Category Archives: Creative Writing

Permanent Resident of Mexico: Green Card Equivalent

Today, after my third trip to Migracion in as many weeks, I picked up my official Residente Permanente card granted by the federal government of Mexico. I was surprised at myself: I couldn’t stop smiling.  I’m thrilled, in fact, to now be an official part of this country I call home most of the year.

That’s not to say that the USA is not my home. I am a citizen, I vote, I take part in my community, I own property that I return to often, my family is there and I have a deep friendship network. I know my final resting place — in Santa Cruz, California, in a redwood grove, next to our mother, the Pacific Ocean in the distance.

There is much to appreciate in these two worlds — Estados Unidos Mexicanos and the United States of America. Neither is perfect. At the moment, I am happy to have focus here away from the turmoil of nationhood that has gone awry in my home country. As a friend recently said, we live in an imperfect world.

There is solace living in a small Zapotec village thirty minutes from a smallish town that is rich in cultural heritage and indigenous traditions.

I made this decision to apply for a permanent residence in September after I was invited to contribute a chapter to a book featuring the voices of women in the United States who have chosen to live in Mexico. I wrote almost 4,000 words about how I first came here, what kept me coming back, and the difference that living in Mexico has made in my life.

As an exercise in self-reflection, I realized how meaningful life here is for me, my relationships with people who come from an 8,000 year old heritage, and how my creativity is energized by the experience.

When I got to North Carolina in October, the first thing I did was contact the Mexican Consulate in Raleigh to make my application and arrange a personal interview. I was welcomed and treated with respect. I know that Mexicans do not have a similar experience when they appear for their appointments at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City to apply for a simple tourist visa.

The paperwork required is extensive: one year of printed bank records documenting income to meet a threshold to qualify for this type of visa. I did not tell them anything about me in advance and I did not bring a resume. They must have found this blog and while at the interview invited me to meet with the cultural attache to talk about ways we could work together to educate Carolinians about the artistic and cultural richness of Mexico and her people.  I received the preliminary approval with a stamp in my Passport within two hours.

That was just the beginning. Then, in Oaxaca, on recommendation from friends, I hired German Osorio, a very helpful English-speaking attorney who facilitated another application, payment of a fee, and the series of meetings with officials to complete the process that took several weeks. This included surrendering my Passport for several days, surrendering my Tourist Visa permanently. Without the Tourist Visa, I could not leave the country until the Permanent Resident Visa process was complete.

Not much will change for me with this Permanent Resident Visa, except that the official approval solidifies my commitment to people and place.

 

 

Happy Thanksgiving From Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico

I woke up early with the wind at my back, ready to get a jump on the Day of Giving Thanks. In Mexico we call it Dia de Accion de Gracias. It is a good day to take a walk and think about all the goodness of life.

An early walk in the campo, Thanksgiving morning

It was close to eight o’clock this morning when I set out to the campo, the wild, unpopulated area of the village, beyond the pale of settlement. The sun was warm on my back. There was a breeze. The day was promising.

The first boundary marker, a stelae from another century

My three dogs were with me, Butch close to my heels, always guarding. Mamacita out in front. Tia running off after birds and rabbits, stopping from time to time to turn around and check my progress.  These are campo dogs, rescue dogs, dogs who have learned to be obedient and stay close.

Butch (foreground), Mama (right) and Tia along the path

This was a day of exploration. I went far beyond where I usually go along the narrow foot path ascending toward the mountain range that is a backdrop to Teotitlan del Valle, part of the Sierra Madre del Sur.  I imagine this to be an ancient trail, the border between our village and the two adjoining us — San Mateo Macuilxochitl and Santiago Ixtaltepec, that the locals call Santiguito.

From the third marker, views toward Tlacochuhuaya

As I made my way along the incline, I was careful not to stumble on loose lava and sedimentary gravel. Rock outcroppings offered natural stepping-stones.

Moonscape-style cactus off the beaten path. Baby Biznaga?

There are three border markers along this route. I had never been to the third. It was glorious out. I figured, Why not?  Life begins at the end of your comfort zone, I reminded myself once again. Let’s figure out where this goes.

A bouquet of lantana by the roadside, growing wild here.

As we reached the third, I could see there was no path up to it, so I made my own switch back path to scale the hill. The dogs followed. A ridge of rock offered me a natural seat from which I could see across the valley to San Jeronimo Tlacochuhuaya, beyond Santiguito. A perfect spot to meditate.

I imagined those who came before me, centuries past, who sat in this very place, keeping a lookout on the landscape below. In the distance, cooking fires curled skyward and a red-shirted farmer grazed his bull in the lush fields.

