Friday, July 30, 2010

Festivals and Fever Dreams

I have felt better than I did on Monday, sitting in a bright orange chair (courtesy of the good people at Fanta) outside the Guelaguetza stadium in a Coca-Cola red haze. From within the stadium came the blaring band music that had been tormenting me for hours (and has been haunting me ever since). On my list of things I don't want to do on day four of a fever, let's add talking to strangers under a scorching sun and the merciless loudspeakers blasting festive brass music.

The Guelaguetza is an enormous cultural festival in Oaxaca, and the subject of my current research project. I've been reading up on it and conducting interviews with locals and tourists to get their take on the festival and its attendants. It's interesting stuff -- but once my temperature climbs above 99, I find my patience for anything decreases significantly. Fortunately, the rest of the week I've been much healthier and my interviews, for the most part, are going well.

The Guelaguetza is rooted in a pre-Colombian celebration and its name comes from a Zapotec word that refers to the act of reciprocal gift-giving. It's evolved over the centuries, influenced by Spanish Christian colonialists and modern tourism policies. Today it consists of representatives from several of Oaxaca's indigenous communities demonstrating traditional dress, dance and music. At the end of each performance, the dancers throw gifts into the crowd: sombreros, nuts, produce -- generally something representative of their region ... at one performance I narrowly ducked a cucumber.

The Guelaguetza performances take place during two Mondays in July, and the Official Guelaguetza occurs on a stage at a soccer stadium. (There actually is an official Guelaguetza stadium on the hill above town, but there have been some issues with roof construction this year, so it's at the stadium instead.)

In addition to the Official Guelaguetza, there's the "popular" or people's Guelaguetza, at the Technological Institute. It's organized by the teachers (the wonderful people who brought you the protests in June) and has the same activities, with more political slogans.

I'm attaching pictures of both Guelaguetza festivities for your perusal. Please enjoy!


  1. Dear Team SIS 2010 (Mexico)

    Congratulations to your team on what appears to be a successful term.You suffered through heat and humidity, bathroom trauma, a dicy political season, and a sticky computer keyboard, all in the service of education by "takin' it to the streets".

    I (mostly) enjoyed your reflections on the Mexican culture--all were informative, many entertaining (i.e. the beating of the animals), and some (too few) insightful. In the end, however, I was mostly disappointed by your efforts to inform those of us who remained home.

    You see, at your stage of the academic game I expect you to report with insight that evolves from the struggle to reconcile book learning with street-level observation and common sense. I had hope that you could help me to understand the human/political conflicts of illegal immigration--and an opportunity presented itself when you visited with the priest who provided comfort(?) to men (and women?)--future illegals--as they apparently made their way north. However, nary a word beyond a mention of the camp.

    What about education for the local populace? I (earlier blog entry) remarked with sarcasm (intended) that when you stop at the Starbucks you may want to ask what the janitor there thinks about the future opportunities for his child--or might he encourage his child to seek a future by first visiting that priest at the transportation hub, and then hopping a train north?

    Or how about a consideration of the decline of farming in the region, or an insight on the impact of NAFTA? Or, a report on how locals view America? Or...Or... etc.

    I am sure that some of these concerns will find consideration in the papers you are going to write. How nice it would have been to see you grapple with them in your blog rather than read about visits to the taco factory. There is, of course, room for both in this blog. Trouble is you did not realize it.

    John Porth


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