Tag Archives: immigration

No Plan to Live in Mexico: How I Got Here

The best plan might be NOT to have a plan.

I spent my working life doing goals and objectives, setting annual plans and then evaluating whether I met those targets. They became part of my annual performance review. Yet, the serendipity of how my personal life progressed was never a conscious decision. Sometimes I felt bad about that. I should have had more direction.

But I couldn’t have planned it better. How I came to live in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico, was pure accident.

Many I meet ask, How did you get here? Here’s a condensed answer.

Church of the Precious Blood, Teotitlan del Valle, built on top of Zapotec Temple, archeological ruins

Church of the Precious Blood, Teotitlan del Valle, built atop Zapotec temple ruins

My friend, Annie Burns, moved to Teotitlan from Pittsboro, North Carolina, in the early 2000’s.  She would return to visit with wonderful textiles to show and sell. At the time, there were probably three or four gueros living here. She kept inviting me to visit. Finally, I did, in 2005 with the wasband.

Teotitecas, parade of the canastas

Teotitecas, Parade of the Canastas each year in July

Annie introduced us to Josefina Ruiz Vazquez and her mother-in-law Magdalena. They had both lost husbands to illness that same year, son and father. Josefina and Magda are great cooks. Josefina, mother of three youngsters, was left with no means of support. Annie thought, maybe they could start a B&B. We were the first experiment in hospitality for gringos.

That’s how Las Granadas B& B in Teotitlan del Valle got started. Today, it is a shadow of its former self. Another friend, Roberta Christie, stepped in to make a huge difference by creating the infrastructure to make it happen. But I digress.

Rooftop View of Teotitlan del Valle from Las Granadas

Rooftop View of Teotitlan del Valle from Las Granadas

Years ago in San Francisco, I was a beginning weaver and experimented in natural dyes. My love of textiles informed my adulthood and as I traveled, I collected. During that first visit to Teotitlan del Valle, I thought I had landed in heaven. Teotitlan was filled with talented weavers and stunning textiles.

Federico Chavez Sosa at his loom in Teotitlan del Valle

Federico Chavez Sosa at his loom in Teotitlan del Valle

I was on a quest to find a family that worked only in natural dyes. I did research in advance and knew that while it was not widespread, there were a few working with plant dyes and cochineal. I set out to find them. It wasn’t easy. And, of course, I loved all those bright aniline dye colors, too.

Yet, it was a time when we were talking more about sustainability and consuming what was healthy, organic. Making a commitment to buying an organic textile was important to me and I didn’t want to compromise.

Dye demonstration with cochineal bug, acid and base

Dye demonstration with cochineal bug, acid and base

For the first few days in Teotitlan del Valle, I walked around meeting and talking with weavers in their workshops to learn more. There were many beautiful textiles and I was smitten. But I restrained myself from buying.

Everyone could give me a natural dye demonstration, crushing the cochineal bug in my palm, squeezing lime juice, adding baking soda. I watched the color change from orange to red to pink to purple, depending on proportions and chemistry. I wasn’t certain who was actually using the process to dye the wool.

Eric Chavez Santiago giving dyeing wool with wild marigold

Eric Chavez Santiago dyeing wool with wild marigold

Then, the only Internet connection in town was at the pharmacy across from the church. One day, as we left, we decided to make a right turn instead of our usual left to wander through the rug market.

I hear a voice say in perfect English, “Do you want to see my rugs?” Looking down to manage my steps on the cobblestones, I waved my hand and shook my head, no. The English was too perfect. Too slick, I thought. Then I looked up, saw these magnificent rugs and stepped into the space.

Chavez Family Weavers, portrait by Norma Schafer, 2012

Chavez Family Weavers, portrait by Norma Schafer, 2012

That’s when I met Eric Chavez Santiago and his sister, Janet. Both were university students, selling rugs in the market during Christmas vacation. Janet was huddled in the corner with a book on her lap, studying. I went to their family home and studio to see the complete collection, meet dad Federico Chavez Sosa and mom, Dolores Santiago Arrellenas.

Being a Teotiteco Danzante for Dance of the Feather requires incredible concentration

Being a Teotiteco Danzante for Dance of the Feather requires incredible concentration

I saw the actual wool dyeing and weaving process. Eric explained how difficult the economy was. The market demand had softened since the 90’s when Santa Fe Style sent thousands of Zapotec rugs out of Oaxaca to the American southwest.

Of course, I bought rugs. Eric later told me, many came to visit them, said they would help and were never heard from.

Caracol rug design, communication symbol

Caracol rug design, communication symbol by color master Federico

Then, I went home to North Carolina, gave thought to how I might help this family. I wrote an arts education grant with the Carrboro Arts Center to the NC Arts Council. We got funding to bring Eric and Federico to North Carolina for workshops, expoventas (show and sale) and give a master class at NC State University College of Textiles. I helped get 10 year visas with assist from Congressman David Price‘s staff.

