Sunday, 7 September 2014

Oaxaca - The Final Word

The time has come to say Kande tne tíu to Oaxaca.  I started blogging about Oaxaca back in June and all of the reading and research that I've done on Oaxaca and Mexico has kept me entertained during a busy summer period.

I've learned about the history of Mexico and its complicated relationship with its northern neighbour, the United States of America.  I've blogged about eye contact and the culture significance of too much or too little eye contact.  I've learned about the impact of contact with Europe and the Columbian Exchange.  I've read a novel set in the Mexican jungle and learned to cook Mole, a dish that Oaxaca is particularly famous for.  I've listened to Mexican music and learned about muxe and mezcal.

Of course, there were many topics I didn't have time to cover and I would like to have done more research into the following areas:

Juan O'Donojú - last European ruler of Mexico
- The languages of Mexico
- Apparitions of the Virgin Mary
- The influence of Gold and Silver on the global economy
- Cabrera and the Virgin of Guadeloupe
- The Irish in Mexico
- Murals
- Chocolate
- Chillies
- The Aztec Gods
- Juarez and the denial of race
- The Oaxaca uprising in 2006
- The Danza de los Viejitos
- Reasons for societal collapse
- The Zapotec and Mixtec writing systems
- Itzcuintli - the Mexican hairless dogs
- Volcanoes
- La Malinche


I'm trying to keep the number of books I read for this blog to a minimum, as I have other more general reading that I need to do.  So I managed to restrict myself to just four books this time around:

Mexican reading list by me
Mexico: Insight Guides (2010), ed. Alyse Dar. I found the Insight guide invaluable, as usual.  I generally buy these guidebooks second-hand, as they're for research only, so the edition  I read is already a few years old.  I definitely want to travel to Mexico at some point in the future and researching Oaxaca has given me some ideas of where I'd like to go and what I would like to see.  I'd also prefer to back-pack around Mexico, than spend my time on a beach in Cancun.

Conquistadors (2000) by Michael Wood, a book which accompanies the BBC series of the same name.  I loved Wood's clarity and this book gave me a very useful overview of the conquest period, not just in Mexico, but also in Peru, the Amazon region and the southern United States.  In fact, I loved Wood's writing so much, I've ordered another book by him about Alexander the Great!

The Bridge in the Jungle (1940) by B. Traven - a novel set in the jungles of southern Mexico

Sliced Iguana (2001) by Isabella Tree - a really fantastic travel book, with chapters set in Mexico City, Oaxaca and Chiapas.


Mexican cinema has really caught on in recent years and I've already seen quite a few well-known Mexican movies such as Amores Perros and Como agua para chocolate.

I couldn't get my hands on any movies set in Oaxaca, so I had to content myself with re-watching Mel Gibson's Apocalypto (2006).  Apocalypto is a controversial movie in many ways.  Not only does it confuse Mayan and Aztec cultures, but it also seems to be defending the Spanish conquest of Mexico, by depicting barbaric practices like human sacrifice in pre-Hispanic Mexico and suggesting that they would have all killed each other anyway, even if the Spanish hadn't brought war and disease to the Americas.

Despite its suspiciously right-wing propaganda, I found myself enjoying Apocalypto, as it's a beautifully-shot movie and the suspense in the storyline is gripping.  Also, the protagonists turn their back on Spain and Mexico, in the end, returning to a simpler existence in the forest, which appealed to me.  I'm pasting in a trailer from YouTube, so you can get a sense of the movie for yourself, if you haven't already seen it.

The final word on Afro-Mexicans

Whilst researching about Oaxaca, I came across a place called the Costa Chica (Little Coast), which has a significant population of African descent.  Whilst many people in the Caribbean have African ancestry and countries like Brazil and the USA have sizable African-American populations, Mexico is not a country that springs to mind, when you talk about African-American culture.

So it was surprising to find that Mexico does have a very small African-American or Afro-Mexican population. European society in Mexico wasn't dependent on slave labour, as it was in places like Jamaica or Barbados, which would explain why there are so few people in 21st-century Mexico with African heritage.

In the cultural battle between European-descended Mexicans, indigenous Mexicans and the Mestizo majority population, Afro-Mexican culture has been largely ignored, neglected and even denied. Because the Afro-Mexican population is so small, they don't have a powerful voice in Mexico's ethnic arena and they have also tended to intermarry with other races and disappear into the majority mestizo population.

I guess the geographical concentration of Afro-Mexican communities in Oaxaca and Veracruz has helped preserve these two state's vestiges of Afro-Mexican culture, such as the Danza de los Diablos. It's believed that the hit song La Bamba has African origins!

Compared with countries like Jamaica (91%), USA (13%) and Brazil (7%), Mexico's African-descended population stands at less than 1% of Mexico's total population.

I'm going to leave you with a wonderful video by Toña la Negra, a famous Afro-Mexican singer:

Image credits:

The image of the reading list was taken by me.  The image of Juan O'Donojú, last European ruler of Mexico, is in the public domain.

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