Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Magic of Juchitán: Ten Portraits

Las Bellas Juchitecas 
I just returned from my fourth trip to Juchitán to photograph for my “oficios” (occupations) project. There is a magic surrounding Juchitán that keeps drawing me back. Perhaps it's the call of the Tangú beckoning me to return as they usher in a new dawn, or the music of the Zapotec tongue resounding through the market offering iguanas and turtle eggs to tempt my palette, or las bellas Juchitecas, stunningly garbed in their colorful traditional trajes. It is all of these things, but most importantly it is the hard working, local artisans and crafts people who allow me to photograph and interview them for my project. I am sincerely touched by their openness, kindness, and generosity. They define the word work in the most dignified manner. This post will be a brief introduction to some of the Juchitecos that I was fortunate enough to have spent time with this trip, and who I will write about in detail at a later date.

 Don José Luis Ramírez: maker of Mexico's famous huaraches. José Luis is proud of making huaraches as they have been made for many years: with recycled tires as soles and nailed together permanently, not clued or sewn. He guaranteed me that if I had a pair of these sandals, I would wear them to my grave. So I placed an order for my next return.

Pedro López Orozco lives in Alvaro Obregon,Juchitán with his wife Matilde, and granddaughter Ana LuzPedro is in charge of the salt fields (salinas) and is a community leader. He took us to visit the salt fields and explained the extremely complex relationships that exist in this indigenous community concerning the ownership of the salt fields (public vs private) and the leasing of land for the construction of wind turbines to produce energy, which has seriously split the community.I want to return in April when they will be harvesting the salt again from the ocean and take time to interview him properly. 

Martín Valdéz: Tin Tangú Yú
I photographed and interviewed Martín last spring. He lives right down the street from the Hotel Central where I stay. He is a walking encyclopedia of Juchitán history and Zapotec culture. He explained that according to Zapotec legend, it is the Tangú Yú that ushers in the dawn each day. Besides making the traditional clay dolls, Tangú Yús, he is also a master of several other traditional art and craft forms.
This visit he recounted the fire that destroyed the central market in Juchitán in the 1920's and the rebuilding of the market that exists today. According to Luis, only women were allowed to sell in the market. Men had other important roles to play such as hunting, fishing, farming and trading, but it was the women who were in charge of the market. And to this day, the market is the women's domain and the men continue to play the roles that continue to make Juchitán de Zaragoza a prosperous and respectable community.

Cándido Carrasco is a painter of estandartes, colorful banners, that are an essential part of any vela, the traditional social and religious celebrations that are unique to the Istmo region of Oaxaca. Cándido is one of two people who still do this work. He has been doing his art form for over fifty years. I interviewed and photographed him last spring also. I stopped by this trip to visit him and found him working on an estandarte for the feast of La Virgen de Guadalupe. He also repairs broken or damaged niño Jesus statues, a very common element of most Catholic homes. His art and his life are inseparable. At eighty three, he has no intention of retiring from the work he so loves.
Vicente Fuentes Pineda is a retired clockmaker and goldsmith. He retired last year at eighty eight years of age as his eyes were getting bad and his hands were starting to tremble. Beside assembling and repairing Swiss clocks, Don Vicente was also a master goldsmith. He explained that, in effect, Juchitán is a gold based economy, and the Juchiteca women wore their pure gold jewelry to show their social position and to have capital to pawn to pay for the harvest. Once the harvest was over, they would buy back their gold. Unfortunately, no one buys precision 'Swiss clocks anymore, and the arrival of organized crime to Juchitán does not allow women to wear their gold jewelry in public. However they still have it stored in safe deposit boxes and use it as they always have in the past, as a stable means of exchange.

Don Mariano is a typesetter and printer. He owns a small shop where he specializes in making announcements,invitation and brochures. He also prints many engravings done by local artists.I did not have time to interview him this trip, but I will return. My father was a printer, as was my grandfather and nearly all of my uncles. I feel a connection to Mariano that needs to be explored further. And I want to hear him play his guitar more!

Nelson Lara is a maker of fine shoes. What he likes best is to design shoes that are original and high quality. He learned the trade from his father and grandfather as a child in El Salvador. I photographed Nelson two years ago and came back this trip to do an interview. He started out by sharing his heartbreaking story of the war in El Salvador and his forced migration. He still suffers much from the separation from his family and his homeland. Besides designing 
and making shoes, he is also a fine painter.
Pili is an embroiderer from the pueblo of Santa Rosa de Lima, near Alvaro Obregon. The majority of the inhabitants of this pueblo are embroiderers, women and men. Pili was embroidering in front of his house with his mother and sister. His younger brother came out to watch. These pueblos are so inclusive; it is a joy to meet such accepting and open people.

Yolanda López Gómez is my main contact at Lidxi Guendabiaani Casa de la Cultura de Juchitán. She personifies all of the good qualities of Las Bellas Juchitecas. Along with el Contador Vidal Ramírez Pineda, they have opened doors and established trust with the people of Juchitán that I never could have done alone. The work that they do to promote art and culture at Lidxi Guendabiaani is admirable. And on top of all that, Yolanda knows everyone in the mercado and is a fantastic cook!

There is indeed a delicious magic in Juchitán, one that I cannot resist. The magic is in its people and their culture, and in their strength and determination to hold on to it at all costs. It takes magic to do that in this day and age.


Carmel said...

Inspiring as always, Deek.
I've just come back from popping into Cazals (for other readers: that's my local French village, 3 kms away) where all is quiet, it's Monday, hardly anybody around except a couple of smokers outside the only café open. Trades? Crafts? National dress? Art? Music? Local projects? Pretty much nada really. How I envy the vibrant culture of other countries! But I suppose we've moved on (I can't say progressed) from the days of trades and crafts forming the heart of the village....maybe I should have moved here 50 years ago......
Keep it going Deek; you're a real ambassador!

Unknown said...

As it is here in Brazil, it is very pleasing to see culture and art come together when they never should have been separated in the first place.

Lisa Ede said...

What a rich array of artists and craftsmen/women! I look forward to follow-up blog posts about these wonderful people.

Unknown said...

Gracias Deek. These portraits are insightful and real and deep. I am very much looking forward to connecting to all these people again through your words, photos, and their stories. We live on such a rich and diverse planet and rely on people like you who go and help us all see what is happening somewhere we may never get to. sending Blessings and safe travels.

shawna harvey said...

10 glorious portraits!
Well done.
I worry about who will inherit your huaraches?

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