Text & Photos: Francisco Collazo
Translation: Julie Schwietert Collazo


Spanish Harlem, New York City

Graffiti is like a place: each “tag” has its own language. One of the characteristics of graffiti is that it reflects the social and mental state of the society in which it’s made to a certain extent.

“DEMOCRACY does not equal COLONY,” San Juan, Puerto Rico

Graffiti is an open letter. A thermometer measuring society’s temperature. A signal that communicates the health of a community better than the media.

“A salute to the Cuban Revolution on Its 50th Anniversary. And ours… when?” Puerto Rico

Some cities become renowned for their graffiti– like New York in the 70s, when the subways, stations, parks, and buildings were covered with tags.

Long Island City, New York

But in New York, graffiti is, to a certain extent, a relic of the past, not as fresh in our collective memory as these more recent examples of political graffiti from Oaxaca, Mexico, and San Juan, Puerto Rico.

“Fighting for a working class government, popularly elected by the people.” Oaxaca, Mexico

I’m compelled by them–or repulsed by them–depending on where I find them or what their messages refer to. Often, there’s an anger that seems to have motivated them into existence, and it’s costly to remove them. And there’s the anonymity of the artist: I’m so curious to know who left this message here; that person evaporates, leaving just the image or words behind.

“Long Live the EZLN!” (Zapatista movement) Oaxaca, Mexico

In fact, now I’m thinking about the time I saw a graffiti artist working away in the shadows, only to realize it was someone I knew from work. I was waiting for the 7 train when I saw a well-dressed person in the distance who seemed to be coming from work. I recognized him because he’d been an important manager in the agency where I worked. Suddenly, he looked from one side to the other, took a permanent marker out of his bag, and started scribbling something I couldn’t make out from where I was standing.

Long Island City, New York

My curiosity was so strong that when the train arrived, I didn’t take it. I wanted to stay behind so I could see and read with my own eyes what this person had left as a “gift” for all of the city’s subway riders. On the wall of the station, he’d scribbled symbols and initials that had no meaning for me, but must have represented something important to him.

I’ve never forgotten that moment, and it comes to mind each time I see graffiti wherever I travel.

For more graffiti photos, check out our Flickr photostream.

And if you happen to enjoy graffiti, check out the article “10 Places Where Graffiti is Legal,” one of which (Queens, New York’s 5 Pointz), is just a few miles from where we live (and is shown in some of the photos in this article).

“When I was 31, it was a very good year…”

Text: Julie Schwietert Collazo
Photos: Francisco Collazo & Julie Schwietert Collazo

As the last two weeks of 2008 spin towards history, I find myself in bitingly cold New York City, where I’m wrapped in at least two layers of clothes by day and sleeping under two comforters at night.

New York has been my home since I moved here in 1999 after graduating from college, accepting an internship, and deciding to stay. It’s a city I love for a thousand reasons at least.

But in 2008, I didn’t spend a lot of time here. It was a very good year for travel–the best yet–and now that I’m finally settling down at home for a period of more than a week, I’m sorting through the year’s (and a 250 GB hard drive’s) photos, stories, and memories.

Here are a few I wanted to share with you….

JANUARY, Cuba/South Carolina, Mexico City, Cuernavaca, Puebla, Tijuana, San Diego, Pacific Coast Highway, and San Francisco:
Francisco and I started the new year apart, he with family in Cuba and I with family in South Carolina.

We met up at our part-time home in Mexico City, made quick trips to Cuernavaca and Puebla, crossed the border, and then drove the Pacific Coast Highway before…

We practiced settling for a while in this city where we met each other and where we both feel at home. We saw a Gonzalo Rubalcaba concert, watched old buildings be demolished and observed the new contour of this city begin to take shape.

MARCH, Mexico City & New York:
A split month, half in el DF and half in New York. In DF, I’m working on an assignment. In NYC, I’m a passionate observer of my own neighborhood.

APRIL, New York, Washington, D.C.:

It’s spring in the city, one of the very best times of year for a New Yorker. But I’m getting restless. I organize a trip to Washington, D.C. for my mom’s birthday.

