Culture

Oaxaca Is Mexico’s Cultural Capital And Home To Its Largest Indigenous Communities, Here’s What You Need To Know

Officially known as Free and Sovereign State of Oaxaca, Oaxaca is one of the richest regions in the world when it comes to culture and social life, as well as biodiversity. This Mexican state has hypnotized visitors for centuries. The indigenous Mixtec and Zapotec cultures, mixed with the Spanish influence of the conquistadores, generated a rich tapestry of flavors, colors and sounds that is unique.

The Beatles once visited to meet Santa Sabina, a wise woman expert in hallucinogenic mushrooms. If you have to visit one and just one place in Mexico, we recommend Oaxaca. We would compare it to the Italian Tuscany or the French Provence when it comes to the diversity of its landscape and the overlapping layers of its cuisine. 

Here’s some of the many things that make Oaxaca a true heaven on Earth! 

So first things first: Oaxaca is home to a complex and world-renowned culinary tradition.

Credit: Instagram. @pasionoaxaca

The Mexican saying goes: “Barriga llena, corazón contento” (“Happy belly, happy heart”). Oaxaca will certainly keep your joy levels up with its cuisine. It is cheap and delicious. Traditional chocolate is a must, as is fresh bread from the markets. It you are a carnivore, tasajo is for you: a carefully cured meat that just melts in your mouth. If you are a vegan or pescatarian, Oaxaca has you covered with delicate dishes made from local veggies and seafood from the sun-kissed coast. 

And let’s settle the debate: Oaxaca has the best mole in Mexico, it is dark as night and chocolatey and spicy at the same time.

Credit: Instagram. @pasionoaxaca

Mole negro is one of the staples of Oaxacan culinary culture. It is almost black and has a strong, earthy flavor that can be tamed by using it as a dip for freshly made tortillas. Is your mouth watering yet? 

The streets of Oaxaca City have been turned into a colorful canvas by street artists.

Credit: Instagram. @pasionoaxaca

In recent years, street artists from all over Mexico have received incentives from the local government and turned the walls and alleys of Oaxaca City into a living, breathing museum. 

Which has made it in perhaps the most Insta-ready city in Mexico.

Credit: Instagram. @_juqui_md

And of course, foreign visitors will get a glimpse of Mexican popular culture. What about this mural with Pedro Infante and Jorge Negrete getting all Pulp Fiction on us?

One word: mezcal!

Credit: Instagram. @oaxacaxamor

The state just received excellent news. Oaxacan mezcal producers were granted denomination of origin, which means that all mezcal in the world has to come from the state. This complex spirit truly speaks of the dry but rich landscape of the region. 

The Spanish built golden baroque masterpieces as part of the religious colonization of Oaxaca.

Credit: Instagram. @rkosalazar

For all the pain and misery that colonization brought (and continues to bring) to the original owners of Oaxaca, the Spanish built baroque masterpieces that are recognized the world over for their intricate designs and expert craftsmanship. The Catedral de Santo Domingo in the capital city is a must. 

The state is the home of the wonderful, dreamy alebrijes.

Credit: Instagram. @estampas_de_mexico1

Alebrijes are surreal beings that often take the form of animals. They are created by expert woodsmen in town around the state. Each alebrije is unique: there are no plans or blueprints, as each maestro artesano carves and paints these wooden figurines as dictated by his or her imagination. 

Oaxacan culture is rich and colorful: La Guelaguetza is an annual festival that brings together the awesomeness of Oaxacans.

Credit: Instagram. @drphotooax

La Guelaguetza is an annual indigenous festival that takes place on the two Mondays following July 16. Indigenous communities from all around the state converge in Oaxaca City in two days of dance, music and traditional textiles. You have to experience it at least once in your lifetime. 

Did we mention you can eat grasshoppers? Chapulines are just the best snack on planet Earth!

Credit: Instagram. @grubnwhereabouts

Look, the day will come, and it will be sooner rather than later, when we will all be eating insects. Oaxacans have done it for centuries: grasshoppers are organically raised to be fried in garlic and salt, and then sprinkled with chili. They make a great snack full of protein, saltiness and unparalleled crunch. Once you stop finding it weird, you won’t be able to keep your hands off the plate. Best paired with an ice cold lager beer or some mezcal. 

Oaxaca is rich in natural resources and biodiversity, and produces fresh and delicious produce.

Credit: Instagram. @oaxaca.bonito

The state has it all: arid lands, forests and beaches. This is why the produce is of very high quality. One of the best experiences you can have in your life is visiting a Oaxacan market early in the morning and witnessing how the locals set up their stands. Smells, colors and flavors para tirar pa’rriba

Oaxaca is home to breathtaking beaches, many of which remain relatively untouched.

Credit: Instagram. @parilicious_

Besides the capital city, Oaxaca has other areas that are worth visiting. Its geography is privileged and includes stunning beaches such as Huatulco (if you are into resorts), Zipolite (for nudist souls) and Mazunte (for a more rural experience). 

