Category Archives: Mexican Immigration

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

 

 

 

Oaxaca Women’s Sister March: Taking a Stand for Mexico

We can’t stand by and do nothing, is the sentiment expressed by women around the world who are supporting the Women’s March on Washington, this Saturday, January 21. There are over 600 marches scheduled worldwide, including 15 in Mexico.

Oaxaca Sister March: In Solidarity with Mexicans

It’s the same here in Oaxaca, Mexico. We can’t stand by and do nothing.  Engage Oaxaca steering committee, the march organizers here, emphasize, too, that this is a solidarity march for Mexican human rights in the United States of America. It is in support of Mexico’s long-standing friendly relationships with the USA as a key trading partner. It is in protest of homophobic rhetoric that dominates the president-elect’s messages.

In the aftermath of the November 8 presidential election in the United States, seven women and one man got together in Oaxaca to commiserate. They didn’t all know each other. They are seasonal visitors or permanent residents who live here much or part of the year. They felt they had to do something.

They heard about plans for the Washington, DC march, and knew if they couldn’t be there, they needed to show support in Oaxaca.

At a meeting I attended yesterday, Vicki Solot, one of the steering committee members, says the group, which had grown to 20 people by this time, discussed whether it was legal for ex-pats to march in Mexico.

Jackie Cooper Gordon says they consulted with a Mexican lawyer who reassured them that if the issues had to do with United States policies and politics, and this was not an anti-Mexico demonstration, then it was constitutionally legal to hold the march.

Women’s March Oaxaca Flyer. Please forward!

Solot says that it’s important for everyone to know that Engage Oaxaca has permission from the Oaxaca Mayor’s Office and the Transit Police to march. The police will go with the marchers from Santo Domingo Church starting at 11 a.m. on Saturday, January 21. They will continue down the Andador walking street, Macedonio Alcala, to the Zocalo and disburse.

Roberta Christie, another steering committee member, says, “We are marching in solidarity with Mexican people. We live here in Mexico, we are U.S. citizens, and we don’t agree with his (U.S. president-elect) policies or escalating threats.”

Christie says the march gives us the opportunity to express our concern for the treatment of all immigrants in our country, and especially for Mexicans. “Local people I’ve talked to say this message is important,” she says. “We know Mexican people living in the U.S. who are fearful.” They are relatives of our friends here in Mexico.

Banner that Penny will march with in Washington, D.C.

When the committee first got together, Penelope Hand was there from Spokane, Washington. She said she would be in Washington, D.C. marching with friends on January 21. Penny will hold a banner representing Oaxaca ex-pats and friends.

So far, over 70 t-shirts emblazoned with Women’s March on Washington, Oaxaca, Mexico, have been sold. More will be available for sale just before the march begins. There’s no telling how many people will gather at Templo Santo Domingo on Saturday. March organizers say it may be between 60 and 100, maybe more.

Jacki Cooper Gordon is handling the t-shirt sale.

Where will you be, Saturday, January 21?

In Todos Santos, Mexico, Donna Schultz, a march organizer there, tells me that they will gather in the Town Plaza at 10 a.m. to stand together, men, women and children of all nationalities, who believe, “We have the right to protect our health, social, economic and educational rights.” She says that the focus is on women’s rights/human rights especially from the Mexican view-point. Local women will speak about progress being made in Todos Santos by women and for women that impacts the entire community. “We will sing together both in English and Spanish,” she adds.

Engage Oaxaca organized to create the march. Energy is building and there is more to do. They are discussing strategies to help more ex-pats vote in the next Congressional elections. They are starting an initiative to send postcards to House Speaker Paul Ryan’s home address in Wisconsin to voice concern over dismantling of the American Healthcare Act.

They will publish post-march photos on the website Engage Oaxaca and continue to hold meetings.

Through these actions, I’ve seen that being in warm, beautiful, sunny Oaxaca in winter months or year-round does not mean being isolated as a U.S. citizen from responsibilities to engage when cause merits it.

