NOCHIXTLÁN, OAXACA | PILGRIMAGE TO THE PAST

My Great Grandparents to my knowledge, had few portraits taken of them in their lifetime. On account they were both from the town of San Pedro Tidaá, that sits on the outskirts of Asunción Nochixtlán, which is about a couple hours north of Oaxaca and cameras were readily available then. Growing up, I was never curious to know where my Great Grandparents were from, as I’ve gotten older however and accepted my own mortality, I’ve grown fond of these small towns and the connections they have with my family. Though we no longer have living relatives as far as I’m aware in San Pedro Tidaá, I was none the less adamant on visiting. After all, it's where my Great Grandparents were born, met, married and are now buried.

During my visit in October of 2016, together with my Mom, Grandmother and Great Aunt, who has property out there, took a day trip to San Pedro Tidaá. We left in the morning and arrived in Asunción Nochixtlán around mid-day. Had some consommé and a plate of barbacoa at the local Mercado, while my Great Aunt picked up a few things to cook once we got to her property in San Pedro Tidaá. Unfortunately, there’s no reliable public transit from Nochixtlán to Tidaá, however, with her ever impressive negotiation skills, my Grandmother tric…. convinced, a local taxi driver to drive us out there, and pick us up in the afternoon. Mind you, it’s close to an hour each way. Lots to learn I still have from my Grandmother. The drive itself was nerve wrecking, not sure why exactly, maybe it was the fact that I was finally going to see where my family had its beginnings.

Upon arriving, we first stopped at the cemetery were my Great Grandparents are buried to decorate the grave sites with marigold flowers (flor de muerto), as it was late October and respects to our passed ones must be observed. My Great Aunt left marigolds on other graves as well, saying those buried were distantly related to us. What surprised me however, was the way people are buried here. Women and men are separated, they can’t be buried on the same side. I asked, and got the usual, “that’s how things are done around here” answer. After a delicious fire cooked salsa, slapped on a tortilla with fresh cheese and a tour of the town along with a story on how this town and the town over the hill throws rocks at each other every other year to claim the rights to the river, we drove back towards Oaxaca.

I never got a chance to get to know my Great Grandparents, due to one of the unfortunate side effects of living in a different country. After fifteen years however, I got to see both my Great Grandparents for the first time in the summer of 2007. It was here my Great Grandfather told tales of finding ancient artifacts in the ground after a big down pour. Showed me a boulder that sounds like a bell when hit with a piece of the same boulder, I concluded it was a meteorite. Told me to both save and bury my money and even made sure I always had my cup of coffee. My Great Grandmother on the other hand, didn’t talk much on matters, but did mention how Oaxaca has never changed, which is why she never left house at her age and prayed it won’t change after she’s gone. To my regret, my Great Grand Father passed a year after I saw him in 2008, followed by my Great Grandmother after I saw her in 2017. They were both in their late nineties. 

With the passing of my Great Grandmother, our Matriarch, so went the ancient language of the Mixtec peoples, as she was the last native Mixtec speaker in our family. My Grandmother, along with my Great Aunts and Uncles, understand the language, and can somewhat speak it, not to the full extent as my Great Grandmother of course. However, her legacy will live on through her food, as she taught my Grandmother how to cook, who in turn, taught my Mother, finally passing the knowledge down to me. I will forever be grateful for the passing of the torch and will do my best to carry on her legacy with my versions of her dishes. Naturally, since both my Great Grandparents were old school, they didn’t appreciate their photo taken, so I would sneak a few snaps here and there. To my surprise however, on the last day of my visit in the summer of 2007, my Great Grandfather came up to me and asked to have their portrait taken. It was the last time I would see my Great Grandfather. 

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