Oaxaca, Mexico’s fifth biggest state, is located in the southeast of the country. It is not only known for its size, but also for its ethnic diversity: More than 50 % of the population identify as indigenous. Fifteen distinct groups, the largest of whom are Zapotec and Mixtec, are recognized by the Mexican government, but many more exist without official acknowledgement. Despite their struggle with marginalization, poverty, and maintaining relative autonomy, their customs, cuisine, traditional textiles, as well as their music and dance continue to shape Oaxaca’s cultural landscape and are a source of pride for many of the locals.
The capital of the state, Oaxaca de Juárez, lies about six hours from Ciudad de México. Its historic center became UNESCO world heritage in 1987, together with the nearby archeological site of Monte Albán, one of the oldest Mesoamerican settlements. Every year in July, the city hosts the Guelaguetza, the largest get-together of Oaxaca’s indigenous population, an event that has roused as much praise as critique. Although Oaxaca’s literacy rate is lamentably low, the city has some interesting bookstores, arts centers, and libraries that allow outsiders to learn more about the history and culture of the area and provide insiders with opportunities for expression and exchange.
Amate Books began life as a humble stack of books about local textiles in an arts and crafts shop. The growing interest by tourists led the owners to add Spanish and English non-fiction about the local cultures, Mexico, and Latin America in general. Eventually, the books became so popular they were moved into their own quarters in the city center, where they got company from local, national, and international fiction. In line with its crafty beginnings, “Amate” is the Nahuatl word for a type of paper made from bark dating back to precolonial times.
Amate Books, Macedonio 307, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca
Fundación Bustamante Vasconcelos
Fundación Bustamante Vasconcelos is a library and archive in a listed building in the city center. The collection includes works from a wide range of fields such as philosophy, languages, economy, and medicine, but its main attraction is the archive about Oaxaca’s history, archeology, and customs that grew out of the owners’ family genealogy. There is also a room with a display of Oaxaca de Juárez en miniature, which shows the city, its people, and their customs changing over time.
Fundación Bustamante Vasconcelos, Labastida 117, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca
Instituto de Artes Gráficas de Oaxaca
The arts center Instituto de Artes Gráficas de Oaxaca comprises many different fields: It has exhibition rooms, a library dedicated to visual arts, a cinema, a photo studio, and a music library. Besides being a great resource for all things related to art and Oaxaca, there are regular cultural events such as Los Miércoles de la Literatura (“Wednesdays of literature”) featuring contemporary writers.
Instituto de Artes Gráficas de Oaxaca, Macedonio Alcalá 507, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca
La Jícara can be found a little bit farther from the center in a quiet side street. As a Librespacio Cultural (“space for book culture”), the bookstore specializes in books by independent publishers and seeks to be a place for diversity, exploration, and resistance. It is named after a pot made from the fruits of the Jícaro tree indigenous to Southern Mexico and Central America. The Aztecs and Maya used to ground chocolate in it to drink before battle. The store is connected to the café and restaurant Calabacitas Tiernas, which, interestingly, serves both vegan and paleo cuisine.
La Jícara, Porfirio Díaz 1105, Centro, 68070 Oaxaca