Francisco and I also meet fellow Matador editor and the amazingly talented photographer, Lola Akinmade. Still, there are stories all around, as there always are, no matter where we are.

MAY, Cuba:

I visit Cuba for the first time since Fidel handed power over to his brother, Raul. Of seven or so visits to Cuba since 2005, this is the most special one, filled with incredible moments.

I interview Chinese Cubans, spend hours with a Cuban musicologist, & work on a documentary about Juan Antonio Picasso.

Francisco’s son and I go to Mariel, where Francisco set off from Cuba in 1980. We visit Cojimar and Hemingway’s home. And I celebrate Mother’s Day with Francisco’s mom and the mother of his son.

JUNE, New Orleans:

Francisco and I meet up in New Orleans to volunteer with the Culinary Corps and write about New Orleans. Seeing the state of New Orleans three years after Hurricane Katrina reminds me why traveling and stories are important & why I believe so passionately in both.

JULY, Colombia:

A full month in Colombia, with the bulk of our time spent in Mompox, where we meet the coolest kids in the world and begin making plans for an after-school program for them.

We also visit Cartagena, Santa Marta, Taganga, and Barranquilla.

AUGUST, Guadalajara, Mexico:
Back home in Mexico, we also visit Guadalajara on assignment. Not only does Sally Rangel and the staff of Villa Ganz set a totally new standard for service and hospitality, we discover that Guadalajara is quite possibly the only city where we’ve enjoyed every single meal we’ve eaten in restaurants. We were also fortunate to participate in and interview others who attended the Iluminemos Mexico march for peace.

SEPTEMBER, Perote and Veracruz, Mexico:

Perote: The town that tourism forgot. Not for long, if we have anything to do with it. Along with our friend, Carmen, we toured the San Carlos prison, visited an ostrich and orchid farm, dreamed about opening a bed and breakfast in an abandoned hacienda in the middle of a corn field at the base of some mountains, and found ancient pottery sherds just littering the side of the road as we drove up into the mountains. We also happened upon a local boxing match.

We drank strong coffee and had my palm read in Veracruz.

OCTOBER, Mexico City & Oaxaca, Mexico; Guantanamo Bay, Cuba:

October was all about connection.

We met Matador member Teresita and her husband, Ibis, at our home in Mexico City, reconnected with my old friend, Arely, and her husband Ivan at an airport restaurant, and visited with weavers at their home and interviewed protesters in Oaxaca.

I also traveled to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to report about the military detention facility there.

I could have spent weeks there. In any event, I have a notebook full of stories that I’d like to write.

NOVEMBER, NYC, Washington, D.C., Chile:

NYC: To vote. Of course.

Washington, D.C.: To blog live from NPR on election night.

Chile: The press trip of a lifetime: 7 days. Santiago, Valparaiso, Punta Arenas, Torres del Paine. Cordero (lamb). But most of all… incredible people: Roberto, Francisco, Andres, Paloma, Carolina… que buenos son!

DECEMBER, Puerto Rico:
Francisco and I moved to Puerto Rico (shuttling back and forth between the island and NYC) in 2005 and left for good last December. While we had no active plans to return for a visit, our friends Wally and Marina asked us if we wanted to take care of their dogs for a couple weeks while they went on a much-needed and deserved vacation.

It was nice to see the sun every morning, to feel it on my skin, to watch as it penetrated just-rained skies and made light shows with rainbows, and to collect the grapefruit it ripened and scattered the ground with.

As visitors, we also went to places we’d never visited as residents, including the small island of Culebra and the town of Guanica, where the US invaded Puerto Rico during the Spanish-American War 210 years ago.


As I write this, I begin to realize that everything important is left out. It’s the people and the stories, and there’s a hundred folks at least. And for every person, a hundred stories.

I haven’t forgotten a single one of them. The stories are on the way….

The Weavers of Teotitlan/Tejedores de Teotitlan

Text: Francisco Collazo
Photos & Translation: Julie Schwietert Collazo

[vease abajo para la version en espanol]

During our stay in Oaxaca, we meet a family of rug weavers from Teotitlan.

