Communities Where We Work

Travel • Learn • Empower

We work with various indigenous communities in Oaxaca, Mexico. We invite you to learn more about these communities.


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Oaxaca

The state of Oaxaca is one of the most culturally rich states in Mexico with extensive pre-Hispanic traditions and colonial culture. The history, art, cuisine, music, and dance capture the interest and heart of those who visit. The environmental diversity of the state is impressive as well, encompassing lush riparian lowlands, dry highlands, beach-lined coastland, and mountainous valleys. Located to the far south of Mexico, Oaxaca is the fifth-largest state; with a surface area of 93, 364 square kilometers it makes up 4.8% of the country’s total area. Approximately 3.5 million people live in the state, with women outnumbering men by 150,000 and 60% of the population is under the age of 30. Oaxaca de Juarez is the state capital and supports a population of 260,000.

The state is divided into 12 regions, which are subdivided into a total of 570 municipalities, significantly more than any other state. Of those, 418 are governed under a traditional system of assemblies called usos y costumbres. The state is also ethnically diverse, with 16 formally registered indigenous groups. Over one third of the state inhabitants belong to indigenous ethno-linguistic groups; of that population, 31.1% is Zapotec, 21.9% is Mixtec, 14.5% is Mazatec, 9.8% is Mixe, and 9.1% is Chinantec. 13.5% speak other or unspecified indigenous languages.

History of Oaxaca

Several significant archeological sites lie in the Central Valley region near the city of Oaxaca, including Monte Alban, Mitla, and Yagul. Because of the extensive archeological evidence that has been found in these sites, we have a much more comprehensive understanding of the area’s prehistoric and pre-Hispanic history. Evidence of human habitation found near the town of Mitla dates back to 11,000 BCE. It is the “earliest known evidence of domesticated plants in the continent, while corn cob fragments from the same cave are said to be the earliest documented evidence for the domestication of maize," according to UNESCO. Other archeological evidence shows that the peoples in the region were mostly nomadic until 2000 BCE, when small sedentary villages were established in the valley. The crops started around that time consisted of corn, beans, chocolate, tomatoes, chili peppers, squash and gourds. Meat from smaller native animals was also an important part of the diet that was maintained until the arrival of the Spanish.

From 750 CE until the Spanish conquest in 1521 various urban areas and dominions grew and fell, with power changing hands between the Zapotecs, Mixtecs, and Aztecs. The Zapotecs and Mixtecs allied forces to combat the Aztecs, who were the last to gain control of the Central Valley/Oaxaca city region before the Spanish conquest, only thirty years after the Aztec conquest.

The state of Oaxaca remained under Spanish control until the end of the Mexican War of Independence in 1821. In 1824, Oaxaca was made a state with Jose Maria Murguia as its first governor. Mexico’s most well-known president, Benito Juárez, was from a small town in Oaxaca and served as the governor of Oaxaca before becoming the nation’s president. He played an influential role in the Reform War and the shaping of modern day Mexico.

Important Festivals

Festivals, parades, fireworks, and other celebrations occur regularly—almost daily—in the city of Oaxaca. However, several times of year in particular hold special importance for the people of the city, including the Guelaguetza, Día de los Muertos (Days of the Dead), and Noche de los R´abanos (Night of the Radishes).

The Guelaguetza celebration occurs every year on two Mondays in July in the city of Oaxaca and neighboring smaller communities. Although it is now one of the most important tourist events of the year, the festival is rooted in strong pre-Hispanic traditions. The word guelaguetza comes from the Zapotec language and means “reciprocal exchanges of gifts and services.” Today, communities from throughout the state come to the city to present their regional dances, dress, and music in an open-air theatre, and throw gifts such as fruit to the spectators.

