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Ixtlán, Oaxaca


23 and 24 May 1999


Originally one of five brothers and sisters, at 62 Soledad is the only surviving member of her family. She never married, explaining that from a young age she had a calling for the church: “What called my attention the most was being in the church and that’s how it was.”

This is a good interview, full of detail. During the first part Soledad relates her childhood memories of Ixtlán, sometimes commenting how the community has changed. She recalls village legends, her time at primary school (which the children helped to build), the cargos (unpaid community positions), the journey on foot to market in Oaxaca city, the handicrafts her grandparents made and the village’s reliance on traditional healers and midwives before the health centre was built. While acknowledging that some changes in the village have made life easier, she adds that now “there must be more sources of work too, so that one can survive because everything is based on money.” She contrasts this with her memories of their barter system for goods and work: “One can’t live like we used to... before there was exchange, the people who sold goods exchanged them for corn, beans and wheat and a village could survive like that, they helped each other in this way…One didn’t have to have a lot of money because one could exchange things, even labour.”

In the latter part of the interview Soledad’s feelings about attitudes towards women – and how they have changed in the village – come to the fore. Her responses become more expansive as she discusses marriage and gender relations. She explains that in the past, despite the cooperative way in which the community worked, there were still problems because “the men were still very attached to machismo because, well, in a certain way, there were some that didn’t value the help of a woman or didn’t let her work or treated her with definite repression.” She describes how many girls were forced into marriages arranged by their parents and that “those women suffered because they didn’t even know the men, they didn’t even know what the family was like... well, the woman arrived, well, to work as if she were a slave, a work machine.”

She feels that things are improving: “the times are changing, the priests explain things, they make us look at the things more carefully, one becomes more aware and this also helps the young people of our time, doesn’t it…nowadays the young people that are going to marry need to be prepared, they have to be given a more thorough guidance so that they are responsible for what they are about to do.” She relates this to the importance of a loving upbringing: “children have to grow up in the bosom of the family so that they have a good education that corresponds to the demands of the day…[so] that they have morals well founded with respect for their parents and older people.”

The interview concludes with Soledad emphasising the importance of love in her own life: “…there has never been a time or a moment that I have lacked love. As I said, this was God’s intention for me, because people often think that people who don’t get married don’t have fulfilment in their life, or their life doesn’t have meaning, well - it isn’t like that for me.”

detailed breakdown

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Section 1-2  Talks about village history and legends: the “owner of the mountains” (Zapotec deity). Story of a boy following child spirits into the mountains, and a female spirit who seduces men and leads them astray.
Section 2-5  Her childhood. Only able to go to primary school (children helped to build it). At school there was time for lessons and for working in its vegetable garden, but soon it became hard to balance school with work at home. How things have changed: memories of gathering firewood: “it is more convenient now because of the stoves. But everything is done with money now and it wasn’t then because one just gathered the firewood and that was everything for the tortillas (maize-based flat bread) and the food.” Talks about problem of lack of rain – before they irrigated with water brought from the mountains in wooden tubes. Family: the only one still alive of her five siblings.
Section 5-6  Festivals: “The fiestas of the different barrios ( neighbourhoods), the parish of Saint Pedro, Saint Francisco, the Assumption and the[Virgin of] Soledad.” Says that festivals always continue although “during a time of economic difficulty only one mass was celebrated.” Describes in detail how they made and starched traditional clothes. Speaks a few words of the Zapotec language.
Section 6-8  Talks about the cargos (unpaid community positions): the duties of the acolytes (altar boys) and the topils (junior cargo position involving running errands and keeping order) who worked for the priest. Cargos held by her brother: he was secretario (community secretary), chief of police, master of the keys?. She’s realistic about relations between old and young: “there are some [young people] that are very conscious of this - that the old people were also young like them once, but paid attention to the experiences of their elders - but there are other young people that don’t. But when they accept that these experiences can help them a lot, these experiences will help them to live better.”
Section 8-9  People had to walk a day and a half to take animals to the market in Oaxaca City. Houses used to be made from adobe (mud brick) and wood. The reliance on money has brought changes.
Section 9-11  They used to have to go to Guelatao to see a doctor. There were traditional healers in the villages – mentions a famous one, the building of the health centre, how relatively well women did in childbirth. Talks about the different handicrafts that were made: for example, her grandfather made wooden washboards and her grandmother “made her clay pots, but they were simple - there weren’t fine plates in those days.” Women held committee cargos but all the other cargos were for men only.
Section 11-12  Says that although “some people think that it was better in the old days, right, because they think that they truly did live in unity because they didn’t want for anything - because the people that had, lent to the people that didn’t” there were still problems, notably the treatment of women. Says girls often had very little say in their marriages, mostly arranged by her parents. Once married, girls faced problems: “the poor women in those days lived like that, being put down by their husbands because they had bought them like an object. She couldn’t go to visit her parents when she decided but when her husband said so.”
Section 12-14  She didn’t marry because: “from a young age I had a calling for the church… when I heard the music, it was like the music called me.” Talks about how things have changed: before parents exerted pressure on their children to marry; “nowadays the young people that are going to marry need to be prepared, they have to be given a more thorough guidance so that they are responsible for what they are about to do.” The importance of family values and good moral guidance. Emphasises that her own life has been happy: “I haven’t lacked love, I haven’t wanted for love because I’ve looked for it…”