MEZCALES DE OAXACA | A LOVE AFFAIR

My self-discovery and love affair for Mezcal began in 2017 during an excursion to the outskirt desert towns in Oaxaca. Halfway through the trip, the Mercedes-Benz minibus made an hour pit stop at El Rey De Matatlán Palenque. A small, but productive Mezcal Palenque (distillery) that rests by the roadside of the main highway towards the community of Teotitlan del Valle. It was at this distillery I kissed Mezcal for the first time, was taught how to identify genuine Mezcal and learned of the variations of Agave and Mezcales. As my knowledge of Mezcal grows with each new Mezcal my lips kiss, as does my pride as a native of Oaxaca almost as if Mezcal runs through my veins as it does with the Maestros y Maestras del Mezcal (Master Mezcal Distillers). As stated in my first Mezcal journal entry, it’s next impossible to know everything about Mezcal. New information of its origin is always brought to light, new stories of the Mezcal Masters in the field are told and new Mezcal labels are introduced into the market as the popularity of this spirit grows in the cocktail communities. For your consideration I’ve compiled a list of a handful of my favorite Mezcal labels in hopes you’ll try them and by doing so, help support our local Mezcal producers back in Oaxaca. This list is my no means exhaustive or definitive, as new labels will be added as I get around to them. 

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MEZCAL LOS AMANTES
My initial curiosity for Mezcal was sparked while watching an episode of Munchies, Guide To Oaxaca, where the host makes a stop at Mezcaleria Los Amantes in the heart of downtown Oaxaca. After watching, I made it my mission to not only visit this bar but learn as much as I could about Mezcal while visiting Oaxaca in October of 2017. Mezcaleria Los Amantes is small artisanal distillery in the town of Tlacolula, while its bar sits in downtown Oaxaca, a stone’s throw from Santo Domingo. The bar is small, sensually lit and walking in is like walking into a shrine for Mezcal with knowledgeable bartenders. The Mezcal to kiss here is the young Espadín Mezcal. This Mezcal in particular has been the most refreshing one I’ve tried, it has identifiable fruit tones and a mildly smoky after note with a sweet, citrus flavor end with a slight herbaceous mid note. The aroma of this Mezcal is refreshing and humid almost as if you’re right under a waterfall. A perfect introduction to Mezcal for those not familiar with this spirit.
- Website: www.losmantes.com | Instagram: @losamantesmx

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MEZCAL METEORO
During my half year stay in Oaxaca in late 2016 to early 2017 I searched all over the city to find the best possible Mezcal I could find. Some I found through word of mouth while others I found through Instagram searches, one being Mezcal Meteoro. Surprisingly I couldn’t find this Mezcal anywhere in Oaxaca, even though it’s distilled here. After a little digging I found it at La Europa, a high-end liquor shop on the ritzier side of Tijuana. Mezcal Meteoro can be described as a dry, slightly spicy Mezcal, with a strong earthy aroma, leaving no mid or after note to lust after, giving you a warm happy feeling after each kiss of this rather rare Mezcal. I recommend this Mezcal for a cold day and definitely worth the trouble of finding it, both for its uplifting characteristics and bottle aesthetics. As far as I know this label does not have a Mezcaleria anywhere within the Mexican Republic, which is probably why I had a hard time finding it. The tag line "it fell from the sky," perfectly describes the rarity of this Mezcal and as of this writing, both the Meteoro website and Instagram account have been removed. 
- Website: www.cayodelcielo.com | Instagram: @mezcalmeteoro

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MEZCAL MARCA NEGRA
The quintessential beauty of Mezcal is how no two are ever alike, even those of the same label. As the aromas and flavors of each Mezcal is unique because of the region in which it’s produced, the water used to ferment, and the techniques used by each Maestro or Maestra when producing Mezcal. These and other factors contribute to the unique characteristics of every batch of Mezcal. Though aromas and flavors will be for the most part, consistent within each label, each bottle will have its own life and characteristics due to its artisanal process. The Espadín Mezcal Marca Negra distilled in San Juan Del Rio, by maestro Mezcalero Isaías Martínez Juan, has a strong identifiable fruit tone and a very humid aroma, think cave under a waterfall, similar to Los Amantes but with a much stronger aroma. Marca Negra’s Espadín Mezcal has a sweet, citrus flavor ending with a herbaceous note. As with any Mezcal, Marca Negra is not a common spirit found in the States. 
- Website: www.marcanegra.com | Instagram: @mezcalmarcanegra

