Tag Archives: Durham

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

 

Dreaming in Durham, North Carolina: Standing for DACA

Two days ago I walked to the demonstration by the Bull in Downtown Durham. I reminded myself that this is one important reason to be in the USA:

Sisters and Brothers, there is no other way than to join together.

To make a difference, call my elected officials, stand up for what I believe are human rights violations in these times of peril when our judicial system and legislators are failing us.

Other than my family, not much is more important to me than the continuing mistreatment of immigrants and blacks in this country.

Nothing says it more poignantly than this impending repeal of the Dream Act.

I stood and listened to young Dreamers in university, working, paying taxes and social security, contributing to the strength of the American economy, behaving just like me and you.

Speakers and many of us gathered were tearful. Gathering is one way of showing solidarity and to feel better. Daily Action can be more valuable to #resist.

Looking around at the crowd, I could see the faces of my Oaxaca sisters and brothers, the children, women and men who I call my friends and neighbors.

I feel that our democracy is at risk because people who don’t look or worship like us are constantly threatened. We see this pattern around the world in governments that move toward oligarchies and repression.

Please do what you can, wherever you live, to give, call, show up and stand up for Latino immigrants who are profiled, discriminated against and are under threat of deportation.

 

 

Durham, North Carolina, Journal One: Taking Down the Statues

It’s been a week since Charlottesville, Virginia, demonstrations and death. This was home for two years when I worked for the University of Virginia almost two decades ago. Charlottesville has always been this idyllic center of the universe where Mr. Jefferson’s Lawn spoke volumes of intellectual and cultural elitism, privilege and responsibility to nationhood.

Here, in Durham, North Carolina, where I live when I’m not in Oaxaca, the state we Southerners speak of as the humble valley between two mountains of conceit, I’m comforted by my collection of Oaxaca and Mexican folk art. It’s good to have comfort in these times of moral ineptitude by this nation’s leadership.

I call myself Southern because I’ve lived in the South since 1989. That almost qualifies me. I’m also a Californian, growing up there, and I lived for a good part of my middle years in South Bend, Indiana. All places have monuments to the fallen Confederacy. Symbolic of slavery.

I try not to be too political here. After all, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator is supposed to be about Oaxaca. You may fault me for writing this. But, in the interests of sharing with you where I’m “at” these days, it’s impossible for me to be here without writing.  Sure, I can go back into my archives and give you pretty pictures, and Mexico travel advice.

David Alfaro Siqueiros, Torment and Apotheosis of Cuauhtémoc (detail), 1950-51

Yet, when I’m in Durham, USA, I also want to be here, now, and feel compelled to write.

The first week I was here, I saw “Motown, The Musical.” We sang along to The Supremes, Martha and the Vandalas, Smokey Robinson and The Jackson Five. Celebration Time. Dancing in the Streets.

The second week, I went to see “Detroit, The Movie.” Slam it in my face reminder that not nearly enough progress has been made.

Then Charlottesville happened. Proof that we haven’t come as far as we think we have.

I went to a vigil in Downtown Durham, where people of civility gathered to remember Heather Heyer and speak up against white supremacy, Neo-Nazi marchers wielding guns and knives, threats to family, friends and neighbors.

We were a diverse crowd — races and religions well-represented. Durham is 38% black, 43% white and 13% Latino. To live here is to respect one another.

Last Monday the Durham statue honoring the Confederacy came down. I didn’t know about it or I might have been there. Yesterday, the threat of a KKK rally brought hundreds to our city center. I stayed back. They did their job on me. I was afraid and decided I will fight a different way.

The debate is raging here about the statues. Some think it is part of history (Hollie says HERSTORY). This is what I wrote to a friend, who questions taking down the statues:

History is written by the victors. It is subjective based on who has power and control. The “history” of these monuments and the era they represent no longer hold true for Durham or Pittsboro, North Carolina, or anywhere that values human dignity and freedom. The statues, as others have said so well, need to come down and be moved to places where the “history” can be discussed in context. We need to teach our children and grandchildren about Jim Crow laws, oppression, loss of dignity and how to protect human rights. We cannot do that with a statue in front of a courthouse, facing north, out of context with who we are now as The New South. Peace.

In Oaxaca and throughout Mexico, we have similar injustices, statues to the heroes of the conquest. They were the annihilators, the destroyers. Yet, there are also monuments to Aztec heroes like Cuauhtemoc .Pre-Hispanic culture is being honored through archeological restoration. An attempt at reconciliation?

We know that Mexican brown and black people do not have the same access to education, health care and economic engagement, and there is plenty of civil discontent. Non-violent civil disobedience is guaranteed by the Mexican constitution.

In the USA, we could ask: Where are our monuments to the heroes who ran the Underground Railroad, who rescued Jews and Cambodians and Sudanese, to the Native American Tribal Leaders who lost their lives protecting their people?

My friend, Hollie Taylor Novak, has created Protest Pearls. She did this after the Women’s March. Most of the Heroines whose images are encased in pendants that dangle from fresh water pearls and chains are suffragettes and anti-slavery advocates, black women and white. Timely.

In these days, there is much to consider and act upon. Privilege means we can either turn our backs or step in to speak up.

###

Recommended reading:

Southern Poverty Law Center — AUGUST 19, 2017 — Silicon Valley role in funding white supremacy

And, the debate about Confederate Statues as art.

