Oaxaca and Public Health Reflections

I want to be honest. I never thought Oaxaca Cultural Navigator blog would morph into an on-line retail shop to sell Oaxaca textiles and jewelry. This has been an unusual year. No tours. No workshops. No travel. Only worries about getting the vaccine and staying healthy. It seems now that getting the vaccine won’t be enough. We must continue to stay vigilant with masks, distancing, hand-sanitizing for the next years. You may want to read this National Geographic article: COVID-19 will likely be with us forever.

This morning I received a notice from Leigh Thelmadatter, author of Creative Hands of Mexico blog, who has decided to suspend publication. I’ve struggled with this same decision, too, since I’m not in Oaxaca and I don’t have a definitive plan to return. I don’t have anything to write about first-hand, and my commentary, when I feel there is news to share, is filtered through the eyes and ears of others. It’s frustrating to think that life may continue this way indefinitely. I’m grateful to those of you who continue to read … and to shop. You are supporting our artisans and my endeavors to keep Oaxaca in our lives.

I’ve stuck my neck out and I want to be hopeful, which is why I’ve set dates for the Oaxaca Day of the Dead Culture Tour 2021. Soon, I will announce a 2022 Oaxaca Coast Textile Tour and a Chiapas Folk Art Study Tour. The deposit to reserve is modest and fully refundable, just in case we have to cancel. The issues are concerning: Will Mexico be ready to accept tourists safely and will we be able to move in a bubble of safety and security? Honestly, I don’t know the answer.

I’ll have my second vaccine on February 3. Some of you are still struggling to find appointments or you haven’t reached the age threshold yet to receive the vaccination. Hopefully, by summer 2021 we will have a better picture of what’s in store for us for the rest of year.

Life goes on in Oaxaca.

Cloth imprinted with Day of the Dead theme for decorating.

In Teotitlan del Valle, a family I am very close to (not my host family) just had a big fiesta to honor the comprometidos (engagement parties) of their two children. A comprometido is when the two extended families of the girl and boy come together in the altar room to exchange vows of loyalty and commitment to each other, family and community.

I received photos. There were maybe 100 people from both sides gathered together to share respects and give testimony to loving and caring for each other. I saw maybe a handful of people wearing masks. In normal times, this is an amazing celebration. In Covid times, what I saw was alarming and disconcerting, a definite super-spreader health risk.

I sent a note of congratulations to the family, trying to suspend judgment, knowing that tradition is more powerful than science in many indigenous communities. I received a note back from the mom, telling me she was waiting for the vaccine to come so they would be safe. I’ve learned, living in Teotitlan for 15 years, that judging the behavior of others does not bring me closer to cultural understanding or sensitivity. In fact, an attitude of superiority in the “I know best” mentality creates a divide reminiscent of the conquest/evangelizers. Let’s take pause to remember that indigenous and enslaved people mistrust those who say they know what’s best.

Procession led by men and women holding candles, a church officiant with copal incense

Nevertheless, now we know that even with the vaccine (see the National Geographic article above), we need to continue to adhere to safety guidelines. Public health messages are ignored in Mexico, in the USA and around the world as we struggle to curb infections.

Will it be safe to travel to Oaxaca in October 2021? I’m hoping the answer is YES. Many friends are there now. They live there permanently, full-time or are there for the winter because it is too damn cold at home. They are managing to stay safe, stay away from super-spreader events, and stay home. They wear masks when others don’t. They limit contact. They are scared, just like us.

For now, I will continue to write substantively from time to time. And, I will also continue to sell until you tell me you are sick and tired of my using this space to promote artisan craft. I also want to apologize that the blog has turned the corner from travel and culture to something else — an identity I just cannot put my finger on right now. I’m just not ready to let it go. I still have hope in our future.

Also, I’m keenly aware that the comments section isn’t working here. It is a function of an outdated theme — a technical issue that I can’t yet wrap my arms around.

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