Being a Oaxaca Host: Lessons for People and Nations

My friend Debbie from North Carolina came to visit me in Oaxaca this week. It was a fast three nights and two-and-a-half days. We packed a lot in as the news of the world was (and continues to) unfolding, raging, tangling itself up around us. I wanted to show her my world here.

Archeological sites. Markets. Weavers. Mezcal and candle makers. Mountain vistas. High desert.

Amidst Zapotec-Mixtec ruins, San Pablo Villa de Mitla church

Debbie is more than a friend. We share the sisterhood of once living together as neighbors in a co-housing community that was based on consensus decision-making.

Our relationship developed amidst all the attending struggles within a group of having to reconcile differences and come to agreement about how to live with respect, caring and intention. This is not easy, not natural and takes practice.

Evening respite, chiminea aglow, on my casita patio

We were part of a women’s group that shared reading material, discussions, intimacies, success and disappointments. We comforted each other when there was loss.  We celebrated together when there was joy. We lost a friend in this group to cancer that took her fast. We mourned. Picked up. Continued.

Debbie wrote a blog post about how to be a good guest:

Learning to Be a Guest

The counterpoint for me is how to be a good host. Give comfort, security, food. Offer activities, entertainment and quiet. Make introductions to friends. Sit and talk. Understand the then and now. Have fun. Create discovery. A lesson how to be a good host should be a taught to the USA’s new administration.

Fresh carrot/beet/pineapple juice alongside Jugo Verde, Teotitlan del Valle market

This is not only about how to stay in another person’s house. It is about how we live/visit as guests in a country other than our own. It is about how we welcome people in, consider their needs.

Even for those of us who make Oaxaca or Mexico home for several months or the entire year, even for those of us who have taken up permanent residency, we are the other, the guest.  In that capacity, how do we behave? How do we interact with the local community? What do we contribute? Are we observers or participators in local customs and traditions? What is our footprint?

Debbie in the shadows of ancient archeological site

This week, in the United States of America, land of the free and home of the brave, at the end of the first week of the 45th president, we have closed our borders and threatened our immigrants. We are at risk of sacrificing our civil liberties out of fear and isolation.

The country of my birth, where I also make my home, is rampant with xenophobia, arrogance, and has retreated into becoming a very bad host. The risk of losing values — that of welcoming the huddled masses yearning to be free — brings me despair.

Mexico, land of the free and home of the brave, too.

This new president, whom I call Mr. Orange Menace, has a lot to learn about hospitality, although he seems to run hotels. But, oh, yes, they are for the very wealthy!

Ancient Zapotec temple carvings, Teotitlan del Valle church

Here in the Mexican village I call home for much of the year, I am a guest. I try to remember that daily. I live here in respect for my hosts, the indigenous people who are my neighbors. I know many by name and they invite me into their homes to visit, for meals and celebrations. As a good guest, I try to be helpful and not overstep. Keep my footprint in sync with theirs. I live in a small casita and drive an old car. I am not worried about living in the campo.

Sharing mezcal with weaver friend Arturo Hernandez

With the tone of discourse between Mexico and the USA at a low point, with the bullying and bluster of wall-building on the border taking on fearful proportions, I can’t help but wonder if that will have an impact on how I might be treated here.  I can only imagine these parallel universes between cross-border immigrants. Respecting minority rights is a basic principle of humanity, of democracy.

And, all I want to do is say, I’m sorry. 

The high desert gives forth life, prickly though it is




14 responses to “Being a Oaxaca Host: Lessons for People and Nations

  1. Fabulous sensitivity and insight, Normita. I envy you your ability to express both your thoughts and sentiments in words. It is such a ‘gift’.
    Thank you.
    Hugs, M

  2. Norma,
    I appreciate your post. I too am embarrassed and pained by my country’s treatment of Mexico, my son’s adopted-by-marriage, country. They live in Huapan. We spent Christmas with them in Puerto Escondido. I wondered how we’d. E received by a country we’ve called murdererd and rapists. My fears were unfounded-at least for then. The unfolding since the name calling puts huge restraints and loss on Mexico. The U.S.doesn’t realize how interdependent our countries ate in so many ways, -import/export; Mexico’s screening of refugees to their south, and that they are non-threatening neighbors! I have learned some about beautiful, ancient, culturally rich Oaxaca. I know that it’s a poor state with rugged terrain and that most families must work a year or so in the U.S. to send money back. I recognize the friuits and. Vegetables we import and our reliance on their workers in our fields and vineyards.

    I wont go on, but I am brokenhearted about our poor treatment of Mexico. I worry about the economic impact for my children and hope there is no backlash for my Gringo son. I worry that we could. E prevented from.visiting each other. Finally, I fantacize about moving out of Virginia and into Oaxaca!
    I need to go back to your last couple of posts that I’ve missed.

    • Dear Mary, I’m glad I have provided a forum where we can express how we feel about the path this president, who is an employee of the people, and who does not have a mandate, is taking. Yes, it is shameful how the rhetoric is so denigrating to our Mexican friends and neighbors. The president and his gang are adept at fomenting hatred, fear and disdain for those who are different — and my guess is, that’s most of us! Thank you for sharing your feelings, concerns, fears and caring. These are difficult days and we must be vigilant. Un abrazo. Norma

  3. Norma: I appreciate all your posts – especially the recent ones about our current, U.S. political turmoil and how it is impacting everyone.
    I also love seeing your wonderful photos – especially the one above with you and Arturo, who we had the immense pleasure of meeting during our tour last October with Elsa. He is an incredible weaver and delightful person.

  4. Hi Norma, I will be arriving in Oaxaca Feb. 15 for the very first time to study Spanish and learn more about the culture. As you can imagine, I am very concerned about how we Americans are going to be viewed now that we have an enemy in the White House. I have tried to find a button saying “Not my President” , with no success, so people will understand where I stand. I have always loved Mexico, but have spent most of my time there scuba diving in the Yucatán. Immersing myself in the language and culture has been a dream for 30 years. I am retired now and looking forward to finally realizing that dream, but feel there may now be a bigger hurdle than language and culture to surmount.

    • I am asking Engage Oaxaca, the new expat political Facebook page to respond to your idea. I think the graphics arts workshop that created our Women’s March Oaxaca t-shirt could do something like #NMP (twitter hashtag, Not My President) or #FOM (Friend of Mexico) Stay tuned! You will be safe. And, yes, I think it would help to show solidarity with Mexico by wearing a badge.

  5. Thank you for your truth, authenticity, and nuance. You never realize what you have lost, until it is gone. Bh

  6. Two lovely blog postings from you and your friend, Norma. Thank you.

  7. Hi Norma,
    Reading your blog, and of course I identify with your feelings about connecting with people from different countries, the thought occurred to me, we need a button we can all wear, that’s some kind of symbol of solidarity.
    That way, we know in a glance that this is someone who supports our inclusive views of different people…
    just a thought! Get one of your fantastic Oaxaca printmakers to come up with the design! How about it?

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