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Guest Blogger: Norma Hawthorne Writes about Oaxacan Culture

Norma Hawthorne is a mover and a shaker at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, an accomplished artist, and coordinator of numerous cultural workshops based in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico (she also happens to be Nick’s stepmother, by the way).  Since Norma has published numerous articles about Oaxacan culture, weaving, and cuisine, I wanted to share some of the information that she has collected. Nick and I are currently staying with the Federico Chavez family, a family of traditional weavers that live in the village of Teotitlan.  To learn about the Chavez family, click here.

Below is information about Oaxacan culture, which can also be read at www.oaxacanculture.com:

Walk down any cobbled back street of Teotitlan del Valle or Mitla or Arrazola or any village in the Oaxaca Valley and what will you find?  Weavers, potters and carvers tucked away behind bamboo fences or solid walls creating incredible art.  You will also see that the only wearers of traditional dress are older women, and as they pass on, the fear is that the culture will, too.  Zapotec, the unwritten spoken language of the people, is also at risk as young people answer their parents and grandparents in Spanish rather than their native tongue.

The pressure of assimilation so as not to be “different” is strong.  Television brings the world into Zapotec homes. As weaving becomes  a cheap commodity, rather than an art form, there will be fewer reasons for young people to learn the craft. They plan to move to the cities after mandatory 8th grade education to earn more money than they could  by staying.

The guelagetza system of the Zapotecs is one predicated on strong family and community bonds, paying back and giving forward.  It is a social system that was long in practice before the Spanish conquest.  Families in Zapotec villages are interdependent and multi-generational.  There is responsibility for one and the other.  The culture promotes cooperation and mutual support within extended family.

Fiestas are continuous.  There are celebrations around marriage, birth and death, for Christmas, Day of the Dead, and the patron saint of the village, and when a girl turns 15.  These can continue for several days or a week or more.  Food, especially mole, tamales, atole, take on ceremonial significance.  Visiting during Christmas season or mid-summer are times rich with cultural celebration.
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To read more about Oaxaca and the wonderful village in which we are staying, Teotitlan del Valle, visit Norma Hawthorne’s websites, www.oaxacaculture.com and www.oaxacaculture.wordpress.com.

Norma also hosts Documentary Filmmaking workshops, as well as weaving workshops and tours in Teotitlan del Valle.  Learn more at www.oaxacaculture.wordpress.com/workshops.

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