Tag Archives: COVID-19

Thank You! Goal Reached to Send Juvenal Home

Gifts that came in since I wrote last have taken us over the top and we reached our $3,000 goal plus more! In total, we have raised $4,055.25 so far. YOU are incredibly caring and generous. Juvenal’s family thanks you from the bottom of their hearts.

The family tells me that Juvenal’s body will be sent to Mexico City where he will be greeted by family members who will escort the casket home to Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, in a traditional funeral procession. Most of California’s governmental offices are closed, so it is a slower process than normal to get the paperwork approved for his exit and transport.

The first group of donors is listed HERE. Another BIG thanks to you!

And more thanks to those below who made gifts in the last few days:

Pam Patrie
Joseph Lockhart
Nena Creasy
Natalie Klein
Martin Ted Nelson
Robin Greene
Whitney Beals
Susanne Corrigan
Kathie McCleskey
Lisa Michie
Tom Tillemans
Cathy Platin
Felicity More
Emily Rubin
Tracy Hobbs
Hettie Johnson
Linda Mansour
Susie Robison*
Katharyn Rayner*
Vaughan Greene
Mary Anne Shaw
Kathryn Leide
Jennifer Brinitzer
Elizabeth Pomeroy
Christine Marshall
Carolyn Urbanski
Sheri Brautigam
Julia Erickson
Larry Ginzkey
Thanks to recent donors, February 16-18, 2021

Read about Juvenal Gutierrez Alavez from Teotitlan del Valle and why we are raising funds to send his body home from Los Angeles for a proper funeral in Teotitlan del Valle. Juvenal, a healthy man in his mid-50’s, died from Covid-19 alone in a San Diego hospital.

What Friends Say …

“Our hearts are grieving for all those who loved this beautiful and generous man. Thanks for coordinating this, Norma. Abrazos fuertes!”

“My heart goes out to the family. These are cruel enough times but being in a foreign country and isolated, he didn’t even have the comfort of his family with him. “

“It felt so good to help, especially in these challenging times … incredibly glad to help.  And thanks for organizing this effort on behalf of Juvenal and his family!”

“I want to help bring Juvenal home.”

“Much love and respect to all his family.”

“Rest in Peace in your home, Teotitlan del Valle, Juvenal.”

“I am so very sorry to hear about Juvenal. Tragic! Too many good people lost to this pandemic.”

“So perfect! Thank you, thank you!”

“Bless you for helping this beautiful family cope with their tragic loss. Please keep us posted about Juvenal’s homecoming.”

“Sad times. My deepest sympathy to the friends and family of Juvenal.”

Help Bring Juvenal Home to Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

My friend Juvenal Gutierrez Alavez died from Covid-19 last week alone in a San Diego hospital. He was in his mid-50’s. A young man by my count. Oh, to be in my mid-50’s, full of life with years ahead of me. But, for Juvenal, this was not to be. His wife Norma and teenage children were with him in California while he was working, but they were not allowed in the hospital — a tragedy we hear so often, when there is no familial comfort in those last days and hours.

Help with a gift to bring Juvenal’s body home!

I am writing to ask you to help because it is expensive to return a body home. The family estimates that they need about $3,000 USD for transportation. This does not include funeral expenses. This is the amount we want to raise to help them. Can you help?

Choose Your Gift Level

Please DO NOT select Buying Goods or Services at check-out!

If you don’t use PayPal, we can receive your gift via personal check, VENMO or Zelle. I can also send a Square invoice. Let me know and I will send instructions. I am able to transfer your gifts directly to the family.

There is no question that Juvenal’s body will be returned for burial next to his ancestors in Teotitlan del Valle. He was a traditional Zapotec. My friend Annie Burns, who lives there and knew Juvenal like a brother, says that is what he would have wanted. It’s the family’s wish, too. In an 8,000 year old culture, traditional burial is a sacred part of life.

Juvenal Gutierrez Alavez and family

I met Juvenal when I first visited Teotitlan del Valle in 2005. He had lived and worked in Los Angeles for some years by then, going back and forth, sending money home to his young wife as he was starting a family. He loved his work: driving long-haul tractor trailers all over the USA. That’s what took him back to L.A. this time — an offer of work to drive a load of liquid sugar from the border to the city every day. The company wanted him because Juvenal was a reliable and safe driver.

