Tejuana matrifocal society

Ixcatlan Huipil

Frida frequently wore the dress typical of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. Because  women of the area were extremely beautiful, sensual and  gutsy.

In 1922, José Vasconcelos became minister of public education.  He firmly believed that, instead of looking towards Europe, Mexican artists should look towards Tehuantepec and Juchitàn for inspiration. With Vasconcelos encouragement, Diego Rivera visited the area. The artist was overwhelmed by the beauty of the landscape.  And of the women.

Tejuana matrifocal society

Because the women of Tehuantepec tranquilly bathed naked in the river, foreigners who came to visit mistakenly interpreted this to mean that the women were sexual libertines thus attracting more foreigners to the area.

With its Zapotec origins, the Isthmus of Tehuantepec is considered a matrifocal society mainly because it is the women who are in charge of the commercial activity. Men work in the fields whereas women sell in the market place.

Tejuana Matrifocal Society

Working the Fields

Daily, women of the area wear full-length skirts called enaguas  along with their huipiles known as huipiles de cadenilla.  In Spanish, cadenilla means “chain” as the machine embroidered gold threads in geometric shapes hope to create the illusion of the gold chains the women like to wear. For special occasions, huipiles de fiesta are worn.  They generally are embellished with hand embroidered flowers.

The special huipiles are worn to velas, highly animated fiestas which begin as candlelight vigils honoring one of the areas various patron saints and end as night-long parties.

Tejuana matrifocal society

Tejuana matrifocal society

Men at the Vela

At velas, men drink beer while women dance together especially to “La Zandunga”, a Mexican waltz reflecting a mixture of musical origins (it could be a Zapotec interpretation of an Andalusian song). The song is about a Zapotec woman who cries after her mother’s death.

At velas women wear their huipiles with pride.  And only women wearing huipiles and enaguas dance.

Tejuana Matrifocal Society

More than matrifocal,  the Tehuantepec society is a maternal society. And for this reason, women are a dominating force. Because it’s the woman, and not the man, who psychologically focuses on the well being of the child.  For men, working in the fields is a way of avoiding domestic problems.

It is also matrifocal in that girls are taught to be economically independent. In part because mothers know sons are more prone towards crime and drugs than are their daughters so they will be able to depend more on daughters than on sons. Well, save for gay sons who are considered a gift.  Because a Tehuantepec woman know she can always count on a gay son to be there in need.

Because they have an important role in society, the Tehuantepec women have a strong sense of self-assurance.

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Copyright © 2016 Cynthia Korzekwa. All Rights Reserved

 

Bibliography:

Covarrubias, Miguel. Mexico South, the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. New York. Knopf. 1946.
DeMott, Tom . Into the Hearts of the Amazons: In Search of a Modern Matriarchy. University of Wisconsin Press. Madison, WI. 2006.
Iturbide, Graciela. Juchitan de las mujeres. Edicioes Toledo. Oaxaca. 1989.
Poniatowska, Elena. Here’s to You, Jesusa! Penguin Books (reprint). London.  2002

Triqui Women and their Huipiles

In a mountainous region in the southwestern part of Oaxaca known as La Mixteca Baja live the Triqui.

The Triqui practice bride price, that is, the exchange of women for money or commercial goods. This patriarchal treatment of women as property has been interpreted by some to be like slavery or prostitution. And the women have started to rebel.

Triqui Woman

In recent years, La Mixteca Baja has become increasing violent provoking people to leave the area and with it the indigenous Triqui language spoken only in Oaxaca.

The difficult terrain and lack of water limit agriculture. So, to boost the economy, the indigenous people have turned to crafts. They make baskets, morrales (handbags) and huipiles.

Using traditional weaving methods, the Triqui women make incredible huipiles using primarily red threads. Huipiles are made only by women and worn only by women. They are made with backstrap looms which means that the width of the fabric and three strips are sewn together to make a huipil. It takes four-six months to make a typical huipil.

Triqui Women & Red Huipiles

A huipil is full of symbolic figures such as butterflies, pines, birds, jugs, etc.  The ribbons that adorn the huipil symbolize the rainbow.

