Tag Archives: North Carolina

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.

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Recommended reading:

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

And, the debate about Confederate Statues as art.

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

 

 

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?