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flower grower


El Punto, Ixtepeji, Oaxaca


23 September 2001


This testimony conveys a clear impression of the heavy workload life of previous generations. Modesta remembers her parents toiling to clear the land and prepare the soil for planting. Her late husband also worked hard, logging for the paper factory and making charcoal, “to sell it, to get money to support children”.

This hardworking life is what led to her education being curtailed: “I didn’t continue going to the school because I had other little tasks to attend to…[I had to look after] my little brother and sister… to look after them and to do the housework, and wash the clothes for my brothers and my father

Yet it was not all hard work and no play. Above all, the interview is rich in detailed descriptions of the community’s customs and celebrations. She tells of the importance of the festive seasons for commerce and trade; and of the community spirit during the celebrations. For the fiesta of Saint Catherine, the patron saint of Ixtepeji, “the madrinas (godmothers)… give some fireworks or mescal (traditional alcoholic drink made from maguey, an aloe-like plant, about 1 metre high) or wine, biscuits or candies, that was the godmothers’ contribution…all the town cooperates… as those from the [other] communities arrived they gave their offerings for the fiesta - those who wanted to contribute something”. The celebrations are described as being very jovial - with the singing of the mañanitas (traditional songs), preparation of special meals, the procession, fireworks, church services, music bands, and dancing through the streets of the town “from midnight until 4 in the morning, when they come back to the church to place their flower baskets there and then everyone goes home”.

Other themes covered in the testimony are the protection of wild animals, hunting, trading/commerce in Oaxaca, communal lands, education, and the preparation of traditional food.

detailed breakdown

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Section 1  Her move from La Cumbre to El Punto at the age of six. Description of El Punto and the houses at the time: “there were very few houses Most of them were made of wood, a few of adobe (mud brick), the rest were of wood and tejamanilitos (traditional rough pinewood planks or roofing tiles/shingles).”
Section 2-3  Both parents now dead. Her father’s work: “He planted cornwheatpotatoes, he burned charcoal, he made firewood, and he went with his horses to Oaxaca to take charcoal and sell it; that was his job.” Description of seven-hour journey to Oaxaca to sell the charcoal, staying overnight and leaving again at 5am the next day. Transportation problems: “at that time there weren’t any cars. Much later a truck used to take the loads to Oaxaca.” Types of flowers sold at Oaxaca market. Very busy during the festive season (month of December): “We began selling on 8thDecember, the fiesta de la Juquilita (in honour of the Virgin of Juquila, a community in the mountains south of Oaxaca), then on the 12th day was the fiesta of the Virgin of Guadalupe (in honour of the Virgin of Guadalupe Hidalgo, a city in Central Mexico, which became the foremost pilgrimage centre in the Americas after an Indian convert reported seeing a vision of the Virgin Mary there in 1531), later, on the18th, was the fiesta of the Virgin of la Soledad , la patrona of Oaxaca, and from there on the 23rd was La Noche de los rábanos (the Night of the Radishes, Oaxacan festival involving competition for best nativity figures carved out of large radishes)… the 25th of December…new year... Then next it was the fiesta de los reyes (Epiphany) on 6th January.”
Section 3-4  Other fiestas. Fiesta of Saint Catherine, the patron saint of Ixtepeji. Description of street procession, when the madrinas (godmothers) go out with flower baskets.
Section 4  Parents’ work in the field: “My parents’ life consisted of work.” Worked on communal lands: “The application [for communal lands] was submitted [to the comisariardo de bienes comunales – office responsible for community property] and then they considered the application. After they had considered it, we could work, cutting down the trees to prepare the soil. When it was prepared, we let it dry out and then burnt it, burnt the branches, and the thick wood was used as charcoal, for charcoal ovens, it was oak wood. [We had] to clear the land, to prepare the soil for planting the crops.”
Section 5  Husband’s work in the forest, cutting wood for paper factory and production of charcoal. The hunting of animals: “before it wasn’t forbidden to kill the deer, rabbits, squirrels, doves, gallinitas monteses (mountain chickens), it was free then.” Her views on the protection of animals: “it is like a fortress for the mountain, that these little animals make in the forest, so let them reproduce, because if we kill them of course there won’t be any more.”
Section 5-7  Her father’s experience as a soldier during the revolution (the Mexican revolution of 1910). Her limited education (three years of schooling). The school she attended. Dispute between a teacher and the community over the development of a new school.
Section 7-8  Local food – method of preparation of tortillas (maize-based flat bread) and atole (pre-hispanic drink made from corn): “we made tortillas to sell. We had to mill in the metate (traditional grindstone), we made them by hand… On my part, I was selling tortillas for a long time, when I got married, when I had my children. Then I used the mill to make tortillas for my children to eat, and to sell as well.”