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CUISH
The contribution by women to the history of Mezcal has virtually gone unnoticed, through their contributions, women marked a decisive factor of the industry's survival during Mexico’s prohibition era, circa 1920’s, when Mezcal was fabricated and distributed clandestinely. Women working in the industry were known as Mezcalilleras or Mezcaleras. During prohibition, women turned to its distribution as a perfect complement to their husband’s work, acting as business administrators and pillars of the family during the long periods of time when the men would go into the mountains to produce mezcal illegally. Up until the 1970’s, women primarily sold Mezcal in bulk, door-to-door in neighboring communities within Oaxaca and at the time, Maestra Mezcaleras were unheard of. During my studies, I learned that like cooking, the feelings and emotions of the Maestro or Maestra, are unconsciously infused into the Mezcal during its production. If the they were happy or of sweet nature, the Mezcal will be sweet, however, should they have strong tempers, the Mezcal will have a more, dry, punchier aroma. Don’t remember exactly how I found this Mezcal on my last trip to Oaxaca, but I’m glad I did, as it soon became my absolute favorite Mezcal. An earthy, herbaceous, exceptionally smoky and slightly humid wild  Tobalá Agave Mezcal, made for Mezcal Cuish by Maestra Mezcalera Berta Vásquez from the small, mountainous region town of San Baltazar Chichicapam. An absolute rarity even for Oaxaca, as this 50% Mezcal, to my knowledge, is only produced for and sold by Mezcal Cuish. Cuish, doesn’t produce its own Mezcal, but rather sources Mezcal of only the highest caliber from within the Mezcal regions of Oaxaca. Their commitment to support our Maestros and Maestras, has sparked an heavy interest in me to move back to Oaxaca, promote and work for this brand exclusively.  Unfortunately this label is not available anywhere in the states, but I do have a small batch on hand should you wish to try it. This Mezcal is not intended for those unfamiliar with the spirit, due to its high alcohol content and strong smoke aroma; prior experience with the Espadínes is highly recommended.
- Instagram: @mezcalescuish

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MEZCALOTECA
During my Oaxaca visit in January of 2017, I took a stroll to Mezcaloteca, across the street from Oaxaca’s most picturesque location, Santo Domingo, for a Mezcal tasting/history lesson. So exclusive is Mezcaloteca, you’re only allowed with prior reservations a few days ahead of time. An hour and a half into the tasting with co-owner Silvia, she taught me how to identify genuine Mezcal, falling head over heels for this label, its culture and Mezcaleria, with its gorgeous, old world feel. Silvia is a living, breathing Mezcal encyclopedia, extremely patient and insanely knowledgeable with all things Mezcal, in fact, 80% of what I know now of Mezcal, I learned from her. It was and is, the best Mezcal I’ve tried in my life! Next to Mezcal Cuish of course, both being my favorite labels. Mezcaloteca is unique in that they have Mezcales from various regions of the Republic with an emphasis on the Maestros that produce each one. Naturally, the ones from Oaxaca were favorites during the tasting. Mezcaloteca’s Mezcales are sweet and delectably smoky, with strong earthy endnotes, ranging from 45% to 60% proof, whilst managing to go down smoothly, due to their strict artisanal cultivation, distillation and fermentation processes. In fact, the 60% Punta Verde, shown here, is as thick as agave nectar. I remember trying at least four Mezcales, but the one that stood out the most to my palate, were those of the Karwinskii Agaves, better known as Cuixe. Like Mezcal Cuish, Mezcaloteca’s Mezcales are an absolute rarity in the States and is highly recommended you have a prior familiarity with the Espadín Mezcales . I don’t currently have a batch of this in my collection, giving me the perfect excuse to waltz on in there and pick up a few bottles on my next visit to Oaxaca.  
 - Reservations: www.mezcaloteca.com | Instagram: @mezcaloteca

