Category Archives: Cultural Commentary

Day of the Dead, Dia de los Muertos, Coming Soon

It’s time to turn my attention to the annual celebration of Dia de los Muertos — Day of the Dead — when memories return to the people we love who have dropped their bodies and whose souls rest in peace.

In this PBS Series, Borders, this story of Latinos celebrating Day of the Dead in Los Angeles warms my heart and helps bridge cultural understanding.

Thanks to my friend Carol Lynne Estes for sharing this with me so I can share it with you.

On October 28, I’ll participate with friends in a Raleigh, NC, Day of the Dead 5K Race to raise funds for the Brentwood Boys and Girls Club of Raleigh. I plan to wear my Day of the Dead T-Shirt acquired years ago from deceased artist Arnulfo Mendoza at La Mano Magica in Oaxaca. His family always gathers graveside in Teotitlan del Valle to celebrate his life.

Then, later that night, a celebration with my friend Barbara S. and her husband.

I’m thinking about where to build my altar  at home in Durham, a tradition to celebrate the life and memory of my parents, Dorothy Schafitz and Ben Beerstein. I’m thinking of a candlelit and flower-strewn path of marigold petals leading to a fall harvest table laden with oranges, flowers and mezcal.

Will you be in Oaxaca for Christmas?

Come with me on a one-day cultural immersion.

Teotitlan del Valle, Dia de los Muertos

I find Day of the Dead to be a soothing, multi-cultural approach to honoring memory with traditional Mexican fiesta style. It fits well into my world view of attending to the spiritual part of being human, a hankering for mysticism in a concrete jungle, and remembering ancestors, giving thanks to them for the life they created in us.

Dia de los Muertos Altar, San Pablo Villa de Mitla

Soon, I’ll investigate my local Mexican markets and convenience stores where I might be able to find some of the necessities for altar making and not succumb to the Halloween frenzy.

May the preparations begin.

Gratitude: Oaxaca Thanks All Who Give Support

We are not yet “out of the woods!” There is still so much more to repair in Oaxaca state*as a result of the September 7, 2017, earthquake that registered 8.2 on the Richter Scale. The quake was centered just off-shore from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in southern Oaxaca state, where most of the damage occurred in and around the town of Juchitan de Zaragoza.

Click here for regional map

Coastal villages, like where life is as it was thousands of years ago, have no fresh water, contaminated wells from broken septic systems, fissures in earthen floors, and crumbled dwellings. The prognosis: Broken lives. Broken homes. Broken hopes. Years to recover.

The weaving and fishing village of San Mateo del Mar is one such village where anthropologist Denise Lechner and pediatrician Anja Widman are working to repair the world.

This is where I have directed the funds that have come to me by check from people who have responded to this blog and Call for Help!

I want to take this moment to thank you.

  • Mary James, Modesto, CA
  • Richard Kowalczyk, Springfield, VA
  • Irene Schmoller and Cotton Clouds, Inc, Safford AZ
  • Mary Randall, Modesto, CA
  • Rebecca Neigher, Durham, NC
  • Roberta Megard, St. Paul, MN
  • Eshkie Zachai and Jerry Martin, Eugene, OR
  • Susanne Corrigan, Tallahassee, FL
  • Anonymous, Makawao, HI
  • Liliana Rico Kennedy, Ocala, FL

Countless more of you have made donations directly to Denise’s PayPal account and I’m sending personal Thank You’s on her behalf. Others have helped through the Francisco Toledo Foundation. There is also a way to make a wire transfer to the Alfredo Harp Helu Foundation that will make a 50% match.

Thousands of aftershocks result in sleepless nights.

In the last ten days, there have been shock waves registering 6.1 to 4.1 several times a day, throughout the region. I imagine people are suffering from PTSD. Let alone the need for mental health, the public health risks are huge.

Map of Quake Region.   You can see the fragility of the coast town of San Mateo del Mar, where I have visited. Dysentery and infection especially threaten the lives of children who are less resistant to disease.

