Postcard from San Martin Tilcajete, Oaxaca: Carnaval customs as creative as their carvings


Brightly painted, intricately carved copal figures of real and fantasy animals, alebrijes, from the small town of San Martin Tilcajete, Oaxaca, are known around the world. Whole families of carvers pass down their traditional techniques to provide their livelihoods, with every home seeming to double as a retail outlet.

Every year they unleash that creativity to stage a mezcal-infused celebration of Carnaval, the final day of wild indulgence before Lent. Despite the loss of young men who have left to find work in el norte, there seemed to be no shortage of volunteers willing to smear their bodies in motor oil in hopes of planting kisses on young women unafraid of ruining their clothes. We witnessed no such embraces, but the afternoon was still young.

Other young men engaged in crossdressing, some quite convincing, as though there were not more women than men remaining in the community. The formally attired bridesmaids created a colorful entourage parading through the streets prior to the sham wedding of the bride and groom performed by a jovial padre of sorts.

Outsiders were embraced, so much to the point that our friend, Clyde, padre-looking himself, was drafted into the ceremony to provide the blessing of the bride and groom by exuberantly splashing water on them and anyone standing in close proximity.

American politicians should take note. We didn’t meet the town’s mayor, but he or she knows how to encourage enthusiastic support. The mayor’s ambassadors were freely distributing shots of mezcal and dipping into buckets of tepache and horchata to quench the thirst of all, whether residents or tourists.

Maybe San Antonio should forget spending money on expensive advertising for visitors. Mayor Ivy Taylor simply needs to enlist volunteers to offer complimentary shots of tequila and margaritas along the River Walk. Word of mouth about San Antonio’s hospitality would spread like wildfire.


Postcard from Oaxaca, Mexico: Strolling after lunch


Encountered a lively little parade on our way back to our casita after lunch Saturday. Don’t think it had much to do with building hype for the Super Bowl.

And then, last night in our barrio, the fireworks started and tubas tooted about 9 with a rowdy group of sombreroed locals parading into town to set off castillos. Wasn’t fast enough to grab the camera and unsure of the occasion of that parade either. Perhaps honoring a saint’s day, or perhaps simply because it was Saturday night.

Postcards from San Antonio a Century Ago


San Antonio is so different from Dallas, Houston, Austin…. Probably because those other major Texas cities were not even dots on the map before the fall of the Alamo. San Antonio just kicked off its planning for the city’s tricentennial events.

San Antonio was part of Mexico. It’s in her genes.

That is what drew me here from Virginia Beach, a city so far removed from Mexico that it did not even offer a taco for sale until I was 17. Well, that and the Mister.

I’ve been sitting on these postcards, widely available, for a long, long time for many reasons. They are controversial.

They illustrate how Mexican San Antonio was. Some of these snapshots can be viewed as showing our affection for that connection:

Mexican Chili Stands. For the sake of olden times the Mexicans are allowed to set up their tables and camp stones on the Plazas and serve their native dishes in the open air; such as Chili Con Carne, Tamales, Enchiladas, Chili Verde, Frijoles and Tortillas, etc. As day dawns and the lamps show dimmer, these queer hotel keepers put out their fires and folding their tables “silently steal away” until another night.

But, unfortunately, many of these postcards illustrate the prejudice that arose in us after the Texas Revolution:

Mexican mansions showing the primitive way of the peons, who are supposed to be the happiest people on earth.

Even Tejanos born and raised in San Antonio who supported the Texas Revolution found themselves viewed with condescension by newcomers flooding into the Republic of Texas, immigrants from the United States. Natives were regarded as foreigners.

Painful periods of prejudice should never be erased from our history books. Sometimes looking in the rearview mirror keeps you from veering off in the wrong direction. Some of today’s politicians need to do that because the rhetoric indicates a failure to learn from our past mistakes, a willingness to repeat them.

The historical connection of San Antonio and Mexico embedded in the city’s DNA is cherished and celebrated, particularly as we head toward our tricentennial commemorations. It’s a flavorful recipe unduplicated and a major ingredient in what makes San Antonio such a remarkable place to live.

(I’d incorporated some of these images in collages a while back: