I shouldn’t even be surprised any more when the mundane turns to magic. It so often does in Mexico. So when an ordinary, unannounced weekend trip to Tehaucán to visit Tía Raquel y la familia turned into a double blowout fiesta, it was just validation that well, magic happens.
I often forget to note Mexican fiesta days, so it came as a pleasant surprise when José said he’d take a whole day off for Good Friday. I’d been wanting to explore some of the Mixtec area – the land of the “people of the clouds” in its indigenous Nahuatl language — in the area northwest of Oaxaca City, which is a Zapotec region. We packed up José’s VW bug with camp stools, picnics for both breakfast and lunch, my English guidebook and tooled off by 7 a.m. on the cuota, or toll road, towards Nochixtlán (no-cheece-tlan’).
While some of you were waiting on a groundhog to predict whether there would be six more weeks of winter up in el norte, I was eating tamales with a way cool bunch of women in the tiny mountain town of San Miguel de Valle in the eastern Oaxaca valley.
It was actually a double holiday: Constitution Day as far as the government was concerned, and Día de la Candelaria on the Catholic calendar, celebrating the day that Jesus graduated from swaddling and hit the street in real clothes.
December 12 was a big day in Oaxaca. First of all, it was Virgin of Guadalupe Day – the day marking the appearance of the Virgin Mary to indigenous peasant Juan Diego in 1531, a huge deal in this state of 16 different indigenous groups. But it was also one of the few annual presentations of the Danza de la Pluma (Dance of the Feathers) in Teotitlán del Valle.
Like the rest of my life here in Oaxaca, Thanksgiving this year packed a double cultural punch.
On one hand, there was gringo-prepared turkey and dressing with all the trimmings on Saturday since Thursday was a regular working day here. On the other, there was the opportunity to reflect on some of the things I take for granted on the thankometer every day. Running water, for instance. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I didn’t wear my harem costume this year for Day of the Dead; that would have been 2009 when I was still feeling a little let out of school to be living in Mexico. But that three-week trip to Oaxaca for Día de los Muertos was a life-changer. I knew that if this place were this magic despite a missed flight, a grumpy traveling companion and a bout of the swine flu – it must really be special.
Naturally, the sequel to la boda (the wedding) is el baby shower. In Mexico, it has all of the ingredients of its namesake fiesta al norte (gifts, food, party games) but with a cultural twist that makes it hard to believe there’s not a separate word for it in Spanish.
My friend Siobhan had warned me not to cross my legs or I’d have to put on a giant diaper; José wasn’t listening and had to put on a diaper before he’d been there five full minutes.
I only saw the cut-off to Hugo when I pulled off at Durant to buy Rollos and a bottle of water, when I was nearly run down by an old guy in a monster pick-up with two freckle-faced kids eating ice cream in the front seat. I thought it looked like a quicker way to get to the Indian Nation Turnpike to Henryetta to a family reunion with cousins I hadn’t seen in nearly three decades.
Last year was the first year I was here during Guelaguetza, the cultural festival that takes the city by storm for the last two weeks of July. Even though I’ve lived in Oaxaca for more than four years, I’m usually gone when it’s going on. By this July, I’d moved from living under the white auditorium so close that the sounds broke through closed doors and windows, and the fireworks left debris on my terrace.
Jesus was wearing a white doctor’s coat with his name over the pocket, stethoscope draped around his tiny ceramic neck, carrying his own little black medical bag.
He was in good company, among a dozen or so other niños Dioses (literally God children), dressed in clothing from satin capes and regal crowns to simple robes and straw hats. They might have been cowboys or goatherders, but really, they were just pilgrims.