Thursday, May 31, 2012

What makes Tepoztlán so different?

Money Can’t Buy You Love.  In Tepoztlan, money doesn’t get you very much as far as respect is concerned.  Your position in the community, your standing with your neighbors and your barrio is everything.  Do you contribute to the local festivals? Do you lend a hand to a neighbor? Are you involved? I can’t tell you how many examples of people who have come to Tepoztlán thinking that money will get results.  That isn’t the case.  It is what you do that counts, not what you have.  

Buy Local.  There are very few non-local businesses here.  Apart from two banks, there are no franchises, department stores or big supermarkets.  As well, there are no big hotels, no golf courses (will get to that in a minute), and no big box stores.  People wouldn’t support them and the town wouldn't allow it.  That makes things a little expensive here, but people are willing to pay the price to support local businesses.  Moreover, the daily market and the Sunday/Wednesday farmers market is a big attraction and a local staple in the economy.  People have engaged in buying local here as a way of life long before it was considered fashionable.

Someone to Watch Over Me.  About 20 years ago or so, there was a planned condominium golf course community to be constructed close to Tepoztlán in the National Forrest Preserve.   The town was vehemently against it.  It was believed that there would be a tax on the water table, chemical runoff, lots of outsiders, and tons of maid and gardener jobs.  The town basically said, "we like our life as it is" and began manning a blockade to earth-moving equipment for a couple of years.  The mayor was brushed aside.  The barrios took over the town to provide essential services such as security.  This caused citizens to take up the duty of monitoring their neighborhoods and keeping an eye out, making sure that things were safe.  The golf course development project came and went.  This community activism saved the town and put in place a sense of responsibility for your own neighborhood/barrio.

Contentment. This is important.  Contentment is everything in life, right? This is still primarily a subsistence farming community.  People produce for their own consumption on a plot of land outside of the valley and sell or barter the rest in the local market or among friends and relatives.  Many people have a local “tourism-related” business that they operate on the weekends when Tepoztlán receives its normal flow of guests.  If you have a roof over your head, enough food to eat, a nice and safe community to raise your kids, and a beautiful backdrop to your city, you can’t really ask for much more.  People are content here.

Sense of Community.  It grows on you.  Recycling has been in effect for decades and is almost obligatory with the snide look the non-recyclable garbage guys gives you when you have too much trash.  Daily people sweep their stoop in front of their house where through the hard work of members of the barrio streets are constructed and maintained.  Tepoztecos are involved in various projects to support the community but also just lending a hand to a neighbor when for example he is adding a second story to his house.  After being here for a while you want to contribute as others do.  It is infectious.  Robb was inspired to contribute and started the first little league baseball team here to offer kids a positive activity and many others offer the same type of service to the community.  As well, you are constantly enveloped in the sounds of the community – the rooster crowing, the newspaper headlines announced over the loudspeaker, the church broadcasting mass, next door neighbor kid practicing his trombone for the local children’s orchestra.  The community web around you is palpable and part of what makes it an enjoyable place to visit and live.

Adherence to Tradition.  If you don’t appreciate religious processions, fireworks day and night, an occasional traffic inconvenience, and lots of celebrations, Tepoztlán is not the place for you.  There is a something going on literally every week or weekend in this festive town. Sometimes (but not always) non-Tepozteco Mexicans see the strict adherence to local customs as inconvenient or backwards. Yet this is the glue that keeps the community together. As a result, locals are a little suspicious of other non-Tepozteco Mexicans, but do appreciate foreign tourists.  It is thought that foreign tourists visit Tepoztlán because they appreciate the local customs, traditions, and festivals.  As a result people are very nice and courteous to you as a guest in town. 

I am reminded of the slogan for Austin, Texas – “Keep Austin Weird.”  You want to keep what makes your community unique and Tepoztlán does this very well.  It is different than any place you will visit in Mexico.  These elements taken together as a whole certainly make Tepoztlan safe but also a very authentic and wonderful place to visit.   

Okay.  Off my soapbox for a while.  Next posts will be cooking related!

Peace, Love, and Good Food!

Chef Ana Garcia


~ Sil in Corea said...

Thank you for such a good description of your city. I hope I can come to visit you someday. I teach English in South Korea, and hope to travel with some of my adult students in the next couple years. said...

Have been reading your site for years. Would love to go there and experience your great culinary delights. I love Mexican food!!