Archive for June, 2010

A Trip to Zaachila

by Judy

Thursday for our Spanish lesson, Arnie and I went with our teachers Gladys and Angelica to the Thursday market in the village of Zaachila, about 15 miles southwest of Oaxaca. In the bus, an old lady told us she was going to the market to buy turkey and chicken eggs so that she could raise the birds for meat. She also told me the name of a local plant that we saw along the roadside – huamuchil – and how to use the seeds in tamales. We have learned that if we want to know something, one of the best ways is to ask the “abuelitas” and “abuelitos” (grandmothers and grandfathers) that we meet in the streets and markets. They are the ones that remember the traditional ways of doing things, and they have been very kind. I like it that Mexicans use “abuelita/abuelito” as a term of affection for all old people, not just their own grandfathers and grandmothers. It reminds us that the old people are a treasure to be respected by us all.

In Zaachila, one of the vendors let us sample from her big bottles of mezcal. Each bottle had something different in it to flavor it – pieces of pineapple, guayaba, rosemary, etc. Tasted great, but we decided that we didn’t real need to buy a big bottle.

We also stopped at a stand where a woman was making the famous traditional drink ofoaxaca 2010 06 24J zaachila vendedora de tejate Oaxaca, tejate. It’s quite a process. First, she mixes ground corn, Mexican cinnamon, and dried flowers from chocolate trees, all in a huge pottery bowl. She adds water, a little at a time, and makes a thick paste. Then she gradually adds more water until the mixture is thin enough to drink. For some reason the mixing all has to be done with bare hands and arms, up to the elbows. She told me that it really takes a lot of work and a lot of strength to do it. When the tejate is ready, it is served in traditional bowls made from gourds (jicaras), painted red and painted with big flowers. It looks like curdled beige milk. Usually we don’t eat food in the markets because it’s easy to get sick here, but I just had to try, because I’d heard it’s sweet, subtle, and refreshing. I bought a bowlful, and Arnie and I both had a sip. Well, I had several sips because it was delicious. We spent the rest of the day wondering if had been stupid to drink it, but we never got sick.

Then we encountered an abuelita who was selling corn out of big burlap sacks. There are lots of colors of corn here – white, yellow, red, black, and more. We asked where it came from, and she said she and her husband had grown it. Among poor people, she said, husband and wife work together in the fields. She said it was last year’s harvest. The rains hadn’t come this year, and if the rains don’t come, there would be no corn to harvest this year. She told us it had become drier and drier in recent years in Oaxaca. Before, there had been more rain and it had been easy to harvest abundant crops of corn. “But still we continue.”

Because of the droughts, she said, there had been many Oaxacans forced to travel to the United States to earn a living. She herself had a brother-in-law in Los Angeles and a son in Seattle. She said it was unjust the way immigrants were treated in the U.S. They die of thirst crossing the desert and are shot at the border, she fumed. (A recent shooting of a 14-year-old Mexican by a U.S. border patrol agent who crossed the line into Mexico has caused outrage throughout the country, especially since the U.S. has not allowed the agent to be extradited to be tried in Mexican courts.) The abuelita reasoned that since people in the U.S. no longer cultivate their own fields, they need Mexican workers and ought to treat them better. As I said, if you want to find out what’s really going on, just ask an abuelita.

We also met a man selling jicara gourds that he had decorated beautifully. He said he painted the flowered red ones (the kind used to serve tejate) with paint from the hardware store. But he had decorated others with beautiful combinations of rich colors that he obtained by grinding local rocks into a powder. He had learned the art from his grandfather, and had now taught his own two sons, who help him in the workshop. I bought a beautiful jicara of deep blue and tan, decorated with delicate lines of black paint.

The bus back from Zaachila was crowded. An old woman holding a live chicken sat down beside our teacher Angelica and began to feed it a tomato. Arnie thought about looking at the pictures in his camera, but he decided not to, for fear he would look like a rich tourist. However, then the old woman with the  chicken got out her I-phone and began showing pictures to Angelica. Just goes to show … something.

It was a wonderful visit to the Zaachila market, and I am grateful and somewhat amazed that people here are so generous in telling us about their work and their lives.

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The struggle continues

La Lucha Sigue

Today, leaders of Oaxaca’s striking teachers meet in an assembly to consider their collective response to the state’s latest offer in their combined contract/political dispute. According to their spokespeople, they might decide to end their “plantón,” or occupation of the city center, known as the “zócalo,” where they’ve been camped out for weeks. On the other hand, they might decide to continue to plantón, and perhaps call for a boycott of the July 4 election. They are calling for improvemclip_image002ents in salaries for beginning teachers and more support for schools, but also pressing demands such as the release of political prisoners.

Last week’s Assembly of the People of Oaxaca, convened by the teachers but joined by representatives of allied social movements, focused on developing a call for more substantive change than anything which might follow an election. They are calling for community-based, direct democracy, inspired by the wisdom of indigenous traditions, according to the manifesto which came out of the Assembly.

