Thursday, December 28, 2006

Oaxaca Christmas tradition

Snack on ‘buñuelos’ and smash the plates Wire services
El Universal

Jueves 28 de diciembre de 2006

Oaxacans have a unique holiday celebration

OAXACA CITY - Rocked for months by a political conflict that played out in the streets, this southern city is now filled with the sounds of crockery being smashed, not in anger, but as part of Oaxacans´ traditional New Year´s celebration.

Residents serve "buñuelos" on the plates and later smash the china against a wall or the floor, and they make wishes for the next 12 months, which the majority of Oaxacans hope will be better than the past seven.

In May, unionized teachers launched a strike that left more than 1 million students without classes across Oaxaca.

The protests escalated in June when Gov. Ulises Ruiz tried to end the strike by force, a move that radicalized the teachers and led them to join with other grassroots groups.

Between June and November, at least 15 people - almost all of them Ruiz opponents - died in street clashes, dozens were injured and scores arrested, and the state sustained millions of dollars in damage and economic losses.

The buñuelos, which are made from wheat flour, milk and egg yolks, have a diameter of 30 centimeters (11.8 inches) and are sprinkled with sugar or drenched in syrup.

Buñuelos originated in the south of Spain and are yet another example of the Iberian Peninsula´s Arab heritage, Oaxacan historian Rubén Vasconcelos said.

Vasconcelos is an expert on the history and customs of the capital of Oaxaca, which is Mexico´s second-poorest state and also the jurisdiction with the largest indigenous population in terms both of absolute numbers and as a proportion of the total inhabitants.

Buñuelos are served for dessert on both Christmas Eve and New Year´s Eve, and until this year were sold by street vendors around the Oaxaca Cathedral in the Zócalo, or main square, of this picturesque colonial city.

Due to the camps set up by protesters in the square and clashes between activists and police in the surrounding area, tourism suffered this year.

Although arrests - mostly on trumped-up charges - were made of protest leaders in recent weeks, the Zócalo remained under tight security over Christmas, with police preventing protesters from entering.


To maintain order, officials said, the buñuelos are being sold this year at an open-air market in the Plaza de la Danza, across from city hall and several blocks from the Zócalo.

The "sacrificed" plates are specially made in the potteries of Oaxaca, especially in Santa María Atzompa, where potters work with red clay.

"Before, the leading families of Oaxaca would break their china to welcome the new year with new utensils and throw out or toss the dishes," Miss Florinda, a vendor, told EFE about the tradition.

"You toss it and, when the plate is in the air, make a wish for when it shatters against the wall or floor, and your wish has been made and will come true," her fellow vendor, Sara Vasconcelos, said in front of a man-made wishing well used as a target for plates.

Oaxaca City´s tourism chief, Celestino Gómez, said the market was created to "unite the families of Oaxaca."

"This is an activity in which the city is taking part to present a range of foods and to jump-start the economy of the city and the state," Gómez said.

Enedino Reyes, a Oaxacan who visited the market with his family, was one of those wishing for better times.

"I have a small shoe shop and because of the problems here in the city recently, sales fell a lot, we don´t even have enough to pay the wages, or the rent. So I made a wish, to see what happens," Reyes said after eating a buñuelo and breaking a plate.

© 2006 Copyright El Universal-El Universal Online

Friday, December 22, 2006

Pueblito Canada

Correo Canadiense is a national newspaper serving the Spanish speaking communities of Canada. An article published in the Dec. 15—21 edition describes an organization named Pueblito Canada.

Pueblito is a voluntary, non-government organization that supports projects to improve the lives of children in Latin America and the Caribbean. For 30 years, it has worked co-operatively with local non-government organizations to implement a variety of intitiatives.

It has supported projects in Mexico, but currently allocates its resources to specific projects in other Latin America and Caribbean countries.

Pueblito Canada is a registered Canadian charity and issues tax receipts for donations. More details about Pueblito are found on its web site ( The site also includes a direct link to make a donation.