Downhill was easy, with a stop at the natural spring for quenching thirsty dogs. Then, a brisk walk home on the back road lined with dried corn stalks and wild marigold fields lining the road.

I covered three-and-a-half miles.

On the final stretch home, between marigolds and cornstalks

Today, a group of Estadounidenses will gather at Los Danzantes for a special Thanksgiving meal after a mezcal toast at the home of my friend Shannon. An adjoining table is with NC restauranteurs who are opening a Oaxaca destination at the Durham Food Court, two blocks from my apartment.

Thanksgiving menu at Los Danzantes, not traditional!

Today will be a change-up from years past. I won’t be cooking. Neither will Kalisa! (I hope.) Instead of sliced, roast turkey, stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, Jacki’s fabulous cranberry sauce, and an array of pumpkin pies, it will be turkey balls and pumpkin pancake at 7 p.m. Nothing traditional about this year for me!

Nature’s display of color, pure and simple

I’m reminded by my friend Betsy, an Anthony Bourdain afficionado, who said, Travel is the gorgeous feeling of teetering in the unknown.  And, my friend, Madelyn, who says, Take life with the wind at your back, moving forward, rather than fighting the headwinds that always set you back.

Happy Day for Giving Thanks.

A field of yellow next to the casita

The gift of the season, 75 degrees Fahrenheit

 

 

 

 

An Immigrant to Mexico, Not an Ex-Pat

This year, I will live in North Carolina for only a few weeks. I will be here to vote. That is mostly why I bought my apartment condo in Downtown Durham, though you could say I could vote absentee ballot.  But to do that, you need a permanent address. A post office box will not do.

I’m prompted by this fact to remind myself that I am a Mexican immigrant and not an ex-pat. I will explain.

Read this important definition: Ex-Pat or Immigrant

I am here, too, because I have good friends, dear family and a need to have one toe in the water, even though the water now is scalding hot. We are getting burned.

You haven’t heard from me in a while and there’s a reason. My return to Durham was interrupted by Hurricane Florence and the aftermath of clean-up and tragedy, babies loosened from the arms of their fleeing mothers, ripped away by the torrents of rushing water, lost forever. The news captured me. Saddened me.

Then, the drama of the Senate Judiciary Committee interviews of Christine Blasey Ford and a Supreme Court Justice nominee called Kav permeated every fiber of my being. I watched the entire day of testimony from start to finish. Big mistake.

Now, I’m in recovery, big time. I’ve been in near isolation for three weeks. Not much to write about, it seems, in comparison to the big events called politics in the United States of America. I understand why people want to escape. Go on a cruise. Eat ice cream. Not vote. The aftermath disgusts me.

SOLD. intricate embroidered blouse, San Bartolome Ayautla. $265. Size L-XL

In the meantime, I was asked to write a chapter for a book about ex-pat women from the USA who moved to Mexico. Did we flee a god-forsaken nation hell-bent on self-destruction or what?

I procrastinated. Then, I finally sat down to write it. As soon as it’s published, I’ll share it with you. But the most important kernel for me is that I came to realize I’m an immigrant, not an ex-pat.

The distinction is subtle and also simple. The standard definition: An ex-pat lives outside her/his home country. The standard definition: An immigrant claims their adopted country and intends to live there indefinitely.

Immigrants put down roots and embrace the culture, consider that the place they have moved to will always be home. Makes some attempt to learn the language and interact with the local community. Realizes that humility goes much further than arrogance. Defers to local customs. Waits for acceptance.

Ex-pats in Mexico are snowbirds, needing a warm and affordable place to spend the winter. Ex-pats might also be those testing the waters of retirement, determining where to live on a fixed budget that will stretch farther. They are far away from home in the USA or Canada, but for most, replicate that sense of home in a new place, sequestered in gated communities, attached to tennis clubs and those who speak the same language.

If I am being judgmental, please share your opinions.

This discussion gave me pause to think about where I fit in the definition, and part of the ultimate question we all must ask ourselves from time to time: Who am I? Where do I belong?

I’ve been part of Oaxaca for 13 years. Not so long in the scope of my life. But long enough to know it is home and I will live there indefinitely.

Next Monday, Omar arrives. He is the youngest of the Chavez Santiago children. He is bringing beautiful hand-woven rugs for sale and teaching cochineal dye workshops. After Durham, we are going to Philadelphia together where he will be hosted at five different venues. You’ll hear more.

Then, for me, I’m back to Mexico on November 8. After I’ve voted. It won’t be too soon.

 

Foodie Fest, Wild Mushrooms Fair (Feria del Hongos) in San Antonio Cuajimoloyas

Just a forty minute drive into the mountains from the Tlacolula de Matamoros crossroads at MEX 190–Panamerican Highway — is the village of San Antonio Cuajimoloyas. It is one of several known as the Pueblos Mancomunados for eco-tourism. A Zip-Line crosses the village and mountain bikes are everywhere.

