Archive for the ‘Benjamin’ Category


Are They Brothers?

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

An enlightening conversation showing where Benjamin is in his (re)acquisition of Spanish:

Margarita:  ¿Son hermanos?

Benjamin:  No, because Chucho is a boy and Jaquelina is a girl.

Me:  Are they brother and sister?

Benjamin:  Yes.

Clearly, he understood the Spanish question, but filtered through an English mindset, where hermanos equals brothers but not the brother-sister relationship.

This got me to thinking about the Zapotec sibling terms and how in a way they are closer to the English than the Spanish.  In both English and Zapotec, distinctions are made between brothers, brother and sister, and sisters.  Spanish collapses the first two groups, as shown below:

Zapotec English Spanish
male-male ¿Naacanà bettsi’? Are they brothers? ¿Son hermanos?
male-female ¿Naacanà daana? Are they brother and sister? ¿Son hermanos?
female-female ¿Naacanà yhiila? Are they sisters? ¿Son hermanas?

Zapotec and English keep these three relationships distinct (in certain contexts).  But while English has to rely on the circumlocution brother and sister, Zapotec is more efficient using a single word, daana, to encode the brother-sister relationship.  And because it has that term, it generally keeps the brother-sister relationship distinct.  So a man may talk about ca bettsi’nì ‘his brothers’ and a woman about ca yhiilanì ‘her sisters’, but he talks about ca daananì ‘his sisters’, and she talks about ca daananì ‘her brothers’.


Springtime in Oaxaca

Friday, March 20, 2009

Today’s the first day of spring, though in Oaxaca it has been quite summer-like for a good month more.  It’s been quite warm here and dry.  Very enjoyable I think.  Come summer, it actually cools off here somewhat and rains a bit.

To commemorate the first day of spring, there is a children’s day environmental parade going on through the centro of Oaxaca.  Various daycares, including Benjamin’s, are participating in the parade.  The children are dressed up in various costumes with a spring/environmental theme: mostly as animals, but some were decked out as things to recycle and as trash that shouldn’t be thrown out on the street.  There are a couple of bands leading the parade through the streets of Oaxaca, starting off at the Santo Domingo church, and wending their way through the streets of Oaxaca.

Benjamin and Margarita in the Spring Parade

Benjamin and Margarita in the Spring Parade


Everybody Dance Now

Friday, February 20, 2009

I never thought when I started studying Zapotec that my research at some point would best be served by putting on a dress, but when duty calls, we do what we must.

The main event of Carnaval involves putting on a costume and dancing. The costumes often involve wearing the opposite gender’s clothes and something to cover the face, which, in the name of scientific discovery, I demonstrate here (with Benjamin’s help).

Benjamin and John Ready for Carnaval

Benjamin and John Ready for Carnaval

The traditional masks shown here are painted screens, although anything works, Halloween-type masks (there was even a George W. Bush among the Luvina revelers), bandanas, baskets and bags with eye-holes cut out, etc.

People then danced around in a fenced-off area in front of the agencia. Generally, people dance individually, though occasionally you get couples dancing together, as you can see at the end of the post.

During certain songs, the music periodically pauses and people step up to the microphone to recite verses they have composed, either beforehand, or more impressively, while dancing. The little poems (and I was happy to hear some in Zapotec as well as in Spanish, which is more common) are intended to be humorous, although often at someone’s expense. Despite my attempts at disguise (I pretty well covered every inch of skin), my height gives me away and I even was mentioned in a couple of verses, which I took as an honor. I heard a reference to the gavacha (a white woman), which I understood to be me, and so apparently was a reference to the Queen of England. People who produce good verses are admired, and coming up with them on the fly (such as those directed at me) show particular skill. Some of the best seem to be those that involve back and forth barbs between participants.

The costumes and attempts to disguise the voice can offer some anonymity, and allow for some pointed barbs, although things can get a bit heated too, which is while several of the community police were patrolling the scene carrying clubs. Even so, as the day wore on, several fights did break out (although they didn’t seem to be verse-inspired). This is a regular part of Carnaval, Margarita assured, kind of like fights at a hockey game I guess.

And just to liven things up a bit more, there are also petate bulls, that people (generally the only ones not in costume) can carry around while dancing. They then attempt to smash the petate bulls into the dancers. The more daring dancers try to tempt the people with the bulls and try to dance out of the way.

I didn’t end up facing the toros myself, since they did’t start using them until later in the afternoon. I only got to dance a few songs before we stopped for a lunchtime hour break. It was overcast, but my costume was still too hot, and once I got out of it, I didn’t get around to getting back into it, before the day’s dancing was done.

That was the thing that surprised me the most: The dancing ended around 6pm. I really expected something that involved drunken revelry to be more of a nighttime activity, but it’s a all day event here. They’ll be starting again at 8 in the morning.

Dancing at Carnaval, Luvina, 2009

Dancing at Carnaval, Luvina, 2009


Citizen Benjamin

Friday, January 23, 2009

Well, Benjamin became a Mexican citizen today.  Actually, I guess he officially became a Mexican citizen on Monday when the government finished his inserción document, which is basically a Mexican birth certificate for those who weren’t actually born here.  But today it seemed more real, because we got his Mexican passport.

In theory, citizens can get a passport in one day here; it’s standard procedure, you don’t even have to pay extra for expedited service.  In practice, it may take a little longer to make sure you have all of the documents you need plus various photocopies of these and other documents, especially when you’re dealing with a minor since you need the mother’s documents, the father’s documents, and the child’s documents.  In the end, it took us about four trips to the passport office (with several more trips to various other agencies to get his citizenship established):  an initial fact finding trip in October, two trips yesterday, and finally, success today, although Margarita still had to run to the shop next door a couple of times to make some more photocopies.  But at last, we had everything turned in just after 1pm and by 3 we had his passport.

And there it was:  Nacionalidad:  Mexicana.  So, just like that he’s a Mexican citizen.


20 de Noviembre

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Benjamin Getting Ready for the Revolution

Today is 20 de Noviembre, celebrating the beginning of the Mexican Revolution.  In Macuil, observations for the day include a parade and dressing children up as revolutionaries like Emiliano Zapata, both of which seem to be common practices for observing the day.

Benjamin’s daycare is doing the same so we dressed him up for the part.    The costumes for kids aren’t quite as flamboyant as what Zapata himself wore, I guess reflecting what his followers more likely would have worn.  The costumes for kids include the white shirt and pants traditionally worn by farmers of the past.  This is usually accompanied by toy rifles and bandoliers.  Huaraches ‘sandals’ are typically worn on the feet, although looking around for pictures of Mexican Revolutionaries, I mostly see them wearing boots.  Either way, we ending up going with what we already had for Benjamin, which was tennis shoes.

To complete the outfit, you need the giant sombrero (also called a charro) and a good Zapata-style moustache.  Benjamin’s not into hats so we didn’t bother getting a special one for the occassion, but just used what we had at hand while he would let us, which wasn’t for long.  Our efforts to paint on a moustache were going along okay, except he kept wiping our first attempt using soot away on his sleeve.  Our second attempt with eyeliner went a little better, until he saw himself in the mirror and freaked out.  Then we had to wipe off the moustache, though we managed to keep on some painted-on sideburns.  I managed to get in a few quick picks though with the hat and ‘stache:

El Zapatista

El Zapatista