It's also possible to make donate to Pueblito Canada by sending a cheque directly to:

Pueblito Canada

720 Spadina Avenue
Suite 403
Toronto, ON M5S 2T9
(416) 963-8846
P.S. Mention CIASP

Update from Corinne Malloy-Smith

Many people made a donation to a project described by Corinne Malloy-Smith at reunion 2006. Corinne sent the following update.
We have good news to report to you. Armida and a team from Llamados Para Servir visited the rancho of El Tamarindo on Dec. 9th. This was the earliest they could get in because the road had been closed due to heavy rains and an impassable river. However, once in El Tamarindo the team lost no time in purchasing the land for the school/community building. The municipal government gave consent and the construction will now begin.

The people are all excited and have offered to help by donating their time, labour, wood, tools, et cetera. Others have offered to bring food and drinks to the volunteer workers. Many of the local labourers will be donating their time after a full day (10 to 12 hours) of working in the fields. The man in the El Tamarindo photo on the web was told by Armida that he and his child could be seen by people all over the world. This sparked such an interest that he now wants to come out and help with the roof !

Armida and her team will return to El Tamarindo on December 28th with wood, cement, and other building materials. A school/community buidling will be constructed that will accomodate 50 students, and a smaller room and bathroom for the teacher/pastor. This building will be used during the daytime to teach children and in the evenings adults will be taught basic skills such as reading and writing. During weekends it will be used for church services and community meetings.

The Mexican people are very grateful to CIASP for raising $1600 and GOJI customers for their donations toward this project. Many others have given generously as well. Thank you all for your kindness. With these donations we are able to begin construction of this building. However, a little more is required to purchase desks, books, and teaching materials. If you would like to donate to this cause in memory of a loved one, or to honour someone, or in lieu of gifts you can send donations from now until April to:
Come to the Waters Ministries
c/o Shirley Tye
6 Sparrow Court,
Little Britain, On
K0M 2C0

To God be the glory for He is our faithful provider.

Wishing you a very blessed Christmas and a Happy New Year !

Monday, December 11, 2006

In Memoriam: Lucille Mason

In Memory of Lucille Mason
December 2006

Lucille spent the last few weeks of her life in Rancho Nuevo — an outlying settlement of the Municipality of Pisaflores (“To Walk Over Flowers”) in the State of Hidalgo Mexico. Pisaflores and its smaller communities called ranchos, dot the interior and eastern edge of two mountain ranges forming the rugged Sierra Madre Oriental. To the west, mountains rise and gradually flatten to form the high altitude central plateau that dominates the interior of Mexico. The Municipality of Pisaflores spreads across a small thumb-print valley stamped into the mountainous region on the southeast edge of the State of San Luis Potosi, and the eastern border of Querétaro State. Even today, this municipio remains a remote location with few access roads — and Rancho Nuevo is the furthest and one of the most isolated satellite communities of Pisaflores.

One Canadian student who spent the summer of 1967 in Rancho Nuevo rememers that the only two visible artifacts of modernity in the settlement were a battery–operated radio and a steel pail used to haul water. (Maureen Kelly) At night, the Canadian students sat outside and marveled at the brilliance of the stars, and were given astronomy lessons by residents who knew the names of all of the constellations of the northern sky.

The rio Moctezuma is the main physical barrier blocking Pisaflores and Rancho Nuevo from the outside world. The western mountains are too rugged for vehicular access, and communities of this northern Hidalgo municipio are accessed from the eastern side. The Rio Moctezuma tumbles east and north from its origin in central Mexico near the archeological ruins at Tula, turns further to the northeast as it rambles around the outskirts of Pisaflores municipality and then makes a near 90º turn to continue around a spit of a mountain and past Rancho Nuevo. Tula is the legendary home of the famed Mexican deity Quetzacoatl, the Plumed Serpent, and the river Moctezuma that defines the limits of Pisaflores to the south and east is named after a great emperor of the Mexica people. Rancho Nuevo also lies on the west bank and the river physically separates it from the modern world and the national highway 85 high carved out of the mountainside a few hundred metres above its east bank.