But that doesn’t mean they are ignoring the upcoming election, which pits Eviel Magaño of the ruling PRI party, against Gabino Cue, representing a curious alliance of the right-wing PAN and the leftish PRD. Eviel is the chosen successor to Ulisses Ruiz Torres, commonly known as “Ulisses” or “URO,” who is widely considered corrupt and responsible for dozens of extra-judicial killings and assaults against political opponents, including the violent attacks against the teachers union in 2006.

While the social movements fall short of endorsing Gabino Cue, who does represent the PAN party of Mexican President Calderon, they do call on citizens to use their votes to punish the PRI for its crimes. Moreover, they are emphasizing the importance of a fraud-free election, which would be a change from recent Oaxacan history.

The “Manifesto of the Assembly of the People of Oaxaca” also claims that violence has increased in the period leading up to the election. While I don’t have a sufficiently long or detailed view of local conditions, news of recent days has included the kidnapping and torture of a local activist, Victor Sanchez, who fortunately was freed after 48 hours, and a conflict in the nearby community of San Jose Progreso, where a clash between local officials and a movement resisting the opening of a Canadian-owned silver and gold mine left two officials dead and 9 activists imprisoned. (See Nancy Davies’s article for details.) The siege of San Juan Copala continues, 2 weeks after the second humanitarian caravan was turned back.

My Spanish is getting good enough to understand some of the chants at rallies, such as “la lucha sigue, sigue,” the struggle continues.

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I’m reading the news each day, but I don’t yet understand the history of various struggles.  So it’s good to read stories by Nancy Davies, who writes for Upside Down World.  Here’s a recent article on conflicts in San Jose Progreso, where a Canadian firm is trying to open a mine with support from the local government and resistance from the local people. 

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Reading Between the Lines

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OAXACA, MEXICO – The teachers and social movements have called for a convocation tomorrow to debate their collective response to the current political situation in Oaxaca, where state and local elections will take place in two weeks.  The key question seems to be, will the popular movements back the candidacy of Gabino Cue, who represents a coalition of the leftish PRD and the right-wing PAN parties, and who is running against Eviel Perez Magaña, candidate of the PRI, still Oaxaca’s ruling party? oaxaca 2010 06 19 remember june 14 Eviel is the chosen successor to Ulisses Ruiz Ortiz (known as URO), whose reputation for corruption and repression, including the violent assaults against striking teachers four years ago, is the #1 political enemy of the teachers union and its allies.

Alternatively, the “Encounter of the People of Oaxaca” could decide to stand aside from electoral alignments or even call for a boycott. Their conclusion will be announced at a mass rally at 5 pm, about which we heard from a small group of activists we met this afternoon.

At least that’s what I think is going on. My limited capacity to understand Spanish, and my lack of familiarity with the nuances of local politics reduce my confidence that I really know what’s going on, despite several weeks of reading local Oaxaca news over the internet from my desk in Canterbury. I feel like I’m reading between the lines, and I’m not sure I even understand the lines to begin with.

We arrived here last night, and were met at the airport by a young artist whose home is our base for at least the next 3 weeks. Our main focus will be language study, but it will be hard to avoid or ignore the demonstrations in the streets, where once again hundreds of teachers have established a “plantón,” or occupation, to push their economic and political demands. It was the teachers strike of 2006 that set off months of social rebellion that united diverse forces – teachers, campesinos, indigenous groups, ecologists, etc. – to support the teachers and call for URO’s ouster.

We experienced a taste of Oaxaca’s protest culture during our last visit here in 2001, which by chance also coincided with a teachers strike. In Mexico’s second poorest state, the teachers find it necessary to shut down the capital city’s commercial center every year in order to win decent conditions of employment and increased support for public education.

 oaxaca 2010 06 19 vendors and teachers -ncopy In some ways the city appears normal. A few blocks from the zócalo, the city’s center, it is business as usual. Even in the area around the zócalo, street vendors are hawking embroidered blouses, lichee nuts, pirated CDs, and balloons. But the teachers tents and tarps are strung between buildings, forcing detours for cars and obstacle courses for pedestrians, They are impossible to miss.

But perhaps this is the new normal. Three trips to Oaxaca in 20 years hardly makes me an expert. So I’ll approach the next few weeks with humility and open ears, hoping to gain confidence in my ability to read between the lines.

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Protesters rally at Fenway Park

Ariz. game draws immigration law demonstrators

Demonstrators opposing Arizona’s immigration law marched at Fenway Park. (Barry Chin/ Globe Staff)

By Maria Sacchetti

Globe Staff / June 16, 2010


The Arizona Diamondbacks huddled in the cramped visitors clubhouse in Fenway Park yesterday afternoon, carrying more baggage than the usual bats and balls. On Lansdowne Street, the protesters were arriving.

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Ariz. lawmaker takes aim at automatic citizenship


PHOENIX — Emboldened by passage of the nation’s toughest law against illegal immigration, the Arizona politician who sponsored the measure now wants to deny U.S. citizenship to children born in this country to undocumented parents.

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Five years ago local police decided it would be nifty to arrest undocumented immigrants in New Hampshire and charge them with trespassing, just like Arizona police have now been mandated to do there.  In NH, this approach was met with civil, legal, and political resistance.  Here’s an article I wrote about what happened, published May 4, 2010 in the Concord Monitor.

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