The state invests heavily in art: Oaxaca is home to some of Mexico’s most famous painters.

Credit: Instagram. @vive_oaxaca

The state is home to great artists such as Francisco Toledo and the late Rufino Tamayo. The streets of Oaxaca City, which was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1987, are often embellished with art installations.  

Mixtec and Zapotec culture is lively and beautiful.

Credit: Instagram. @drphotooax

The state has a 50% of indigenous population, which is the highest in the country (by comparison, Mexico City has only 20%). Mixtec and Zapotec culture is colorful and proud. 

Oaxaca City is home to the thickest tree in the world!

Credit: Instagram. @madhungry

Just outside of Oaxaca City lays a cypress that has seen it all. Two thousand years is a long time. The legendary Tule’s trunk has a circumference of 137.8 feet (42 meters). That is just massive. 

Pre-Hispanic ruins speak of the greatness of ancient indigenous civilizations.

Credit: Instagram. @mexico_capital

Mitla and Monte Alban are true delights for any fan of archeology and history. Monte Alban is particularly stunning during sunrise. You can see it in the $20 pesos bill, by the way. 

Many Mexicans Are Calling Out Fragile Masculinity As Some Continue To Protest A Controversial Zapata Painting

Culture

Many Mexicans Are Calling Out Fragile Masculinity As Some Continue To Protest A Controversial Zapata Painting

Jorge Rivera-Pineda / Mexico Broadcasters

It is no secret that Mexican society is often affected by displays of homophobia. Even though there have been great advances such as the legalization of same-sex marriage in some states, the largely Catholic country is home of opinion leaders who are conservative and whose masculinity seems to be constantly threatened by anything that doesn’t spell out “straight.”

Added to this, Mexican political discourse is anchored in a solemn approach to institutions and the myths of the wars of Independence and Revolution, the two historical moments that have defined Mexican political life and foundational narratives for the past 200 years. So a recent painting hosted at the Palacio de Bellas Artes, perhaps the most iconic building dedicated to the arts in the Latin American country, made conservatives poner el grito en el cielo, as it dares to reimagine one of Mexico’s revolutionary leaders as a queer character.

For many, Zapata is akin to a deity and the image of heroic masculinity. The painting is, however, incendiary for exactly that reason, because it challenges notions of sex and gender in a day and age were some parts of Mexico are progressive while others remain under the dark clouds of discrimination and segregation of LGBTQ communities.

So this is the 2014 painting “The Revolution” by Fabian Chairez. 

The painting depicts a male figure who resembles the revolutionary hero Emiliano Zapata, a cornerstone of Mexico’s Revolutionary War. Zapata was beloved by indigenous populations and gente de campo who believed that other revolutionaries were forgetting the most marginalised sectors of society.

But there is a twist: here, Zapata is naked, wearing heels and being totally gender-non-conforming as he rides a voluptuous horse. Chairez told Reuters: “I use these elements like the sombrero and horse and create a proposal that shows other realities, other ways of representing masculinity.”

Definitely not your usual depiction of the times, but surely a piece that is confronting in the best possible way. The painting was chosen as part of an exhibition on the revolutionary hero, but things got nasty. 

Zapata’s grandchildren have spoken out against the painting in the most homophic way, and things got bloody.

Zapata’s family demanded that the painting be taken off the exhibition because it allegedly “tainted” the public image of their grandfather. Let’s take a minute here and think about this: it is actually the worst possible kind of homophobia, as it implies that being queer is wrong and that it would be a blemish on Zapata’s legacy.

There were protests inside Bellas Artes and university students defending the work and freedom of expression actually got into a fistfight with farmers who stormed Bellas Artes chanting homophobic slurs and threatening to burn the painting in a gross display of toxic masculinity and an Inquisitorial outlook on life and art.

As reported by CE Noticias Financieras, Federico Ovalle, leader of the Independent Central Of Agricultural and Peasant Workers, said: “The picture denigrates the personality and trajectory of the general and it seems to us that presenting this figure is grotesque, of contempt and contempt of the peasants of the country.”

Luis Vargas Santiago, curator of the exhibit ‘Emiliano Zapata after Zapata’, told Reuters: “Of course it’s fine if they don’t like the painting, they can criticize the exhibition, but to seek to censor freedom of expression, that’s different.” 

The painting can stay, but it is being censored anyway.

As reported by Agence France Presse, the authorities decided that the painting can stay, but with a caveat: “But the Mexican Revolutionary hero’s family will be allowed to place a text beside it stating their strong objections to the work, which shows Zapata draped suggestively over a white horse with a giant erection.”

And the image will also be sort of hidden from public view (which, to be honest, might only increase the influx of visitors to the exhibition).

As AFP continues: “Under the deal, brokered by the Mexican culture ministry, the painting by artist Fabian Chairez will also be removed from promotional materials for the exhibition, “Emiliano. Zapata After Zapata,” which opened last month at the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City.”