Rancho Nuevo is situated on the northern Hidalgo and the southeastern San Luis Potosi state borders, a short 2 kilometres from a beautiful city named Tamazunchale in San Luis Potosi state. This is deep in the heart of the Huasteca region, and is famous for beautiful flowers, an abundance of birds and fascinating folk music traditions. Rancho Nuevo sits in a pastoral setting with a large meadow on its south, and has an abundance of tropical flowers and amazing variety of birds that thrive in its remoteness and proximity to water. More than 200 species of birds have been identified in this area, including different species of brilliantly coloured Toucans that nest in the trees and gardens of homes. Later in the summer, the neighbouring fields are filled with mariposas — beautiful blue butterflies that make the tropical sky even more azure in the early morning. Not far from here, in mountains to the west, lies the beautiful town of Xilitla (He-leet-la) where the regional abundance of exotic flowers, butterflies and numerous bird species attracted a wealthy Englishman named James Edwards. He came there to create a garden devoted to orchids in 1961— just a few short years before Lucille would spend the last weeks of her life in Rancho Nuevo.

Lucille spent most of her time living and working near the largest wooden building in Rancho Nuevo. It dominated the west side of the settlement and served as community hall, church, school and then as the dormitory for Canadian visitors. The children of Rancho Nuevo were fascinated by the strangers from Canada and early in the mornings gathered outside of the paneless windows of the building and peeked in with amusement. Canadian students who spent time in Rancho Nuevo remember being awakened by the sound of morning roosters the beautiful faces of smiling children outside of the school anxiously urging them to get the day underway.

It was in this beautiful tropical place that Lucille worked and played with the children, taught them in the school, and eventually fell ill. It was from here that the concerned residents carried her up an impossibly steep incline to the highway on the other side of the river so that her fellow Canadian students could transport her to a small hospital in Tamazunchale. When it was obvious that she was very sick, the doctors in Tamazunchale hoped to save her by sending her to Mexico City in an ambulance. But it wasn’t to be, and she died there on June 4, 1967. Her body was returned to her grieving family and friends in Montreal. She was in her 20th year of life when it tragically ended.

The last few weeks of her life were spent in an absolutely beautiful setting sharing the days with warm and kind people who greatly appreciated her presence, and were attracted to her beautiful and welcoming smile. There must be some consolation in knowing that her last images from this earthly world were filled with birds, butterflies, flowers and the smiling faces of children. Her death was a tragedy that affected everyone that knew her and even those who had not met her personally. It especially affected every Canadian student who traveled to Mexico with CIASP and left a deep and lasting impression that has never faded. I am continually amazed at how many people think of Lucille and remember her after all these years.

Recently, I found a poem called From within the Heavens written by a Mexica poet, and in reading it I couldn’t help but think of Lucille. The Mexica, who later were called the Aztecs, produced many skilled and famous poets, and in their Nahuatl language the term for poetry is a combination of two words — flowers and songs. Mexica poetry often presented sophisticated themes lamenting the transience of life and the meaning of death.

Pisaflores Municipal Glyph
From within the Heavens
by Ayocuan Cuetzpaltzin
(translated by Miguel León-Portilla)

From within the heavens they come,
the beautiful flowers, the beautiful songs,
but our yearning spoils them,
our inventiveness makes them lose their fragrance,
although not those of the Chichimec prince Tecayehuatzin.
With his, rejoice!

Friendship is a shower of precious flowers

White tufts of heron feathers
are woven with precious red flowers,
among the branches of the trees
under which stroll and sip
the lords and nobles

Your beautiful song is a golden wood thrush

most beautiful, you raise it up.
You are in a field of flowers.
Among the flowery bushes you sing.
Are you perchance a precious bird of the Giver of Life?
Perchance you have spoken with God?
As soon as you saw the dawn, you began to sing.
Would that I exert myself, that my heart desire,
the flowers of the shield, the flowers of the Giver of Life.

What can my heart do?

In vain we have come, we have blossomed forth on earth.
Will I have to go alone like the flowers that perish?
Will nothing remain of my name?
Nothing of my fame here on earth?
At least my flowers, at least my songs!

What can my heart do?

In vain we have come,
we have blossomed forth on earth.
Let us enjoy, O friends,
here we can embrace.
We stroll over the flowery earth.
No one here can do away with the flowers and the songs,
they will endure in the house of the Giver of Life

Earth is the region of the fleeting moment.

