Oaxaca, Mexico:

An Expatriate Life

Photos and text by Diana Ricci

The Street Peddlers of Oaxaca

[This “bag” lady carries hand crafted purses that she sells on the street.    They are colorful and practical and inexpensive.] 

The statistics are terrible – in most of Mexico and certainly in the state of Oaxaca which is considered one of the 3 poorest states,  more than a majority of the people are poor,  without a sufficient diet to maintain health,   without water and sanitation,  and, of course,  without jobs.      The rural areas no longer provide the necessary crops to feed a family.   There are no jobs and affordable places to reside while the rural exodus to the big city or the northern agricultural belt in Mexico continues unabated.  (Jobs in the U.S. are harder to find, and crossing the border has become more difficult).    There is no welfare program,  no food stamps,  no soup kitchens.     The only answer is the informal or underground economy- for an estimated one-half of all Mexican workers.  You might say it is their only option.  It is a form of self-employment to support a bare existence lifestyle.  Some people use their skills and pick up a meager living as a seamstress or await being hired as a day laborer.  Some are maids. There are lots of shoe shiners, young and older men.  Some have musical talents.  Some are clever with their hands and make craft items for the tourists. Many just beg. Very few pay taxes or have licenses.   Most are vendors, who may or may not have a permit from the city.      Sitting at one of the restaurants in the Zocalo is an experience in seeing the huge variety of “ambulantes”  and street vendors with filled carts or with musical instruments: 


**Click on an image to see enlarged photo**

This child carrying  huipils (the traditional blouses that are woven or embroidered) is wandering, probably behind her mother who is selling even a greater variety.  They are mingling in the Sunday crowd while the band plays under the Laurel trees.
This vendor displays her variety of textiles on a tarp on the street in front of the Portales or side-walk cafes.    This seems to be allowed on only certain days when the Zocalo and surrounding streets are like a fair with numerous booths, displays, and food.
The hammock man with his colorful wares sells both hammocks for sleeping and sitting.
This man mingled through the tables at the restaurants with a variety of baskets.  They are not made locally as are the smaller ones for change purses or tortillas that can be bought in the mercados
The clown shows up, usually for a holiday, and can quickly blow up balloons to make animal forms to entice the children ambling through the Zocalo.
This rompecabeza man was a Zocalo figure for  years until he died a few years ago,  He made his own puzzles that ranged from easy ones to complicated ones.  He demonstrated solutions with great patience.
Another blind musicians.  This one was on Alcala street, called the pedestrian street, leading to the Zocalo.   Oaxaca has always had many blind musicians,  usually playing the guitar and singing.
This teenager playing the accordion is from a family of accordion players who learn to play as small children and become quite efficient and talented musicians.
Mangos are seasonal.   It is easier to buy one from a cart than to have to peel them yourself.  You also get chili on them.
“Raspas” are grated ice with different sweet syrups poured over them in a paper cone.  The ice used is in a big hunk and not recommended for tourists.  The local people are the clients.
This man is sharpening a knife.  He sometimes pedals through the streets blowing a sharp whistle to tell you he is available.    It is a service we can all use.
There is a saying,  “without maize (corn), there is no country (paiz)” - meaning Mexico.  This cart has roasted ears of corn and also “esquitos”  which are the kernels boiled and spiced and quite edible.
A basket full of amaranth, seeds and nuts cooked and formed in a sweet sugar cane syrup become quite heavy, but this vendor,  using her head to carry the basket,  does it day after day and thinks nothing of it.
This vendor carries her baby and a bunch of wooden spoons or wooden combs and wanders through the tables hoping for a sale.   She earns very little but it buys tortillas for her family.


[Read a selection of "Letters From Oaxaca, Mexico"]

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