photo of Mexican man the sierra norte
Mexico glossary








flower grower


El Punto, Ixtepeji, Oaxaca


23 September 2001



I talked to Señora Modesta and I asked her for a moment of her time. The señora very kindly gave me a chair. She is a very charming lady but very intense in the way she talks. She is a lonely woman; her husband died some years ago. The señora dedicates herself to flower cultivation in a ranchería (small ranch), in the area known as La Cumbre. She told me about the flowers she plants – the alcatraz (Calla lily), brizia (flowering grass), margariton (daisy) – and then we began the interview.

Section 1
School, family, community participation, rights and obligations, festivitals: it is custom, it is tradition, but it is also reality. In response to my interest, Modesta describes in detail the traditional festivals, acknowledging that the customs of her native Ixtepeji have changed with the passage of time.

Would you give me your name please?
My name is Modesta Hernandez Garcia

And your age?
My age? Sixty-six. I was born in 1935

Are you from here the community of El Punto?
Yes from El Punto

How many years have you been living here?
46 years

Were you born here at El Punto?
In the town of Ixtepeji.

How was it that you arrived here at El Punto?
I was raised at La Cumbre de Ixtepeji, I was six years old when my parents took me to La Cumbre…I was raised at La Cumbre until I was 20 years old, then I married and came here to El Punto.

When you lived here at El Punto, was it like it is now?
No, there were very few houses, and only [those made of] tejamaniles (traditional rough pinewood planks or roofing tiles/shingles) and little bits of wood, that’s how it was. Most of them were made of wood, a few of adobe (mud brick), the rest were of wood and tejamanilitos. Starting from Las Animas, there were few [brick/concrete] houses on the way to El Punto – yes, very few houses.
Section 2
Are your parents still alive?
Not any more. My father died and my mother too.

Were your parents from Ixtepeji?
Yes, from Ixtepeji, my mother was from Ixtepeji. My father was called Manuel Hernandez Mendez and my mother was called Petrona Garcia. My mother died 11 years ago.

What was his occupation there at La Cumbre?
My father’s?

He was a farmer. He planted corn, planted wheat, planted potatoes. He burned charcoal, he made firewood, and he went with his horses to Oaxaca to take charcoal and sell it; that was his job.

Didn’t he transport his load by car?
No, he only used animals - all the time. My father had a horse - a mare – and a little donkey and he took the charcoal to sell in Oaxaca. He went with his animals on foot.

How long did it take them to get to Oaxaca?
They left La Cumbre at three in the morning to [go to] Oaxaca, [arriving] at ten at the latest, ten in the morning. They arrived in Oaxaca to sell the charcoal, and then they went to buy their things and then came back. They stayed at San Agustin Yataneri the same night they left [Oaxaca] and the next morning they left San Agustin at five in the morning and arrived at La Cumbre at about eleven in the morning. At twelve at the latest they came back.

As I said a moment ago, didn’t they have transportation for the load?
Well, at that time there weren’t any cars. Much later a truck used to take the loads to Oaxaca. The driver was Pedro Mejia, he was from – what is that place called? – well he was from Oaxaca and he carried the loads, because the chilacayotas (type of squash, used to make stews) were ready. Loads of chilacayotas were taken to be sold in Oaxaca. He took some flowers called josefinas (a flower); those flowers were taken to be sold. Like now, there were josefinas. This season of September, October and November there were josefinas… and for Christmas we sold paxlito (wild flower), laurel, flor de niño (“child’s flower”; wild flower), poleo (“pennyroyal”, wild mint with medicinal use), musgo (moss). We went to sell and then Señor Pedro took the loads to Oaxaca and we arrived there to sell the products we had.

At the fiestas, did you take your merchandise to sell?
Yes, in the month of December the most we took to sell was flowers and paxle (wild flower); it was the month of Christmas. We began selling on 8th December, the fiesta de la Juquilita (fiesta 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 (fiesta 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 (fiesta in honour of the Virgin of Soledad, the patron saint of Oaxaca), 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 flowers were sold. And we also sold flowers on the 24th, and paxlito and musgo (moss); we were still selling until midnight on Christmas Eve. The next morning, on the 25th of December, we sold a little more, and that was all. And for the coming new year, the flower-selling happened again – flor de niño, laurel, poleo (“pennyroyal”, wild mint with medicinal use), that is what was sold at New Year. Then next it was the fiesta de los reyes (Epiphany) on 6th January, so we celebrated the three kings; we went there to sell flowers too.
Section 3
How long do these events to do with the (Christmas) fiesta last in the community?
Well, the whole month of December, from 8th [December] to 6th January.

