March 22, 2011 on 3:20 am

There’s nothing like being woken up in the dark by the booming sounds of exploding cannons and projectiles whistling overhead….. er, what? I’m suddenly very awake and very confused wondering if the pueblo is under attack and why the the electric connectors are being blown up. After a few tense seconds I laugh in relief; this isn’t Libya or Japan, it’s nearly dawn on Benito Juárez’s birthday and this rural Mexican valley is echoing in booming celebration of the first indigenous native president in the Western Hemisphere. These fireworks are HUGE audio phenomenon (very illegal in the United States), and they certainly do justice to the man from Oaxaca who was the first Mexican leader without a military background, and of full indigenous Zapotec blood, who rose from a shepherd and field hand to lawyer, served five terms as president of Mexico (1858-1872), resisted the French occupation, overthrew the conservative monarchial empire, restored the Republic, and used liberal efforts to modernize the country.

 

The story of Benito Juárez isn’t my only history lesson lately. Throughout my business trip in Oaxaca, it has been fascinating to discover fresh nuances in a culture I thought I knew so well. While purchasing rugs for Marisol Imports and discussing life with several old friends and members of master weaving families here in Teotitlán del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico, I have come to discover that a) almost everyone here believes in a giant generally invisible feathered serpent that either flies or lives in the caves under the church, depending on whom you speak to, and it is not often spoke of and not Quetzalcóatl b) the famous annual Guelaguetza dance ceremony in the capitol city of Oaxaca actually gets its name from the Zapotec practice of extending mutual favors over time, as needed and c) the main reason there are 5 brass bands for a town of 10,000 is because in addition to birthdays, weddings, anniversaries and general revelry, there are now 7 Fridays before Easter, and every one of these occasions requires that a band make it’s way through the streets and duly notify everyone of the goings on. Preferably at dawn and again at dusk.

 

It’s a fun place, but in-between the horn solos, quick laughs and bright colors, a marked somber placidity abounds. Perhaps this is because it is a community of artisans, sensitive to the waxings and wanings of emotion and creative expression. Or maybe the pressures of the modern world, combined with economic strain, are taking their toll on a traditional indigenous community. My friend informs me that yes, times are hard, but it’s not like everyone here is carrying a safety machete, like in neighboring towns, so he isn’t concerned. I make a point of observing these tides of sentiment, and do my best to be sincere, positive and in tune with my kung fu. Later, I join my hosts and the band’s evening procession through the cobbled streets. This time, the tuba players fade off and allow the crowd and religious leaders to sing their soft prayers at each candlelit vigil, “…que Dios illumine nuestro entendimiento…” they continue murmuring. Indeed. Y, con su labor construyes su futuro.

-Danice Crawford 3/21/2011 for Marisol Imports

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