A basket of wild mushrooms. Yummy.

Each year during Guelaguetza time they host a two-day, Saturday and Sunday wild mushroom fair. It is much more than that: it is a natural food lovers paradise.  I went on Sunday when Oaxaca city was filled with 150,000 tourists and all the attendant frenzy and the Tlacolula market nearly impossible to navigate.

Avocados and pomegrantes. Five pesos each.

Not only are the temperatures at least ten degrees cooler at 10,400 feet altitude. What is very cool is the showcase of all the organic foods produced in the region as well as mushrooms.

And a box of dried mushrooms to keep longer

Gathered around the municipal building courtyard, small local growers are selling apples, potatoes, peaches, avocados, fava beans, onions, artisanal chocolate, mushroom cultivation starters and preserves. The fruit is always small, pocked and insecticide-free. Not giant perfection as we know in the USA.

At the entrance on a perfect day, fresh air, clear skies

At this moment, you might ask: What’s the difference between the Spanish words Hongos, Setas, and Champiñones. Hongos are referred to as FUNGI. Setas are called MUSHROOMS. Champiñones are cultivated, commercial mushrooms. Around these parts, the Hongos are always the wild variety. But of course, the locals can tell the difference and name each variety. For example, the yellow ones with the red tops are called amanitas. Delicious sauteed in olive oil and butter.

Ceramics from the Sierra Norte of Oaxaca

They grow flowers here as well as succulents, so there are wheelbarrows filled with plants potted in recycled plastic bottles and yogurt containers. There are artisans from surrounding villages who also make an appearance: potters, weavers and embroiderers.

Homegrown succulents in hanging Clorox pots

Escabeche=onions, carrots, green beans, chiles in vinegar, $3 USD

Along the periphery of the municipal building, small puestos are set up that are equipped with wood-fired stoves and comals. Local cooks prepare everything with the wild mushrooms — tacos, empanadas, mole, pozole. It’s like a progressive dinner where you go from one kitchen to another to taste the specialty of the house.

Chiles rellenos — stuffed with wild pink mushrooms

Mushroom tacos with mole amarillo — our lunch

There were perhaps a handful of hueros  (those with pale skin).  Most visitors were locals from Oaxaca who know that this is where you come to get the most delicious fungi around. It’s the rainy season, but there has been no rain. The vendors from Cuajimoloyas brought the wild mushrooms in from Llano Grande, farther up the mountain where cloud cover ensures the proper humidity.

Viviana Lucia Martinez Zaragoza.

Local pears and apples

On our way out of town, I spotted a pile of beautiful mushrooms perched in the doorway of a comedor. I said to Laurita, let’s stop! Inside we found eighty-year-old owner Viviana Lucia Martinez Zaragoza, who Chef Susanna Trilling says runs the best kitchen in town. I bought more mushrooms. She invited us back for a trout lunch.

The biggest mushroom ever at Sra. Viviana’s comedor

I ate it so fast I almost forgot to take a photo — mushroom quiche

We decided to take the dirt road back from Cuijimoloyas to Teotitlan del Valle that goes through the mountain town of Benito Juarez where there are more cabins and is favorite eco-tourism spot. It was like a ribbon winding through pine stands, sheer cliffs and skirting deep forested valleys. It was not a short-cut, but offered gorgeous views of the Tlacolula Valley.

Plenty of dried fruit and mushrooms for sale, too

Hand-made chocolate from neighboring Papaloapan roasted cacao

The trip back took about an hour. We knew we were close when we saw the village reservoir in the distance. Then, a familiar car was approaching. My taxista Abraham Flores was going up the mountain taking a family home from the Tlacolula Market. This is a small world, though vast in what it provides.

And the band plays on — always a village centerpiece

Grow your own mushrooms, if you wish

A machine-stitched top from Tlahuitoltepec. Nope. Didn’t buy it.

 

Women’s Writing Retreat in Oaxaca, Mexico: Take a Discount and Express Yourself

This is our 8th year to offer the Oaxaca Women’s Creative Writing and Gentle Yoga Retreat from June 22-29, 2018. We want a full-house and are offering a 10% discount off the already high-value, low price of $895 for a shared room and $1195 for a single room. It’s not too late to get on board and join us.

Who is this for? Beginning and experienced writers, those who believe they can do it and need inspiration and coaching, note-jotters and margin-scribblers. Do you have an idea for a novel, a memoir, a prose poem, a travel piece or family history? This is the place for you.

See the complete course description HERE.

Send me an email with your interest HERE.

Please share with family and friends who would like this retreat.