The Days of the Dead in Oaxaca is another significant annual event to celebrate the lives of friends and relatives who have died, taking place on the October 31st through November 2nd. Cemeteries are decorated with flowers and candles, altars with the favorite food and drink of the deceased relative are constructed in homes, and huge sand paintings are made in open areas in the city. Several traditional foods are prepared especially for this time of year, including mole negro, pan de yema (a special bread), and Oaxacan chocolate. Many people participate in comparsas—parades often with masks, bands, and dancing in the streets—and spend most of the night of November 1st in the decorated cemeteries.

The third significant festival of the people of Oaxaca celebrates creativity and the festivity of the Christmas season. El Noche de los Rábanos, or Night of the Radishes, falls on the 23rd of December and draws the majority of the city’s people to the downtown center (zócalo) to admire the hundreds of elaborately carved radishes. The tradition began in the late 19th century, when market venders would artistically carve radishes as a way to draw attention to their produce. Today, images of farmers, Frida Kahlo, nativity scenes, la Virgen de la Soledad (patron saint of Oaxaca), animals, flowers, even Led Zeppelin album covers and many more designs are carved from huge radishes and displayed in the Zocolo. The festivities of the night are followed by more Christmas celebrations such as parades, firework displays, and street dancing on December 24th and 25th.

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Teotitlan Del Valle

Teotilán del Valle is a Zapotec community located in the foothills of the Sierra Juarez mountains in the Valles Centrales (Central Valleys) region of Oaxaca. It is one of the oldest Zapotec villages in the region, and the Zapotec language and culture is still a mainstay of community life. Most people in Teotitlán speak both Zapotec and Spanish. There are now Zapotec language classes taught in the primary and high school. Teotitlán del Valle is a municipality that covers about 82 square kilometers with a total population of 5,638.

Local economy and work

The village is well known for its textiles, especially rugs, which are woven on hand-operated looms. The tradition of weaving dates back to 500 B.C.E. and is a skill that is passed down from generation to generation. The Spanish introduced the loom and wool yarn, which the Zapotecs incorporated into their existing weaving tradition, the result being beautiful tapetes (rugs). It is estimated there are about 150 weaving families in the pueblo and the weaving is carried out by both young and old. Overall 68% of the population of Teotitlán del Valle works on the production of textiles and crafts. Teotlitlán del Valle has only been connected to Mexico City since the 1940s, but with the arrival of tourism to Oaxaca there has been a bigger market for the textiles produced in the village. While at one time, the men of the village had to travel out of state to sell the rugs, now rugs and textiles are sold from many shop fronts in the township.

The residents of Teotilán del Valle engage in a range of economic activities. While textile production is the main source of income, agriculture is also important for the local economy (and in reality people often work in both areas). Most of the public land is used for the cultivation of crops, the majority of which are consumed within the village, and many residents are involved in the cultivation of corn.

Teotitlán has a bustling market that is open daily from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. The market is in a large building next to the church, and has three main sections: fruits/vegggies and meat; dairy products, fresh juices and prepared foods; bread, clothes and household items. Thereis also an "open-air", where vendors can bring their products daily.

In addition there is also a artisan market located by the municipality building. The market use to be controlled by a few families, but the community decided that the artisan market should belong to the community. In 2010, after renovating the space the community re-opened the open air market. Today members of the community can sign-up for a 15 day time slot. Currently there are approximately ninety families participating, and the rotation their 15 days happens every 45 days.

Just across from the market is the town's Museum, Balla Xtee Guedchi Gulal. The museum opened in 1995 and features archaeological relics, crafts and information regarding local traditions.

Political landscape

The municipality of Teotitlán is semi-autonomous from the federal government because they operate under a system of self-governance called usos y costumbres . The phrase literally means “uses and customs,” but is more accurately translated as “customs as a source of law.” This system allows the community to appoint their own representatives, independent of any political parties, and bypasses the national voting system. Usos y costumbres is in widespread use across Oaxaca and almost three-quarters of state municipalities have adopted it as their system of governance. In most communities, under usos y costumbres land is communal and cannot be purchased as private property by foreigners.

