The state is best known for its indigenous peoples and cultures. The most numerous and best known are the Zapotecs and the Mixtecs, but there are sixteen that are officially recognized. These cultures have survived better to the present than most others in Mexico due to the state’s rugged and isolating terrain. Most live in the Central Valleys region, which is also an important area for tourism, attracting people for its archeological sites such as Monte Albán, native culture and crafts. Another important tourist area is the coast, which has the major resort of Huatulco. The state also has some of the greatest biodiversity in Mexico.
The city and municipality of Oaxaca de Juárez, or simply Oaxaca, is the capital and largest city of the Mexican state of the same name (Oaxaca). It is located in the Centro District in the Central Valleys region of the state, in the foothills of the Sierra Madre at the base of the Cerro del Fortín extending to the banks of the Atoyac River. This city relies heavily on tourism, which is based on its large number of colonial-era structures as well as the native Zapotec and Mixtec cultures and archeological sites. It, along with the archeological site of Monte Alban, were named a World Heritage Site in 1987. It is also the home of the month-long cultural festival called the “Guelaguetza,” which features Oaxacan dance, music and a beauty pageant for indigenous women.
It is nicknamed "la Verde Antequera" (the green Antequera) due to its prior name (Nueva Antequera) and the variety of structures built from a native green stone. The name Oaxaca is derived from the Nahuatl name for the place, Huaxyacac, which was Hispanicized to Guajaca, later spelled Oaxaca. “de Juárez” was added in honor of Benito Juárez, who was a native of this state. The coat of arms for the municipality bears the image of the decapitated Donaji, who was an indigenous princess in the years immediately after the Conquest.
Lila Downs was born on September 19, 1968 in Tlaxiaco, Oaxaca, Mexico, she is daughter of Anita Sanchez, a Mixtec cabaret singer and Allen Downs, a British-American professor of art and cinematographer from Minnesota. From an early age Lila showed interest in music; at the age of eight she began singing rancheras and other traditional Mexican songs. She began her musical career singing with mariachis. At fourteen she moved to the United States with her parents. She studied voice in Los Angeles and learned English, which her father helped her to perfect. When she was 16 her father died and after this event she decided to return to her native Tlaxiaco with her mother.
One day while she was working in a store in the Mixtec mountains a man came in to ask her to translate his son's death certificate. She read that he had drowned trying to cross the border into the United States. This so deeply affected her that it continued to influence her work throughout her career.
Although today Downs is proud of her origins there was a time when she felt shame regarding her Native American roots. "I was embarrassed to have Indian blood. I was embarrassed that my mother spoke her language in public". This lead her on a path to find herself, which included dropping out of college, dying her hair blonde and following the band, The Grateful Dead. After some time Downs found herself back in Oaxaca working at her mother's auto parts store where she met her future husband and musical collaborator, Paul Cohen.