Is it also thus in the Place Where in Some Way One Lives?
Is one happy there?
Is there friendship?
Or is it only here on earth
we come to know our faces?

León Portilla, Miguel. 1992.
Fifteen poets of the Aztec world. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

The poet’s lament is an articulate vision about the ultimate meaning of life and death, friendship and memory: “What can my heart do? In vain we have come, we have blossomed forth on earth. Will I have to go alone like the flowers that perish? Will nothing remain of my name?”

The tragedy of Lucille’s death plunged each of us immediately into deep shock and we had no answers that could make sense of such an insensible event. But after four decades, do any of us still wonder whether her life was as fleeting as the beautiful flowers and songs of birds in Rancho Nuevo? Consider this — after all of this time there still are hundreds of people who remember her presence and admire the kindness and caring life she lived. The strength of those memories are a powerful statement that she had a real presence among us, and that there are powerful emotions attached to hearing her name. How can such deeply felt memories be meaningless when they remind of us of beauty, caring, butterflies, flowers, birds and song?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Apocalypto...How do the Maya feel?

Formato de impresión patrocinado por

Mayas excited about new Mel Gibson film
Wire services
El Universal

Jueves 07 de diciembre de 2006

Scenes of enslaved Maya building temples for a violent, decadent culture in Mel Gibson´s new film "Apocalypto" may ring true for many of today´s Mayas, who earn meager wages in construction camps, building huge tourist resorts on land they once owned

Scenes of enslaved Maya building temples for a violent, decadent culture in Mel Gibson´s new film "Apocalypto" may ring true for many of today´s Mayas, who earn meager wages in construction camps, building huge tourist resorts on land they once owned.

Some Mayas are excited at the prospect of the first feature film made in their native tongue, Yucatec Maya. But others among the 800,000 surviving Mayas are worried that Gibson´s hyper-violent, apocalyptic film could be just the latest misreading of their culture by outsiders.

"There has been a lot of concern among Mayan groups from Mexico, Guatemala and Belize, because we don´t know what his treatment or take on this is going to be," said Amadeo Cool May of the indigenous defense group "Mayaon," or "We are Maya."

"This could be an attempt to merchandize or sell the image of a culture, or its people, that often differs from what that people needs, or wants," Cool May said.

Gibson employed Mayas, most of whom live on the Yucatán Peninsula, in the filming of the movie, and says he wants to make the Mayan language "cool" again, and encourage young people "to speak it with pride."

The film has been screened for some U.S. Indians, who praised the use of indigenous actors. The Mayas haven´t seen it yet, but like Indians north of the border, they have seen others co-opt their culture, as in high-class Caribbean resorts like the Maya Coast and the Maya Riviera.

But the indigenous are largely absent from those beach resorts, where vacationers tour mock "Maya Villages" or watch culturally inaccurate mishmashes with "Maya Dancers" performing in feather headdresses and facepaint.

"The owners are often foreigners who buy up the land at ridiculously low prices, build tourism resorts and the Mayas in reality are often just the construction workers for the hotels or, at best, are employed as chamber maids," said Cool May.

"Apocalypto" also portrays Maya civilization at a low moment, just before the Spaniards arrived, when declining, quarreling Maya groups were focused more on war and human sacrifice than on the calendars and writing system of the civilization´s bloody but brilliant classical period.

Outsiders´ views of the Maya have long been subject to changing intellectual fashions. Until the 1950s, academics often depicted the ancient Mayas as an idyllic, peaceful culture devoted to astronomy and mathematics. Evidence has since emerged that, even at their height, the Mayas fought bloody and sometimes apocalyptic wars among themselves, lending somewhat more credence to Gibson´s approach.

Warrior-kings and priests directed periodic wars among the ancient Maya aimed at capturing slaves or prisoners for labor or human sacrifice. Entire cities were destroyed by the wars, and whole forests cut down to build the temples.

The latest trendy theory is a largely Internet-based rumor that the Maya long-count calendar predicts a global calamity on Dec. 22, 2012. Some have woven that together with prophecies from the Bible.

