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A Visit to a Zapatista Community – Oventic

Mural of Emiliano Zapata

Mural of Emiliano Zapata

The Zapatistas are a group of indigenous people who joined together in the year 1983 to gain rights for indigenous people of Mexico. They are named after Emiliano Zapata, one of the leaders in the Mexican Revolution. The Zapatistas have formed small communities that operate outside of the Mexican government. After watching several documentaries on the Zapatistas, I decided to visit one of their communities, Oventic, to learn more.

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Oventic is a small community outside of San Andrés of Larrainzar, a town known for its wonderful weavings. When entering, you are greated by the Zapatistas at a gate. They are curious about who you are. As you enter, a guide will shown you around. Mine was named Carlos and he was very kind and answered any questions I had.

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The community works together, they grow and share their food and eat meals together. I visited their store, near their weaving workshop, in which they sell beautiful weavings and traditional blouses. They also have a cooperative store, their own hospital, their own government offices, a church, and a beautiful school. I was told that they have ten different teachers (this was great for such a small community) and teach all subjects, including arts and Mayan languages. 

Positive messages were found on the school's walls

Positive messages were found on the school’s walls

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Even though I visited on a misty, foggy day, Oventic was very colorful. Artists from all over had painted murals throughout the town. The murals are very symbolic of the fight for indigenous rights, the importance of education and equality between women and men.

The Zapatistas are recognized by their masked faces. The symbol of their organization is a red star.

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Weaving workshop

Weaving workshop

 

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Once Upon A Time in Mexico – Celebrating with the Parachicos

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In mid January (4-23) in the town of Chiapas de Corzo, there is an incredible display of culture, tradition and pure fiesta. I was lucky enough, on my birthday (the 17th), to find myself celebrating along with the welcoming people of this town.

It is known as the Fiesta Grande de Enero or the Great January Feast and it is so amazing (and I completely agree with this) that it was recognized for its cultural significance by UNESCO in 2010.

 

 

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The legend claims that many years ago a wealthy woman from Spain, Doña María, came to Chiapas de Corzo in search of a cure for her sick son by one of the town’s local healers. During this time, to entertain the sick boy, the men dressed and danced in masks. They were know as the parachicos (translated as “for the boy”). The boy was cured in Chiapas de Corzo and when Doña María heard of a plague that troubled the town, she returned with food and money, grateful to the town that had cured her son.

 

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On the streets of Chiapas de Corzo everyone seems to be participating, even small children dress as parachicos. The women dress as Chipanecas, representing the wealthy Doña María. Also on the streets you may find a “chunta” these are men dressed as women who are acting as the servants or maids of Doña María. The parachicos wear beautifully carved masks made to look like a Spanish face. Their helmet like tops are made of ixtle, a fiber from yucca or agave plants. Parachicos dance in the streets playing metal maracas called chinchines and tap their boots.

During the fiesta, there are feasts honoring three saints. As Doña María showed in the past, gratitude seems to be the message here. The people of Chiapas de Corzo love to include others and share this experience, and I am grateful for a birthday that I’ll never forget.

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Small child as a parachico

 

 


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Once Upon a Time in Mexico – I haven’t seen anything like San Juan Chamula

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Chamula is a town in the Chiapas area of Mexico unlike all others. Upon arriving in San Cristobal de las Casas, we were told that our first excursion outside of town must be Chamula in order to fully experience the Chiapas region. I love a good recommendation, so on Sunday (market day) we headed to Chamula by the small local bus, or colectivo.

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One of the largest indigenous groups in Mexico, the Tzotzil Maya live in this area. In San Juan Chamula the Tzotzil are seen wearing traditional clothing. The men wear tunics made of black or white wool that are belted around their waists, these tops are called chujes. The women wear blouses called huipils and long black skirts made of black wool.

 

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One of the most incredible sights is that of the Cathedral San Juan Bautista, which is unlike any church I’ve seen. Photographs inside are strictly forbidden. When entering, there are no benches or pews and there hasn’t been a priest here since 1968. Instead, the townspeople follow traditional Mayan beliefs and use curanderos, or native healers, to perform ceremonies on the church floor. The floor is covered in pine needles and copal incense is burned. Wax is melted at the base of candles and they are attached to the floor in rows. The sight of numerous candles in a vast space is magical. During the healing rituals one can see the use of candles, eggs, CocaCola, a sugarcane alcohol beverage called Pox and at times a live chicken. These healing rituals are very important to the people; there are no medical clinics in town.