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Copyright © 2016 Cynthia Korzekwa. All Rights Reserved

Related links:  Triqui woman finds freedom weaving huipiles + Triqui de San Juan Copala (Spanish) + El Huipil Triqui de Chicahuaxtla

Te de Canela

Cinnamon is a spice commonly used in Mexican cuisine for both sweet and savory dishes. So cinnamon was undoubtedly found in Frida’s kitchen. It’s  used to make mole, Polvorones de Canele (cinnamon cookies), and Te de Canela (cinnamon tea). Ceylon cinnamon (and not the common Cassia cinnamon with significant amounts of coumarin) is used.

To make Te de Canela, break three sticks of cinnamon and place in a pot with 4 ½  cups of water and bring to a soil boil. When the water starts to bubble, remove from heat and let seep for 15 minutes. The cinnamon will break down and turn the water red. Add a teaspoon of lime juice.

canela1b

Cinnamon combined with honey has a magical effect and is often used to lose weight. One teaspoon of honey combined with ½ teaspoon of cinnamon in a cup of boiled water or even coffee is a good way to start off the morning.

Puerto Rican songwriter Bobby Capò is best known for his song “Piel canela” (Cinnamon Skin), a love song, released two years before Frida’s death in 1954. The singer tells his lover that the infinite can be left without stars and the sea can lose its immensity but he begs her not to let the black of her eyes die or lose the cinnamon color of her skin.

canela2-b

In 1953, Josephine Baker  came out with her own version in French. Frida probably never heard the song but probably would have enjoyed it. Because Frida and Josephine had been lovers.

In 1939, Frida was in Paris for an exhibition, “Mexique”, organized with the help of Marcel Duchamp, that included the works of Manuel Alvareq Bravo as well as Mexican folk art from the collection of André Breton. The Louvre bought one of her paintings, “The Frame” (now at Centro Pompidou).

canela3-b

Frida was not impressed with Breton or the French.  In a letter to photographer Nickolas Muray, Frida complains that she can’t stand the so-called intellectuals of Paris and would rather sit on the floor of the market of Toluca and sell tortillas than have anything to do with the Parisian artists. All they do is sit in cafés poisoning the air with their theories that never come true. What’s worse, they never have anything decent to eat in their homes because they don’t work expecting, instead, to be maintained by “rich bitches”.

canela-4-b

Merci, Josephine, for La Conga Blicoti!

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Copyright © 2016 Cynthia Korzekwa. All Rights Reserved

Huipiles & Me

At The Alamo Wearing My Huipil

My mom moved to San Antonio, Texas as a young woman and instantly fell in love with the city’s bi-cultural flavor. In fact, my mom wanted to be Mexican. She loved Mexican music, colors, jewelry, food and attitude. That’s why she went to Mexico as often as possible. And, like a loving mom, she would always bring back presents for me – papier-mâché dolls, hand puppets, earrings (I had pierced ears!) and Mexican blouses. That’s how I started wearing huipiles.

Juana y Pedro

But later, like most adolescents, I wanted to conform to fashion trends – bell bottoms, mini-skirts, t-shirts and jeans, etc. My tastes in clothing continued to change and huipiles were not a priority. Then I moved to Italy and, after awhile, I began to feel nostalgia for my Mexican imprinting. So, luckily, my mom sent me huipiles. Now, I can’t imagine a wardrobe without them.

Drinking Tequila with Frida

Thanks to Frida Kahlo’s popularity, huipiles have acquired interest among contemporary fashion followers. But, although she wore them in grand style, it was not Frida who invented the huipil.

Lady Xoc

Huipiles were worn by the indigenous Indians of Mexico as documented by Mayan lintel carvings showing a bloodletting Lady Xoc wearing a huipil (c. AD 709). And the Spanish conquistador, Hernán Cortés, used a native woman, La Malinche, as translator who, as seen by codices documenting events of the time, show her wearing huipiles – 500 years before Frida!

La Malinche

Traditional huipiles are beautiful. So if you are lucky enough to be in Mexico or Guatemala, be sure to shop for at least one huipil. The simplicity of their design makes them adaptable for any body type.

Why Not Wear A Huipil?

