Oaxaca wouldn't be Oaxaca without the vela. As it happened, while sitting at Azul, a local hangout on the zocalo in La Crucecita yesterday, we were honored to view one of these lovely velas, as women in traditional costume, parade through town in their embroidered dresses. The dresses are a works of art, partly based on early colonial influence and taken over by the Mixtec/Zapotecan locals, and raised to brilliantly colorful heights.
May is vela season in Oaxaca. Velas usually come together to celebrate a community's saints day, or just for the fun of it, as in Juchitan, where later this year, muxes (men that dress in these incredible outfits, parade and have a dance, drawing hordes of tourists from all over the world) will throw one of the biggest velas in Oaxaca. But yesterday was a local celebration. Hundreds of women and girls come together from the communidades , attend a blessing at the church, and then take to the streets in something that is awfully close to a Mardi Gras parade. Instead of beads being tossed out, the women throw household items, candies, fruit, fans, cooking spoons, spatulas. I came away with two lovely blue glasses, a candy dish, a tupperware storage bowl, a dishtowel, and a ton of Mexican candy. The women and their families then gather at the end of the parade to eat and dance. Everyone brings a dish to share or trade, and live bands perform for the dancers to show off their dresses with traditional dances.
We were sitting in Blue, with two of our students, for conversation practice. Larry and I practicing our Spanish, Miquel and Vivi practicing their English. This could become a tradition in itself, meeting up at the local pub, order a couple of margaritas, and talk. Humm. Towards the end, when we were considering food, a military band came into the zocalo, signaling an event in the making. Next from the side streets came women moving towards the church, carrying baskets of goodies, walking gracefully in their voluminous swaying dresses, looking regal. They receive their blessing, and as they leave the church, the parade forms up.
Trucks and cars that have been turned into floats, move into position; the women carrying banners representing their local group, head up teams of women and girls. Extraneous men get in position (mostly driving floats and throwing candy), and a local marching band leads the way with the queen of the vela. The women glide in precision, showing off their magnificently embroidered dresses, often in fantastical colors, to the music of the band. These dresses can represent a family fortune, an investment, and are turned into heirlooms as they are passed on to daughters, granddaughters, nieces, and friends.
Suddenly, a sleepy Saturday afternoon, turns into a festival. People came out of nowhere to fill the streets, children eagerly following the candy baskets, as everyone lobbied to be in the best place for catching the gifts that are thrown. In a moment's time, joy and laughter surrounded us, as everyone is taken in by the beauty of this event. We joined the crowd, cheered the floats, applauded the bands, and scrambled for those chili/tamarind suckers that the kids love, just like everyone else.