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MEZCAL DE DON RENE
The second I smelled the five liter tank filled with this sought after Mezcal, I knew I was about to taste a Mezcal like no other. The aroma of this Mezcal is similar to being under a waterfall or near a rushing river. On par to taste, it’s very refreshing, goes down very smoothly, with a slight, slight herbaceous aftertaste note. It has a slight green/yellow tint, due to its purity from single distillation and young age. My grandfather has been buying this Mezcal for decades now, from a man known as Don Ren. He told me how people spend days throughout the city looking for Don Rene, for a chance to try this elusive Mezcal, yes, even local politicians. Don Rene does it old school, he personally picks up the Mezcal from San Baltazar Chichicapam, a town located in the southern sierra region of Oaxaca, and sells it by the liter to those whom have purchased from him before. So even getting a kiss of this Mezcal is near impossible. I was fortunate enough to sit down with Don Rene and talk Mezcal when he delivered a five liter tank to my Grandparents house while I was there on vacation. By far this is the most prized Mezcal in my collection, but I think it’s mostly due to the sentimental value it has with my Grandfather and how he drinks no other Mezcal, but this one. As you’ve probably guessed, there is no label for this Mezcal, hence no official bottle. I searched and searched for a bottle worthy of this Mezcal, and thanks to an Instagram follower,  I found this gorgeous bottle in a local shop/art gallery that sells artisan wares and products from local artists of Oaxaca. However, it took a few months for me to finally pick it up as they only produce a few of these bottles at a time. The design of this bottle is so cute, I picked up two, a glass and clay version.

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AGUARDIENTE
My Grandfather calls it Holy Water. People in the rural, practically hidden town of Eloxochitlán, in the region of Papaloapan, in the northern most point in Oaxaca, go as far as calling it a gift from the Gods themselves. This rare spirit is better known as Aguardiente, distilled locally in micro batches, almost illicitly by a selected few. Though both Mezcal and Aguardiente parallel each other with the distillation & fermentation processes, that’s as about the only thing these two spirits share. Aguardiente is not a Mezcal, its more compared to a rum, as Aguardiente is distilled from sugar cane, not commercially produce and acquiring a few liters requires a two day journey outside the capital. Describing the smoky, sweet aromas of this spirit is complicated, the smell almost burns your nostril cold. Surprisingly, it’s refreshing. However, it gives you one hell of a punch on the face, burns your throat for a few seconds, then leaves a very sweet after taste note. How did I acquired three liters? I picked them up from a tailor’s shop that sat outside the marketplace where we had lunch in. My Grandmother asked the owner of said eatery if she could guided us to where they sold this rare spirit. The tailor shop was lit by only outside light, it was dusty, unorganized but felt fresh compared to the outside hot, humid weather. Then I saw it, the gorgeous, teal tinted antique glass jug filled with Aguardiente. The tailor was a very knowledgeable old timer and after a customary shot, sold me three liters worth in a Coke bottle. My Aguardiente is now it’s kept in a tall one liter glass bottle I picked up back in the capital and I use this cute clay jug from Tienda Q to present it when I have guests over.

