February 21, 2011, Pittsboro, NC — In eight days I’ll be leaving for Oaxaca, traveling solo. My flights will take me from RDU to JFK to Mexico City to Oaxaca. (A circuitous route for sure, yet the most economical on the day I decided to buy my ticket.) Am I concerned for my personal safety? No.
Why? you might ask. Because traveling to Oaxaca is not a mystery to me. Because I have done it so many times over the years that it doesn’t phase me. It is no longer an unknown to be afraid of. Today, I was at a university lecture delivered by an international expert on Mexican migration and immigration. When I talked with her afterward, one of the first things she asked me was, “Is it safe in Oaxaca?” I was surprised by her question, an educated Latina who has traveled regularly to Mexico. I replied that Oaxaca is so far from the border where the drug wars and skirmishes take place that it is barely touched by this type of violence. Yet, I am only one voice.
Every day, about 20% of the search terms that come in to this blog are related to the question, how safe is it in Oaxaca?
Next week, 10 women will gather together in Teotitlan del Valle for a creative writing and yoga retreat. All are traveling solo from various parts of the U.S. — Colorado, Maine, California, Ohio, and North Carolina. One is Australian who lives in Mexico City. Several have never been to Mexico before. My goal is to have a discussion with them about this question of safety and why they chose to come to Oaxaca despite the prevailing winds of fear.
There are numerous posts on this blog where I have written about safety. I have written about Mexico travel safety on Suite 101. I have interviewed expatriates who live in Oaxaca and families who go there for winter and summer vacations. I suppose I could be writing about safety daily. What could I tell people about safety that would assuage their fears?
My husband was in Oaxaca for a while in late January. He takes buses all over the city, prides himself on getting around using public transport, discovering little out-of-the-way spots where he can study Spanish and people-watch. The biggest event was a parade of teachers on the Zocalo in front of the government building (the new governor has moved the business of governing back to the center of town where he/it is accessible to the people.) He calmly observed democracy in action while sipping a beer at the sidewalk cafe.
Can I guarantee your safety? Of course not! I can only tell you how it is for me and leave it to you to come to your own conclusions. And, of course, I’ll keep writing about this because it is important to dispel the fear.