Kate in Mexico

Kate, a senior psychology major, is participating in SMU-in-Oaxaca during Winter Term. The group will spend two weeks in Oaxaca, Mexico, and then travel to the Sierra Madre mountains for a week. While in Oaxaca, the group will take classes on ceramics, weaving and painting with talented craftsmen. The students also will engage in a service learning project, will enjoy Mexican traditions related to the holiday season and will collect oral histories.

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New Year’s Day

Feliz Ano Nuevo! (Happy New Year’s!)

TuleTree.jpg New Year’s day was quite a celebration in Mexico. We started out with a visit to a Tule Tree in a small village. The tree we focused on was over 2,000 years old. When we entered the viewing area, a small school boy said he would give us a tour if we would tip him pesos. He explained to our guide he did this on the weekends and holidays so he could pay to go to school. We all decided it would be a meaningful way to visit the sight.

The child offered us seven different language options for the tour. He did not speak seven languages fluently but had taught himself enough in each of the languages to show us the tree. Using a mirror, he pointed out the various animals and religious symbols we could find in the tree. Some of them were a stretch, but the tree did house a dolphin, three wise men, a cow and a monkey for sure!

The Tule Tree is important in Oaxacan culture, as there are many stories about how the tree reaches from the heavens all the way down into the underworld. This notion is the Axis Mundi, and witnessing such a large tree really brought the ideas we have studied to life!

MariaLuisa.jpg
We were lucky enough to get to spend the rest of our day with a weaving family in a small village outside of the city. Maria Luisa Mendoza and Fidel Cruz Lazo invited our group to spend a day learning all about loom weaving. We learned the entire process – turning the llama wool into a soft fiber, spinning it to make yarn, creating dyes with natural plants, rocks and herbs, dying the yarn and finally weaving the yarn into a delicate rug.

Yarn.jpg Fidel is quite famous, as he is one of the only artists who continues to dye all of his yarn. Specifically, his process with indigo is very important. He is working on a book to teach future generations of weavers to do this process.

Maria Luisa and Fidel together have created three unique colors using the various natural elements in their process. They were very emotional when telling us about how the energy in the house is indicative of the process of dying the wool. When they have a positive energy, and life is good, the colors are vibrant and exciting. However, when they are going through a rough patch, their work and their colors suffer.

We had a chance to talk to the youngest son as well. It was interesting how he told us he would pursue weaving but also learn other things as he knows this is the future and he wanted to stay educated.

I have not felt like many of the other craftsmen have encouraged their children to learn many things other than the basic family trade. The children learn Zapotec as their first language and later work on Spanish. Zapotec is a native language of indigenous Oaxacan people.

The family home was very nice as far as Mexican standards are concerned. After our workshop, we were served lunch by Maria Luisa and her youngest son. The room in which we had lunch was adorned with many family pictures marking each and every milestone in the lives of the members of the family. Interestingly enough, the passport photographs were put in a special place along with baby pictures and wedding photographs. I can only imagine the pride that would come with the opportunity to travel outside of the small village in which they lived. Fidel and Maria Luisa occasionally travel to Santa Fe to sell their fine rugs. They do not share patterns with other artists, so their work is unique to this family.

That evening we traveled with the two boys to a mountain for a New Year’s tradition. We all wrote our New Year’s wishes on balloons and sent our wishes up into the sky. The “cave,” as it was called, was a place where people would write their wishes for the new year and then chip off a piece of rock to make the dream come true. Then people hike up a mountain and create a version of their wish. We witnessed a family constructing a mini-house as their wish was to be able to buy a house in the next year.

The evening was a big celebration as large amounts of fireworks were detonated in every which way, making many of us a little apprehensive. At one point in the evening, we all wished just to get off of the mountain with both eyes and a full head of UNburned hair. The event was very meaningful and something very few tourists get to experience. We were lucky the weaving family took the time to show us such a neat experience.

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