It was never the plan to live here. The idea was to visit once a year … maybe. Living in Oaxaca City was not considered. I fell in love with Teotitlan del Valle, her people and textiles.

The casita where I live in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

The casita where I live in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

The next year, Federico and Dolores invited us to build a casita on their land. It was a surprise and a gift. Because no foreigners (even people born in other pueblos) can own property in Teotitlan del Valle, we knew that this would be a vacation home that would always be owned by the family. This relationship is based on trust, respect and good will.

Because of this unique arrangement, this is not for everyone. Many immigrants who live in Teotitlan and other usos y costumbres pueblos rent.

But plans have a way of changing and nothing is for certain. The wasband and I had our differences. Our divorce was final in 2014. For now, this is where I live and this is how I got here. I never planned it this way.

Cane bobbins wrapped with red wool dyed cochineal

Cane bobbins wrapped with red wool dyed cochineal

Eric, who thought he might work in a bank after graduation, went on to become the founding director of education at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca, with our coaching help and his innate intelligence. This year, Eric is starting a new entrepreneurial venture at the Alfredo Harp Helu Foundation. Janet is a linguist educator at the Biblioteca Juan de Cordova. Youngest brother, Omar, will finish university in December and wants to take the family business to the next level. Federico and Dolores run Galeria Fe y Lola in Oaxaca City and continue to weave.

Goals? I have no idea what’s next.

Women’s Creative Writing and Yoga Retreat, March 2017

Natural dyes have strong color, as strong as synthetic dyes

With a great dye master, natural dyes have strong color, as strong as commercial dyes

Will you share your story? If you live in Mexico, how did you get here?

 

 

 

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

 

Que Supresa! Oaxaca in San Diego, California

As I drive south from my son’s home in Huntington Beach, California, on my way to visit Barbara and David, and dear friend Merry Foss in San Diego, I marvel at how the landscape looks like Mexico, how the climate feels like Mexico. Except there is development everywhere, new houses, shopping centers, freeway congestion. Infrastructure.

Pedro Mendoza and Carina Santiago from Teotitlan del Valle, in San Diego, CA

Pedro Mendoza and Carina Santiago from Teotitlan del Valle, in San Diego, CA

When I stop at the Pacific Ocean overlook, everyone around me speaks Spanish and I take up a conversation with a young mother traveling with two daughters from El Paso, Tejas (the J is a soft H. Tay-Hass). Oh, you might think that could be Texas. Sometimes I think we are borrowing the Southwest from Mexico and the day of reckoning will come when most of us will speak Spanish and justice will prevail.

Sisters Consuelo (left) and Violante Ulrich continue the Spratling silver tradition

Sisters Consuelo (left) and Violante Ulrich continue the Spratling silver tradition

At Barbara and David’s house, I expect a small gathering. I know my Teotitlan del Valle friend Merry Foss will be there with exquisite beaded blouses from the State of Puebla Sierra Norte made by a cooperative of indigenous women that Merry started six years ago.

Jacobo Angeles with copal wood carved and painted ram from San Martin Tilcajete, Oaxaca

Jacobo Angeles with copal wood carved and painted ram, San Martin Tilcajete

I know that friends Violante and Consuelo Ulrich who continue the William Spratling silver jewelry making tradition in Taxco will be here. (I take study tour goers to meet them in Taxco during the February Textile and Folk Art Study Tour to Tenancingo de Degollado. Spaces open.)

Then, I turn the corner. Que Supresa! Que Milagro! I  see part of my extended family from Teotitlan del Valle and Oaxaca.

Shopping for Oaxaca embroidered blouses

Shopping for Oaxaca embroidered blouses

I had no idea that Pedro Mendoza and his wife Carina Santiago and their son Diego would also be there with their terrific handmade rugs. Carina runs Tierra Antigua Restaurant and Pedro is a weaver/exporter.

Or, that friend Jacobo Angeles drove a truck up from Oaxaca filled with alebrijes made by him and family members in San Martin Tilcajete, in Oaxaca’s Ocotlan valley.

Ortega's Folk Art, Tonala, Jalisco, Mexico

Ortega’s Folk Art, Tonala, Jalisco, Mexico

And, then there are ceramics from Mata Ortiz, and hand-carved whimsical wood figures by Gerardo Ortega Lopez from Tonala, Jalisco.

If you can get to San Diego this weekend, there’s a great Expoventa (show and sale) at Bazaar del Mundo, where you can meet all these artisans and buy directly from them.