They approach us in a curious manner, offering their wares. First, they offer an introductory price and then lower the quote without determining whether we’re even interested.

It seems as though they understand that prices are connected to the consumer’s desire to buy. What is certain is that we really are looking for something to decorate our home in Mexico City. The rugs and weavings they show us have an exquisite design and craftsmanship.

Mexico has an excellent tradition of weaving and handcrafts that dates all the way back to the pre-Columbian era. Their products are recognized worldwide for their quality and artisanal elaboration.

The colors and themes visible in the weavings are intricate and complex, but sometimes simple and exquisite. What stands out in all the work, though, is the fact that from start to finish everything is done by hand and with natural materials. Each piece requires weeks of work, starting with the design and ending with the finishing touches, resulting in a product of absolute beauty and unparalleled quality.

The prices range from 900 pesos to several thousand pesos, even counting the reduction in price, which is quite common among the vendors.

The weavings and rugs are made of wool from sheep, and all of the colors are made from roots, flowers, and fruit: pomegranate, coffee, indigo, moss, and others, just as their ancestors have done for centuries. The technique has not changed much since its inception.

After a conversation with Constantino and his cousin, Orlando, we decide to buy a few weavings and rugs, but no on the street corner in Oaxaca. Instead, we are invited to their home in Teotitlan, a small town where the men live and work; it’s 25 minutes by car and an hour by bus.

The house of Constantino and his family is constructed of bricks and the floor is exposed clay. There’s nothing fancy about the home, nothing that speaks of prosperity, but nothing that speaks of economic despair, either. It’s the space where he lives, raises his children, and works. There, he raises birds, pigs, his herd, and the white, green, yellow, and blue chickens, whose feathers are tinted by dyes as they brush against the damp rugs and weavings that have been hung in the sun to dry. “They must be easy to identify if they’re stolen or lost,” I tell him jokingly, and everyone laughs heartily, with great enthusiasm.

In her rudimentary kitchen where she cooks with coal and wood, Francisca, Constantino’s mother, is making delicious gigantic tortillas for the family and to sell; it’s how she helps the family economically. Her work is welcome and useful for everyone. The tasks are hard and unending, but they do them each and every day of their lives. For this family, there is no weekend, no days off.

On the streets of Oaxaca, Constantino sells his wares Monday through Saturday. On Sunday, he goes to the other market near their house to sell the leftover merchandise.

His sister, Reina Lopez, lives and works in a small house right next to his, where she makes bags for women. In her house, Reina has erected an altar to the Virgin of Guadalupe; it dominates the center of the home. In the corner, there’s an old sewing machine that is Reina’s workhorse. There are also small statues depicting Christ’s crucifixion, and flowers made as offerings, that once dry, will be used for coloring the weavings and rugs. On the altar, besides the statues of the virgin, are family photos that were taken long ago.

“This is a picture of my grandfather,” says Constantino, pointing to the photograph—“God called him and he left. He was the one who taught us how to weave.” Reina lives in a sea of wool, surrounded by mountains of colors and purses. Every step in her room is like a walk through a labyrinth of finished bags, ready to sell, and family memories.

The work is intense, difficult, and coordinated; cooperation and patience are central to their tasks. Religiosity and belief also play a central role in daily life. The uncertainty of tomorrow has touched them many times: If there’s no rain, there’s no grass. If there’s no grass, there’s no sheep. No corn to make tortillas, nor seeds for making dyes. Nature and God are virtually the same. The human hand plays a secondary role. Everything the family consumes and sells comes from the land. Land is the mother of all, and corn is her gift.

The smell of tortillas fills the air of the family’s patio, and everyone takes part, including Constantino’s cousin, Orlando, his wife, and two of their daughters. There’s also a small house where another cousin works and lives, practicing the art of handcrafting enormous, colorful candles. These are used in the town’s churches to celebrate Sunday mass, and are also popular among young men going to ask for the hand of their girlfriends, consistent with tradition. All of the candles are made of beeswax, and their honeyed fragrance emanates a perfume that fills the air with its sweetness.