Even Mexican president AMLO, who has declared his admiration for the revolutionary hero, got involved, ordering his culture minister to get involved. 

So was Emiliano Zapata a queer revolutionary hero? Perhaps, but that is not the point!

For years, historians have tried to get a glimpse into the man who was Emiliano Zapata. Some claim that his overt displays of macho masculinity were perhaps a way to silence any rumors regarding his sexuality. But the point is that it does not matter, or it should not matter, for any other reason that historical accuracy. And it isn’t anyone’s business, is it?

One Of Mexico’s Most Important Former Officials Was Just Arrested For Allegedly Taking Bribes From El Chapo’s Sinaloa Cartel

Things That Matter

One Of Mexico’s Most Important Former Officials Was Just Arrested For Allegedly Taking Bribes From El Chapo’s Sinaloa Cartel

Celia Lucero

For years, conservative minded people in Mexico have defended the full frontal war that then president Felipe Calderón Hinojosa waged against the drug cartels from 2006 to 2012. This war continues today and has seen almost half a million people killed, countless abuses, displacement of whole populations and a diminished image of Mexico locally and abroad. Those who align with the supposedly incorruptible stance that Calderón took against organized crime claim that he was just doing a job that previous presidents had failed to do.

During this period government forces fought mainly Los Zetas and the Gulf Cartel, as well as new organizations in the state of Michoacan such as La Familia Michoacana and Los Caballeros Templarios. Strangely, the Sinaloa Cartel was left largely untouched and even expanded its operations during the Calderón presidency.

A recent high profile arrest could shed some light on why the war against the cartels has developed in a way that up until recently seemed to benefit the powerful organization built by Joaquín El Chapo Guzmán and his compadre Mayo Zambada. As The Guardian reports: “A 2010 analysis of crime figures by NPR found that only 12% of people arrested, prosecuted or sentenced for drug, organised crime and weapons offences had ties to the Sinaloa cartel”. This is peculiar, to say the least. 

Genaro García Luna, Calderón’s security chief, was arrested in the United States.

The charges emanated from the recent trial in which El Chapo Guzmán was sentenced to life in prison. The authority  claims that García Luna, who was infamous for the many human rights abuses that the State’s forces committed under his command, received generous bribes from the Sinaloa Cartel to warranty that their operations would not be threatened.

If true, this would be corruption at the highest levels of government and would justify fears that Mexico has become a Narco-State in which global trafficking networks are the de facto decision makers. He led Mexico’s federal investigation agency from 2001 to 2005. From 2006 to 2012 he served under Calderón as secretary of public security. So yes, cannot get more powerful than that! 

García Luna was the architect of the federal police, a force which coordinated with the Army and the Navy to fight the cartels.

If the allegations are true, it could mean that the whole State apparatus was created with a hidden agenda in mind, which would put the legitimacy of the institutional framework of Mexico during the FCH presidency on serious scrutiny. After the former security chief was arrested,  US attorney Richard P Donoghue said: “García Luna stands accused of taking millions of dollars in bribes from ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán’s Sinaloa cartel while he controlled Mexico’s federal police force and was responsible for ensuring public safety in Mexico. Today’s arrest demonstrates our resolve to bring to justice those who help cartels inflict devastating harm on the United States and Mexico, regardless of the positions they held while committing their crimes.”

Of course, Calderón was quick to say he wasn’t aware of this happening

Former president Calderón, who is attempting to create his own political party alongside his wife Margarita Zavala, took to Twitter to say he was unaware of García Luna’s dishonest ways.

If this is the case then it would amount to the worst kind of incompetence on Calderón’s part. If he was indeed aware, however, well it would spell political and possibly legal disaster for him. Either way, this arrest could probably mean the end of Calderón’s political life.

By the way, he once said that nothing happens without the president knowing about it. The accusations are damning.

As summarized by The Guardian: “According to the indictment, cartel bagmen twice delivered briefcases containing millions of dollars to García Luna. In 2018, former cartel member Jesús Zambada testified at the trial of the Sinaloa kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán that he personally made at least $6m in hidden payments to García Luna, on behalf of his older brother, cartel boss Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada. In exchange for the bribes, the Sinaloa cartel obtained safe passage for its drug shipments, inside details of police investigations, and information about rival drug cartels, the indictment said.”

We wonder how many heads will fall as the ugly truths revealed during El Chapo’s trial keep resurfacing. 

Remember the Netflix show El Chapo? Well, it sort of showed these acts of corruption in an eerily similar way.

Credit: Netflix

As more information surfaces after the now legendary El Chapo trial, we stand in awe at how accurate the Netflix-Telemundo show was. In it, Calderón’s government strikes a deal with the Sinaloa Cartel through a shady political operative who had García Luna’s exact same job? Coincidence or was it un secreto a voces?