Hear Juvenal sing, April 25, 2019

Like many Teotitecos, Juvenal and his family received US citizenship during the Ronald Reagan amnesty of 1986. He settled in LA with his kinfolk who had migrated there years before. Like many Teotitecos, he traveled back and forth to the USA seamlessly. Everyone from Teotitlan del Valle has family in either Santa Ana or Moorpark. His English skills were excellent. He was a quick study. So he taught English classes on the patio several times a week to adults and children alike who wanted language skills to interact with tourists who were coming to buy hand-woven rugs.

On that first 2005 visit, Juvenal invited me and the wasband to visit his class and speak to them in English. It would be good practice for them, he cajoled us. His smile was invitation enough. A big, wide, generous grin that evoked a life filled with satisfaction and joy. We spoke slowly using simple language and where needed, Juvenal translated. We became friends.

Lizet holding the wedding photo of her parents, Juvenal and Norma

In the years that followed, Juvenal’s wife Norma, opened an apron stall in the village market and I would take visitors there to get theirs so they could look like the locals before taking a cooking class from El Sabor Zapoteco–Reyna Mendoza. Norma, a proficient baker, became my go-to person for baking birthday and quinceñera cakes. I was especially fond of her carrot cake with fresh grated carrots. Bite into it and still taste the crunch! The last time I saw Juvenal was on February 12, 2020, when he delivered two cakes for a small birthday party.

Juvenal with daughter Lizet

Norma earned her own pocket money by selling aprons and baking cakes. Juvenal was the primary income earner and would travel periodically back to Los Angeles to work, adding dollars to whatever pesos they had on hand from weaving and selling rugs. Then, Covid came and tourist income for the entire village dried up. This time, Juvenal left with his wife and children so he would not be separated from them for very long. Los Angeles became a hotbed for the virus this winter.

Lizet, Parade of the Canastas, Teotitlan del Valle

Juvenal leaves his wife Norma, 21-year old daughter Nancy who is pregnant with her first child, Lizet, age 17 and Lionel, age 15, and grieving family members in Los Angeles and Teotitlan del Valle.

This is Lionel, Juvenal’s son, singing La Cucharacha — kindergarten!

Thanks to Lizet Gutierrez and Anne Burns for sending me photos and music! and to Scott Roth for his memories.

Choose Your Gift Level

Please DO NOT select Buying Goods or Services at check-out!

Thank you very much for considering how you can help! -Norma

A Vignette from Anne Burns:

If I was walking down the street and saw a wad of bills on the ground, what would I do? What Juvenal did was go on the locals radio broadcast and tell the village that if anyone could name the exact amount, they could reclaim their money. And that’s what happened. A family came forth naming the exact amount. They had been saving that money for a long time and had been devastated when they discovered the loss.

This past week, as I have tried to come to terms with my loss of Juvenal, it has not escaped my notice that a praying mantis appeared in my kitchen patio and stayed a long while as I sat on the brick floor, or that an owl flew out hooting at me while I was walking one evening on the side of Picacho, the mountain sacred to this village.

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.

A Nod to Dr. MLK: Dream Big

Dream Big, whomever you are, wherever you are.

“Even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”— from Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington on August 28, 1963.

Inspiring social justice leaders: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Our dreams this year are a convoluted mash-up of wanting this pandemic to end, wanting protection from it with a vaccine, wanting to make plans to return to Oaxaca, wanting a safe and secure democratic transition of government leadership, wanting the sickness and death counts to trickle to nothing, wanting detained immigrants separated from their families to be treated with dignity and released, and for Black Americans to go to sleep without fear and with access to a fair and equal justice system, want to touch and be with our family and friends.

For my friends in Oaxaca, I wish for a return to normalcy that will guarantee the return of tourists who will support their livelihoods and provide food, shelter, health and well-being for their families.

Dreams are about hopes and wishes. A friend wrote to ask me to identify three wishes for 2021, as the tradition of making resolutions arrived on December 31 and we now find ourselves smack in the middle of January 2021. Have we given any formalized thought to this? Did we write down our dreams and wishes and post them on our refrigerator door? Or fold then in origami paper and light them with a match, sending these dreams skyward to the heavens to ensure they will come true in the Asian tradition.

The Dream, by Marc Chagall

Dreams. We want them to come true. We are still working on the dreams evoked by Dr. Martin Luther King. May his memory guide us in our quest to do better on earth as we work toward healing, justice, and peace for each and every human on the planet.

I’m using this day for reflection and recommitment to the principles that Dr. King articulated, as I walk with friends in the beauty of the natural world, think about those we have lost this year to coronavirus, violence, and starvation. I believe each of us has the responsibility to heal our world and make it a better place.

Dr. Martin Luther King. May his memory be for a blessing.

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?