Holy card from Oaxaca, Mexico: Zapotecans in line for sainthood

DSCN2359

A long list is found on one of the walls of La Compania de Jesus Church in Oaxaca. A list of those waiting. Those whose lives in Mexico were so full of sacrifice Rome surely will notice and promote them on the road to sainthood.

I’m pulling for the child martyrs of Tlaxcala, the land of corn tortillas. Poor Christobalito, Antonio and Juan were, after all, children. Antonio and Juan were clubbed to death, but Christobalito’s own father, a confirmed pagan, condemned him to be beaten with clubs and then set ablaze for his faith. The trio was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1990, but they hardly seem on the fast-track. They have been waiting in line a really, really, really long time. Ever since the late 1520s.

But in Oaxaca, a pair of Zapotecs stand out, although newcomers to the waiting list by comparison to the ninos above.

Back in 1700, Dominican priests in Oaxaca would commission converts to serve as “attorneys general,” assigned to police the purity and practices of those living in rural areas. Jacinto de los Angeles and Juan Bautista of San Francisco Cajonos, “the town in the clouds,” were so honored. Overhearing those worshipping the harvest god, Huitzilopochtli, talking about a clandestine evening gathering in his honor, the attorneys reported back to the Dominican friars. Intervention was planned, and Jacinto and Juan led a group to break up the idolatrous meet, seizing the men’s musical instruments.

Unfortunately for Jacinto and Juan, their Zapotec brethren did not take kindly to what they viewed as tattle-tale turncoat interference. A mob seized the two from the sheltering confines of the convent. The pair refused to recant their faith, even under torture.

They survived being thrown off Tanga Hill in the village of San Pedro, but clubs still were viewed as a popular way to deal with Christians anyway. The mob clubbed them and cut them with knives before cutting open their chests and feeding their hearts to the dogs. (I don’t make these things up. Read the Vatican’s version here.)

Whatever parts were left were gathered later by the faithful, who put them in the church of Villa Alta until 1889. The remains were moved to a chapel in the Cathedral of Oaxaca, a chapel almost always locked for their protection.

DSCN1067

A bad thing happened to what should be set aside as their day. Jacinto and Juan attained martyrdom on September 16, but, unfortunately, 110 years later Father Hidalgo absconded with their day on the calendar. His cry for independence from Spain changed what would be their feast day to Mexican Independence Day, a celebration far overshadowing their sacrifices.

But an exhausted-looking but determined Pope John Paul II rescued them from obscurity, beatifying them in 2002 as examples “of how, without regarding one’s ancestral customs as myths, one can reach God without renouncing one’s own culture but letting oneself be enlightened by the light of Christ, which renews the religious spirit of the best popular traditions.”

While their hearts probably wouldn’t be fed to the dogs, one wonders what kind of reception church spies would receive in someplace like San Juan Chamula today. “Hey, they are sacrificing chickens in your church.” “Hey, do you know that elder over there has four wives?” They would be so expelled from town.

But, the good part of this story is how Jacinto and Juan are revered in their hometown. Their stories didn’t rise up on the Vatican radar without help. A trio of maize and chickpea farmers championed their cause at the grassroots level. According to a story by Stephen Henderson in the Los Angeles Times, they researched the story at City Hall and then chronicled the testimonies of more than 30 locals who claimed prayers to Jacinto and Juan were answered with miracles. This represents 1/10 of the entire town.

The task took decades of dedication, but it paid off. A group of Cajonos proudly accompanied the glass-encased heartless remains of Jacinto and Juan to Mexico City for the papal ceremonies taking them one step closer to sainthood. Plus, the pair was given a new feast day of their own – September 18.

 

The Pope-blessed glass-encased relics can still be glimpsed sitting on the altar in that side chapel in the Cathedral of Oaxaca, a destination for Zapotecan pilgrims.

Artist Foundation unleashes another round of creative fervor…

zach-dorn-puppetry

A city teeming with talent. Artists whose creative juices flow constantly, filling them with visionary dreams of projects that will enrich our lives.