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BOSSCAL
As a Sagittarius, I never put much stock into horoscopes, as they tend to be rather vague and generic. Like this one, ‘someone is going to enter your life by the end of the week.’ What does that even mean!? In my early twenties, during the whole, ‘finding yourself phase,’ I came across the Chinese Zodiac and found I was born a Fire Rabbit. The further I studied, the further I agreed with the views of this philosophy. Not because this philosophy predicts the future, but because it accurately described who I was as a person and have since had a deep respect for the rabbit thereafter. It was then no surprise I immediately gravitated towards Mezcal Bosscal during my Mezcal research last year, you guessed it, due to its rabbit logo. Mezcal Bosscal is a micro Vinata (palenque/distillery) from Durango, Mexico, with a beautiful philosophy towards its elaboration and use of a rabbit as their logo, paying patronage to the land, ancestry and the moon. This alone and the gorgeous bottle design drew me towards this Mezcal. Distilled from the wild Cenizo Durangensis Agave, this Mezcal has a strong smoky aroma, a slight earthy flavor and a balanced after note. I don’t know what it is about this Mezcal and its sister Damiana, but they definitely arouse your sexual desires after a few kisses. From what I understand, the locals consider both of these Mezcales as aphrodisiacs. Open a bottle of Bosscal Mezcal next time you’re alone with your lover and love as rabbits do. Like most Mezcales on this post, this one is a rarity, so be sure to ask your local liquor shop owner if they could acquire a bottle of Bosscal for you. Ramirez Beverage Center has a few every now and again, its usually behind the counter.
- Website: www.bosscal.com | Instagram: @mezcalbosscal

GOD'S FOOTPRINT ON EARTH | ETLA, OAXACA

About an hour’s drive north on bus from the capital of Oaxaca sits the birthplace of Quesillo, or Queso Oaxaca as it’s better known to those outside of our communities. It is believed the ancient ruins of San José el Mogote in Etla was once the capital of the Zapotec people as far back as 1500 B.C. and abandoned around 400 B.C. as Monte Álban soon became the new capital of the ancient peoples. Now according to Wikipedia, San José Mogote is considered to be the oldest permanent agricultural villages in the central valley of Oaxaca and probably the first settlement in the area to use pottery. It produced Mexico’s oldest known defensive palisades and ceremonial buildings around 1300 B.C., was an early adopter of adobe around 850 B.C., has the first evidence of Zapotec hieroglyphic writing within 600 B.C., and evidence of early examples of architectural terracing, craft specialization, and irrigation, 1150-850 B.C. Now keep in mind I have never been to this archeological site, so I’ll elaborate on the topic after I visit.

The municipality of Etla plays an important role in the Hollywood classic Nacho Libre. Filmed mostly in the chapel of Las Peñitas standing on top of a rocky hill overlooking the valley. For those of the Roman Catholic faith, it is believed that God himself took rest here while He created Earth. Leaving a footprint behind when He sat here to rest when the Earth was all but clay. If you visit, you’ll find this fabled footprint inside an enclosed area at the foothill of the chapel. I suggest you visit with your faith in heart. I’ve only had the pleasure of visiting twice, the first being when I was in my late teens with not much faith in my heart and the second in my late twenties with my faith fully restored. I make an emphasis on faith because inside the rock formation where the footprint of God has formed, you’ll find a small hole within the rocks and if you’re One of faith, you’ll see the image of Christ glowing in a blue flame inside it. Similar to the flame that Moses saw those many years ago before his return to Egypt. Visiting this site with faith was advice I took from the caretaker I met on my second visit and have held to those words since. Surprisingly both my Mom and Cousin did not see Christ’s image while both my Grandmother and I did. 

If you arrive to Villa de Etla by public transit be aware there’s no public transit from the town square to Las Peñitas. Although a local Moto Taxi will happily give you a lift to and back if you’re not in the mood for a hike. Just let your Moto Taxi driver know what time you’d like them to come back for you. 

LEYENDA DE CUILÁPAM DE GUERRERO | OAXACA

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Roughly six miles south of the capital of Oaxaca sits the small town of Cuilápam de Guerrero with a sinister tale of the macabre. If arriving by public transit, the bus taking you to Villa de Zaachila makes a route stop in front of the former monastery of Santiago Apóstol or better known as the Basilica of Cuilápam by locals. What’s striking of this temple at mere glance is its incomplete state, the missing roof of the cathedral casts an ominous aura as you walk through its incomplete pillars. Construction of the temple began in 1556 with Antonio De Barbosa as chief architect and used a mix of architectural styles that were predominant in Europe throughout the 16th century. Construction suddenly halted around 1570 for unknown reasons, though official records state it was due to financial disputes on who would bear the cost of the project between the Crown of Spain and the [Hernán] Cortés family. Over the centuries local towns folk have contrived a more supernatural version of events that to this day, have been the canon of events that occurred as to explain why this church was never completed. 