In Teotitlán a system called tequiorequires residents to carry out community work. It is also obligatory for residents to perform administrative duties for community councils, known as cargos, which community members are typically called upon to do every few years. Council members do not receive monetary compensation for their work and may not undertake other paid activities during this time, which can last anywhere from a few months to three years to fulfill the function of the municipal president. The town government consists of a: president, syndicate, mayor, treasurer, and various administrative personnel. Five council members are in charge of the various committees who oversee tequio; these include finance, government, markets, education, and public works committees.

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San Jeronimo Tlacochahuaya

San Jerónimo Tlacochahuaya is a Zapotec community located just 25 kilometers outside of the state capital, Oaxaca de Juarez. Oral tradition says that the town was founded around 1100 A.D. by a Zapotec warrior named, Cochicahuala, which means "he who fights at night." As the Zapotec population grew in the central valley of Oaxaca, better land was sought and found in Tlacochahuaya, which means "damp or wet soil" in Náhuatl. The community lived dispersed among the cerros (hills) and remained unconquered for centuries. In 1550, after the marriage of the last Zapotec emperor’s son to a native woman of Tlacochahuaya, the town was incorporated into the Spanish Crown. Town titles were officially transferred in 1566, and during these same years the convent of San Jerónimo was constructed. The town was one of the most populous in the central valley, with approximately 600 people. The town economy revolved around the production of corn, pomegranate, and cuajinicuil (an antidote to the poison of venomous animals).

Local economy

Now the municipality of Tlacochahuaya covers about 47 square kilometers and has a total population of approximately 5,000. The land in Tlacochahuaya continues to be good for farming due to the soil’s large concentration of a type of calcium, which gives the soil a fertilizing property. The main economic activities are agriculture, dairy farming, and mezcal production.

People

Tlacochahuaya has a primary school and middle school. In Tlacochahuaya 41.82% of the population over the age of five has completed primary school and 9.32% of the population is illiterate. The indigenous language of Zapotec is spoken by 41.82% of the population.

Church

The ex-convent of San Jerónimo, constructed in the 16th Century was a retirement home for the Dominican friars. The seminary was one of the most accredited of the 16th century because of the strict rules of penance. Some would say the friars looked like statues due to years of punishment and meditation. It is also said that a monk who lived there, Juan de Córdoba, was the first to compile a dictionary in Zapotec. It was said that he only wore shoes to mass, and was viewed as a saint by the community. Today, many tourists travel to Tlacochahahuaya to visit the ex-convent and admire its unique and beautifully painted walls designed by the local indigenous community members. Another point of interest is its antique German Organ that dates back to 1725.

Community

 The town's annual party, held on September 30, honors their patron saint San Jerónimo. The celebrations last for five days and include fireworks, dancing, sports competitions, and lots of eating and drinking. In the summer the town also celebrates the Guelaguetza to honor the corn harvests and the community. They gather on the hill overlooking the community and celebrate through food and dance. It is tradition that a group of men dress as women and generally lead the dancing.

Political landscape

The municipality of San Jerónimo Tlacochahuaya is semi-autonomous from the federal government because they operate under a system of self-governance called usos y costumbres . The phrase literally means “uses and customs,” but is more accurately translated as “customs as a source of law.” This system allows the community to appoint their own representatives, independent of any political parties, and bypasses the national voting system. Usos y costumbres is in widespread use across Oaxaca and almost three-quarters of state municipalities have adopted it as their system of governance.

The town has switched back and forth several times between usos y costumbres and the civil law system. In the late 1990s Tlacochahuaya switched to the civil system, and in 2010 returned to the traditional system. This has created some tension within the community, especially in relation to land ownership. Under usos y costumbres land is communal and cannot be purchased as private property. The transitions have created some confusion and debate over who owns what land and what land belongs to the community.

