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In front of Santo Domingo de Guzman…

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Enjoy the day.  It’s a jungle out there!

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It was early evening last Monday, all my bags were packed and I was ready to go, when the the sounds of a parade began getting closer and closer.  I grabbed the little Lumix and headed into the streets.

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Zancudos, not autos, on Av. Morelos

Yikes, Zancudos had taken over the street.

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Low bridge!

As you can see, we are not talking about mosquitoes; these Zancudos are stilt walkers.

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Approaching the Plaza de la Danza

The two contingents of Zancudos were part of a calenda kicking off UABJO (Universidad Autónoma Benito Juárez de Oaxaca), Semana Cultural, Deportiva y Científica (Culture, Sport, and Science Week).

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About to tackle the stairs

The five-day program of events included competitions in singing, chess, oratory, and science experiments; film and theater presentations; along with zumba, self defense, and aerobics demonstrations.

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Dancing and prancing on the Plaza de la Danza

Reason #980 why I love Oaxaca:  You just never know when a calenda will break out!

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Rest time, after walking and dancing their way through the streets

It was a great memory to carry with me, as I boarded the plane the next morning en route to el norte.

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Today was supposed to be the first day of school in Mexico, but not for most in Oaxaca.  According to Sección 22 of the CNTE (teachers’ union), 90% of public schools did not open today.  The Instituto Estatal de Educación Pública de Oaxaca (the government’s Institute of Public Education) puts the number at 52% of public schools in the state that remained closed.

Classrooms may have remained empty, but from the Monumento a Juárez to the Plaza de la Danza, teachers and their allies filled several of the main streets of the state’s capital in a mass march that took over an hour and a half to pass –part of the ongoing protests against the federal government’s education/labor reform.

Today, there are no winners, only losers — the kids.  The weather provided a metaphor for the day — grey and depressing.

While not specific to Oaxaca, a new documentary by Al Jazeera, Child labour in Mexico, adds some context to the issue of education in Mexico, especially in the poorer regions of Mexico.  At 16:36, the focus of the conversation turns to relating child labor to the problems of education, corruption, and poverty.

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Murals seen in mid July on Garcia Vigil, between Independencia and Morelos.  A month later, they have been painted over, but in Oaxaca, god and resistance never die…

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The public school fall semester is scheduled to start Monday, August 22 and, as you can see from the Oaxaca-The Year After blog post, for good reason, no one is holding their breath.

So, while we wait, take a deep breath, exhale, and watch Lila Downs performing Dios Nunca Muere live HERE.

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Oaxaca quote of the day, as posted on Facebook by my friend and neighbor, J:  “Antes, no salía sin checar el clima.  Ahora no salgo sin checar los bloqueos.”  Translation:  “Before, I didn’t go out without checking the weather.  Now, I don’t leave without checking for blockades.”

Mexico’s Interior Secretary, Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong, is refusing further dialogue with the CNTE (teachers and education workers union) until the blockades are lifted, the CNTE is vowing to intensify its actions around the country, and rumor has it that masses of vacant hotel rooms in Oaxaca (thanks to large-scale cancellations) are being filled by federal police.  There’s a dance going on in Oaxaca, I don’t know the steps, but in the meantime, let’s put on our red shoes and dance the blues.

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Let’s Dance
by David Bowie

Let’s dance put on your red shoes and dance the blues

Let’s dance to the song
they’re playin’ on the radio

Let’s sway
while color lights up your face
Let’s sway
sway through the crowd to an empty space

If you say run, I’ll run with you
If you say hide, we’ll hide
Because my love for you
Would break my heart in two
If you should fall
Into my arms
And tremble like a flower

Let’s dance for fear
your grace should fall
Let’s dance for fear tonight is all

Let’s sway you could look into my eyes
Let’s sway under the moonlight,
this serious moonlight

If you say run, I’ll run with you
If you say hide, we’ll hide
Because my love for you
Would break my heart in two
If you should fall
Into my arms
And tremble like a flower

Let’s dance put on your red shoes
and dance the blues

Let’s dance to the song
they’re playin’ on the radio

Let’s sway you could look into my eyes
Let’s sway under the moonlight,
this serious moonlight

 

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It’s halftime in Oaxaca and all is quiet.

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Local vendors are selling food, drink and paraphernalia. Though El Financiero is reporting that grocery chain Soriana is temporarily closing some of their stores in Oaxaca and Chiapas, blaming blockades and security concerns.

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The teams have retired to their respective locker rooms to tend to the wounded and bury the dead (literally).

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Mascots continue to fire up their supporters in a war of Tweets, Facebook posts, and media talking heads…

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As fans (fanáticos en español) await the resumption of play.

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But, all most Oaxaqueños want is a peaceful and fair end to this infernal battle.  Let’s hope something can be worked out when negotiations resume on Monday.

During this lull, English speaking readers might want to check out Dave Miller’s blog and/or listen to an interview with Laura Carlsen (Center for International Policy) for background on the issues involved between the education workers and the government.

