In the movie “Being There,” Peter Sellers — in his last cinema role — played Chance the gardener, whose simplemindedness was mistaken for profound wisdom taken to run world affairs. This Sunday in Cuilápam, it was Tomás Ángel the gardener laying down some serious history on the 16th century monastery 30 miles out of Oaxaca City.
They often mispronounce the name even in the airport, certainly on the northern side of the border. “Boarding for Ox-ack’-uh” will come over the loud speaker and it sounds so wrong I don’t even get up.
It’s “Wah-hah’-ka,” derived from the original Nahuatl name Huaxyacac – which I wouldn’t try to pronounce on a dare. The de Juárez was added later in honor of Benito Juárez, one of only two natives of the state who became president of Mexico. (He was the good one.)
Oaxaca’s exotic moniker is a great metaphor for this fantastic city, capital of the state of the same name: it has a distinctly indigenous flavor, it’s complicated, and just when you think you get it — you really don’t.