Although this is my third week here in Oaxaca, I still have many things to learn about the culture
and people of Mexico. For example, towards the end of the week, we traveled to a village outside
the city called Santa Ana del Valle and spent a night there. There, we stayed with indigenous
families in the town and learned the ins and outs of the politics of a Zapotec village.
Unlike those in the greater Mexican communities, these indigenous villages have a much
more communal aspect. As a member of the village, a person has an obligation to his
community to work a certain number of years for the greater good; this is termed tequio. The
man that gave us a tour of the town, a highly respected member of the community, told us that 15
years of tequio is required of each person in the town and is usually begun at the age of 18. This
work may include maintaining the local museum, working in the fields around the town, or
organizing events at the local church.
This tequio is unpaid work that each member of the village
is obligated to do as part as a service and, if refused, the person’s land may be seized and shared
among members of the village. In more recent years, a number of community members have
gone to the United States to work due to the lack of jobs available to them in Mexico. Because of
this, a new rule has been made where those abroad can pay others in the community to do their
tequio for them. After learning all this, I talked to my local host mother that night who shared her
views of this system. Though she liked the system, she felt that it was not practical because they
are not paid for this work and yet, they still need to earn money for food and other goods.
The next day we went to a local weaver who taught us the processes of collecting wool,
dyeing it using natural coloring agents and weaving rugs from the colored wool. The following
day, we went to a traditional medicine woman who explained how she uses plants and natural
remedies to cure health problems like sadness, fright, headaches, fear, anger and diabetes.
Though it was hard to believe this alternate form of medicine, later we were surprised by her
ability to pick up on vibes from people in the group.
Though we only spent one night in Santa Ana del Valle we learned so much about
indigenous politics and economic practices. We learned so much in such a short amount of time
that I am excited to see what is in store for the coming weeks.