❡ For several nights the convent of Cuilápam was met by a presence of a dark shadow that only met with the Prior General, Domingo de Aguiñaga late into the night hours. This shadow person wore black silky robes matching the black of the dark sky itself and arrive in a luxurious, aristocratic wagon coach pulled by two Friesian black horses. One morning, the Prior asked the Friars to no exit the dormitories the following night, as something strange and otherworldly would take place outside their very doors. As promised by the Prior, dark shadows moved around the convent passed midnight and among these shadows, the same dark presence that met with the Prior could be seen hovering throughout the makeshift construction site. 

The shadows began mixing concrete, raised pillars, walls and arches with remarkable speed and efficiency. These shadows began building the holy temple commissioned by the Crown of Spain that was promised to the clergy of the region. As they finished the central dome of the temple just before dawn, a rooster was heard crowing nearby. Construction stopped immediately, and the shadows disappeared leaving the temple unfinished. Years later on his deathbed the Prior General confessed that the dark presence was the Devil himself and offered to construct the temple in a single night, before the crowing of a rooster at dawn in exchange for the souls of the congregation. ❡ It’s told Domingo de Aguiñaga never meant to keep his end of the deal and set a trap to make the rooster crow before dawn to allow the Devil to build most of the church and not take the souls of the congregation with him. It is also said that the head of the murdered Zapotec Princess Donají is buried underneath this unfinished church. 

MONOLITH | YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK

In the Spring of 1927 a young photographer but experienced climber, trekked deep into snowbound Yosemite National Park in California. But his hike didn’t go according to plan with the light about to die and just two glass plates left for his 4x5 view camera. Under pressure, he created what many consider one of the greatest masterpieces of American or any other landscape art, Monolith, The Face of Half Dome. Ansel Adams captured the great mountain in dramatic light and would change how Americans saw their country. When Adams came on this scene, it was an epiphany. It was like falling in love, but more importantly, he became not just Yosemite’s photographer, but its great artist, the high priest of its temple, of its stone, its light, its water. What he created in those landscape altarpieces, was an America irradiated with luminous majesty, taller than the highest skyscraper, more powerful than the mightiest business corporation, and he wanted Yosemite to be for everyone, as this is our land. By the 1950’s Ansel Adams’ photographs had become the iconic images of the American west.  

Starting in the 1920’s, Ansel Adams pioneered an approach that insisted photography was not simply a mechanical process, but a true art form. His method was to work backwards from the image he’d visualized then anticipate the moment when the light and subject could be seen at their most illuminating and then, with the press of the button, realize that vision. In 1960, the year John F. Kennedy became president calling for a new frontier, Adams published a book, This is the American Earth. It became an instant bestseller. More and more Adams’ photographs became preachy, but those visual sermons were radiant, mystical, ecstatic. They’re passionate statements of how humanity could be redeemed through the encounter with nature. He became a kind of patriarch of environmentalism, and every so often he’d put the camera down and even go away from his beloved Yosemite to try and persuade this or that president to his point of view, but throughout, he remained steadfast to his belief that his job in life was to give visual form to that silken cord tying together the fate of man with the fate of the Earth. 

It was the moment for some, when the photographer became a prophet. In 1977, when the Voyager spacecrafts were launched with a golden record containing images and sounds of Earth and its inhabitants, Adams’ images were among them. My photographs of Yosemite will never come close to those of Adams, considering he carried a 4x5 camera and tripod up there and I a modest, lightweight Nikon F3. After a two-hour hike in the middle of the rain and snow, I laid eyes on Half Dome. I cried. As I stood watching, I thought how this massive rock will be the most majestic thing I will ever see. I marveled at how many more millions have seen it, how many photographs have been taken, and how long Half Dome will it stand long after we’re gone. 