In Tlacochahuaya a system called tequiorequires residents to carry out community work. It is also obligatory for residents to perform administrative duties for community councils, known as cargos, which community members are typically called upon to do every few years. Council members do not receive monetary compensation for their work and may not undertake other paid activities during this time, which can last anywhere from a few months to three years to fulfill the function of the municipal president. The town government consists of a: president, syndicate, mayor, treasurer, and various administrative personnel. Five council members are in charge of the various committees who oversee tequio; these include finance, government, markets, education, and public works committees.

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San Sebastián Abasolo

A Zapotec community named in honor of both a Roman saint and a hero of the Mexican Independence San Sebastián Abasolo sits approximately 21 kilometers from the state capital, Oaxaca de Juárez.

There are no historical documents that say exactly how the town was founded, but oral tradition reports people inhabiting the area beginning in the year 1345. The temple was erected in honor of the patron saint, San Sebastián Mártir. There are three mounds in the town where vestiges and objects there used by ancient populations exist. Current residents of the town consider the hill Danni Yeri a historical site. The hill, which sits near a stream, has ancient tunnel that is believed to have once reached Zaachila, a Oaxacan town some 20 kilometers away. It is speculated that the tunnel was used for travel.

Before 1878, the land where Abasolo sits was considered part of the San Jerónimo Tlacochahuaya territory. In 1670 natives from Tlacochahuaya began to build huts out in the fields to tend their animals and crops. Over the years an entirely new community was formed. In 1878 San Sebastián Abasolo was officially founded and ceased to belong to Tlacochahuaya. In 1908 an agreement between the two towns fixed the territories for each town, with Abasolo receiving mostly wetlands where it was almost impossible to cultivate any product. As the water levels lowered, the land became very fertile and Tlacochahuaya disregarded the previous agreement. As a result, a conflict arose between the two towns in 1954, and it was not until 1975 that incidents of violence ceased. The conflict remains unresolved.

Local economy and work

The municipality now covers about 16.58 square kilometers and has a total population of approximately 2,000. Besides large zinc deposits, the town is largely agricultural, specializing in the production of beans, garlic, and chiles de agua.

In Abasolo 55.54% of the population over the age of five has completed primary school and 4.65% of the population is illiterate. Zapotec, the indigenous language, is spoken by 28.83%.

Political landscape

The municipality of Abasolo is semi-autonomous from the federal government under a system of self-governance called usos y costumbres, which allows the community to appoint their own representatives independent of any political parties and to bypass the national voting system. The town government consists of: the municipal president, syndicate, and three council members for housing, public safety, and education. The municipal secretary conducts meetings regularly, and records all decisions taken during the meeting. Elected officials are required to complete their voluntary service known as a cargo. Citizens may complete several cargos throughout their lifetime, with terms of service that can last anywhere from a few months to three years. A citizen who aspires to reach a town government cargo must start from the lowest position and work up.

The town government also requires volunteer service from community members in addition to the cargos. These services are referred to as tequios, and include duties that improve or benefit community welfare such as: forestry service, cleaning the streets, gardening, putting up a fence, etc. Tequios tend to be more project-based and citizens are solicited when needed, where cargos are elected positions that generally carry a full-time service term of one year. Tequios are managed by the Public Works Administrator, who, is an elected official serving his cargo. There are also three mayores de vara (police officers) that take weeklong shifts to assist the president and the syndicate.

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Santo Domingo Tomaltepec

Tomaltepec means, “On the hill of the tomatoes.” The name is an amalgamation of tomatl, meaning “tomato,” Teperl, meaning “hill,” and c, meaning “on or over.”[i] Situated ten kilometers from the city of Oaxaca, Santo Domingo is hidden behind el Tule, and its only entrance boasts a sign that says, “Santo Domingo – panadería y tabalataría.,” meaning the town of bread and leatherwork.

The local economy and work
The municipality covers about 49.76 square kilometers and has a total population of 2,790.

The primary economic activities are agriculture and trade. The soil in Santo Domingo is vertisol pélico, a grey-black, thick soil. Its agricultural use is extensive, varied, and productive, but its consistency can make it difficult to manage. The main trades conducted in the town are the production and selling of bread and leather work.