Yes, there is much to do to repair our world. We know that Puebla State and Estado de Mexico are also damaged, and the death toll has risen in Mexico City.

And, then there is our Puerto Rico, USA Territory disaster, where federal help is scant and the situation is dire, and another Twitter War points to 45’s lack of moral compass.

Where ever you choose to give, please be generous and continue to be generous. Our friends need your help.

Sending sincerest thanks, Norma

P.S. DO NOT CANCEL YOUR TRIP to Oaxaca City, Puerto Escondido or Huatulco. These areas were not affected by the September 7 earthquake.  I am returning to Oaxaca via Mexico City at the end of November. I intend to be in Mexico City for several days. I will not succumb to fear!

 

 

How To Repair Our World: Oaxaca Earthquake Donations and Magnitude of Need

Last night, when I returned to Durham, North Carolina, I opened my mailbox to find three checks totaling $700 USD for Oaxaca earthquake support. Most of these gifts were collected by Mary Randall, my Oaxaca friend who lives in Modesto, California. Others came because people contacted me directly asking if they could send a check instead of making a PayPal donation.

Oaxaca earthquake rubble, photo by Denise Lechner

Special Thank You to:

  • Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Stanislaus County, Ca. where Mary’s call to action resulted in a collection of $300 USD!

And to these individual donors whose checks I received.

  • Mary and Sara Randall, Modesto
  • Christine Fiedler, Modesto
  • Mary James, Modesto
  • Richard Kowalczyk, Springfield, VA

And, thanks to so many of you who made your gifts directly via PayPal.

I’m expecting another gift from Mary in the mail. Her daughter Sara is an elementary school teacher. The Third Grade at Garrison Elementary School, Modesto, gathered $47 USD for earthquake relief. Mary says a neighbor kid’s grandma is buried in the rubble in Mexico City.

In line for aid, San Mateo del Mar, Oaxaca, photo by Denise Lechner

WHAT CAN YOU DO? 

There was another 6.1 magnitude earthquake in southern Oaxaca yesterday. This was one of several yesterday in the same region of the 8.2 quake. USGS officials are saying these are aftershocks. I’m certain people are jumpy and suffering from PTSD, fearful for loved ones, not having the resources to rebuild.

Fissures, photo by Denise Lechner

There is a lot of need right now in our world. What we choose to repair is a personal decision. If you have extra resources for Oaxaca, here’s what you can do:

  • Mail a check to me, payable to Norma Schafer, 500 N. Duke Street, Apt. 55-307, Durham, NC 27701. I will send the funds on for direct aid to either the Toledo Foundation or to Denise Lechner. Please specify.
  • To Francisco Toledo Foundation   Francisco Toledo’s Foundation IAGO (Instituto Artes Graficas de Oaxaca) https://www.paypal.me/donativoistmo (This link is no longer working. I’m trying to find out why.)
  • To anthropologist Denise Lechner who is working in the field https://www.paypal.me/deniselechner
  • To Alfredo Harp Helu Foundation as follows via wire transfer:

Special thanks to Mary Randall, a knowledgeable historian and resource about Oaxaca. Her talks at the Oaxaca Lending Library attract eager audiences whenever she is in residence.

Magnitude of Need is 10.0

Oaxaca got hit with another earthquake yesterday, a 6.1, and then there is Puebla, where major historic sites were damaged, and Mexico City, where people died buried in rubble from the 7.1 earthquake last week. Climate change and destruction are upon us. Where to start? It’s your choice! There is so much to do.

From on-the-ground-in-Oaxaca:   I’ve been in Oaxaca city since early August. Experienced both of the big quakes, on 9/7 in the Isthmus and on 9/19 in Puebla state. We got a scary ride on the terremoto machine, but the city and surrounding areas, including the (north) Oaxaca coastal area, are fine. The massive old buildings here, built of huge blocks of solid rock, seem to do well with the earth shaking. 

All around the city are pop-up centers for gathering donations of food, water, clothes, diapers, medical supplies, etc. that are going to Juchitan and smaller pueblos in the Isthmus, where the devastation has touched everybody. And Norma has already published the ways we can donate funds that will be matched and will be assured of getting to the people in need. We can help too with our purchasing dollars.