Their work starts early in the morning and extends late into the evening: At dawn, they take the sheep to graze, prepare a breakfast of tortillas for the kids who are going off to school, and prepare the goods that will be taken to the market. “At night, while we watch television,” Reina tells us, “the women prepare the yarn and get ready for the next day’s work.” Her voice is positive, and there’s pride in her face. It’s easy to imagine what day-to-day life is for Constantino and his family. The wool, the dyes, the birds, and the family comprise the center of their universe. Life is different here.

Constantino mentions that “in the town, everyone works hard, but you have to be careful talking about how much money you’ve made or how much you’re making, because if you make a lot, people start to envy you and don’t let you go to sell.” “They don’t let you sell?” I ask in surprise. “No, if you make a lot more money than others, you’ll be assigned a job in town for a month or more while others go out to sell and try to make as much money as you. That’s life here. We don’t have political parties or things like that here. That’s tradition.”

Dusk is falling, and the family speaks Zapoteca animatedly around the five weaving looms. They’re happy and in good spirits. Today they made a good sale: five rugs and two women’s purses. Cousin Orlando and his family invite us shyly to see their collection of rugs and weavings, and Constantino’s other cousin takes us to his workshop to see a candlemaking demonstration.

It’s already time for us to go when Francisca appears with her enormous and delicious tortillas, inviting us to eat. The meal is simple: tortillas accompanied by a tomato and meat sauce, served with a soft drink. The women and children eat with us and describe the ingredients once they learn of my interest in Mexican cooking. All of the ingredients are natural and made in the house. The meal is delicious, simple, and healthy. It’s an unforgettable experience for us.

Through Constantino and his family, the weavers of Teotitlan have opened their doors to us with great love and humility. They’ve shared their tortillas and their great spirit with us. The women in their traditional multicolored outfits make us feel special and well-received. We leave not only with their weavings and their work, but also with a millennium’s worth of Aztec craftsmanship and culinary art.

The spirit of Teotitlan is in its artisans, who every day give the world the gift of their exquisite art and a piece of Oaxacan culture. Their colors and their charm are jewels of this cultural patrimony, forming part of the mosaic of traditions and a piece of Mexico.

Good luck, friends!

Durante nuestra estancia en la ciudad de Oaxaca encontramos a una familia de tejeros de mantas y alfombras de Teotitlan. Ellos se nos acercaron de una forma muy curiosa para ofrecernos sus mercancias. Primero nos ofrecen sus productos a precios de introducción, luego nos rebajan este sin haber dicho si los queremos o no. Parece ser que ellos entienden que los precios estan conectados al deseo de comprar de los consumidores. Lo cierto es que en realidad estabamos buscando algo para decorar nuestra habitación el la Ciudad de Mexico. Las alfombras y mantas que ellos nos mostraban eran de un diseno y de un terminado exquisito.

Mexico tiene una excelente tradición de tejedores y artesanos que se remontan a la epoca pre-colombina. Estas a su vez son reconocidas en el mundo por su calidad y su elaborado artesanal. Los colores y motivos que ellas presentan son intrincados y complejos, pero a veces muy simples y exquisitos. Lo que resalta de todo este trabajo es que desde su confeccion hasta su terminado todo es hecho a mano y con componentes naturales. Cada pieza lleva semanas de labor desde su diseno y confeccion hasta su acabado. Entregando asi de esta manera un producto de absoluta belleza y calidad inigualable.

Los precios oscilan entre 900 hasta miles de pesos mexicanos, todo esto contando con su rebaja que es muy usual entre los vendedores. Las mantas y alfombras son de lana de oveja o borregos, sus tintes estan elaborados de raices, flores y frutas: granada, cafe, planta de anil y otras, como lo hicieron sus antepasados en siglos pasados. Su tecnica no ha cambiado mucho desde su comienzo.

Despues de una conversación con Constantino y su primo Orlando decidimos comprarles algunas mantas y alfombras, pero no alli, sino en su casa en una pequena villa donde ellos viven y trabajan en Teotitlan, a 25 minutos en auto y a una hora en camion: como ellos les llaman al transporte publico en Mexico.

