Santa Anna de Valle, Mexico
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Story and Photographs
by Steve Macauley.

Sometimes the best way to find out where you're going is by getting lost along the way. That at least was the circumstance that led me to Santa Anna de Valle in southern Mexico. A wrong bus at the right time and I was off the beaten path and into a beautiful little village struggling to maintain aspects of its culture that have been around for centuries..

Nestled at the base of the Sierra Madres, Santa Anna is one of the many villages surrounding Oaxaca City (pronounced wa-hA-ka). As in many of these villages, cultural adaptations in Santa Anna have come in a variety of forms from Coca-Cola to Christ. But despite the outside influences, these Zapotec villagers hold onto something intangible and fleeting that can only be described in subjective terms like "quaint" and "charming."


Outward signs of that charm can be seen in the villagers slow pace of life -- suggesting that the process is as important as the final product. Signs can be felt in their gentle handshake that is more like a two-handed embrace. Signs can be heard in the contagious laughter and chatter on the street corners.

As a photographer with no agenda, much less a place to sleep or eat, this kind of village was a pleasant challenge. The only thing I had to open doors was my smile, my curiosity and a little metal box with a lens on it. Turns out, it was more than enough.


I spent several days shadowing, working and laughing with a family I met in the town square. I learned to make tamales, I fruitlessly hunted rabbit with a sling-shot and I swallowed layer upon layer of dust in the corn fields. Spanish was a second language for both my host family and me (their first language is Zapotec), so we shared stories in a patient dialogue. They were as interested in my life in New York as I was in theirs. They marveled at the high cost of everything in the States and wondered how I made a living selling photos. And honestly, sometimes I do too.


During those talks we shared a rare, empathetic blend of envy and pity. I admired their simple ways of life that kept them close to the earth, their culture and their family. But I didn't want their out-door plumbing or lack of educational opportunities. They envied my possession of what they thought was a lot of money and prestige. But they felt sorry that my life was one of constant relocations that always forced me further and further from my family. We liked to hear each other's stories, but, despite popular assumptions, nobody there wanted to trade places with me.