Mata Ortiz pottery from Chihuahua, Mexico

Mata Ortiz pottery from Chihuahua, Mexico

Both Pedro and Jacobo tell me that tourism has dropped substantially in Oaxaca in the last month our of fear about the clashes between the federal government and the striking teachers. While Oaxaca’s economy depends on tourism, the teachers have legitimate grievances that need to be addressed. It’s complicated!

Hand-beaded blouses from Puebla, Merry Foss artisan cooperative

Hand-beaded blouses from Puebla, Merry Foss artisan cooperative

Some artisans who have visas and have come to the U.S. to do business for years, are able to cross the border and try to make up for what is lost in the local economy. Instead of talking about building walls, United States leaders need to talk about building bridges.

Mexican doll collection, home of David and Barbara

Mexican doll collection, home of David and Barbara

In the meantime, it takes people like David and Barbara, Robin and Linda, and members of Los Amigos del Arte Popular de Mexico who keep the folk art traditions of Mexico in the forefront, who host artisans for private sales, who promote that Mexico has a rich artistic and cultural heritage that remains vibrant only through support and understanding.

Oaxaca clay nativity scene, private collection

Oaxaca clay nativity scene, private collection

If you personally or an organization you are involved with would like to host an artisan visit to the United States, please contact me. I can facilitate. This means a lot to people to keep their family traditions alive and income flowing.

Pacific Ocean overlook, sunny Southern California day

Pacific Ocean overlook, sunny Southern California day

I’m returning to Oaxaca next week. I’ve been traveling for over a month. This is a great interlude to visit with family and friends. I seem to be happy wherever I am these days! I hope you are contented, too.

Pond sunset, end to a perfect San Diego day

Pond sunset, end to a perfect San Diego day

 

Photo Story: Confiscated From Immigrants at the U.S. Border

Feature Shoot highlights the things that the U.S. Border and Customs Patrol confiscates from immigrants crossing over between Mexico and the United States. Photographer Thomas Kiefer and former janitor collected soap, t-shirts, rosaries, and more and then captured them. The mundane tells a story.  Thanks to my friend Janet Fish for sharing. This had a powerful impact for me and I want to share it with you. We can’t figure out the purpose in confiscating bars of soap and t-shirts.

SanJuanMarket-3

I’m in Mexico City on a hump day before I take a group of 10 wonderful women on a textile study tour to Tenancingo de Degollado to explore the Mexican jaspe or ikat rebozo. We are also going on to Taxco to visit the Spratling ranch and then to Metepec to meet master clay artisans. Stay tuned!

Sunrise From New Mexico and California Berries

On a pre-dawn Wednesday this week, I was on a plane from Albuquerque to Denver with a connection to San Francisco. It was dark at take-off. The lights of the city sparkled against the black desert that met obscure sky. On the vast horizon I could see shapes of mountains and the lights of Santa Fe.

SunriseAirplane-2

Then, the eastern sky began to explode in color after the first sliver of orange cast a magic glow on the clouds. I realized I was grateful for the three-thirty morning wake-up so I could get to see this.

Taos&Sunrise-9 SunriseAirplane

Mexico is ever-present in New Mexico. The tales of conquest, weaving culture, adobe homesteads, Native American art and crafts, and blue corn are integrated into the physical and historical landscape. It is easy to transition from one place to the other. Both are conducive to a more relaxed lifestyle and many of my Santa Fe friends spent lots of time in Oaxaca, especially in winter.

Taos&Sunrise Taos&Sunrise-3

I’m here in Santa Cruz, California, now for one of my regular visits with my 98-year-old mother, sister and brother-in-law. California is another place where Spanish and then Mexican life prevailed before becoming a U.S. territory then state.

As Barbara and I approached and drove beyond San Juan Bautista and the historic mission yesterday, we passed fields of farm workers tending the fruit and vegetables we eat. Are they undocumented?  Likely. They harvest Driscoll strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and other brands we know from our supermarket shelves.

search Strawberry-Harvest-Farm-Workers-1051727

Acres of red and green lettuces, and chard are laid out like a Mondrian painting. The workers kneel toward earth as if in prayer, just like in Mexico.  Their heads are covered, their bodies shielded from sun by long sleeve shirts. Some rise, stretch arms skyward, taking a break from back-breaking picking. Here the land is more fertile and the pay is better.  Eight thousand dollars a year is a lot in Mexico. Signs along the California 156 shout out Trabajo Disponible — work available. This is not a job for sissies.

Taos&Sunrise-5 MomSept2014-2

We were on our way to see Dr. Paul, an orthopedic surgeon, to examine my bad right knee, hurting since early July when I did too many dancing twists at a Best of the Beatles party in Teotitlan del Valle. Difficult for sustained walking. No broken bones, but after a cortisone injection and not much relief,  I’m considering a postponement of a year-in-the-planning trip to Barcelona with a September 16 departure.

Should I go it alone now or wait until spring and travel with my sister?  What do you think? And, why?