Category Archives: Mexico

Getting Ready for Day of the Dead in Durham, NC

Durham, North Carolina is a long way from Oaxaca, Mexico — or so it seems. So many Latino families live in our region that while it is not as easy to construct a traditional Day of the Dead altar, it is not impossible.

Dia de los Muertos paper goods ordered from Amazon

Recently, I discovered La Superior Super Tienda Y Taqueria in the Braggtown section of Durham, about two miles north of downtown on Roxboro Road. This supermarket is filled with almost every Mexican branded food you can think of. The fresh meat market stocks chicken, pork, beef and chorizo, plus chicharrones and other parts that Mexicans use in their cooking.

Sugar skulls from Dulceria Estrellita, Durham

The bakery is filled with Pan de Muertos (Day of the Dead bread), as well as concha rolls and other treats we only see in Mexico. The shelves hold Mexican chocolate (though not as good as Ernestina’s homemade Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca chocolate), and fresh and dried chilis and spices.

Catrina sculpture by Josefina Aguilar to adorn my altar

It is heaven for someone like me.

Oaxaca: The Day of the Dead from Bob Krist on Vimeo.

Almost every town in the USA has some Latino people living there or nearby. Hunt down the grocery store near you to get ready for Muertos.

Mezcal and oranges are a necessity.

In the neighborhood, while making at stop at La Monarca Michoacana for a traditional Mexican ice cream cone, I found the sweet shop next door, Dulceria Estrellitas.

And, amaranth honey bars called Alegria, from Dulceria Estrellita

There, I was able to find sugar skulls and cacahuates Japoneses — Japanese style peanuts coated in a crunchy, spicy sugar-coating that Mexicans love. The dulceria is filled with party treats and everything Mexican kids love for stuffing birthday piñatas. After hunting around, I also found amaranth honey bars called Dulce de Alegria (or Alegrias), too.

Arkansas Red apples from Laura and Bryan’s East Asheville farm

Then, I had to get onto Amazon to find skull design napkins, plates, and cups. Easy and fast delivery.

To the altar, I’ll add fresh marigolds and small squash that I’ll get at the Raleigh farmer’s market tomorrow afternoon, plus photos of my mom and dad, my dad’s favorite beverage — a beer, my mom’s favorite beverage — tea.  I’ll light the Teotitlan del Valle beeswax candles to illuminate the path to return for the visit, offer copal incense to guide them here.

Papel picado, cut out tissue paper flags, add a festive touch to home

Muertos is a harvest holiday, a memory holiday, a time of honoring our ancestors. It’s pre-Hispanic roots harken back to a time before photos, when people slept on petate mats on the floor and altars were at ground level.

Muertos is not Halloween, although the Spanish attempted to meld it into All Saints and All Souls Day. It is not to be feared. Death is a circle, part of life, and all Zapotecs I know embrace it.

A couple, united in death, as in life, by Josefina Aguilar

On November 2, when everyone is assembled at the Teotitlan del Valle panteon (cemetery), I’ll be here in Durham, raising a toast to life and its continuity. This is why I believe that Dia de los Muertos is universal, to be appreciated.

Kali’s 2017 altar to my parents in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

 

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.

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.

NCSU in Oaxaca: Saving Sea Turtles

Oaxaca is one of the most diverse states in Mexico. It’s Pacific coast is rugged, rocky, with swirling turquoise water, warmed by ocean currents. Our group from North Carolina State University Department of Horticultural Science has been based in Puerto Escondido, a favorite spot for world-class surfing, too.

NCSU students take part in sea turtle release

This is a global sea-turtle nesting area, among the top five in the world. Preservation efforts to protect the eggs are a priority by volunteers and wildlife preservation group.  Several species have been on the brink of extinction.

Amanda and Ricky’s expressions of delight, fascination say it all

Harvesting sea turtle eggs has been banned by the Mexican government since the early 1990’s, but ancient cultural traditions are powerful. Coastal indigenous communities have depended on turtles and turtle eggs for food long before the conquest. It is difficult to change ingrained habits.

Green sea turtles, just born, ready to go to the ocean

Poachers still roam the beaches in the midnight hours to find nesting sites and steal eggs.

Sunset illumination on Oaxaca’s Pacific coast

One of the most incredible experiences of this journey with students and faculty was to take part in a baby turtle release on the coast just north of Puerto Escondido. We arranged this through our wonderful hosts at Hotel Santa Fe.

John couldn’t be happier — he’s about to release a baby turtle

The gender of a sea turtle depends on the warmth of the sand and where the eggs are laid in the nest. Climate change has a huge impact on future populations and reproduction.

Students hear environmental protection practices from volunteer

I remember visiting the coast village of San Mateo del Mar in 2008 to meet the Palafox family weavers. Located on the coast, surrounded by lagoons, the fishermen of the village depended on sea turtles for food.

Nearby luxury beach homes at water’s edge

A huge pile of turtle eggs graced the center of the dining table at the lunch prepared for us. I couldn’t eat, and I know it was rude to pass the bowl without taking one.

Watching the turtles move toward the sea — fascinating

This week, there were faces filled with delight as each student scooped up a tiny baby turtle with a coconut shell bowl to carry it from the nest to the edge of the sand, where it would make its way into the ocean.

Wolfpack tribute on the beach near Puerto Escondido

The group left Oaxaca yesterday. They are an amazing set of young people, smart, curious, sensitive and courteous — a tribute to North Carolina State University. I am impressed by their intelligence and caring, and I will miss them.

It was a privilege to work with the faculty at NCSU to develop this program.

A big, brilliant Oaxaca sky over the Pacific Ocean.

Our donations to participate in this activity help to fund the on-going preservations efforts of the sea turtles along Oaxaca’s Pacific coast.

Baby turtle before release

Volunteers patrol stretches of beach throughout the night. If a volunteer encounters a poacher who finds a nest before s/he does, the volunteer can offer money or most likely backs away to avoid confrontation.

Another view, sea turtle release