(originally posted HERE )

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Copyright © 2015 Cynthia Korzekwa. All Rights Reserved

Chavela Vargas

Chavela Vargas

If you’re going to suffer, sing about it. This is what Mexican rancheras have taught me.  And no one respected this philosophy more than Chavela Vargas.
Ranchera songs are populated by the broken hearted who go to cantinas to drink away their sorrows. This music was traditionally dominated by men until Chavela elbowed her way in to make space for las borracheraswomen who could drown in alcohol as easily as men could.  And before criticizing these tequila drinking mujeres, it should be noted that Chavela & Co came from pre-feminists times. This Cantina Solution was a reply to conformity and fake respectability. Drinking like men suggested a form of emancipation.

He Went To The Cantina And Thought About Her

Chavela Vargas was born in Costa Rica but moved to Mexico at the age of 14 where she sang in the streets until she got gigs in cantinas. Here she made no secret of her sexuality and was known as a cigar smoking, heavy drinking womanizer. Chavela sang in cantinas for years until she was discovered by singer and songwriter extraordinaire José Alfredo Jiménez.
Jiménez did not play a musical instrument and knew little about musical technicalities but he wrote over 1,000 songs many of which are still well-know today. Together, Jiménez and Chavela turned pathos into poetry.
Chavela felt at home with Jiménez’ songs. Take, for example, En El Último Trago where the singer asks an ex-lover to drink together until oblivion. Because:

The time hasn’t taught me anything,
I always make the same mistakes,
I drink again and again with strangers
and mourn because of the same sorrows.

Once her career took off, Chavela came in contact with a new milieu. She became friends with Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo and was often their house guest. It’s also rumored that Chavela and Frida had an affair together. Besides, Frida liked to wear huipiles, Chavela ponchos. If you saw the movie Frida, you can’t help but remember Chavela singing La Llorona.

Frida Kahlo y Chavela Vargas

But the Cantina Solution caught up with Chavela. She became a major alcoholic and, during the 1970s, gave up singing. But almost 20 years later, at the age of 81, Chavela returned to the stage. She debuted at a sold-out Carnegie Hall at the age of 83. After each song, she was rewarded with a standing ovation. The audience could not have enough of her. In the words of Pedro Almodóvar, Chavela made of abandonment and desolation a cathedral in which we all found a place.
The Spanish poet, Federico García Lorca, was one of Chavela’s passions. Unfortunately, García Lorca’s life was brief. In 1936, he died at the age of 38, assassinated during the Spanish Civil War.
In 1993, Chavela went to Spain and stayed in a room that once had belonged to García Lorca. Every day, she said, a yellow bird would come peck on the room’s window and she was sure the bird was the spirit of Lorca himself.

There Was A Bird at Her Window

Chavela spent the last year of her life recording Luna Grande, a mixture of music and García Lorca’s poetry. So great was her love for García Lorca that, at the age of 93, she travelled to Spain to visit his grave. Chavela fell ill but insisted on going back to Mexico where she died a few weeks later.
And who can be more inspirational than Chavela—abandoned by her parents as a child, bullied for her sexuality, living on the streets, addicted to alcohol yet, more than 80 years old, gets on the stage to deliver a goose bumping performance. Thanks Chavela!

(originally posted HERE)

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Copyright © 2015 Cynthia Korzekwa. All Rights Reserved

Frida Kahlo and Retablos

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, dreaming of a unified and independent Mexico,  sustained the Mexican Revolution and thus all things indigenous. They, like many other artists at the time, were highly influenced by educator and philosopher José Vasconcelos as well as painter and filmmaker Adolfo Best Maugard who both encouraged a return to Mexico’s native roots. This was the beginning of “Mexicanism” in the fine arts. Previously Mexicans, colonized by Spain, had a sense of artistic inferiority feeling that anything of cultural worth had to be of European origin.
So with this Mexican Renaissance, Frida and Rivera began collecting Hecho en Mexico. Their collection included folk art, Pre-Columbian artifacts as well as over 1000 retablos many of which are on display today at the Casa Azul. Collecting retablos was made easier for them by the fact that during the Revolution, many churches were closed by the authorities facilitating the appropriation of the retablos inside.