La casa de Constantino y su familia esta construida de ladrillos y piso de tierra apisonada. No hay nada de lujo en sus paredes ni nada que denote una vida de prosperidad o de desahogo economico, pero tampoco de desesperacion. Es su espacio para vivir, criar a sus hijos, y trabajar. Alli crian sus aves, cerdos, ganado y sus gallinas blancas, verdes, amarillas y azules que se tinen sus plumas al pasar por las alfombras y mantas todavía humedas y puestas al sol para que se curen o sequen. “Son muy faciles de identificar en caso de robo o extravio”- les digo- en forma de broma y todos rien con gran animo y entusiasmo.

En su cocina rudimentaria de carbon y lena, Francisca, la madre de Constantino, cose su delicioso manjar de tortillas gigantes para la casa y para la venta, agregando asi una entrada economica para la famila. Su ayuda es bienvenida y util para todos. El trabajo es duro y constante, pero ellos lo hacen todos los dias de su vida. Para ellos no hay fin de semanas ni dias festivos.

En las calles de Oaxaca de lunes a sabado Constantino vende su mercancia. Los domingos el se va al otro mercado que queda cerca de su casa para vender el resto que no vendio durante la semana. Por otra parte su hermana, Reina Lopez, que vive y trabaja en una casita adyacente a la de el, confecciona bolsas de mujer. En su casita, Reina tiene un altar de la virgen de Guadalupe que domina el centro de la vivienda y en la esquina una vieja maquina de coser que es su maquinaria principal. Tambien estan estatuillas del Cristo crucificado, flores que sirven para ofrenda y al secarse sus hojas esta se usan para tenir las mantas y alfombras. En el altar ademas de mas estatuillas de la virgen hay fotos de la familia que fueron tomadas en el pasado muy lejano: “Esta es la foto de mi abuelo” –nos dice Constantino mientras nos senala la foto—“a el lo llamo Dios y se fue. El fue quien nos enseno a tejer.” Reina vive en un mar de lanas con montanas de tintes y carteras. A cada paso en su habitacion es como un recorrido entre un laberinto de bolsas ya terminadas, listas para vender, y recuerdos de familia.

El trabajo es intenso, arduo y coordinado, donde cooperacion y paciencia son centrales para sus trabajos. Por otra parte la religiosidad y la creencia juegan un papel central y muy importante en sus vidas diarias. La incertidumbre del manana los han golpeado varias veces: Si no hay lluvia, no hay pasto. Si no hay pasto, no hay ovejas. No hay maiz para hacer tortilllas, ni creceran las semillas con que tinen sus tejidos. Al parecer para ellos la naturaleza y Dios son una misma cosa. La mano humana es papel secundario. De la tierra viene todo lo que ellos consumen y venden. La tierra para ellos es la madre de todos, y el maiz un regalo de ella.

El olor a tortilla llena todo el aire del patio familiar que todos comparten, incluyendo su primo Orlando, su esposa, y sus dos hijas. Mas adelante se encuentra una pequena casa donde su otro primo se dedica a la confeccion de velas inmensas y llenas de colores. Estas son usadas en las iglesias de la villa para la misa del domingo y muy populares tambien entre los jóvenes que van a pedir la mano de la novia como es la tradiccion. Todas ellas estan hechas de cera de abejas y su olor a miel emana su perfume contaminando el aire con su dulzor.

Su trabajo comienza muy temprano en la manana y se extiende hasta muy entrada a la noche: Sacan a pastar a sus ovejas al romper el dia, se prepara el desayuno de tortillas para los ninos que parten para la escuela y se arreglan los bultos que estan destinados para la venta. “En la noche mientras vemos la television”-Reina nos dice- “las mujeres tejemos el hilo y preparamos el trabajo para el dia siguiente.” Su voz es afirmativa y lleva orgullo en su rostro. Podemos imaginar vivamente como es el dia a dia para Constantino y su familia. La lana, los tintes, las aves y la familia es centro de su universo. La vida es muy diferente aqui.