Can you tell us something about the Ixtepeji customs at the fiestas?
Well, as for fiestas, first of all they celebrate the fiesta del mero pueblo (our own town festival) as it always has been celebrated, which is the celebration of the patron saint of Ixtepeji, Saint Catherine. That is the biggest fiesta they still celebrate these days. In Ixtepeji, as well as that, they celebrate Christmas, they celebrate Holy Week, it is celebrated at the church. So fiestas like these – Holy Week and Christmas, as well as the el nacimiento (nativity), and also the posaditas (Mexican festival that re-enacts Joseph's search for room at the inn) and all that - they were always celebrated in Ixtepeji and still are.

Can you tell me how many days you celebrated this fiesta you were telling me about, of Saint Catherine, in Ixtepeji?
From the 23rd – the calenda (street procession) - the day on which the madrinas (godmothers) go out with flower baskets, which is still the custom now… But, first of all, they meet at the head woman’s house, because as always they name the first, the second, the third godmother. Then the madrinas meet at the house of the first one and from there…the first one arrived, then the second and the third. From there they went to invite the madrinas. Well, they also tell them that they have to give some fireworks or mezcal (traditional alcoholic drink made from maguey, an aloe-like plant, about 1 metre high) or wine, biscuits or candies – that was the godmothers’ contribution. So there were many madrinas… Then they meet at the first one’s house to hand over everything they have contributed. And when they have handed all that over, they leave with their baskets as is the custom, and the band too sets off goes to the town hall. And from there la calenda leaves, moving through the town, and la calenda goes from house to house. They go dancing with their baskets, and the padrinos (godfathers) go with their maramotas (spheres made from reed and blanket, which symbolise the world and that which circulates around) that they have made, they go with their fireworks and all that, 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.
And then at 6 in the morning there is music; they play mañanitas (traditional songs) as it’s the day of las Visperas (Christmas Eve), and then immediately afterwards there is the first Mass of Christmas Eve. In the afternoon, there is los maitines (matins), as they call it, and then all the town cooperates because there at the curato (the house of the priest or a special area within the church where the priest assists the people) they prepared meals for the visitors. They prepared tepache (traditional Oaxacan alcoholic drink), mezcal (traditional alcoholic drink made from maguey), all that to give to the visitors who came there, and they gave them food, mezcal, tepache. The offering was taken up – the money – and as those from the [other] communities arrived they gave their offerings for the fiesta – those who wanted to contribute something. So that’s how the money was collected. And meanwhile the priest was saying vespers, matins.

After that, the time came to light the castillo (firework set piece), light the fireworks, and after this the people went away. The next morning there was music again; they played mañanitas to the Virgin, and then the Mass of the patroness (Saint Catherine) was performed at 11 or 12 in the morning. On the day of 25th November, Mass was celebrated and a lot of people came from other communities; people from other towns, came to the Mass. They would come into the Mass (the church) to see how many hours (at what times?) the priest was saying Mass. Then they would leave the Mass, they would join the procession around the church with the Virgin. There they would name some señoritas as madrinas, who dressed as brides to carry the Virgin on the procession around the church. Next, on the night of the 25th, people got together at the sports field to do the dance of 25th November. The youth got together and everyone went to the dance. Before, we used only live bands, then we used stereos for the dancing, and later we had groups [to play] for the dancing.
Section 4
How was life before, in your parents’ time?
My parents’ life consisted of work. For example, in February they planted and prepared the soil for planting corn – planting potatoes, planting broad beans – and later they did some other work while the plants were growing in the field. They cleared the soil, took out shrubs, put soil around the plants for the broad beans and the potatoes. In May the weeding of the field took place; the plants were growing. In June, it was time to put more soil around the plants. In August the corn was there (to harvest).

