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cultural diversity in Oaxaca

There are 73 languages commonly spoken in Mexico.  Of those 68 are spoken in Oaxaca.  Oaxaca is the state of Mexico that has the most indigenous groups.  Many of these have essentially retained their pre-Colombian cultures despite Spanish influence.

Today Arturo, our conversation teacher, led a conversation about cultural differences.  He showed us a map of the state of Oaxaca with pictures of the peoples in their native costumes located where those people live.  We learned the the peoples of the Sierra Madre, east of Oaxaca, are extremely patriarchal.  The men control the finances and are expected to be sexually promiscuous  Out gays and lesbians risk death.  The women do most of the work and have no power.  This has been true since before the Spanish came. 

By contrast, to the east, the peoples in the istmus region of Oaxaca have been matriarchal since before the Spanish conquest and are to this day.  The women control all the finances and have all the power and most of the status in the community.  Whenever they get tired of their men, they just go on to a new one.  Women do most of the work.  Men might do a little fishing but they mostly hang out with their buddies and drink.  Women do not have the highest status in those communities however.  That position belongs to gay men.  (It's ok to be lesbian but they don't have any special status.)  They are seen as special gifts from God and there is a two day festival honoring gay men.  As a consequence, Oaxaca became the first state in Mexico to legalize gay marriage.

Among the peoples around the city of Oaxaca, the genders are more or less equal, since pre-Hispanic times.

On a tour on Saturday, there was an incident that disturbed me greatly. Several tour vans, mostly of Spanish speakers, stopped at San Bartolo, a villiage famous for it's black pottery.  At a family business the patriarch of the family was demostrating how he worked the fresh clay into pots while his wife carved patterns into another patrially dried pot.  One of the tour guides remarked to the man that he must have developed his strong hands by slapping his wife all these years.  Just to make sure everyone got his 'wonderful' joke, he told it in English. (He hadn't bothered much with us English speakers before that.)  Almost everyone laughed, including the wife.  The husband, to his credit, only gave a wan smile.  I told Arturo about the incident and asked if this was common.  He said violence against wives and girlfriends was not uncommon in Mexico and most of Latin
America.  Before I take this as gospel, I'm going to ask some other people.  But if it is common, then I think acceptance of diversity stops well before any approval of this behavior.   

2 comments (Add your own)

1. Carolyn Watson Dubisch wrote:
We lived as a family in Argentina in the patagonia region. Women were NOT treated this way. They opened doors and catered to women and girls and women were very educated, including college education. They were just as likely to be doctors and lawyers as the men were. If this is the case there, it does not extend to Argentina.

Wed, October 27, 2010 @ 4:03 PM

2. Anatha Attar wrote:
I'm not sure who will see this but if you can help with my question this would be much appreciated. I am planning a visit to the city of Oaxaca this October. I am a UU of the Olympia, WA church. I am interested in meeting other Unitarians, X-Pats or tourists in Oaxaca while I am there. Do you know how I might contact our community. Thank you.

Tue, May 24, 2016 @ 11:07 AM

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