If…. If only they had a boost of support. A grant of $5,000 can jumpstart a project, freeing the artist to complete it and share the finished product.

This is what the Artist Foundation of San Antonio, a nonprofit organization founded by Bettie Ward and Patricia Pratchett, does. And does well.

Since 2006, the Artist Foundation has granted 102 artists residing in Bexar County $570,000. And the Artist Foundation recently completed another round of awards.

zach-dorn-performingZach Dorn, self-described as “a theater artist who aims to rediscover the suspension of disbelief from the six year-old within all of us and use it to reexamine life as an adult,” received both the Alan Beckstead Award for Original Production and the Tobin Grand Prize for Artistic Excellence.

Dorn writes:

This delicate resuscitation of the audience’s imaginative spirit has invoked the use of puppetry, live cinematic experimentations, fast-paced storytelling techniques, and reinvention…. Like unruly children, my ideas rebel against traditional performance techniques. My live puppet productions have moved away from conventional staging by transforming entire theater spaces into new and unfamiliar worlds.

Support from the Artist Foundation arrives atop earlier seed money Dorn received from The Jim Henson Foundation, and we will not need to wait long to appreciate the results. An Excruciatingly Ordinary Toy Theater Show will be presented by S.M.A.R.T. and Miniature Curiosa at their new Toy Theater Parlor inside 1906 South Flores at 8 p.m. on March 20, 21, 27 and 28; and April 3, 4, 10, 11, 17 and 18.

 

last-skin

 

 

Poet Barbara Ras received the Department for Culture and Creative Development Award for Literary Arts. Recently published collections of her poetry include One Hidden Stuff and The Last Skin.

In an online “conversation” on Granta, Ras offers this description of poetry:

Poetry, like all creativity, is an antidote to despair. Even the darkest poems are beautiful. For me, poetry is the only way to express what seems to me to be the essential quest: searching in the dark for answers to questions that are unanswerable.

Ras, the director of Trinity University Press, will read selections from The Last Skin during an evening of poetry beginning at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 19, at The Twig, 306 Pearl Parkway.

stephen-gaethThe Department for Culture and Creative Development Award for Choreography will assist Stephan A. Gaeth, a founder of The Uptown Studio on Fredericksburg Road, in his efforts to:

…broaden my choreographic horizons by challenging myself to mix genres and styles and learn new ones, while creating and directing the plot and themes of the show.

Expect to see and hear more of Daniela Riojas, a vocalist and autoharp player with Femina-X, who received the Department for Culture and Creative Development Award for Media Arts.

 

The artistic statement for the “avant-garde power-pop band,” reads:

Using a blend of electronic beats, atmosphere, and foundational live instruments, the music stems from a hunger to evolve and merge magic with blues, trip-hop, jungle, and pop. Through a primal-meets-modern hybrid of machine and (wo)man, it actively hones in on the colorful space between any and all labels, while creating unconventional fusions – taking from sounds of nature, ancestors, electricity, modernity, and visions of ecstatic living.

Known for his mastery of danceable Latin-infused yet experimental beats, Alex Scheel from local psych-rock band, Pop Pistol…. conducts electronic programming while skillfully toggling from voice to guitar to laptop…. Jeff Palacios, deepens the overall landscape with the unique task of being a rhythmic yet melodic counterpart to the electronic bass and sub-bass movements. Chris Cooper humanizes quantized beats with frenetic poly-rhythms and four-on-the-floor power. Daniela”s chameleon voice has the range to both coo and siren, lull and frighten, always reaching from a place of passion, imagination, and child-like playfulness….

With a 2014-15 season that includes singing with Opera National de Paris, the San Francisco Opera, the Greensboro Opera and the Los Angeles Opera, Erich René Barbera still thinks of San Antonio as his hometown. The only artist to ever receive three top awards at Placido Domingo’s Operalia in Moscow in one year, the winner of  the TNT Award for Classical Singing is eager to expose children in San Antonio “to such a wonderful art form and encourage them to pursue their dreams like so many others encouraged me to follow mine….”