They Collected Retablos

The term retablo comes from retro tabula (“behind the altar”) and, in Spain, refers to the large paintings behind the church altar. However, in Mexico, retablo generally refers to small devotional ex-voto paintings commissioned by someone who wants to give thanks for an answered prayer.
The origin of a retablo is a need. And to resolve this need, one prays for help. If this need is taken care of, thanks must be given. So a retablero, one who paints retablos, is commissioned. The ex-voto painting has 3 basic elements: an icon of the person prayed to, a graphic description of the reason behind the prayer, and an inscription describing and thanking.

Personifications of Devotion

Prayers are generally directed to the Virgin of Guadalupe but sometimes Jesus or anyone of the infinite number of saints is supplicated including St. Lucia, St. Francis, St. Juan Diego and St. Peter of Verona.

Muchas Gracias to Our Lady of Sorrows

Frida found a retablo regarding a trolley car accident that so resembled her own that she decided to retouch it in such a way as to make it seem that the retablo had been made specifically for her. At the bottom she added the inscription: Mr. and Mrs. Guillermo Kahlo and Matilde C. de Kahlo give thanks to Our Lady of Sorrows for saving their daughter Frida from the accident which took place in 1925 on the corner of Cuauhtemotzin and Calzada de Tlalpan.
Many of Frida’s paintings resemble retablos in that they are narrations painted in a naïf style with an element of despair based on real life situations.
When André Breton saw Frida’s work, he called her a surrealist. But he also said that Mexico was the most surrealistic country in the world—relief sculptures of bloodletting Aztecs, Day of the Dead skeletons, martyred saint statues, imaginary animal carvings are all examples of this surrealism.

Wounded

One of Frida’s paintings is based on  a newspaper article about an unfaithful woman who’d been stabbed to death by her husband. The husband defended himself by saying that “it was just a few small nips”. Angered by the violence so frequently inflicted upon women, Frida painted the massacred wife (Unos Cuantos Piquetitos, 1935).

Recuerdo of Dorothy

Dorothy Hale was the wife of a well-to-do portrait painter but when her husband died in a crash, Dorothy was left without means to support herself. She decided to resolve the situation by throwing herself out of a skyscraper window. Dorothy’s friend, Clare Booth Luce, commissioned Frida to do a portrait for Dorothy’s mother. But the result was too hardcore for Luce who, instead of giving it to Dorothy’s mother, kept it hidden for years (The Death of Dorothy Hale, 1939).

Scissors Reflect My Solitude

When Frida discovered her husband was having an affair with her sister, she decided it was time for a divorce. Wearied by womanhood, Frida replaced her Tehuana costumes for a man’s suit, cut her long hair and portrayed herself with scissors in hand and locks of hair scattered all over the floor.  The verse of a song is painted across the top: «See, if I loved you, it was for your hair, now you’re bald, I don’t love you anymore». (Pelona, 1940)

Although there is no longer a market for retableros as in years past, there are artists such as Alfredo Vilchis Roque, Fermín Luna Sanbrano (or Zambrano) and David Mecalco who make paintings in retablo style. And, in the not too distant past, migrant workers from Mexico working in the U.S. also commissioned a number of retablos. Today, instead of commissioning retablos, many people simply leave on the wall of small churches photos with inscriptions of thanks.

Muchas Gracias For Our Refrigerator Full Of Food

Muchas Gracias For Your Divine Intervention That Saved Me From A

Muchas Gracias to St. Sebastian

I, too, have a passion for retablos. Retablos are not only visually delicious, they also represent the concept of gratitude. That’s why years ago I wrote about the Aesthetics of Appreciation and did a series of Cardboard Retablos. Expressing thanks for what we have has many benefits like reshaping our brain.

She Tried Reshaping Her Brain

A smile can automatically lift our spirits as can gratitude because both provoke chemical reactions in our brain. Both increase the production of serotonin and dopamine, the feel good neurotransmitters. Gratitude, then, is like Prozac. Some people take pills. Some people say thanks.
When you start expressing gratitude on a regular basis, negative thoughts are sent to the shadows. Instead of seeing the glass half empty, you see it half full.

Her Glass Was Half Full, His Half Empty

The more you give thanks, the more you realize how much you have to be grateful for. So why not make a retablo!

(Originally posted HERE)

Related links: A Brief History of the Mexican Votive Paintings That Inspired Frida Kahlo

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Copyright © 2015 Cynthia Korzekwa. All Rights Reserved