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Meet the Indigenous Mujeres From Oaxaca Cooking Tlayudas for Struggling Families in Mid-City

[dropcap size=big]I[/dropcap]n two neighborhoods of metropolitan Los Angeles, a group of Indigenous Mexicans from Oaxaca are organizing and practicing their traditions of mutual aid among their own communities. Known in Zapoteco variants as gotzona or guelaguetza (Sierra Juarez and Central Valleys Oaxaca, respectively), it is the practice of reciprocal exchange and looking out for one another. 

Even though they are over 2,000 miles away from where this year-round practice started in Oaxaca in Mid-City Los Angeles, the group of indigenous Angelenos maintain the generous tradition in the U.S. Recently, the receivers have been the most underserved and underfed communities hardest hit by the pandemic. 

According to a March 2021 report by the California Employment Development Department and U.S. Census Bureau, unemployment in the City of L.A. was at 10.6 percent. Most who filed for unemployment since the first City lockdown in March 2020 were BIPOC communities at 65.3 percent where women (6.4 percent) filed more than men, and younger workers between the age of 25 to 34 had the highest recorded unemployment than years before (WDACS). There is some sense of momentary food relief where multiple small businesses are popping up their grills, charcoal, table, and tablecloths!

A tlayuda being made from scratch.
A tlayuda being made from scratch. Photo by Joe Nankin.

Yeaj Yalhalhj, is a Zapotec family-owned and run flower shop on Pico Boulevard in Mid-City LA. Aside from selling flowers, you can also find traditional clothing, jewelry, and other artisanal creations from the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca. In the Pico-Union area, sisters Anahi and Melina, organize and distribute fresh produce bags full of produce as part of the Veggie Mijas BIPOC womxn-led collective in front of their mom’s business, Royalty Cleaners, also located on Pico Boulrvard. 

“We are not a nonprofit, we are not an organization. We organize collectively by choice.” We are bringing Guelaguetza [Gotzona] to the City.”

Together, the Zapoteca sisters and Yeaj Yalhalhj provide fresh produce or freshly cooked meals otherwise not accessible to struggling individuals and families. The Mid-City Cookouts started by Yeaj Yalhalhj invites Oaxacan-owned small food businesses to set up every Saturday or Sunday in front of the local flower shop. Some of these vendors have been hustling their side business to make extra cash or sufficient money to feed their families. However, since the pandemic outbreak, most have turned to street and house food vending to provide for their own families after losing their jobs. 

From freshly made Tlayudas or memelitas to handmade Oaxacan ice cream, vegan pastries, and drinks, these cookouts provide a wide selection of delectable goodies. One of many community cookouts to spring up since the outbreak, the Oaxacan mutual aid cookout continues to grow and provide hot meals following Indigenous Oaxacan comunalidad (communal) practices of sustaining the community. In explaining their support, the organizers stated: “We are not a nonprofit, we are not an organization. We organize collectively by choice.” We are bringing Guelaguetza [Gotzona] to the City.”

The Veggie Mijas.
The Veggie Mijas. Photo by Melina Bautista Cruz.

Recently, this group put together a community space, @xtaushoka, open to all at Yeaj Yalhalj to showcase the multiple talents of Oaxaqueños, as well as the ways in which they maintain and (re)create Indigenous traditions, unity, and life among migrants. At the moment you can catch photos, art, and archival exhibits from Wednesday through Sunday. You can schedule a visit or donate.

Mid-City Cookouts

To find out how you can donate to them visit them at venmo.com/joe-nankin or venmo.com/yeajyalhalhj. To find out more about the small businesses or make an individual order find them on Instagram: @yeajyalhalhj, @royaltycleanersla, @Oaxdee27, @las_jefitas, @rositaeats, @la_cocina_oaxaqueña_con_adela, @nievesxochioax, @nieveslapechita, @tepachezapoteca.

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