"Oaxaca was something that had to happen, it was something that I didn’t look for. It simply occurred."
That's how photographer Diego Huerta describes his work in the southern Mexican state, where he has diligently traveled to for the past four years to document its indigenous communities with breathtaking portraits.
The 30-year-old Mexican photographer began working on this project, titled "Inside Oaxaca," after traveling to Oaxaca and inadvertently witnessing the Guelaguetza, its biggest annual celebration and parade that features traditional dances and customs from the States' eight regions.
"I was struck by all the colors and by the faces of the various delegations, and I wanted to know where they came from," Huerta told The Huffington Post via e-mail. "It was at that moment that I knew I had to go to their place of origin to know more about their traditions and customs and document them via my portraits."
About 15 percent of the Mexican population identifies as indigenous, according to the United Nations Human Rights Council. That number jumps to 56 percent in Oaxaca, where there are 16 different indigenous groups.
"In Oaxaca something very interesting happens: there is a mix of the modern and the traditional, of the indigenous people and the mestizo people, that fight to conserve that indigenous part that they inherited," Huerta told HuffPost. "The portraits that I’ve done are from four of the eight regions that exist in Oaxaca (after four years I’m only halfway through the project) and they are people that I’ve met directly in the villages or small towns that I’ve visited. Some of those people I can now call my friends."
As part of his project, Huerta travels to remote parts of the State and has photographed women and men from the Zapotec, Mixtecos, Mixes and Chontales communities. His project in Oaxaca will feed into a larger photo endeavor he has planned called "Native Nation," which consists of documenting Mexico's more than 50 indigenous groups.
The Austin-based photographer shares many of his portraits on his Instagram account. In the long run, Huerta hopes that his photo projects create "an empathy for indigenous people, and that that empathy be a trigger to respect them and value them," he said. "Discrimination doesn't only exist in the United States. In Mexico there's a high degree of discrimination against native people. And there's a lot of ignorance from modern society towards them."
Check out some of Huerta's photos from "Inside Oaxaca" below, and more on his Instagram account.