Did you have communal lands or private?
Communal lands. My father and my brothers worked only on communal land.

In order to work the communal land did you make an application?
Yes, we had to submit an application for one hectare or whatever size we wanted to work, how much land we wanted – at least one hectare or two – that was what the application to the comisariado de bienes comunales (office responsible for community property) consisted of. The application was submitted 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
Did your father plant alone, or did he have mozos (helpers)? Did he hire people?
My father [worked only] with my brothers.

How many brothers do you have?
I had two older brothers and a little one. They went to help my father with the work, making charcoal, using the wood that was removed to clear the soil for planting.

And what did your husband do?
Well, when the work in the mountains started, he began to get split logs of pinewood. Then he went to the mountain [forest] to do that and the paper factory paid him, he sold the pinewood to them. They measured the cubic metres of wood, but I don’t remember how much they paid per metre, and soon he worked there. They sent a doctor from the Social Services from there to treat those who became ill, including the children of the workers of the saw mill and their wives. The doctor came here in his truck, to El Punto, he came to examine the people… And the husbands went to work at the saw mill and after the wood- splitting, they began to make planks in the forest, and the paper factory bought those. After that, when he couldn’t do that, my husband made charcoal, he burned charcoal. He burned or made charcoal from oak. He made that to sell it, to get money to support children.

Did you know if people were hunting animals to eat?
Yes, of course, in the past they used to go camping, because before it wasn’t forbidden to kill the deer, rabbits, squirrels, doves, gallinitas monteses (mountain chickens), it was free then. That’s why they went to kill the rabbits at the beginning of the rainy season. There were lots of rabbits, and people were hunting them. They carried shotguns, that’s what they were called, those little weapons that used ammunition. It was some little balls like pellets or small bullets, they were little bullets that they packed in the guns, there was like a little scourer (wadding?), they put that between the bullets, and they went hunting to hunt rabbits, to hunt squirrels with the 22s. The 22s were those guns they carried to kill deer. And all – [or] the majority – killed deer. That’s why they killed those little animals. It wasn’t forbidden then.

And now what do you think about the ban on hunting?
Well, what they don’t want now is that they should kill the little animals, for what it was… I don’t remember in what year they prohibited the killing of deer, the killing of squirrels, and rabbits - maybe they still kill those - but not deer and squirrels, it is not that easy to kill them.

Do you think it is a good idea to preserve the little animals?
Yes, of course, because 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 6
Did you participate in your father’s work?
Yes, by carrying food for him, taking the food for them to eat, carrying the lunch for them where they were working.

Did your father tell you about the history of Ixtepeji?
Yes my father told me he went as a soldier in the Revolution (Mexican revolution of 1910). Yes, he went a quite a few places, he went there during the Revolution, because he was a soldier. My father used to say that… where did he say he went? He told us about various places he went to, but now I don’t remember where those places were, but he did go. He told us a little, but since I was a child I don’t remember the places he went to when he was a soldier.

And your mother, what did she do when your father was a soldier?
Well, she went with him – she went with him wherever he went. She went there with him.

Did you go to school before?
I went to school but [only] when I was 12 years old, I began school. I began the first grade.

Where were the schools located?
The schools were located in the town of Ixtepeji. There I went for first grade, then the next year I went to the second grade, and in the third year I went to third grade. I was 14 years old – I was nearly 14 when I finished my third grade. Then the school gave me the note (permission) to study in fourth grade - but it wasn’t possible for me to go to school because I was 15 years old; because in the past we stopped going to school at 14.