“We all move on the fringes of eternity and are sometimes granted vistas through the fabric of illusion.” – Ansel Adams 

NOCHIXTLÁN, OAXACA | A PILGRIMAGE TO THE PAST

While my Grandmother, Mother and I were born in the Central Valley region of Oaxaca, our roots dig further back to the Mixtec region of Oaxaca as well its peoples. Like most children, I was never curious to know where my Great Grandparents were from or my family for that matter. As I’ve grown older however and accepted my own mortality, I’ve grown fond with the small towns of Oaxaca and the connections they have with my family and where we’re from, as well as my family history which I may not comprehensively be able document. Though we no longer have living relatives in San Pedro Tidaá, I was adamant on visiting the town during my visit in October of 2016 to gain further knowledge of where my family had its beginnings. After all its where my Great Grandparents were born, met, married and now their eternal resting place.

My Great Grandparents were minimalists at heart and of few words, born in the early 1900’s in the village of San Pedro Tidaá, a satellite that sits in the outskirts of Asunción Nochixtlán, about a two-hour drive north of the Oaxaca capital. Both spoke little Spanish on account of the Mixtec dialect being their native tongue, an ancient language that dates before the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadors to the New World. Atage fourteen he asked her parents for her hand in marriage, she was twelve. In the early 1920’s, they married on August 6thduring a patron saints day festival of the town. During their mid-twenties, the construction of a main highway connecting the capital of Oaxaca to Mexico City brought him to Oaxaca as a laborer. After the highway was complete, they picked up what little belongings they had along with their three children and moved to Oaxaca, they later had four additional children. During the Mexican Revolution, the Presidential Building (record building) of San Pedro Tidaá was burned down forcing them to pick up new birth certificates while in Oaxaca, unfortunately they sort of made a date of birth up and because of this, we never really knew how old they were upon their death.

I never got a chance properly get to know my Great Grandparents, an unfortunate side effect of living in a different country. After fifteen years however, I finally got to see them for the first time in the summer of 2007. It was here my Great Grandfather told tales of finding ancient artifacts in the ground during the yearly monsoon season. Showed me a boulder he found at the hill near the ancient city of Monte Alban, which produces a sound like that of a ringing bell when hit with a piece of the same boulder, I concluded it was a meteorite. Advised me to save and bury my money, which I have not done yet, but then again, he did live through the Mexican Revolution where it was common to bury your possessions. During my daily visits to their house, my Great Grandfather made sure I had a cup of coffee at the ready when I walked into the house, I picked up the morning coffee habit thereafter. My Great Grandmother on the other hand didn’t talk much on matters but did mention how Oaxaca has never changed since she moved there, which is why she never left house at her age and prayed for it not change after she’s gone. A little less than a year after this visit my Great Grandfather passed away in 2008 at what we believe was at age one hundred and three.

I took a day trip with my Mom, Grandmother and Great Aunt to San Pedro Tidaá during my visit in October of 2016, we left Oaxaca in the morning and arrived in Asunción Nochixtlán around mid-day. I treated myself to some consommé and a pound of barbacoa at the local Mercado and shopped around for the elusive Aguardiente, while my Great Aunt picked up a few things to cook once we got to her property in San Pedro Tidaá. 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 take us out there and pick us up in the afternoon. Mind you, it’s close to an hour each way. Upon arriving we first stopped at the cemetery were my Great Grandfather is buried to pay our respects and decorate the grave site with marigold flowers (Flor de Muerto). My Great Aunt placed marigolds on the grave sites of our distant relatives as well, though I couldn’t tell, as Mother Nature had wiped the names off the grave stones. What took me by surprised was the way people are buried here. Men are buried on the north side of the cemetery, while the women are buried on the south. I asked why but got the usual “that’s just how things are done around here” answer. We didn’t spend much time in the village as there isn’t much to see or do outside of a patron saints day festival. I was on the phone with my Grandmother for a couple hours asking her questions for this blog post, it turned out the church where my Great Grandparents were married is still standing, which I will pay my visit sometime next year. My Great Grandfather was the bell ringer for this church in his youth, and the very bells he’d ring collapsed during an earthquake, but I was told these bells currently sit at the foot of the church. 

