Saturday, October 28, 2006

Tragedy in Oaxaca

The Top Two Photos are from Mark In Mexico

In the summer of 1997 I lived in Oaxaca for about six weeks. It was a chance to begin to learn Spanish and to do some R&R. It was a wonderful experience. The city and the state are a great resource. The city has some wonderful colonial architecture. It has a cathedral that was restored by Don Alfredo Harp which parallels in many ways the history of Mexico. It has a couple of major archeological sites including Monte Alban - discovered by Don Alfonso Caso - who worked for decades in figuring out how this city's history progressed. The city has one of the most interesting hotels in Mexico. It has great food. It has a civic ambience that is wonderful.

For the last several months, the city has been closed down, ostensibly from a strike by teachers - but there are other things going on. The strike has been aided or impeded by some outside organizers. In the last week or so, violence has increased. An American activist was murdered in the city. Last night the federal police were airlifted into the city to quell the increasing violence.

Earlier in the year I discovered a literate blogger who lives in Oaxaca. His commentary on the election was right on point. For the past several weeks he also has been writing some very personal observations on the strike and the disorder in his adopted city. A few days ago he had to send his family out of the city for their safety.

Since I am not on the scene, there is little I can add to Mark in Mexico's excellent commentary. But I can make two more personal comments. My experience in Oaxaca that summer was the first time I had ever lived abroad for an extended period of time. For a good part of it I was alone - my wife and son were with me the first week, and my daughter and a friend of hers in the last - but that was a good time to reflect. Oaxaca is a great place to do that. It was also a place where I was forced to use what little Spanish I had then. Oaxaca has a lot of tourists - so English is always a possibility. But I really did try to build my Spanish.

In two instances my Spanish failed me. One morning I was out to get breakfast - hot chocolate and bread. I was wearing a golf shirt I had earned as an original Macintosh Evangelista - it was black. In the shop, the young girl behind the counter asked me "De que es su iglesia?" (Where is your church?) I responded I did not have a church merely that I liked computers. She smiled and said "I know churches need computers." I then said I did not have a church - Apple was not a church nor was Macintosh a saint - merely I liked computers. She smiled and said "Entiendo, pero de que?" (I understand but where is it?) My skill at Spanish was not as good as I thought. But later that day I was able to drop my laundry off and request it back three days later. I found that negotiating the things of daily life were increasingly easy - not as easy as now - when my Spanish is much better - but I could actually see progress.

The second memory relates to the Zocalo. The Zocalo is a Mexican town square. It came about because, according to some, President Santa Ana wanted a statue built in the town square in Mexico City to commemorate independence and although the taxes were collected the statue was never built - Zocalo actually means the base of a statue. But on the Zocalo there were two fine restaurants - one which you can see in one of the shots. The other (called Del Vitral) right off the square. For the last five or six months, as the protestors have held siege in the Zocalo - local businesses have lost substantial amounts of business. Both places had great food and enormous hospitality. I worry about both places and more to the point about all of the wonderful people I met while living there.

A final memory relates to my daughter. When she arrived we hired a cab to visit the sites. We were in Mitla (which is an archeological site about 20 miles out of town) and I was telling them about the site and its history when a group of French tourists came by. All three of us were wearing ball caps - the sun can be intense there. The tourists, conversing in French, were making rude comments about the Americans and the ball caps. My daughter turned to one of them and said (in French) "Just because the world is smaller does not mean it is not a good idea to be polite, if you are so smart why do you need a guide in French?" The color in the guy's face who had been making rude comments vanished. I was proud of her.

The teachers have, supposedly, agreed to return to work. But the outside "organizers" continue to rant as if the original focus of the strike did not matter to them. They have cooked up a lot of charges - whether the Governor was elected fairly, whether there are unresolved issues in other areas - but their real purpose seems to have been to disrupt a city whose major sources of income comes from tourists.

The city has two high periods of touristic activity. The first is around a summer folkloric festival. I believe it was cancelled this summer. The second is around Christmas. Oaxaca is famous for its posadas - I hope that by the time tourists usually journey back to the town - that it will again be an inviting place.

1 comment:

pictor said...

It is outrageous how the mob leaders keep moving the goal posts. They took over the city's downtown as if it were their personal fiefdom. The shit hit the fan and they have retreated to the local "autonomous" university. I predicted the wily TANQUETAS would be the "weapon" of choice in disarming this charade.
It is not clear to me how many Oaxacans support these morons and their ever changing petitions.
It is obvious political gamesmanship was used by Fox to expose the chicanery that has ruled Oaxaca for decades on end.
That kind of government thuggery is my earliest memory of the Mexican political status quo. The autocratic despots of the PRI ruled Mexico until the year 2000. Now they have left a few strongholds like Oaxaca. Lopez has takeover plans and priistas won't give up without a fight. Ulises, although a bona fide sleazeball, was elected by a majority of voters, after all.