Why I March! #whyImarch

“I march because I cannot stay silent. I march because of my three young grandchildren and the world I hope is there for them. I march in support of my many Mexican friends who get up at 3:30 AM each day to work on Wisconsin dairy farms. I march because we only have one precious planet. I march because of my firm and profound belief that everyone, everywhere, is interconnected and we must stand up together in the face of fear, greed and intolerance.” — Mary Michal

“I believe in the power of the voice of the people. I have seen change come from it, right change. When I left the US after the election, I was concerned about not being present to share in that voice, in the march on 1/21 and other actions. It is imperative to me to speak out against the atrocities proposed and continued against women, Mexicans and other groups…. It is more important now to show solidarity with the Mexican people. It is important to let them know that most of us do not agree nor tolerate the notions of “el muro” and disrespect of Mexican people. We are here not only because of better economy and great weather, we love the Mexican people and culture. I am so glad to be marching in Oaxaca, in solidarity with the march all around the world, in peaceful defiance of the policies the new electorate stands for.” — Nancy Clingan

“As a permanent resident who has spent most of the last 12 years living in Oaxaca, I am marching to (1) protest the incoming president’s outrageous treatment of Mexico.  In words and promised policies he is waging economic war on this country and endangering the rights and the very lives of Mexicans in the U.S. (2) As a U.S. citizen, I am marching in solidarity with women in the U.S. and throughout the world. Only when women are equally represented in governance can we live in a more equitable and peaceful world. –Roberta Christie

“Why I march: To safeguard the gains we fought for and won in the past and to continue the struggle for a better future for my grandson and granddaughter-in-waiting.” — Shannon Pixley Sheppard

“I march to believe I will make a difference, that in the collective my one voice will rise with the many so a more positive world will unfold. I march to think of my grandparents and the generations before them who valued freedom of religion, a free press, an independent judiciary that protected minority rights, the equal rights of all people regardless of race, color or creed, that no human being is innately better or more deserving than another. I march because I have a responsibility to my country, to uphold the laws of the constitution that protect the individual. I march for women everywhere who are disenfranchised, enslaved, abused, controlled, belittled, seen as objects. I march because I love my family and friends and know that we deserve a just government, that the will of the people, the majority, will prevail.” — Norma Schafer

Add Your Voice! WHY DO YOU MARCH?

Mexican Immigrants Help North Carolina Friends Dig Out, Clean Up After Hurricane Matthew

I got this message today from dear friends who live near the tributaries of the Cape Fear River in North Carolina. The important note is that they are safe, and that they could employ Mexican immigrants (we don’t ask if they have papers) to help them dig out.

THANK YOU,  to the Mexicans who travel here in search of jobs, we appreciate your work ethic and desire to pitch in, to send money home to your families, and we honor and respect you.

Here’s part of the message:

“Most folks who know us are aware that our 12 acre property was under water during Hurricane Fran 20 years ago, the day we were to move into our new home. There has been occasional minor flooding since then. Although we have carried flood insurance, we have never had to use it until now.  This time was a little different with the creek behind our property overflowing upstream and coming across the front yard, in addition to the back 3 acres flooding over the lower banks.  The house, which is slightly higher than the ground, quickly ended up as an island amidst rushing water on all sides.  Two neighbors who came down to offer help were also stranded in the house with us when we finally called 911.  The 4 of us and our 2 goats were evacuated via a Swift Water Rescue motor boat.

It must have been quite a sight! Unfortunately our youngest goat drowned earlier.  That tragedy has been the worst part of all.  The 12 chickens spent the night in our upstairs bathroom and the dog and 2 cats stayed together in the upstairs bonus room.  The 2 horses were on high ground and entertained by all the excitement and extra loving. Our neighbor is the anchor for the nightly news so once again the farm was featured!

Fortunately water did not come directly into the house.  Yesterday there was 2 ft. of standing water in the crawl space beneath the house, about 2 inches from the sub-flooring.  After pumping 24 hrs. we still have about water so are unable to assess the full damage to the flooring.  We do know that we lost ducts, installation, all of our HVAC units and a hot water heater.  The yard and pastures were littered with debris.  2 freezers we used for animal feed storage floated away as well as the chicken coops and tack shed inventory. Minor water is in the vehicles.