My Great Grandmother, the Matriarch of my family passed away in the landing months of 2017 at the age of a hundred, this was after my last visit to Oaxaca that year. With her went the ancient language of the Mixtec peoples as she was the last native speaker in our family. My Grandmother understands the language though not to the full extent as her eldest siblings who picked up the language sufficiently enough to speak it. However, I believe my Great Grandmother’s legacy will live on forever through her food, as she taught my Grandmother how to cook, who in turn taught my Mom, who then taught me the pre-Hispanic dishes of the family at an early age. I have done my best to carry on her legacy with my versions of these dishes when I cook for my friends. As I believe the best way to continue, appreciate and showcase my family’s culture and heritage, is through the food that has been passed down to me by the women of my family. 

My Great Grandparents lived through every major event of the 20th century, and were both superstitious and believed cameras to be soul thieves, so they didn’t appreciate their photo taken while I was around them during the summer of 2007, even if I asked kindly for a portrait. To my surprise on my last visit to their house while I was walking out after my goodbyes to them, my Great Grandfather stopped me in my tracks and asked to have his photo taken together with my Great Grandmother. He picked up his best dress shirt and hat, and she picked up her best shall, and both stood elegantly for the camera as if they somehow knew, this would be the last time I would see them both together.

THANKSGIVING | BE KIND TO OTHERS

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I find it comical that the very people who paint themselves as inclusive and a supporter of (insert your cause here) tend to be the biggest jerks out there. They virtual signal you, bash your work, then turn around and say they’re with you and your struggles as a minority. Heartbreaking when I hear the very people talk down on photographers who are just starting or aren’t in the same pedestal they believe to be sitting on. Perhaps it’s because academia tells them that if those who don’t have the same education as they do, then those who don’t fit the mold are inferior artists. While your own photos could be considered bad to these people, bare in mind photography as an art form is a subjective one. As artists we mustn't discourage others who have yet to find their why, their voice, the message and story they want to tell through their art. At any level in our career, I believe we have a moral obligation to reach out and help our fellow photographers and not see them as the competition. Considering academia perpetually promotes the snobby attitude attributed with the fine arts, we must support each other however small the gesture. Photography has a multitude of genres, some of which I don’t understand, but we can agree when we see beautiful work created by beautiful people. We have the freedom to express our opinions as to why we don’t like certain works in photography but if we do, I believe we must state why and not be quick to judge if we don’t immediately understand what we’re seeing.

Then there are the gear snobs. I believe it doesn't matter which medium you choose to take photos with, either film, digital, SLR or mirrorless, because labels are for cameras, not people. Let us appreciate photography for what it is, a way for us to connect with strangers, to build strong bonds with our friends, to have people fall in love themselves in our photos, to capture moments that slip through our very hands. If you’re a new photographer, use the camera you’re comfortable with. Don’t listen to people who act like children and talk down on your gear. If they don't like it, have them buy you a new camera, simple as that. No one obsesses over the tools people use to make our food, so why do we obsess over the tools photographers use?

Your camera should be and is an extension of you. Your camera is simply a precision tool. I’ve learned over the years, simplicity is key. Choose a one lens, one camera, one film stock combination to truly be a master at your craft. Someone once said, “to be a master, do the same thing a thousand times, not a thousand things one time.” Learn to hone the tools you have at hand, you’ll be surprised that as you grow as an artist, so will your tools. Yes, there will come a time when you will outgrow your current camera, but it will be because you have grown as an artist and not because your camera is deemed obsolete. If you learn to keep it simple, support local businesses that help our work shine, as well as other artists and vendors within our respective communities and continue to purchase American made products, i.e. Kodak film stock, together, we will keep our love of film alive for years to come.