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Another interesting sight is that of the mayordomos, who are the caretakers of the saints that are found along the church’s walls. On Sunday, the mayordomos are seen on the plaza and are guarded by the nearby police. After care taking for several saints, or performing “carga”, they are seen as elders in the community and offer advice. San Juan Chamula has its own police force and set of laws. This is allowed by the Mexican government to preserve its unique culture. Women are not allowed to vote; and crimes, such as theft, result in a jail sentence.

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Chamula’s local cemetery, similar to the church, pine boughs are used.

 

 


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“Painting completed my life” – Frida Kahlo

Frida's first self portrait painted in 1926 as a gift to her boyfriend Alejandro

Frida’s first self portrait painted in 1926 as a gift to her boyfriend Alejandro

Frida Kahlo is one of Mexico’s most famous artists. While visiting Mexico City, my mom and I looked forward to visiting Frida’s home, Casa Azul. Casa Azul is the home Frida grew up in and where she passed in the year 1954. She lived here with her husband, Diego Rivera, also known for his painting. This beautiful home has become a museum and tribute to this fascinating artist.

Casa Azul, located in Coyocoan, Mexico City

Casa Azul, located in Coyocoan, Mexico City

Inner courtyard, Casa Azul

Inner courtyard, Casa Azul

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Kitchen

Kitchen

When Frida was 18 she was in a terrible bus accident, she had to remain in bed due to her injuries. A mirror was placed above her bed allowing her to paint her 1st self portrait.

At age 18, Frida was in a terrible bus accident, where she injured her back and pelvis. she had to remain in bed due to her injuries. Her parents gifted her some paints and a mirror was placed above her bed allowing her to paint her 1st self portrait. In her home she had two beds, one she used during the daytime (shown here), the other she slept in during the evening.

Evening bedroom of Kahlo

Evening bedroom of Kahlo

Despite the pain the accident had caused her, Frida was strong and brave. She used art to show how she felt.

Despite the pain the accident had caused her, Frida was strong and brave. She used art as a way to express her emotions.

Frida's painting studio

Frida’s painting studio

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Frida's still life painting

Frida’s still life painting

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Frida passed before finishing this family portrait, she had two older sisters and one younger

Frida passed before finishing this family portrait, her parents are in the center and her three sisters are by her side, it is unknown who the unfinished faces belong to.

Frida also had a disease called Polio when she was 6 years old, this caused her legs to be two different lengths.

Frida also had a disease called Polio when she was 6 years old, this caused her legs to be two different lengths.

Frida was also known for her fashion. It was thought that she wore loose, comfortable clothing to hide the pain

Frida was also known for her colorful, traditional fashion. It was thought that she wore loose, comfortable clothing to hide the pain.

Frida also may have been influenced by the indigenous clothing worn by her mother as shown in this photo of her mother as a child

Frida also may have been influenced by the indigenous clothing worn by her mother as shown in this photo of her mother as a child

Frida Kahlo's unique style

Frida Kahlo’s unique style

Diego Rivera's bedroom in the home and his painting overalls.

Diego Rivera’s bedroom in the home and his painting overalls.

Diego's painting studio next to Frida's.

Diego’s painting studio next to Frida’s.

Photograph taken of Frida.

Photograph taken of Frida.


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Putting away the chopsticks and Packing our bags for Mexico!

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My mom and I just landed. Our first stop, Mexico City. Stay tuned for Frida Kahlo’s museum and Diego Rivera’s murals. How great it feels to speak  Spanish again and the speedy Metro system makes exploring this grand city a breeze!

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The city center, or Zocalo

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Upon arriving in Mexico, I recommend finding a small taqueria busy with locals. The owner may have to come find you as you patiently wait across the street for one of its five tables, but it’ll be worth it!

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Arriving on January 5th, the city is in celebration of the Three Kings. The children receive gifts from their parents and everyone eats a special cake that is made for this occasion. With a carnival, piñatas, ice skating and sledding in the town plaza (a ramp was built and snow brought in) the kids sure seem to be having a great time.