God mysteriously touches us when we least expect it. We located 8 Hispanic migrant workers who were out of work due to the loss of the  tobacco crop.  Greeting us with grateful and smiling faces, they worked all day yesterday and today to rebuild fences and shelters for our animals.  

It is a beautiful Fall day and hard to believe that so much has happened here.”

I’m so happy my friends are safe. That they have help. And, that I am here to vote against the wall.

The Latino Comics Expo @Museum of Latin American Art, Long Beach, California

After hiking the wetlands trails of Bolsa Chica (little purse) Ecological Reserve in Huntington Beach along the Pacific Ocean, my son decided we should take in some local culture at the Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA) in nearby Long Beach. What’s there? The Latino Comics Expo to celebrate it’s 5th anniversary at MOLAA, age 20.

Lucha Libre is a popular Latino comic book subject

Lucha Libre is a popular Latino comic book subject

The Expo was created by Javier Hernandez and Ricardo Padilla. They started it at the San Francisco Cartoon Art Museum in 2011. This is their second time at MOLAA. They mounted the first expo there in 2013.

As a lover of Oaxaca graphic arts, it’s not a stretch for me to consider that comics are a natural extension of the great Mexican tradition of illustrator Jose Guadelupe Posada. In fact, there are Posada illustrations on exhibit at this museum, too.

Jose Guadalupe Posada original illustration

Jose Guadalupe Posada original illustration, a poke at the bourgeoisie

After all, Posada is Diego Rivera’s hero and he features him prominently, and fondly, in the mural Dream on a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda Park (Mexico City). Muralists Jose Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siquieros  form the second and third legs of the Mexican Muralist Movement stool. They used caricature, too, as prominent artistic expression in their work.

Artist Ramiro Gomez Magazine series, commentary on who does the work

In artist Ramiro Gomez’ Magazine series, he comments on who does the work

The Latino comics tradition of Los Angeles is rooted in these antecedents. Illustrators used and continue to use political parody in their work, just as Posada, Rivera, Orozco and Siquieros did one hundred years ago to poke at their adversaries.

Do you think they use pesticides? Who is harvesting? What is health risk?

Do you think they use pesticides? Who is harvesting? What is health risk?

In the permanent exhibition, Ramiro Gomez, son of Mexican immigrants, reflects his experiences and stories growing up in a working class family. His art (above) focuses on class difference and the people behind a socially constructed representation of luxury. He tears out advertisements from upscale magazines and superimposes domestic workers into the composition.

The Trump High Five, by Raul The Third

The Trump High Five, by Lalo Alcarez

The Latino Comics Expo was a two-day event, August 6 and 7. There were about 50 illustrators there demonstrating their work, selling books, posters, postcards, t-shirts, ball caps and pins. Some works were prints, silkscreen, engravings and hand-illustrated with colored pen.

Lowriders at the Center of the Earth, illustrated by Raul The Third

Lowriders at the Center of the Earth, illustrated by Raul The Third

Lowriders to the Center of the Earth, illustrated by Raul the Third, grabbed my attention. So did the lowrider on the cover, an integral part of my growing-up years in the San Fernando Valley when young Latinos/Chicanos altered their Chevys, Fords and Chryslers. Tuck and roll leather seats. Raked front ends. Flashing lights. Flames. The more elaborate, the better.

Illustrator Raul The Third. Note his version of Melania.

Illustrator Lalo Alcarez. Political & social justice commentary, too. Plus a little pin-up.

The t-shirt Lalo Alcarez (above) wears, Hecho en California, speaks to the strong influences of Latino culture in the second largest city of America.

As I looked around at the posters and books, I thought, this is great art, just like what I’m used to seeing at the Oaxaca printmaking studios of Fernando Sandoval and La Chicharra. I walked away with an autographed book copy of Lowriders.

Hand-colored illustration of the Conquest. With codices footnotes.

Hand-colored illustration of the Conquest. With codices footnotes.

Then, my son tells me, mom, he’s pretty famous. He’s published in L.A. Weekly. What do I know?