 

The Founders Award for Music Composition went to a faculty member of the University of Texas at San Antonio, Matthew Dunne. A frequent collaborator with The Los Angeles Guitar Quartet, he has recorded three compact discs: Forget the Alamo, Music in the Mission and The Accidental Trio. Dunne’s grant will help him embark on his first film score project.

 

"The everlasting light bulb," 2014 painting/performance by Christie Blizard

“The everlasting light bulb,” 2014 painting/performance by Christie Blizard

Another professor at UTSA, Christie Blizard received the Rick Liberto Award for Visual Arts. The artist writes:

Much of my work is about exploring the space between painting and interventionist practices. These two fields are usually at odds, but I find it to be a rich pairing to negotiate new contexts, humor, and poetry.

"H," 2014 graphite on paper by Fernando Andrade

“H,” 2014 graphite on paper by Fernando Andrade

Graphic designer Fernando Andrade received the Linda Pace Foundation Award for Contemporary Art. The artist’s abstract paintings “deal with human emotions,” while his drawings often reflect social issues.

His Jugando a la Guerrita series of drawings:

…depicts a combination between my upbringing and adulthood memories in regard to the violence (of northern Mexico) and how it has corrupted society…. Through the images here, I hope to show a glimpse into the life of children growing up around violence and the emotions like revenge and anger that those children are likely to take into the adult world.

 

"God of Carnage," set design by Jeremiah Teutsch

“God of Carnage,” set design by Jeremiah Teutsch

The Tobin Theatre Arts Fund Awards went to Jeremiah Teutsch in the category of set design and Marcus Cerda for costume design. Teutsch describes his recent focus:

Most of my subject matter of late has been on the topic of and the consideration of death and terminality, and how society moves itself around the nasty business of dealing with the dead and the emotions that are inherent in regarding someone else’s mortality. This common fiber is present in my paintings, sculptures and, more recently, my set designs. It is my goal, in life and in art, to figure out what in the hell is going on.

"Dancer in Red" by Marcus A. Cerda

“Dancer in Red” by Marcus A. Cerda

Cerda’s recent work merges his background in the classical concepts of fashion design with his collage style of synthetic cubist paintings. He explains:

This convergence is applied by creating asymmetrical patterns and drapery to express the human body in a nonconforming and lyrical style. An intricate dialogue where each house has its own agenda but cannot help to feed off the other yet neither can successfully consume the other. Thus, the art for the human form is derived from – inspired by – dictated to – and produced with a strong sense of the radical non-conformist of the individual.

An incredible array of talent is represented by these San Antonio artists. To support the efforts of the Artist Foundation to enable artists to pursue their dream projects, visit the foundation’s website.

Mining a few riches from the Library’s vault

"Lucinda, The Orphan," 1812

Tucked away in a corner of the sixth floor of the Central Library is my favorite haunt there, the Texana and Genealogy Department. The stunning blond entry room named in honor of donors Joan and Herb Kelleher welcomes you into a world where often forgotten tales emerge from yellowed pages of precious books.

Research needs have left me hunched over microfiche readers for hours, distracted by fascinating newspaper headlines unrelated to my original quests. So many people from our colorful history, all with their own stories waiting to resurface. Shelves lined with rare books, rare enough to be unavailable for checkout, beg you to linger longer as the librarian announces it is already 15 minutes until closing time. Digging for clues will have to resume another day.

And yet, behind another door, is a more amazing world to explore – the vault. While materials from the vault can be requested for viewing within Texana, the general public does not simply get to wander through what lies locked within.

But this week, the San Antonio Public Library Foundation and the Texana Department shared a few samples of the amazingly varied treasures, most irreplaceable.

These riches all require special care and extremely knowledgeable librarians to assist with access, a budget-stretcher for the Library. The Library Foundation wants your help in preserving the collections in Texana for generations to come.

Hoping for another show-and-tell session in the future, and sure wish the ongoing celebration of the 150th anniversary of the San Antonio Express-News included digitalizing the first century of newspapers for the Library before some of us become microfiche hunchbacks.