Why didn’t you continue studying?
Well because in Ixtepeji I was living with an aunt of mine, and she was already very old, but it meant that I was going to continue studying. But it was in November that the closure happened. On January 15 my aunt died, that’s why it wasn’t possible for her to be with me, living at Ixtepeji – for me to continue at school. And that’s how my aunt died. And my sister went to school, and I went to stay with her for 8 days at Ixtepeji. I was taking care of my sister there at Ixtepeji because she was going to school. But what happened? …After that my sister got sick and she couldn’t go to school, and we went to La Cumbre; we stayed in La Cumbre and my sister didn’t get well quickly. And that’s why we were in that situation when they started to build a school at La Cumbre. And then next they built the school at La Cumbre and my sister went there. I was going to go to study but it wasn’t possible, and my sister and my little brother continued going to school. Then they built that school at La Cumbre and several children went together to the school, and 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, because my mother went away [often]… She used to go to Oaxaca because my father – with the jobs he had to do – he didn’t have time to go buying things. My mother used to go buying things to eat and I stayed with my little brothers, to look after them and to do the housework, and wash the clothes for my brothers and my father, and that’s why I couldn’t go to school.
Ah, so this was how the school was running…because first there was a teacher called Josefina Hernandez – she was there for a year. Then the next year there was another teacher, called Josefina Perez, and the third year there was another teacher, called Rebeca – she was also Josefina’s sister. Then in the fourth year there was another one, called Isabel. Then in the fifth year there was a teacher called Manuel - I don’t remember his last name. But what happened? The parents of the children went here and there, [and] stopped sending them to that school. Some [went to] Tierra Colorada, others to El Punto. The [number of] children became less, and there weren’t enough children for the school. That’s why the governor went to visit the school… In the second year of the school, he went to visit the school and he liked it so much and he said that it should continue, because he was going to give it help, and soon he gave it a flag… how nice the flag that the governor gave was! He was from the state of Sonora. His name was Ignacio Soto. That’s why he even left a big photograph at the school. He gave help, he sent gifts for the children – he sent sweaters, he sent dolls for the little girls, and he left some money to improve the school. And that’s why the governor said that the school was going to be named Sonora State [School].
So the school was only running for five years. Next, when the road passed by (was constructed on) the other side, then the teacher who was there, he wanted to change the school, to build it on the new road. The ciudadanos (citizens) told him to stay calm, to let them decide. So then they were going to build the school on the new road, [but] the teacher didn’t wait, and one day he went – one Monday he took the children and went [close] by where the new road was. And each child brought his bench to the open field – they brought their tables to do their work there, by the new road. But the parents didn’t like it, because the teacher did it too violently (abruptly. They said they had to work to build the new school, but the teacher didn’t wait, and the parents got desperate too, and told him that if he wasn’t comfortable and if he couldn’t wait, they had to go and ask a question at the administration, at the…what is it called? …They would say whether the school could continue or the teacher had to wait, they would build the school little by little.
The teacher said he was in a hurry, so then they said it would be better to close the school. When they needed it, they would come to set up the school again. Since the parents were fewer and fewer, each parent sent his children wherever they wanted. And there were fewer children and there weren’t enough children for the school to continue. And they told that teacher to go somewhere else to work, if he didn’t like working in that way, the way he was working… Then they sent him far away to work, and meanwhile the school was closed. That was the end of the school finished; it didn’t continue.
Section 7
In the past, what was the way that people made their tortillas (maize-based flat bread)?
Well, to make tortillas, in the past you had to break up the nixtamal (corn dough) with a metate (traditional grindstone). You broke up the corn with the metate and then you made the dough from the corn flour. You let it rest for a while and then took a carita (piece) depending on the size of the tortilla. Then the tortillas were made by hand only, without any tortilladora (tortilla machine), only by hand. We stretched the tortillas to put them in the comal (flat pan or griddle), we turned them around and when they were ready we took them out to put them on one side for cooking. That’s how it was before – there were no mills, only metate to make the atole (pre-Hispanic corn drink). We had to cook the corn to make the clasigual (?), then we ground the clasigual to make the white atole. Very fine atole we made! And if we wanted to make wheat atole, we had to prepare the wheat, clean it well, and then grind it with the metate. We had to mill it very well, then we had to strain it, and then we had to put it in boiling water to boil it together. We had to keep moving it so it wouldn’t stick to the bowl - the same thing with the clasigual - and we strained it too. Because in the past we used what’s called the atole servilleta (cloth), which is something to strain it with. We used special bowls to strain and boil the atole.
Section 8
Did you sell the tortillas or the atole before?
Yes, of course we made tortillas to sell. We had to mill them in the metate, we made them by hand and if someone would buy the tortillas we sold them; if somebody wanted tortillas we sold them to him. 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.