Zapotec poet Natalia Toledo, in featured museum video

Zapotec poet Natalia Toledo, in featured museum video

As I turned the corner to go through the regular exhibition, there was a video interview with Oaxaca poet Natalia Toledo talking about the importance of literacy and preserving Zapotec culture. Natalia also designs extraordinary jewelry (available for sale at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca gift shop). Versatile like her father, Francisco Toledo.

Untitled, by Rodolfo Morales, Oaxaca painter

Untitled, by Rodolfo Morales, Oaxaca painter

Show Me Your Papers by Raul The Third

Show Me Your Papers! by illustrator Lalo Alcaraz

Comic book art/illustration defines the culture and sub-culture, makes a political, social commentary and moral observation about the world that can be humorous, biting and truth-telling. What if Native Americans had asked immigrating English, French and Spanish for their papers?

Uncle Sam wants YOU! Who else will clean homes, harvest food?

Uncle Sam wants YOU! Who else will clean homes, harvest food?

After over a wonderful, satisfying month visiting family and friends, I’m back home in quiet, calm Oaxaca. No freeway congestion or the lure of mall shopping, over-priced lunches and dinners, blustering television pundits that I admit had me addicted to the next adrenaline fix. My wi-fi service is now reconnected and it’s raining. What could be better? Now for a bit of sopa de pollo con limon (chicken with lime soup).

Come! It’s safe.

Comic book series, The Hand of Destiny

Comic book series, The Hand of Destiny

 

Women Weavers in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca: Part One

Recently, I spent the day with a University of Michigan, public policy and economic development researcher, who asked me to introduce her to the Zapotec weaving culture of Teotitlan del Valle. Her expertise is India. Now, she is exploring how India and Mexico intersect and diverge in their support of artisans, particularly weavers.

Handwoven indigo rug with dye prepared by Juana.

hand-woven indigo rug with dye prepared by Juana Gutierrez

During our almost 10-hour day, we visited with five weaving families who work in natural dyes, two of whom are official cooperatives, registered with the government. One of these cooperatives, Vida Nueva (New Life), is solely woman-operated. Our time with spokeswoman Pastora Gutierrez enlightened my knowledge about how women came to become weavers in Teotitlan del Valle.

Federico Chavez Sosa at his loom in Teotitlan del Valle

Federico Chavez Sosa at his loom in Teotitlan del Valle

Weaving on the fixed-frame pedal loom is mostly men’s work. The looms are big and heavy. It takes upper body strength to operate them. When the Spanish friars introduced this tapestry loom (along with churro sheep) to New Spain with the conquest, they trained men to use it, just as men traditionally worked this loom in Europe to create textiles for warmth.

Oaxaca tapestry looms turned out blankets, ponchos, sarapes and other articles of functional cloth for insulation used by people and horses.

Started in the early 1940’s, during World War II when men were overseas, the United States Bracero program opened the opportunity for Mexican men to work legally as temporary, seasonal agricultural laborers. From 1948 to 1964, more than 200,000 Mexican worked in U.S. agriculture each year.

Hand-woven tapestries with spinning wheel

Hand-woven tapestries with spinning wheel

Talk to anyone in Teotitlan del Valle and you will meet someone who participated in this program or has a relative who did. I am told the impact on Teotitlan del Valle was huge and saw the exodus of many of its young and middle-age men. They worked in the fields and orchards of America to earn a living to support their families.

Many men didn’t return.

This is when most women learned to weave.

Young women, who always did the cleaning, carding and spinning of sheep wool, learned to dress the loom and weave tapestries. Many began producing sellable textiles by age 11. Mothers, aunts, sisters, nieces and cousins came together to make this a family endeavor until the men returned, much like the sewing bee in small town USA. The making and selling of textiles remained closely within the family group.

Old sarape design, now a floor rug

Old sarape design, now a floor rug

By the mid-1970’s, Teotitlan del Valle weaving shifted from blankets and clothing to ornamental floor rugs, brought on by the market demand of Santa Fe interior design style. Importers developed relationships with village weavers who became exporters. Many were men who had learned a little English working in the Bracero program and had returned to the family and village infrastructure.

Resources

Book: Zapotec Women by Lynn Stephen, Duke University Press