People
In Santo Domingo 48.6% of the population has completed primary school. There is an illiteracy rate of 6.95%, and 20.1% of the population speak Zapotec.

Political landscape

The municipality of Santo Domingo Tomaltepec is semi-autonomous from the federal government and operates under a system of self-governance called usos y costumbres. The phrase literally means “uses and customs,” but is more accurately translated as “customs as a source of law.” This system allows the community to bypass the national voting system and to appoint its own representatives who are independent of any political parties. The town government consists of: the municipal president, syndicate, and three council members for housing, public safety, and education. The municipal secretary conducts meetings regularly, and records all decisions taken during the meeting. Elected officials are required to complete their voluntary service known as a cargo. Citizens may complete several cargos throughout their lifetime, with terms of service that can last anywhere from a few months to three years. A citizen who aspires to reach a town government cargo must start from the lowest position and work up.

The town government also requires volunteer service from community members in addition to the cargos. These services are referred to as tequios, and include duties that improve or benefit community welfare such as: forestry service, cleaning the streets, gardening, putting up a fence, etc. Tequios tend to be more project-based and citizens are solicited when needed, where cargos are elected positions that generally carry a full-time service term of one year. Tequios are managed by the Public Works Administrator, who, is an elected official serving his cargo. There are also three mayores de vara (police officers) that take weeklong shifts to assist the president and the syndicate.

Resources
1. Enciclopedia de los Municipios de México, www.e-local.gob.mex. 2. Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía (INEGI). Finanzas públicas estatales y municipales (2010). 3. Sistema estatal y municipal de bases de datos. Instituto nacional de estadística y geografía. http://sc.inegi.org/mex/sistemas/cobdem.

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Díaz Ordaz

Villa Díaz Ordaz is located on the outskirts of Mitla. Its origins date back to the prehispanic settlements of the Zapotecs and Mixtecs who inhabited the land. In 1646 the town was officially placed under Spanish control, and until the year 1860 the town was named Santo Domingo del Valle. In 1860, there was a great battle in Oaxaca between the conservative and liberal forces of the Guerra de Reforma of 1857-1861. Then governor, General José María Díaz Ordaz, travelled the 40 kilometers from the capital to lead the liberal forces. During the battle the General was wounded and, as a result of his injury, passed away the following day. The conservative forces were defeated, and on October 31, 1860 the State Congress declared Díaz Ordaz a hero and renamed the town in his memory.

The local economy and work

Now the municipality covers about 209 square kilometers and has a total population of approximately 6,200.

People

In Díaz Ordaz 62.8% of the population over the age of five has completed primary school and 13.65% of the population is illiterate. The indigenous language, Zapotec, is spoken by 79.72% of the population.

Political landscape

The municipality of Díaz Ordaz is semi-autonomous from the federal government and operates under a system of self-governance called usos y costumbres. The phrase literally means "uses and customs," but is more accurately translated as "customs as a source of law." This system allows the community to bypass the national voting system and to appoint its own representatives who are independent of any political parties. The town government consists of: the municipal president, syndicate, and three council members for housing, public safety, and education. . The municipal secretary conducts meetings regularly, and records all decisions taken during the meeting. Elected officials are required to complete their voluntary service known as a cargo. Citizens may complete several cargos throughout their lifetime, with terms of service that can last anywhere from a few months to three years. A citizen who aspires to reach a town government cargo must start from the lowest position and work up.

The town government also requires volunteer service from community members in addition to the cargos. These services are referred to as tequios, and include duties that improve or benefit community welfare such as: forestry service, cleaning the streets, gardening, putting up a fence, etc. Tequios tend to be more project-based and citizens are solicited when needed, where cargos are elected positions that generally carry a full-time service term of one year. Tequios are managed by the Public Works Administrator, who, is an elected official serving his cargo. There are also three mayores de vara (police officers) that take weeklong shifts to assist the president and the syndicate.