The tianguis, or open-air street market, is much more than a place to buy and sell merchandise. Throughout Mexico – and maybe especially in Oaxaca – markets are a fundamental element of the cultural structure. They are where people meet and catch up on news and gossip, new babies are shown off, and young romances are kindled. Market day is a ritual that has been celebrated every week – virtually unchanged – for thousands of years. These markets are not set up for the tourists (although tourists certainly can be found there – often with their cameras, like me), they are an important component in the day-to-day lives of many of the citizens.
The city of Oaxaca has several tianguis that are open each day. Mercado Sanchez Pasqua, located very close to our house, was our go-to source for fruits and vegetables, as well as freshly made tamales. Just about every day, we stopped by on our way home to purchase delicious, just-picked avocados, mangos, and bananas.
Oaxaca’s original and best known market, Mercado Juarez, is housed in a huge, warehouse-like building. The energy and chaotic mix of sounds, colors, smells, textures, and shapes is an experience not to be missed. Among the multitude of stalls selling merchandise, one can find fruits, vegetables, herbs, flowers, mezcal, sauces, beef, chicken, and seafood. Other stalls tempt buyers with displays of brightly colored clothing, crafts, woven bags, shoes, and blankets.
In addition to the markets in the city center, the Valley of Oaxaca is famous for the tianguis that each of the surrounding villages set up one day a week (each village has its designated day). These local markets not only sell the usual food, flowers, and clothing, but they also feature items that their particular village is known for, such as weavings, cheese, or wooden furniture.
As unique and exciting as these markets are, there is some worry that they might eventually become a victim of our global society. Oaxaca now has two Walmarts and several large grocery/department stores called Chedraui (all, mercifully, outside the city center). Amazon deliveries are also available. While I understand the ease and time-savings of going to a single location for all ones needs, I fear this convenience will someday lead to the demise of the traditional street markets. A ritual that has been around for thousands of years could be made irrelevant in a few years by big box stores and the internet. That would be an unimaginatively sad and irretrievable loss.