I celebrated Mothers’ Day twice this year: both on the holiday as celebrated last Thursday in Mexico and again on Sunday in the U.S. (In Mexico, they keep a fixed date of May 10, whereas in the states we change the date around to keep it as the second Sunday in May).
Though I’m usually out in Teotitlán del Valley every Thursday anyway teaching English classes as part of En Vía’s loan enrichment program, we had cancelled class for the fiesta. Not only would most of our students and their families be attending the Mothers’ Day celebration in Teotitlán, but the entire municipal building where we hold classes, as well as the town plaza just outside, would be occupied with the fiesta. Honestly, there’s always a fiesta going on in town. Or a parade. Or both.
I had stopped by the weaving shops of a couple of En Vía borrowers on the way to the fiesta, including Josefina, who was one of the program’s very first loan recipients. Mother of four children herself, her youngest, six-year-old Maria José, was getting ready to participate in a dance for the celebration. Josefina helped her into her full, ruffled skirt and embroidered blouse. María José was hopping around so excitedly she almost couldn’t stand still enough for her mother to add a little lipstick and blush.
“What’s the name of your dance,” I asked her? “The caballito dance!” she squealed. Kidding, I asked her if she was a caballita (little horse). “No, silly!” she said. “The boys are the caballitos!” And not wanting her to be late – for hers was the first dance of the event – we piled into a moto-taxi and headed to the town square.
The whole plaza was covered with a big white tent, good insurance not only against the blazing afternoon sun, but also for the possible showers in this early rainy season. Up against the steps of the municipal building were piled a beribboned stack of door prizes for the raffle: woven market baskets and a host of coveted household goods like dishes, glasses, pitcher and glass sets, blenders and the clear king: a full-sized refrigerator.
At least half the town’s 6,000 or so residents turned out for the day’s festivities. The older gentlemen wear slacks and straw hats, the women traditional plaid skirts (actually just pieces of cloth tied with a sash), floral blouses, braids and rebozos, or shawls, on their shoulders or heads.
Being at least six inches and sometimes a whole foot taller than most of the indigenous women (and I’m only 5’6”, not exactly a giant in the states), I guess I stood out in the crowd in my turquoise visor. At least a dozen women, former and current students in the English classes and weavers I know from town, shouted out greetings to me as we waited for the fiesta to begin. I can manage “hello” in Zapotec, but not much more; it’s a tonal language, all soft sounds pitched inflections. (But of course, they all speak Spanish too (which means our English classes introduce a third language).
The traditional nieve served on Mothers’ Day – prepared in the municipal building where we normally hold English classes – was brought out on trays and passed around to all free of charge. Nieve is a frozen treat more like sorbet than ice cream, and these were festively red and white: white leche quemada ice cream (literally “burned milk,” like a vanilla custard) with a topping of rosy pink tuna (which has nothing to do at all with tuna fish, but is made of the red fruit of the prickly pear cactus).
The band began to play, the first dancers came out. The caballitos pranced and threw their handkerchiefs down; the little girls (including María José) danced and smiled and completely captivated the crowd. Alas, I didn’t get to stay for the whole fiesta; the last bus from Teotitlán back to Oaxaca leaves at 6 p.m. and you’d better be on it if you don’t want to be waiting down on the highway three miles away to catch a ride back to the city in the dark.
I ate the piece of sweet corn cake, given to me at the fiesta by one of my students, on the bus back to Oaxaca City (about an hour away), and got soaking wet walking back home from the bus stop in the rain. Nothing, though, could dampen the wonderful feeling of belonging here, with my own children so far away on Mothers’ Day.
And yeah, the kids (who turn 26 and 28 this week). Bryan, the younger one, called me on Sunday morning to wish me happy American Mothers’ Day. He was sitting with his girlfriend at the feet of the Grand Tetons outside of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where he lives. My older son, David, Skyped me that night from Katmandu, Nepal, just having trekked back from Everest Base Camp One, halfway through his trip around the world this year.
Kids grow up and if you’re lucky in this economy, they leave home. My own left not just the house but the state and even the country, as did I. I used to be a suburban Dallas housewife and now — I’m not. And in choosing a new place to live, I’ve gotten to choose new family as well to stand in as my own.
By Susan Aycock