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At loose ends, can’t seem to focus on anything else, and since people have asked, here are photos from this morning’s walk through, what may be, an emerging war zone…

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The blockades have resumed throughout the state and a mega march of teachers, parents, and supporters entered the zócalo a couple of hours ago.  I fear, as the handwriting on the wall says, this is just the beginning.

To all who have expressed concern for my safety, many thanks.  No worries, bottom line, I’m a chicken and have no plans to go out again today OR anytime there is even a hint of feeling unsafe.

And, if you want to follow the events on Twitter, the hashtag #OaxacaGrita is being used.

 

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It’s the morning after the day and night before — and I don’t even know where to begin.

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The very short and immediate version is:  Yesterday afternoon about 50 miles north of the city in Nochixtlán, six demonstrators were killed when federal police moved in to breakup a 5-day long blockade by Sección 22 of the teachers union on the main highway between here and Puebla.  As the police moved toward the city, there was another battle about 8 miles north near San Pablo Etla, and then last night about 7:30 a helicopter began flying over the city, smoke rose from near the teachers’ encampment in the zócalo (about 4 blocks away), and shouting and explosions were heard.  It was still going on when I fell asleep around midnight.

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It’s Monday morning, but all was eerily quiet when I awoke.  Very little traffic on my usually busy street and almost no buses to be seen or heard.  Television news and local papers are hopeless, so I began monitoring five Facebook groups dedicated to blockades, demonstrations, traffic, etc. and Twitter for news.

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Needing a few groceries (I know that seems to be a constant theme, but I don’t have a car here, so can only buy what I can carry) and wanting to see what went on last night, my neighbor and I ventured out onto the streets.  The acrid smell of smoke was still evident and, at almost every intersection, beginning with the one half a block down our street, tires were still smoldering.  The closer we got to the zócalo, the more graffiti and damage we saw.

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Oxxo on Morelos at Garcia Vigil had been vandalized and was closed, the windows of Catedral had been broken but the restaurant was open, and all the ATMs in BanNorte had been damaged, but the tellers were in place and banking was being done.  However, it’s like a Sunday morning, with few people on the streets.

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The teachers’ plantón (encampment) on and surrounding the zócalo remains, but it was dirty and depressing and there were a couple of drunk guys, so we opted not to venture further.  Instead, we continued east on Independencia, passing more broken windows, scrawled messages on walls denouncing the federal and state governments and warning all that it has only just begun.

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If you want background and more detailed reports, you can check out posts from Oaxaca at http://elenemigocomun.net/.  Yes, I know, it’s from the perspective of the teachers and protestors — I figure the “mainstream” media has got the government’s point of view covered.

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Stencil photos were taken a few days ago on Garcia Vigil, between Independencia and Morelos.  Yes, I did take photos this morning of the remnants of last night’s events, but I just can’t bring myself to post them.  The mood is sad and wary — no one knows how and when this will end — and the ghosts of 2006 hang over the city.

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… between Independencia and Morelos on Garcia Vigil.

That's Mexico's president, Enrique Peña Nieto, leading the charge.

That’s Mexico’s president Enrique Peña Nieto, backed by the military, leading the charge against the teachers’ union.

No to the education reform! Only books will draw this country away from barbarism.

No to the education reform!  Only books will draw this country away from barbarism.

My future is en your hands No to the privatization of education!

My future is in your hands – No to the privatization of education!

To protest is not a crime. No to the education reform.

To protest is not a crime – No to the education reform

Reforms: Energy, Education, Financial, Labor

Reforms:  Energy – Education – Financial – Electoral – Labor

The occupation of the Zócalo continues; yesterday Sección XXII of the CNTE (teachers’ union) shut down the airport; today a federal helicopter is flying overhead as I write, no doubt keeping tabs on a mass march from the IEEPO (State Institute of Public Education) to the Zócalo; the extremely contentious election for governor of Oaxaca is June 5; Guelaguetza 2016 performances are July 25 and August 1; and the new school year is scheduled to begin in mid August.  It could be a long hot summer…

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Sunday, May 15 was Día del Maestro in Mexico.  In Oaxaca the day honoring teachers was marked by the teachers of Sección 22 marching back into the zocalo, setting up their tents, and installing the ambulantes (vendors) under their protection.  Sunday night and again Tuesday night, Tlaloc unleashed massive thunderstorms on the city.

Despite weather, dwindling support for the union (93% of schools are reported to be open), and threats to strikers of being fired, the occupation remains and a federal police helicopter makes its daily low-flying circle of the city.

And so it goes…

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In the last five years one million Mexicans residing in the US have returned to Mexico, including children and youth who were born or raised in the US.  Una Vida, Dos Países presents the stories of these transborder youth, highlighting their experiences living between two countries, cultures, languages and education systems, and exploring their parents’ decisions to return to their home country after living undocumented in the US.

