Bany Vargas brings the authentic Oaxaca to Santa Barbara and beyond
Bany Vargas es una Oaxaqueña orgullosa – a proud Oaxaca.
Born in a town called Telixtlahuaca, she moved to Santa Barbara with her parents and brother at the age of 8. Although she has spent most of her life here, Oaxaca has “always felt more like home.” As an adult, she continues to be inspired by her cultural heritage, as well as her work.
Vargas owns and operates La Calenda, a store that sells Oaxacan products and educates about its cultures and traditions. It opened in 2013 as a brick and mortar on De la Vina Street, but now works only online and in pop-ups.
The idea for La Calenda came naturally. Vargas’ mother, Esperanza Lopez, originally wanted the family business to be an Oaxacan cuisine restaurant, but Vargas had another idea.
“I always dress in traditional Oaxacan clothes, [such as] huaraches and traditional blouses, and people have always asked me about my shoes and my bags or whatever I wear, ”she said. “So I said to my parents, ‘We should start with a store.’ “
Vargas’s intuition was correct. Locals loved their offerings from the start: colorful hand-woven oils (blouses), ceramics and barro handmade mugs and pitchers, jewelry and bags, as well as different tea blends and traditional salsa and hot chocolate.
As La Calenda grew, they expanded their sourcing to also include products from other parts of Mexico, including Guanajuato, Mexico City and Michoacán.
Form ethical business partnerships and friendships with craftsmen across Mexico has been “the best part” of Vargas’ work, she said. She gets her supplies directly from them at the asking price and includes them in the programming of the workshop and the tour of La Calenda.
“Without the artisans, we wouldn’t exist,” she says. “I don’t haggle the people I work with for a lower price. I respect their work.
Customers stuck with La Calenda even after the physical store closed in 2019 and went online with only occasional pop-ups. You can always buy beautiful, handmade artesanías, clothing and food items from Mexico, or buy a ‘mini ofrenda kit “to create your own Día de los Muertos altar. You can also participate in a traditional craft workshop or take an in-person visit to Oaxaca, organized and led by Vargas. This is part of his mission to bring Oaxaca to Santa Barbara and beyond, in a thoughtful and authentic way.
In recent years, Vargas has observed an increased interest in Oaxacan culture, but has also witnessed the commercialization of its culture which often distorts or ignores the true stories of Oaxacan traditions, such as those around the mezcal or the tamales from Oaxaca. As an immigrant who grew up connected and grateful for her roots, Vargas believes her work is a necessary response to the fashionable, inauthentic, and appropriate representations of her homeland in the mainstream.
“My culture is not a trend,” she said. “It actually means something to me. “
She wants everyone who experiences Oaxaca – whether through the people, the food, artesanías, or travel – to know and respect more deeply its histories and traditions, and in particular its inhabitants.
“I see so many people now loving Oaxacan culture,” Vargas said. “I feel like the least you can do is try to understand our culture.”
Vargas’ world has remained very binational. She returned to Oaxaca in 2020 and comes back to Santa Barbara a few times a year to sell in markets, organize Oaxaca-related events, and connect with her family and customers.
On November 1, she organizes a Día de los Muertos celebration with her friend, a mezcalero, at Palenque 5 Estrellas in Matatlán, Oaxaca. From December 3 to 5, it will be on sale in Santa Barbara, at the 36th Annual Folk and Tribal Arts Market at the Museum of Natural History.
Across La Calenda, Vargas, who is also a chef, prepares and sells authentic Oaxacan dishes, using ingredients sourced from the region. During the holidays, she makes tamales using traditional corn masa from Yanhuitlán, Oaxaca.
She lovingly remembers her annual summer trips to visit her grandparents and extended family in Oaxaca. She would help her grandmother Rosaura Diaz de la Rosa – called “Chaguita” by her family – to prepare traditional Oaxacan hot chocolate, a beloved family recipe that she now wants to share with others.
In fact, Chaguita – who turns 100 next year – was a key inspiration for Vargas and his family to start La Calenda. Vargas recognizes the greatness of their cultural traditions and wants others, including her own family, to see it as well.
“I wanted to [my grandma] to see that something that she could see as simple, like making hot chocolate, ”she said,“ that could actually be something really, really important. “
For a full list of upcoming events, sales and more, see lacalendasb.com.
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