A scene of the mountains and a field in Santo Domingo Tomaltepec.
Bakery, Desserts, En Via, Fair trade, Food, Mexico, Oaxaca, Oaxaca life, Santo Domingo Tomaltepec, volunteering

Buscando a Angélica

por Tiffany Nguyen

Tiffany is a 4th-year undergraduate student visiting Oaxaca from the University of Texas at Dallas, where she studies public and nonprofit management. She is so grateful to be here and to get to know the city and its residents.

When I visited Angélica, she admitted to me that she and other women receiving loans from En Vía often assumed they’d be forgotten about by their visitors from En Vía’s tours. People might chat with her for 15 minutes, hear some about her cookie ambulante, maybe buy a few cookies, and ya, fin. Nothing more. She had previously expressed this assumption to my tour group when I visited her as a student. But for precisely that reason, for her doubt of her impact on others, I wanted to tell her that’s absolutely not true. People do remember the lives, the stories of the women who are part of En Vía’s program. Therefore, when I became a volunteer for the foundation in the summer of 2017, I knew I wanted to return to talk with her. I wanted to show her that she had resonated with me when I first met her on that fateful tour. And I wanted to share her story with los demás, with others.

Sitting in the kitchen where she spends a couple hours in the mornings baking her assortment of pastries, we spoke for nearly 3 hours. The bright afternoon sun trailed in through the window behind her and through the open kitchen door behind me, but we mostly sat in a calming half darkness.

The topics we spoke about meandered from life advice to her children to even her perspective on Mexico’s laws and the appeal of the United States to migrants. She recalled the free PRI-sponsored baking class she took years ago that was offered as part of the political party’s campaign in 2009. She mentioned how it was her dream to learn to bake a cake, which she had long regarded as impossible for its complexity. She told me of how we must have both the positive and the negative in our lives because just like the physics of electricity, if there is no negative, there is no light.

Our conversation covered so much that I have decided I will write multiple posts about it. It would not be fair to reduce Angélica’s experiences and thoughts to a single, short blog post. So first, I would like to recount simply the journey of finding Angélica Martínez Pérez of Tomaltepec.

A view of an empty dirt road in Santo Domingo Tomaltepec in late afternoon.
Tiffany Nguyen walks through the streets of Santo Domingo Tomaltepec to find Angélica of En Vía. © Tiffany Nguyễn

To reach Angélica in Santo Domingo Tomaltepec, a small pueblo of approximately 2300 people, I took a 25-minute colectivo. The pueblo exhibited a more irregular frequency of street signs compared to my native United States, so I was unsure of where I’d really find her house or how. Consequently, I asked my taxista to drop me off in the center of town next to the main church and I figured I’d make it work from there.

Having been in Mexico for 5 weeks at that point, I witnessed that people of Oaxaca are willing to help others with a warmth and a gusto that I find endearing. So I took a chance and asked the first woman I saw, an older woman making tortas in a little market across from the church.

Dónde está la calle Reforma? Where is the street Reforma? I asked her.

She responded, ¿Quién buscas? Who are you looking for?

That’s when I realized in the smaller pueblos, much of the town knows almost everyone else who lives there. And so I told her I sought Angélica, the woman who sells cookies.

The woman of the market answered that I would walk down the road to where the water runs and there I’d turn and continue down to Angélica’s house. However, a bit flustered by the unfamiliar setting, I felt my Spanish comprehension had lost a few details of what I had just been told. Therefore, I mostly began wandering vaguely in the direction I was pointed in—only to find a dead end. As I’d later learn in Teotitlán del Valle, the numbers of houses in smaller pueblos no tiene sentido, they don’t make sense. I realized I was quite lost and Google Maps was not helping me as much I had hoped, so again I mustered the courage to poke my head in a nearby shop to ask an elderly man inside.

¿Sabe usted dónde vive Angélica? Ella tiene una bici y vende galletas.

Do you know where Angélica Martínez Pérez lives? She has a bicycle and sells cookies.

He paused to think about my question, and I watched him uncover a fading map on the wall of his living room that showed the streets of Tomaltepec. In truth, he said, there are many Angélicas in town. He wasn’t quite sure which Angélica I was referring to until I had mentioned that she sold cookies. Then he began to sing her praises. Oh, that Angélica! Ella es muy trabajadora, she is a very hard worker.

A woman with baking mittens on her hands smiles as she stands next to new baking pans and tins.
Angélica shows us what she purchased with her En Vía loan in December of 2014.

We walked together all the way to her house, a 15-minute walk from his tiendita, little shop. On our way there, a drunk man bellowed some salutations to us. The gentlemen with whom I was walking waved and shot back some banter, and then quietly confided in me that there were many drunks in this town. He should know: he himself is a part of doble A or Alcoholics Anonymous. And they were all united, he said, by the language of the heart. As part of an international organization, he said, any of them could meet up and understand one another. It was a bond that transcended language barriers. So even in this little town, I was witnessing the grand reaches of globalization.

As we neared Reforma, the gentleman asked some workers where Angélica lived. I was struck by how communal and welcoming others were to answer questions to people they may not know personally. People were aware of the lives of others, not isolated and closed from their neighbors like to what I am more accustomed.

We knocked on the door, which I recognized. A modest door that opened to a dirt-floor courtyard. Angélica answered the door with smile as she was expecting me, and she greeted us like old friends. I wasn’t sure if she knew the man had taken me to her, but they still conversed warmly.

Before I entered her house, she also laughed and told me that to make it easier to find her, I should have referred to her as the most beautiful Angélica in all of Santo Domingo Tomaltepec. Then I’d surely have found her in a jiff.

With that kind of start to the interview, I knew that my conversation with her would be filled with laughs and many wise words.

This is part 1 of a multi-post story. Stay tuned for Tiffany’s coming posts about Angélica!

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3 thoughts on “Buscando a Angélica”

  1. Beautifully related! I experienced much of the same in my visits with En Via. May the Foundation continue to thrive.

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