Nos comenta Constantino que-“ en la villa todos trabajan muy fuerte, pero hay que tener cuidado con declarar cuanto dinero has hecho o estas haciendo en tu negocio porque si haces mucho, la gente te envidian y no te dejan ir a vender.” No te dejan vender? –le pregunto con asombro- “No, si haces mucho mas dinero que los demas entonces te asignan un trabajo en la villa por un mes o mas para que los otros salgan a vender y puedan hacer tanto dinero como tu. Aqui la vida es asi. Aqui no tenemos partidos politicos ni nada de eso. Esa es la costumbre.”

La tarde esta cayendo y la familia se reune animada a conversar en su lengua Zapoteca alrededor de las cinco maquinas de hilar. Se ven muy animados y en muy buen espiritu. Hoy se hizo una buena venta. Cinco alfombras y dos bolsas para mujer. Su primo Orlando y su familia nos invitan muy timidamente a ver su coleccion de alfombras y mantas y su otro primo nos lleva a su taller de velas para hacernos una demostracion de su trabajo.

Ya es la hora de irnos cuando Francisca aparece con sus tortillas enormes y deliciosas y nos invita a comer. La comida o cena es simple: tortillas acompanadas de una salsa de chorizo y un refresco. Mujeres y ninos nos acompanan y nos describen los ingredientes de la salsa de chorizo cuando se enteran de mi interes por la cocina mexicana.Todos los ingredientes son naturales y hecho en casa. Deliciosa, simple y saludable es la cena. Una experiencia inolvidable para nosotros.

Los tejedores de Teotitlan atraves de Constantino y su familia nos han abierto sus puertas con mucho amor y humildad. Con nosotros han compartido sus tortillas y su alegria. Las mujeres con sus trajes tipicos multicolores nos hacen sentir especial y bien recibido. Nos llevamos con nosotros no solo sus mantas y su trabajo, sino tambien un milenio de artesania y arte culinario Azteca.

El espiritu de Teotitlan esta en sus artesanos que dia a dia le regalan al mundo con su exquisita artesania un pedacito de la cultura Oaxaquena. Sus colores y encanto son joyas del patrimonio humano y universal que en forma colectiva forman un mozaico de tradiciones y un pedacito de Mexico.

Mucha suerte amigos!

Driving Mexico: Mexico City to Oaxaca

For years, friends have been saying, “You have to go to Oaxaca,” with an imperative firmness in their voices and a distant, dreamy look in their eyes.

It wasn’t that we didn’t want to go; it’s that writing and research commitments in other cities and towns kept us busy. But this week, we finally just got in the car and hit the road.

The drive from Mexico City to Oaxaca is 5-6 hours, depending–as all trips from the capital do–on traffic and construction.

To leave the city, head towards the airport and take Zaragoza towards Highway 150D towards Puebla.

The first part of this drive is stressful–there’s the heavy traffic of people desperate to leave the city behind, and just as it clears up, you’re headed into the twists and turns of the mountain pass that leads to Puebla. As you head out the other end of that pass,though, take a deep breath and look to your right: if it’s a clear day, you’ll be able to see two snow-covered peaks in the distance.

Once you’ve passed the exits for Puebla, keep your eyes peeled for a PEMEX, and pull over for a fill-up. Even if you’ve got a half tank, this is one of the only gas stations you’ll encounter for miles, and you don’t want to be running on fumes on Highway 135D.

After your fill-up, follow the highway signs towards Oaxaca; these will lead you to the turn-off for Highway 135D, the two lane highway that will take you straight into Oaxaca’s city ceter. Once you’re burning rubber on Highway 135D, you’ll notice an abrupt shift in the landscape, from farmland to scrubby palms and tall cacti.

The next PEMEX you see really IS the last one for miles, so if you ignored my earlier advice, fill up now. For real. And while you’re at it, grab a mochacchino at The Italian Coffee Company and a snack–drinks and food, like gas, are scarce.

Your next stop is around kilometer 83, at a “parador turistico” (overlook) right before the Puente Calapa. Pull over for a helluva view and a quick break.

Here, you’ll be able to look into a deep canyon and the trickling river that runs through it. Leave an offering at the shrine that’s out of sight just below the parking area. Snap at a photo at the peak just off to the west, and admire the engineering work it took to build Puente Calapa, which soars a mile, it seems, above the river bed.