–Winn Kalmon

Note: There is some controversy about how aid is being distributed, especially through NGOs that have ties to the government with reports that funds are being diverted to political use.

Dr. Anja Widman, administering aid, photo by Denise Lechner

I assure you that my friend, anthropologist Denise Lechner and Dr. Anja Widman, who is working with her, have taken a Mobile Clinic and donated goods to provide care services and supplies to people in communities that need them most on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec and neighboring mountain villages.

Isthmus of Tehuantepec is hardest hit, Matias Romero took latest hit

If you made or make a gift directly to Denise Lechner, the Toledo Foundation or Helu Foundation, please let me know. I would like to recognize you and give you public thanks. I am not sure how donors will be acknowledged by these organizations. They are too busy giving aid.  With appreciation, Norma

 

Another Promised Land: Anita Brenner’s Mexico at the Skirball Center, Los Angeles

Once the dust of Mexico settles on your heart,

you will have no rest in any other land.

On September 13, I joined Patrice Wynne and Gloria Orenstein at the Skirball Cultural Center in West Los Angeles for a curator-led preview tour of this landmark exhibition, Another Promised Land: Anita Brenner’s Mexico.

The exhibition runs through February 25, 2018.

The term promised land is rooted in a vision of freedom and liberation.  Emotionally, it has meaning for peoples seeking release from oppression who want a secure life where one can become fully realized without restraint. Jewish identity is intertwined with Israel as the promised land. African-American slaves looked to the north as a promised land. Oppressed peoples throughout the world continue to seek asylum in America, their hope of the promised land where opportunity and justice prevail. (We must be vigilant.)

Tina Modotti captures Anita Brenner in black and white

Anita Brenner (1905-1974), a Mexican-born Jewish writer who lived and worked during the Mexican Renaissance, saw the country adopted by her Latvian parents as a promised land for intellectual and artistic expression. Her own experience with prejudice and discrimination helped give her voice to bridge understanding.

Mexico was a haven for immigrants escaping Europe throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Even today, Mexico has a welcoming immigration policy. Her people are a blend of indigenous, Spanish, African, Filipino, Chinese, German, and French — representing waves of conquest and immigration. Jews sought haven in Mexico when the gates were closed to the United States of America. (Thank you, Mexico!)

Diego Rivera, Dance in Tehuantepec, watercolor

Brenner was an integral part of the circle of Mexican modernists in the 1920s and played an important role in promoting and translating Mexican art, culture, and history for audiences in the U.S.

Jean Charlot, The Massacre in the Main Temple, fresco, Collegio San Ildefonso

Born during the turmoil of the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920), Brenner was close to the leading intellectuals and artists active in Mexico at the time. These are names we know well: painters José Clemente Orozco, Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Jean Charlot, and photographer Tina Modotti. There were others whose name we do not widely know in the USA, including Rivera’s second wife, Guadalupe Marin, Frances Toor, Nahui Olin, Luz Jimenez and Concha Michel.   

Abraham Angel, La India

Art historian Karen Cordero says they would meet at Sanborn’s Casa de los Azulejos to talk about politics, social injustices, women’s rights, feminism, and other issues.

The exhibition introduces us to Brenner as an important figure who has been heretofore obscured by the more illustrious in her circle.  An influential and prolific writer on Mexican culture, Brenner is best known for her book Idols Behind Altars: Modern Mexican Art and Its Cultural Roots (1929). 

Cover of Mexico this month, February 1956

Her work is rooted in the shaping of post-Revolution Mexico, when a new identity for a new nation needed to be reassessed to reflect the persistent indigenous culture behind the Spanish conquest. The Revolution brought with it the need to create political, social and cultural change and artists turned to folk art as inspiration to re-imagine past with future.

Mathias Goeritz, Satellite Tower. He was close to Luis Barragan, architect.

