Where the Clouds Descend: Fiestas and the Practice of Belonging in San Juan Mixtepec, Oaxaca, Mexico

Ivy Alana Rieger, University of Colorado Boulder


This dissertation examines the relationship between a cycle of fiestas, practice, and belonging in a Mixtec community located in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, Mexico known as San Juan Mixtepec, also known in the Mixtec language as Yoso nu Viko or “Place Where the Clouds Descend.” Residents of San Juan Mixtepec, hereafter referred to as Mixtepequenses, actively maintain a cycle of fiestas that celebrate particular saints, virgins, and Mixtec cosmological beliefs through the practice of a variable series of rituals, processions, and performances. San Juan Mixtepec is one of the only Mixtec communities in the Mixtec region that continues a complete cycle of fiestas, which are managed by the mayordomía, an institution of community volunteers who are responsible for performing religious fiestas associated with Catholic figures, and municipal authorities, who organize secular celebrations. This dissertation is grounded in anthropological theories of practice, and the fiestas of San Juan Mixtepec are examined as dynamic practices within which Mixtepequenses imagine, challenge, and maintain social, cultural and political discourses that help them define what it means to belong. Given this theoretical orientation, it is the argument of this dissertation that fiestas are an intrinsic means through which Mixtepequenses conceptualize what it means to belong to an indigenous community in the early 21st century, when the social, economic, cultural, and political aspects of life extend beyond borders.