Mauricio Amuy, a non-Maya actor who participated in the filming of Apocalypto, says the production staff discussed the theory on the set.

"We know the Bible talks about prophecies, and that the Mayas spoke of a change of energy on Dec. 22, 2012, and it (the movie) is somewhat focused on that," Amuy said. "People should perhaps take that theory and reflect, and not do these things that are destroying humanity."


While they resisted the Spanish conquest longer than most of the indigenous groups - the Mayas´ last rebellion, the War of the Castes, lasted until 1901 - many were virtually enslaved until the early 1900s on plantations growing sisal, used for rope-making, or in the jungle, tapping gum trees. Discrimination and poverty are probably their greatest enemies today.

Just as Gibson´s use of Aramaic in "The Passion of Christ" sparked a burst of interest in that language, some Maya are hoping "Apocalypto! will do the same for their tongue.

"I think it is a good chance to integrate the Mayan language ... for people to hear it in movies, on television, everywhere," said Hilaria Mass, a Maya who teaches the language at Yucatán´s state university.

Mass, 65, recalls that children were once prohibited from speaking Maya in school. There is still little bilingual education, and many of those who speak Maya can´t read it.

One sign of progress is Yucatán radio station XEPET, "The Voice of the Mayas," which began broadcasting in the indigenous language in 1982. While it began with a mixed Spanish-Maya patois, it now broadcasts in 90 percent pure Maya.

The station is trying to purge words borrowed from Spanish and revive a purer form of Maya. It broadcasts all sorts of music - from rock to rap to reggae - with Mayan lyrics.

Still, the percentage of Maya speakers in Yucatán fell from 37 percent in 2000 to 33.9 percent by 2005. Paradoxically, for a state that advertises the glories of the Maya culture for tourists, it is having a hard time keeping the present-day Maya there; many are migrating to the United States.

"For tourists, that´s what sells ... what catches their attention are the archaeological sites," said Diana Canto, director of the Yucatán Institute for the Development of Maya Culture. "We are trying to sell them on the living Mayas too, so that people get to know their cultural richness."

Today´s Maya are known mainly for their elaborate rhyming jokes, a cuisine based on pumpkin and achiote seeds, and loose embroidered white clothing. They´re largely peaceful farmers and masons who carry their goods on ubiquitous three-wheeled bicycles over table-flat Yucatán.

Interestingly, some Mayas reach much the same conclusion as Gibson´s movie, which focuses on one man´s struggle to save his family as a metaphor for saving the future of a people.

"Our culture hasn´t been destroyed, because the family is the base of it," says Maas. "Perhaps some material things have been destroyed, but the real basis of the culture is what a family teaches their children, and that survives, and has survived."

© 2006 Copyright El Universal-El Universal Online

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Ponte tus piyamas

Put on your pajamas and get to's time to go to sleep.
After seizing the podium and protecting it from the PRD, deputies of PAN and the other parties settled in for the night. Videos of the event posted on El Universal indicate that pillows, blankets and even pajamas were brought out.

A link at captures the legislators settling in for the night. The picture immediately to the left shows a couple of the legislators tucked in and protecting their view of democracy.

I don't know who these deputies are, but they appear to be men who might have been young students around the time of the "dirty wars" or perhaps were even participants in the protests that tragically ended with the massacre of students at Tlatelolco.

For some strange reason, this whole event reminded me of a poster that was given to us by Kris Purdy when she returned from Mexico in 1968. I wasn't in Mexico that summer, but many CIASP'ers were there in Hidalgo. Kris brought us a wonderful gift of a dozen lithographed posters of the student protest.

I scanned part of one poster and pasted it here. The students in 1968 were treated as insignificant complainers by the government of Gustavo Diaz Ordaz and Secretary of Gobernacion Luis Echeverria. The poster below has a caption that ironically dismisses the students by telling them "Put on your pajamas...get in bed...because it's time to sleep".

Perhaps the deputies in San Lazaro should also consider giving it a rest, or at least recognize that they're following the same advice dismissively given by paternalistic government to dissenters 40 years ago.