small art and love and beauty their drudging spirits knew.
Yes, it is bread we fight for — but we fight for roses, too!

Lunch eaten, clouds gather, sky darkens, and Mother Nature reminds us who is in charge.

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