She was also instrumental in creating cultural tourism for Mexico — promoting cultural exploration as a vacation activity by publishing the cultural travel magazine, Mexico this month. We can consider her a pioneer in learning about the people who live where you visit.

The Skirball’s exhibition includes a narrative of Brenner’s life. It features pre-Columbian art, paintings, prints, photographs and drawings by Miguel Covarrubias, Jean Charlot, Edward Weston, Leonora Cunningham, Maximo Pacheco, Lola Cueto, Abraham Angel, plus those we are more familiar with: Kahlo, Rivera, Orozco.

Lithograph by Orozco

Charlot was a disciple of Rivera who contributed to the murals at the Secretariat de Publica Education (SEP). He was in love with Brenner; they could never reconcile religious differences and did not marry, though they remained lifelong friends.

Cultural map of Oaxaca, Mexico/this month

Another Promised Land: Anita Brenner’s Mexico is part of Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, a far-reaching and ambitious exploration of Latin American and Latino art in dialogue with Los Angeles, taking place from September 2017 through January 2018 at more than sixty cultural institutions across Southern California. Pacific Standard Time is an initiative of the Getty.

Gloria Orenstein, Norma Schafer and Patrice Wynne at the exhibition

Footnote: Los Angeles County has the second largest Jewish population and the largest Latino population in the United States.

Thank you to the Skirball Cultural Center for background information and photographs.

Oaxaca Earthquake Damage Extensive: Urgent Support Needed

I’m putting out another donation call to help the Oaxaca earthquake victims. The situation is dire along Oaxaca’s southern coast and particularly in the city of Juchitan de Zaragoza.

click here to watch BBC video of earthquake devastation

There are two ways to donate that I know your gifts will go directly to the people in need. They are trusted to know where the funds can be used.

  1.  To Francisco Toledo Foundation   Francisco Toledo’s Foundation IAGO (Instituto Artes Graficas de Oaxaca) https://www.paypal.me/donativoistmo
  2. To anthropologist Denise Lechner who is working in the field https://www.paypal.me/deniselechner

Francisco Toledo is a renown Oaxaca artist-activist who was born and raised in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, that suffered the most severed earthquake damage.

Denise Lechner is a personal friend who has worked with artisan communities along the coast of Oaxaca for years. Go to her Facebook page to see photos of the affected areas.

 Report From Barbara Cleaver, Hotel Santa Fe, Puerto Escondido

Our hotel in Puerto has been one of the gathering places for donations: Denise Lechner has been on top of encouraging donations, and then driving them to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.

We too have donated, both in money and in supplies, and will do more.
So much damage! In Tehuantepec, Chiapa de Corzo, up in Mixe country….but Juchitan de Zaragoza is a disaster zone.

I encourage everyone that can give anything, to do so. Please.
Thank you.

Friends, if everyone who reads this sends something ( 5$/ 20$/ more if you can afford it), it would make a huge difference.

Some places have even lost access to water, as wells have collapsed or been buried by rubble. This is the largest earthquake to hit Mexico in 100 years…please help if you possibly can.

The news of the extent of the damage of this earthquake is overshadowed by the drama of the terrible hurricanes … but Mexico needs help.

Something on the order of 1,000 houses have been damaged in Juchitan, along with public buildings.

Bad damage ( and slow help ), with many houses down, in San Mateo del Mar (an important weaving village on the coast — near Laguna Superior on the map). I have not yet heard from San Francisco del Mar.

Houses rendered uninhabitable in Tehuantepec; I don’t know how many because it is still hard to get through to anyone, but we were able to talk to one friend. Her wonderful old house is probably beyond repair and she says others, too.

Power out/ many ( but not all) phones out.

Chiapa de Corzo, the wonderful old fountain from the 1500’s, and some houses; again, I don’t know how much.

So many places!

The more I hear, the worse it gets…

We sent supplies with Denise and now we are going to send money so she can buy what she sees is needed.

You can tell your people to have full confidence in Denise..I certainly do.

Hijole…

It was a huge long quake, and there have been so many aftershocks, off Chiapas and off Salina Cruz.

Thank you for putting the information out there, Norma!