Back on the highway, the scenery starts to get dramatic–mountains as impressive as those in the American West, which makes perfect geographical sense. Slow down through this passage, not only because you’ll want to enjoy the views, but for safety’s sake, too.

And while it’s tempting to time your drive so that you hit this stretch of road at sunset, when the sun decides to show off with an impressive light show, I can say from experience that you should resist the notion. The two lane highway is not artificially lit, and this long haul on the last leg of the trip is not populated by any sizeable towns that give off any light. 18 wheelers make this route, too, and impatient drivers (just about everyone) risk their lives trying to pass at ridiculous speeds on the curve-ridden roads. The hazards of people traveling by foot or bike on the shoulder are also amplified at night.

Leaving the Sierra Madre behind, you’ll hit a fairly straight stretch leading you directly into Oaxaca Centro (Central Oaxaca). We’ll leave it to you to discover the magic for yourself, but can we just say: You have to visit Oaxaca!

Practical Tips

Tolls: There are seven tolls between Mexico City and Oaxaca. Each charges a different rate; in total, though, you can expect to spend about 300 pesos ($30 USD).

Telephones: If you’re carrying a cell phone, don’t expect to have a signal on most of Highway 135. There are SOS call boxes, though, so if you find yourself in a jam, pull over and use one.

Dance Fever…Mexican Style

English version; Please scroll down for Spanish version and video.

by Francisco Collazo; Translated by Julie Schwietert Collazo

Walking in Mexico City, we come upon a group of dancers in a park near Circular de Morelia Street. The group, we learn, is named Binniruyaa, and is comprised of a group of students from different disciplines: all of them young, cheerful, and committed to the responsibility of saving the traditional dances of the Oaxaca region. They’re preparing to participate in a dance festival that will take place in September at the National Arts Center.

Their professor, Karla Flores, is dedicated to rescuing this form of dance from the coast, which was once very popular but which is all but forgotten today. She tells us that her group was formed three years ago by teachers and students. Today, one of the instructors is teaching three dances: “La Sarna,” “El Gallito,” and “El Palomo.” In the sarna, the dancers scratch themselves as if trying to seek relief from a terrible itch, a move incorporated into the dance that is executed without missing a step or losing the rhythm. In the “gallito,” the men follow the women just like the rooster does with his hen, even making rooster calls at the end of the piece, a faithful imitation of the cock. The “palomo” dance is carried out with the same detail and liveliness of movement as the other dances. And all of the dances are enlivened by typical folkloric costumes, which will be worn on the day of the Putleco Carnival in Putla Villa, located in the state of Guerrero on the Pacific coast.

Mexico City dances to the music of the world. Here, it’s not hard to find rock, samba, tango, or danzon; bars and nightclubs fill up with dancers eager to enjoy all types of music. In fact, they dance to tropical rhythms that are no longer popular in their countries of origin; one of these is the “danzon” of Cuba, a rhythm that was very popular around 1800, but which is danced today with the same kind of fervor in Merida, Mexico, attracting thousands dancing in competition. What’s interesting is that these rhythms aren’t danced by the immigrants from those countries where the songs and dances originated; rather, they’re danced by Mexicans with the same kind of feeling that characterized those who first danced to these songs. Mexico is the world’s dance floor. In music and dance, Mexico celebrates its universality and reminds us how much a part of the world it is.

Its recognition of the rest of the world isn’t only found in its dance steps, but also in the streets that carry names of the world’s rivers: the Mississippi, the Amazon, the Nile… and as if this wasn’t enough, the city’s streets are also named after world cities, including Rome, Medellin, and Luxembourg. The streets also honor the world’s writers and philosophers, among them Plato, Socrates, Edgar Allan Poe, Rousseau, and Tennyson. In this landlocked city, you can walk alongside all these rivers, in all of these cities, conscious of the fact that art is universal and belongs to everyone.

