Indigenous Culture, Teotitlan del Valle

Hospitality, Mexican Style

It’s a funny thing that Americans don’t invite people to their houses much any more. I’m not sure Martha Stewart did anyone any favors — she made us all feel inadequate to entertain if we didn’t grow the frigging corn before making the tortillas for a theme-based dinner party. (Of course, she’s done her time, but I hear she’s out entertaining again.)

The great thing about Mexico is that people DO invite people over, but the chickens might be tied up outside the kitchen, the floor is dirt so mopping won’t help, and guess what? The food is still usually great!

My English teaching friend Shelley and I were invited Sunday to the home of Crispina, who’s been in my English classes since September, in Teotitlán del Valle, about an hour outside of Oaxaca. We knew it was to celebrate her husband Fernando’s birthday, but it would be just us and the family.

Since the buses don’t run much on Sunday, we took two collectivo taxis for the 45-minute trip; Crispina met us at the city hall to walk us to her house. She does have an indoor kitchen and gas stove, but gas is expensive — so they most often use the outdoor kitchen: dirt floor, rooster (tomorrow’s dinner) tied up outside, and a huge pot on a wood fire.

She and her daughter-in-law Celyflor, also one of my English students, were making yellow tamales, a huge labor of love because they’re so time intensive. They had already made the sauce and tortilla dough, which Crispina rolled into balls and put between plastic in an  arm-yanking tortilla press; Cely put some chicken and salsa in each one and wrapped it like a little package in a milpa (corn) leaf.

Shelley and I got wooden chairs to sit in and we made conversation (in pretty damn decent Spanish!) while they worked for a couple of hours. The tamales went into boiling water with the fire constantly fed by odd pieces of wood, and then Crispina fished them out with her bare hands, dipped first in cold water.

Around 3:30, we joined the family in the indoor kitchen with two huge baskets of cooked tamales, the beer Shelley had brought and the zucchini bread I had made. There were cloth napkins; Crispina is a talented seamstress who makes tablecloths, bedspreads and more. We sang the birthday song in English.

When it was time to leave, Fernando walked us back to the main road to make sure we didn’t get lost. We had to wait by the side of the highway for a collectivo back to Oaxaca, mine a carload of hearing-impaired guys signing wildly to each other back to front seats (is there Spanish sign language?)

And you know what? I think I’ve never been entertained so graciously. Even Martha Stewart wouldn’t be able to find fault with Crispina’s cloth napkins.

By Susan Aycock

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