Barrio de Jalatlaco, Oaxaca: See Why We Loved It?

The neighbourhood has a crazy local vibe, the feeling of a generational openness to the continuum of life and death

An old Mexican proverb saysEl amor entra por los ojos, Love comes through the eyes.” Is this what life could be, wakening to the high-altitude light in the oldest community in the city of Oaxaca in the tiny neighbourhood of Jalatlaco, low-slung colonial buildings bursting with colour, street art vividly provocative, family-owned shops, a yoga studio! This was not a daydream; it was our daily happiness for fourteen days in January. This was not magical realism; it was the reassuring reality that magical places still exist.

Formerly a Zapotec village,the name Jalatlaco was derived from the Nahuatl word Xalatlauhco, meaning sandbank. Although there’s no sign of it today, a river used to run through the middle of town, all year, or just a few months, depending on rainfall.

Time Out in 2019 named the barrio among the 50 coolest neighbourhoods in the world

The colourful Aldama Street has the feel of cultural constancy

Miguel Hidalgo Street, papel picado (traditional Mexican paper flags) flying overhead, colouring the sky

Above the cobblestoned Hidalgo Street is San Matías Jalatlaco church built by the Jesuits and dedicated in 1700

“One day there will be no borders, no boundaries, no flags and countries and the only passport will be the heart.” Musician Carlos Santana

El que nace para tamal, del cielo le caen las hojas (A Mexican proverb that means,  literally, if you’re born to be a tamale, the leaves will fall from the sky, meaning if it’s meant to be, it will be.) 

“Here in Mexico they see only the present. This communion of eyes and smiles is elating… the mind is quiet, the nights are lullabies, the days are like gentle ovens in which infinitely wise sculptor’s hands re-form the lost contours.” Anaïs Nin

"Perhaps in vain we come to live, to sprout on earth. Let's at least leave flowers." Dejemos al Menos Flores

"Let's leave at least songs." Nezahualcoyotl

"Time will destroy my body and death will show what I really was"

“The dead to the grave, the living to pleasure.” Mexican Proverb

“The most valuable possession you can own is an open heart.” Carlos Santana

Jalatlaco was famous for its tanning industry (particularly leather saddles) from the late nineteenth century-middle of the twentieth century.

Many former tannery workshops are now homes, restaurants, cafes and art galleries

In the 19th century, the barrio was the hub of mezcal production

“The skeletal spectacle is a joyous comical rebuff to death”. Judith Cooper Haden, author of Oaxaca

“Las Nines tienen el poder,” which translates to "Girls have the power." Emidin

Family-owned coffee shops and small restaurants prevail

Homes are 15-200 years old and are single-family; there are no condos. Garages can’t be added to any building more than 100 years old.

The exterior architecture and colour schemes of its eighteenth and nineteenth century houses (50% of the buildings) are protected by the federal government’s Instituto Nacional de Antropologíae Historia. 

'White Walls Say Nothing," the tagline of Graffitmundo in Buenos Aires, circled within my head while walking in Jalatlaco

A sense of connection, of culture intact

"Poco a poco se anda lejos, meaning “Little by little one goes far." Mexican Proverb

“Poor Mexico. So far from God and so close to the United States.” Porfirio Diaz, former president of Mexico

“We’re all human, and part of being human is showing respect and support for others’ life choices.” Mexican businessman Daniel Lubetzky

“The Mexican is familiar with death. He jokes about it, caresses it, sleeps with it, celebrates it. It is one of his favorite toys and his most steadfast love.” Octavio Paz, Mexican poet and diplomat

“There is nothing more precious than laughter.” Frida Kahlo

We stayed for a week at Los Pilares in the heart of Jalatlaco

And then another week at Casa de Recuerdos, 250 metres west in the Ruta Independencia neighbourhood


Casa de Recuerdos

Hotel Pilares

Estudio 711 Yoga. Spice is taking Alosja’s classes online three days a week, so you can guess how much she likes her unique style of alignment yoga.

2 Responses

  1. Interesting the idea that death is familiar to the populace, not a bad idea as we all will get to know that part of our lives, no exceptions. The skeletal faces are interesting in the paintings, nice change from the standard we always see. Seems to be a lot of skulls, again why not.

    1. Indeed! As Judith Cooper writes in her book Oaxaca, which is mostly photographs, “The skeletal spectacle is a joyous comical rebuff to death.”

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