Today, there’s more dancing than usual, as Mexico’s independence day draws near. On September 16, Mexico will celebrate almost 200 years of independence. And throughout its history, there has always been dance. The Aztecs danced to celebrate victories, births, marriages, and all manner of festive occasions. Today, Mexico dances out its daily life, dipping and turning with grace around obstacles. It dances its corn and its oil, during crisis and during victories. If there is one thing for us to learn about Mexico, it’s that dance fortifies the country and is a source of pride…. If you’ll excuse me… can I have this dance, please?

[Version en espanol]

“Fiebre de Baile a lo Mexicano”

Caminando por la ciudad de Mexico, nos encontramos con un grupo de baile en el parque localizado en la circular de Morelia. Su nombre luego sabemos que es grupo folklorico “Binniruyaa,” compuesto por un grupo de estudiantes de diferentes disciplinas; todos ellos jovenes, alegres, y sobre todo llevan sobre sus hombros la responsabilidad de salvar los bailes tradicionales de la costa de Oaxaca. Ellos se preparan para formar parte del festival de baile que tendra lugar en Septiembre en El Centro Nacional de Artes.

Su profesora, Karla Flores, esta decidida a rescatar esta forma artistica del baile de la costa que antes era muy popular, pero hoy ya casi olvidado. Ella nos cuenta que este grupo se formo hace 3 anos por profesores y alumnos de la escuela media y superior; ellos ensayan hoy tres danzas muy movidas que llevan por titulos “La Sarna,” “El Gallito,” y “El Palomo.” En la sarna se le hace incapies a los bailadores para que expresen la picazon que esta produce sin perder el paso y manteniendo el ritmo. En la del gallito los hombres persiguen a las mujeres como el gallo lo haria en su gallinero, he inclusive producen los cantos del gallo al final de la pieza haciendo de esta manera una imitacion fiel de este. La del palomo con igual destreza y viveza en sus movimientos y ademanes. Nos deja saber tambien que todo esto va acompanado de sus trajes tipicos de mucho colorido, como se usaria en el carnaval Putleco de la Delegacion de Putla Villa en el Departamento de Guerrero en la costa del Pacifico.

La ciudad de Mexico baila la musica del mundo. No es dificil escuchar un rock, samba, tango, o danzon; los bares y centros nocturnos se llenan de bailadores para disfrutar de esta musica. De hecho aqui se bailan los ritmos tropicales que ya no son populares en sus lugares de origen; uno de ellos es el “danzon” de Cuba, ritmo que fue muy popular en esa isla alrdedor del 1800, pero que hoy se baila con furia en la ciudad de Merida atrayendo miles de entusiastas para su competicion. De todo esto lo mas facinante es que estos ritmos no son bailados por los inmigrantes de estos paises que alli residen; estos son bailados con el mismo sentimiento y sentido de pertencia con que lo bailaron sus creadores. Mexico es la pista de baile de la musica del mundo. En la musica y el baile, Mexico celebra su universalidad y nos deja saber en una forma muy especial que nos tiene presentes a todos.

En su esfuerzo por hacer justicia a la universalidad de esta ciudad podemos encountrar con facilidad calles que llevan los nombres de los rios del mundo: Mississippi, Amazonas, Nilo, y por si esto fuera poco, tambien le da a sus calles nombres de las mayores capitales y ciudades del mundo tales como Roma, Medellin, Luxemburgo, y finaliza dandole mencion a escritores y filosofos de todos los tiempos: Platon, Socrates, Edgar Allan Poe, Rousseau, Tennyson. En esta ciudad sin puerto puedes caminar los rios de todas estas ciudades y tener siempre presente que el arte es universal y es de todos.

Hoy todavia mas se baila ya que se acerca su dia de independencia, Septiembre 16, casi dos siglos desde aquel entonces 1810-2008. Para ser exacto se ha bailado siempre. Los Aztecas bailaron sus victorias, sus nacimientos, sus uniones matrimoniales, y en fiestas y celebraciones tradicionales. Mexico baila con la vida diaria, da un giro al frente y una media vuelta para salvar obstaculos. Mexico baila su maiz y su petroleo, durante sus crisis y sus victorias. Si una cosa debemos aprender de Mexico es que el baile fortifica y nos orgullece……una pieza, por favor?

Video: Francisco Collazo
Photos: Julie Schwietert Collazo