Poco a Poco: Unpacking Oaxaca in North Carolina

My first week here was busy. The North Carolina Tar Heels won the NCAA men’s basketball tournament and are crowned champions. I managed to stay up until midnight to watch it all and celebrate.

North Carolina living space with Oaxaca treasures.

The NCAA, in its infinite ignorance, announced it would lift the sanctions and bring sports tourneys back to NC since the state legislature amended the anti-transgender bathroom law (a sham piece of legislation that still violates civil rights).

Colorful Oaxaca armadillo alebrije now tops my bookcase.

And, I’m unpacking and settling in. A work in progress. One of the greatest pleasures of being here is rediscovering and becoming acquainted with my Oaxaca folk art collection that I haven’t lived with for four years.

I thought I had downsized to the bare bones when I dismantled my household back then, keeping only what would fit into a five foot by fifteen foot storage unit. But, my goodness, there are many more filled boxes in the upstairs loft space to unload. But, there’s no rush.

I’ll be here until mid-May. And, perhaps a folk art sale is in the offing!

Old brick tobacco warehouse walls in urban Durham condo

My new space is in an old tobacco warehouse listed on the National Historic Register. Ceilings are twenty feet high. One wall is old brick. The floor is beat-up maple, solid, showing almost one hundred years of wear. I’m downtown, within walking distance of shops and restaurants.

In the morning and again at night, there is the sound of the engine whistle as the train moves between Washington, D.C. and Atlanta. Cars on the street below are muffled reminders of city life.  From the top floor, I look out on tree tops.

Galley kitchen.  Alfredo Hernandez Orozco cloth/copper lampshades

This is a juxtaposition to living in the Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca countryside, beneath the mountains where my rooftop terrace commands a 360-degree view of the Tlacolula valley. It is not quiet there either, but the sounds are different.

Arturo Hernandez, Mitla, Oaxaca, wove the bed spread, Chiapas pillows

I hear donkeys, goats and turkey. I hear the SONI Gas truck announcing its arrival via loudspeaker. The tortilla vendor sings in the distance. The church bell announces a wedding or funeral. Then, all goes quiet, and there is nothing to capture my attention but my own imagination.

Cozy corners, lots of light, another retreat

Here in Durham, the lulls are less frequent. I am embraced by long-time friends. The circle of life expands so that I have the pleasure of enjoying both spaces, different and comfortable. I am no longer an ex-pat but a seasonal bird.

On Monday, I managed to host twelve of us for a Passover seder, including four wiggly little boys who loved jumping on the hardwood floors and climbing the loft stairwell. Our three core families have known each other for forty years and now we get to “enjoy” the grandkids. My poor neighbors!

 

 

 

 

 

Where are you from? Where are you going? Oaxaca, Mexico. Durham, North Carolina.

Yesterday was a long travel day to get from Oaxaca, Mexico, to Durham, North Carolina. On the early morning flight from Oaxaca to Mexico City, I met Carina Pacheco from San Pablo Villa de Mitla, Oaxaca. She was on her way to Cabo San Lucas where the family has a shop that sells famous Mitla woven cotton textiles.

Where are you from? she asks me. Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, I say with some pride in my voice. And, now I’m sure to add, Durham, North Carolina, too, also with equal pride. Durham will be my new home, too. Carina and I promise to stay in contact. I’m certain we will. Oaxaqueños keep their promises. Plus, we live only a few villages apart down the Panamerican Highway.

Weaver Arturo Hernandez, San Pablo Villa de Mitla, Oaxaca: “I made your clothes.”

In Houston, a young man named Stefano helps me load my two giant suitcases (I’m moving, after all) onto a trolley to go through customs. Stefano is from Puebla. His great, great-grandfather came from Italy. He lives in a small town near Cholula, Puebla, populated by Italians, and speaks excellent English.

Mexico is a melting pot, filled with immigrants: Africa, Italy, Eastern Europe, Germany, France, Philippines, China, and yes, the USA. They are Catholics, Jews, Protestants, Muslims, Hindus and more. A long history of diversity shows in their complexions and features. Racial and cultural intermarriage is accepted here.

Where are you from? says Stefano. Two places, I answer. Oaxaca, Mexico and Durham, North Carolina. It’s beginning to sound real as I prepare to move into my apartment/condo in downtown Durham, which is why I’m here now. We sit down to share a meal together before he goes on to Tampa, Florida. This only happens to me with Mexicans!

Durham is an old tobacco town undergoing urban revitalization. Its downtown is filled with great restaurants and street musicians who are steeped in the South’s blues culture. It’s a pedestrian lifestyle. I’ll be close to good, longtime friends who I miss.

Downtown Durham, NC — where I live now, too

I’m also here in a Blue Bubble, where I can make a difference by participating in the NAACP and changing the course of my state’s and country’s political history. Ojala! (That’s Spanish for, god willing.)

It’s been four years since I’ve had a home in North Carolina and I’m grateful to be back. Oaxaca is my home, too, where indigenous identity speaks to me. This is where I look out over mountains and valleys where textiles woven and dyed with the hands of the artisans are a song.

And, what are in my suitcases? Oaxaca whole bean coffee. A cotton bedspread woven by Arturo Hernandez. A rebozo from Tenancingo de Degollado. A blouse from Cuetzalan, Puebla. A poncho from San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas. Borders are seamless in the end.

Yet, an airline representative steps onto the plane in Houston and says that due to heightened security, we will be escorted to immigration. I don’t remember that. Another new form of intimidation?