Oaxaca de Juárez, Oax., March 08, 2022. Women play a very important role in history, the countryside, art, cooking, the family; through their love and trades they exalt the value of traditions and their country; Teachers like Abigail Mendoza, a traditional cook from Teotitlán del Valle, and Rufina Ruiz, an artisan from Santa María Atzompa, have put the name of Oaxaca on the national and international scene.
Within the framework of International Women’s Day, we recognize the work of Abigail Mendoza Ruiz, ambassador of Zapotec cuisine who, through her history, has inspired other women to learn about the traditions and ingredients of Oaxacan cuisine. She has traveled to various countries to show culinary art and to receive multiple awards.
Abigail Mendoza was a key player in the recognition of Mexican cuisine as Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2010 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco). Her knowledge and wisdom about the use of endemic ingredients from Oaxaca and ancestral Zapotec techniques were transformed into a document that achieved this goal that was sought for more than 10 years.
Abigail remembers that when she was a child her father gave her a river stone that she used to grind corn and feed the chickens in the backyard of her house; At the age of six, she was already preparing tortillas and she knew the ingredients for segueza and black mole. She today masterfully transmits the use of ancestral utensils such as the metate where she grinds corn, chocolate, chiles or the molcajete to prepare sauces with local ingredients.
In his family, the meeting point was always the kitchen, there he learned the secrets of nixtamalization and the preparation of mole, chocolate and tortillas. He helped her mother, Mrs. Clara Ruiz, in raising her siblings -nine- of hers, and in housework, so she did not have the opportunity to finish primary school. His love for cooking and traditions materialized in the Tlamanalli restaurant, a place that since 1990 has fed the soul of its guests with its aromas and flavors.
Along with her sisters Adelina, Rosario, Marcelina, María Luisa and Rufina, Abigail weaves stories and creates extraordinary flavors; they prepare the food in an artisanal way, they attend and receive the visitors with a beautiful and honest smile. It is a family business in which they also give work to women from the community and to which the work of her nieces and nephews is added.
She cooks with great passion in Tlamanalli, but also at meals at her house and at parties or wakes where she is invited to cook; in 1993 the newspaper The New York Times mentions her restaurant as one of the best in the world. Abigail and her family also weave the characteristic wool rugs of Teotitlán del Valle; they dye them with natural dyes and reflect motifs from ancient cultures.
For Rufina Ruiz López, being a woman represents a lot of responsibility, but, above all, fighting against paradigms and people who do not believe in the work of women who fight from their trenches. “As a person, as a human being and as a woman, I respect and value the teachings that our mother instilled in us; We have grown up with the idea of sharing what we have. We are a family that was born and grew up with mud, it is our livelihood”.
Since childhood he had contact with clay, which at first was a game and a form of learning became his passion. He loves to show the ancestral history of Atzompa, the original colors of the clay, of the ceramics. “In Zapotec history and culture, a trade is taught from mother to daughter; I don’t have children, but I share my knowledge with other women and children from different communities”.
He is currently in charge of Taller Ruiz López, a family cooperative that generates employment for the families of Santa María Atzompa. “We generate a social economy within the community itself, it is part of our mission, to achieve a great clay consortium and to make all women grow on this journey,” she says.
Together with María, Cecilia, Carmen and Leonila Ruiz López, they design and create unique pieces, full of magic, “they are pieces that are born from the heart and carry part of my soul, from a sculpture, a plate, a pot, a vase. Alongside my brothers and sisters-in-law, we share the legacy of our mother, Juana Natalia López de Ruiz.”
For the craftsman there is no schedule, says teacher Rufina, who molds her pieces from an early hour, in addition to offering tours, workshops, and culinary experiences with traditional recipes. She transforms clay and ceramics into molcajetes, pots, jars, pots “through growth the artisan modifies the pieces, but you never forget their roots.”
Rufina López has 12 years of artistic training at the Etla Arts Center and diplomas in business growth; Her pieces are exported to countries such as the United States and Spain, in addition to creating tableware for Mexican chefs such as Elena Reygadas, Enrique Olvera, Paco Ruano and Javier Plasencia.