Tag Archives: Native Americans

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?

Vast Austerity of Landscape: Speaking of (New) Mexico and Georgia O’Keeffe

I’m in New Mexico and hour north of Santa Fe in the village of Abiquiu, where painter Georgia O’Keeffe reconstructed a dilapidated adobe, converting it into a winter home of extraordinary minimalism. She would have been at home in the living simply movement of modernity. One could also say she shaped it.

View from O’Keeffe’s bedroom window

Here in Nuevo Mexico, thinking of Mexico is unavoidable. The vast, expansive, unending landscape of desert, scrub oak, sage and cactus always brings me back to the root of native Americans, of indigenous First Nation peoples, to New Spain and the conquest, to the land that was once an integral part of Mexico. Place names call out original Hispanic settlers, land grants. Tribal communities draw parallels to Mexican pueblos where creativity thrives and hardship is an undercurrent.

Hollyhock seed dispersal, random regeneration against adobe wall

The land stretches out in folds, crevices, upheavals, arroyos, twelve thousand foot mountain ranges. It is dry and hot in July. It is getting drier and hotter. Afternoon thunder clouds build up and in the distant purple hills, I see rods of lightening and the softening horizon of rain. Along the green ribbon Rio Grande River Valley ancient peoples who migrated south from Mesa Verde continue their traditions.

An iconic O’Keeffe image

We are not permitted to photograph the interior of the Georgia O’Keeffe Home and Studio in Abiquiu. We are not permitted to take photos of the interior through the glass picture windows while standing outside. The home is as it was when she left it, each particular and well-chosen item in its particular place. Each item a sculptural statement, most created by icons of modern furniture design.

Weathered and dry, reminding me of parched skin

The walls are pale mushroom or cream or beige or faded salmon. They are thick adobe. Deep and cool. Through the window is a living painting. The walls are barren. Bare. Empty only to the imagination of what might lay beyond. The vast changing of the sky, the season, the chill or warmth of air. One can imagine the isolation and solitude of living there amidst the expansiveness of the hills, mountains, a ribbon of road, eagles soaring on the thermals, a garden to feed and nurture belly and soul.

Hollyhocks, fruit trees, vegetable gardens at Abiquiu
Beware of Dog

The palette at the O’Keeffe house in Abiquiu is neutral. White cotton covers the kitchen sofa. The kitchen faces north, the light preferred by painters, the guide tells us. The windows are huge. Standard Sears metal cabinets disappear recessed into deep adobe walls. The table is simple whitewashed plywood that sits atop sawhorses, worn smooth with use and age. Nature and living space merge.

She painted this doorway and wall … multiple times
Passages connecting patios, studio and home

Throughout the house the naked walls speak — nothing is necessary. A painter’s easel served as coat rack when she turned from painting to making ceramic vessels.

Unmarked in the La Fonda lobby, I recognize this as O’Keeffe
Weathered to a patina

Details complicate things, she said. To become acquainted with an idea, one must revisit the same subject over and over. Her paintings took on the austere minimalist life she lived. Seeing this, hearing this, reminded me of the traveling exhibit Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern, I saw in Winston-Salem, NC, at Reynolda House, that included a dress that she designed and sewed into multiple versions using different fabrics and colors.

St. Thomas the Apostle Church, built atop pre-Puebloan Tewa Indian village

Being there also challenges one to revisit lifestyle and think about how we are acculturated to consume, compete and communicate. I am always grateful for these moments of self-reflection to ask the essential question: Who am I? What is the meaning of my life? Being with O’Keeffe in Abiquiu helps in the continuing process of self-reflection.

Adobe ruins, Abiquiu, around the corner from O’Keeffe home
Inside the Spanish colonial church, Abiquiu