Travel Now to Oaxaca Poses Big Risk to First Peoples

I’m writing this because a recent WhatsApp conversation among friends focused on how to respond to people who plan to go to Oaxaca this winter. I’m writing to ask you to think about your own travel plans there and urge you to reconsider.

The map of Covid-19 cases has exploded across the USA in the past two weeks. Numbers have increased 77%. Only the east and west coasts are maintaining orange and we don’t know how long that will last! The vast interior of the country is RED. The increases are alarming. We need to be alarmed! And, if we are tired of Covid-19, I get it. I am, too. If we live where it gets cold and snowy, I get that, too. Even in North Carolina, we have bitter winter. We want to go where it is warm and comforting.

We have covid fatigue. We want life to be normal. But, it isn’t!

But, here are some things to consider — and reconsider — if you have plans to be in Oaxaca this winter:

  • At least 25% of Covid cases are asymptomatic. Are you willing to get tested before you go to know for sure that you are not a disease carrier?
  • Most Covid-19 tests are not 100% accurate.
  • What will you do to protect yourself when you get to Oaxaca? Can you forgo traveling to indigenous craft villages to meet local artisans? Can you stay away from special events (if there are any)? How will you choose to eat and sleep and travel locally with safety?
  • While the NY Times reports that air travel can be safer than going to the supermarket, that’s only while you are on the plane exercising all necessary precautions. Getting to airports, layovers, and traveling to your destination poses huge risks.

Native People are at higher risk!

We need to be socially responsible. Going to Oaxaca is NOT like going to Florida, but there are similarities as both are Snowbird Destinations. The alarm bells are ringing. I am ringing them because I care about and have concern for the indigenous people of Oaxaca. The state has one of the highest indigenous populations in Mexico. Health disparities are extreme. Indigenous people have huge chronic health issues: diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, and respiratory illness. Covid infection presents an extraordinary life and death risk to them.

What is our own responsibility in disease prevention and control here?

It’s likely that most U.S. travelers to Oaxaca will go from high-count virus states. While I’m here on lockdown in Taos, New Mexico, and just read that the Navajo Nation has a raging Covid-19 outbreak, I extrapolate the similarities. All New Mexico pueblos have been closed to the public since March 2020. It’s off again, on again in Oaxaca.

We have a cultural and social responsibility to indigenous people to help protect them by NOT GOING. First Nation peoples are particularly vulnerable because of the underlying conditions I outline above. Moreover, their access to adequate healthcare is limited. Their suspicions of government provided healthcare programs is well-documented. If we are thinking about going, what are the consequences to native people?

Are we taking on the posture of Colonialism, thinking only of our own desires, wishes, wants, values? Are we thinking about the impact we may have on others?

Think about the conquistadores who brought Euro-diseases of smallpox, measles, influenza to the New World and decimated native populations. Is it any different now? What entitlements do we have in this moment where the disease is rampant in the USA and so few people are adhering to the basics of protection for self and others?

If you do go, are you willing to stay put, to not explore, discover and meet people? What will the quality of your travel experience be during this time? Remember, hospitals are not prepared to treat you should you get sick in Oaxaca.

Are you willing to forgo your own comforts and stay home for a few months or more until a vaccine is within reach for most of us?

Do you agree or disagree? Why?

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