07 Nov Teotitlan del Valle
Since its founding in 1995, Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal has operated out of the village of Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca. This Zapotec pueblo, known the world throughout for its vibrant traditional weavings and natural dyes, ruins, architecture, exquisite moles, seasonal soups and temezcals, or steam baths, lies in the Central Valleys of Oaxaca, about forty minutes driving from the capital, Oaxaca de Juarez.
It is rare to find Mexican nationals residing in indigenous villages around Oaxaca. This is primarily due to land grant laws that help preserve the resources and customs of each area. Local Zapotec government’s policies are designed to protect the welfare of citizens by providing land parcels for living and farming in exchange for voluntary services that serve the pueblo’s needs.
Thus, it was no common occurrence for someone like Ron Cooper, who first visited the village in 1970, to return for good in 1990 and encounter a community and culture that welcomed his presence and admiration with respect, joy and humility.
As the village grew an international reputation for its craft and quality, a few more foreigners, from within the country as well as outside, salted the social fabric with their presence and respect for Teotitlan’s deeply traditional culture. But there were not many, and still are not. Within this milieu, Ron began his project to introduce his friends to mezcal.
Local Bottling Crew
Del Maguey’s mezcal producing partners live in 8 different communities around Oaxaca and Puebla. Once their liquid art is produced, every single expression and green bottle enjoyed within Mexico and around the world has always been and is still bottled by hand in the Teotitlan del Valle bodega, by local Teotitecos.
As the company steadily grew, so too did its bottling crew. Today, the entire bottling operation is run by manager Cosme “Mito” Martinez Martinez and an unfailingly committed team.
It is often difficult for first time visitors to imagine that there is no automation in the bottling facility. Slight shock and puzzlement reflects an initial disbelief at what this team is capable of accomplishing on a daily basis. This realization serves as a constant reminder that Del Maguey’s guiding principles of respect, quality and attention to detail shine through in every aspect of this labor of love.
Outside of the bodega, Del Maguey has had a positive impact in other aspects of the community.
A number of computers have been donated to local schools; digital libraries are soon to follow. The company sponsors a local basketball team, Los Barbaros.
One project in particular, an extension of a women’s collective that sells fresh milk at the local market, is for a Centro de Curandación, or Healing Center, for visitors to experience the traditional Oaxacan steam bath, or temezcal. These projects certainly do not happen overnight, and the center still needs some finishing touches. Nonetheless, Del Maguey donated all the material necessary for the center and in December 2016, this building was inaugurated with a celebration and fireworks.
As in many parts of Mexico, for decades there has only been one telecommunications company that provides coverage around Oaxaca. Some years ago, the company tried to install a cell phone tower in Teotitlan. Eventually the project was rejected. Many parts of the village, which is dotted with picturesque, free standing hills at the base and plains of a jagged and formidable mountain valley, remained out of service.
Worse yet, for years, the same company provided the only internet service in the few villages they were willing to reach outside of Oaxaca City. Following the cell tower decision, internet service in the village began to deteriorate. By 2015, new customers were not allowed to sign up, and existing customers became increasingly frustrated to learn that no matter how many calls or visits were made to the regional office center, nothing mattered. The internet in Teotitlan had reached abysmal levels.
In early 2016, the Del Maguey team threw their hat in the ring to help find solutions. Before long we learned that a new company had recently formed in Oaxaca to provide an alternative to the monopolized communications infrastructure. This company was working in communities around the Central Valleys and even some remote mountain villages by transmitting internet signals through the air through line of sight connections.
Del Maguey brought the company’s founder and head engineer to Teotitlan and introduced him to the local municipal president and council. Meetings with the council are very formal and not typically reserved for outsiders, as the business of the pueblo is almost exclusively conducted in the native Zapotec. After a few visits and more than a little deliberation, the council was convinced that a 5 meter wooden post with a receiving dish and self powered solar panel was a secure, fast and novel solution to the recurring internet problem.
The council allowed the engineer to install his post on what they deemed public land, or, at least, land that would serve as a public good. There was only one more catch. The new company would not begin unless twenty different customers signed up for an installation fee and two year contract. The installation fee was too steep for everyone interested, including the municipality.
At this moment, Ron and Del Maguey pledged to pay for the installation of the first twenty homes, buildings, or schools. Within three weeks of the engineers first visit, twenty different locations were receiving a stronger signal than the homes who were still contractually tied to the whims of the large company. At last, competition had arrived.
Thankfully, this was the necessary impetus for the incumbent company to act. Within two months, the unresolvable problem that had lingered for years was magically repaired.
New customers were allowed to sign up for service again and existing customers saw their bandwidth reach the level promised in their contracts.
Although this was never meant to be considered the most benevolent act ever, it is another example of Del Maguey’s commitment to the village, one formed through mutual respect, the honoring of traditions, and an interest in educational improvements for future generations.
There are more projects in development between the village, the municipal government and Del Maguey. For now, we are eternally blessed to call this valley home and our neighbors compadres. Stigibeu!