San Angel is a peaceful place to enjoy your day.
Colonial architecture and cobblestone streets are proud features in San Angel. Photo by Flickr/Pedro Vásquez Colmenares

“Our intention is to continue and preserve traditional arts,” said Villanueva. “We have art that represents all of Mexico.” Some artists travel from as far away as Chiapas and Oaxaca (10-12 hour bus rides) while others come from states that are much closer.

Every Saturday, Teresa Martinez and her son Armando travel two hours by bus from Santiago Tianguistenco, a small city in the state of Mexico. “We have been coming here since the market began,” she said. Her husband was the first in the family to sell at the market, a tradition now carried on by her and her six sons. Teresa and her sons sell a wide-range of wool products. “Most of our family work making sweaters, socks and hats that we sell in the market,” she said. All of their goods are knitted by hand using techniques and designs that have been in the family for generations.

The market’s current president, Augustín Girón Mendez, is a textile maker originally from Tenejapa, an indigenous village in Chiapas. “I learned from my parents how to make these items,” he said. He and his wife Lucia are Tzotzil Mayans and, in addition to Spanish, speak Tzeltal. They pointed out the indigenous designs that grace their goods.  “The designs have changed, evolved a little, but it is important to keep the concept,” said Mendez. “It is important for us to keep our native language and customs because through our language, through our art we keep our history, our sense of place. Through our products, we can teach people about Mayan Culture.”

The stand run by Hectór Barra, an instrument maker, always attracts the largest number of shoppers. A natural-born showman, Barra uses his instruments to make sounds that are sweet enough—or interesting enough—to attract a crowd. “I make my own version of primitive or traditional instruments,” he said. “I believe there is nothing new under the sun. Take the tambor (a drum): it is found in many different cultures, many different variations. A tambor in China may have originally come from Africa.”

Barra invited me back to his studio to see how he and his assistants turn a variety of natural materials into instruments. The flower of the maguay tree is used to make a trumpet, gourds are turned into drums and seeds into an instrument called the guere-guere. His latest invention is called a radio intergalactica, which makes really weird sounds and also carries voices, the way that two tin cans linked by a piece of string can.

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