Thirty seconds into the new documentary, Una Vida, Dos Países by Tatyana Kleyn, tears began welling up.  Set in Ciénaga de Zimatlán and Tlacolula de Matamoros, both in the central valley of Oaxaca, the places and faces were so very familiar and it hurt to hear the anguish in their voices and see the sadness in their eyes.

I love Oaxaca and, at this stage of my life, have chosen to immerse myself in a foreign culture.  However, these kids didn’t have a choice.  One day, they are normal “American” kids — going to school, playing with friends, speaking English in bustling towns and cities in the USA.  And the next day, they are uprooted from all that is familiar to find themselves “transfronterizos,” living in small rural pueblos bound by a millennia of tradition, surrounded by strangers who are speaking languages, Spanish and/or Zapoteco, they are either not fluent in or don’t know at all.  In addition, they are forced to navigate a school system that has little or no understanding of the culture shock they are experiencing.

What more can I say?

Early in the film, Melchor’s father says, “This is my family, this is my house, not a beautiful house, but when you want to come here, the door is open for you, for everybody.”  Oh, that governments would exhibit that same generous hospitality.

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Friday morning I returned to Llano Park for this year’s fifth and final Viernes del Llano, an only in Oaxaca Lenten tradition sponsored by the Universidad Autónoma Benito Juárez de Oaxaca.  A few weeks ago, when I arrived at 8:30 AM, the crowds were already four deep and, initially, I couldn’t get anywhere close to the action.  Not wanting a repeat, this week I got there at 8:00 AM to discover not many people and preparations just beginning.  Looking for something to find, I came across Litzy, one of the 18 contestants having her makeup applied.

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Like most of the young women, Litzy wasn’t alone.  A team of industrious and enthusiastic supporters were there before, during, and after to help, wave banners and balloons, and cheer as she passed by.

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Like the other contestants, she was presented with bouquets upon bouquets of flowers — way too many for one person to carry.  Thus, a team of her admirers was required to follow along to assist.IMG_0755

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The time came for the winners to be announced:  Five young women were recognized for their efforts and dedication, two for their truncheon(?) and organization of their groups, another for her eloquence, and another was named Miss Photogenic.  But, what about Litzy?  The suspense continued to build as the announcer spoke and paused and spoke and paused and then the name, Litzy Guadalupe González Montes was announced as the Madrina del Quinto Viernes del Llano!P1170423

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Felicidades to a lovely and very gracious young woman.  It was a pleasure to briefly tag along on her journey.

(ps)  Chris has more photos from this week at Viernes del Llano – Beauty abounds.

 

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Yesterday was SO much fun!!!  I’m spending Christmas with family in New York and was invited by my daughter-in-law to speak to her special education class. Wearing one of my huipiles from the Papaloapan region of Oaxaca, I filled them in on “life in Oaxaca.”

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We looked at a map of Mexico and I pointed to where the state of Oaxaca is located.

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We spoke a little Spanish and discovered that some familiar foods, like chocolate, gum (chicle), corn (maíz), and turkey (pavo), originated in Mexico.  They learned that there are many artisan crafts made in Oaxaca and I showed them a tapete (rug) that was woven in Teotitlán del Valle.

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We talked about festivals with processions, bands, marmotas, monos, and dancing.  And, to illustrate the diversity of the indigenous peoples of Oaxaca, I created a short video from La Guelaguetza 2014.

We discussed the differences between Christmas traditions in Mexico and the USA — that Christmas trees aren’t as common, but most everyone sets up a nacimiento (nativity scene) in their home.

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Of course, they loved the idea of breaking open a piñata filled with candy and trinkets.

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I concluded with a video I’d made and previously posted of the castillo in Teotitlán del Valle during the festival honoring the Virgen del Rosario.  Needless to say, they were awestruck by the fireworks.  And then I gave them each a woven palm leaf piñata ornament.  Alas, no candy inside!

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I was very touched that my daughter-in-law returned home later in the afternoon bringing individualized thank-you notes from the students.  However, I would like to give a big “muchisimas gracias” to her for inviting me and to her students for being such an attentive, engaged, and delightful audience!

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Yesterday, I hibernated at home; a day spent unpacking and recovering.  Today, Carlos, now upgraded to a hurricane, is swirling off the coast of southern Mexico and bringing grey skies, chilly temperatures (it hasn’t even hit 70ºF), and a relentless drizzle.  It’s not the kind of day that draws one out into the streets.  However, the larder needed to be restocked and the cell phone needed to be reactivated, so, with umbrella in hand, I was forced to venture out.

On the upside, the rain brings out the greens of the cantera.  Though, I’m not sure where this concrete insert in the sidewalk at the corner of Independencia and Garcia Vigil came from or what it means.  (Update:  It’s Grupo: Salvando Vidas. Oaxaca — a volunteer group that has taken on the much needed task of repairing the city’s sidewalks muy peligrosas, saving lives and limbs!  h/t,  Peggy)

For some mystifying (at least to me) reason, Telcel deactivates my cell phone if I don’t use it for three weeks — this is despite the fact that I have a ridiculously high saldo (balance) in my account.  So, my first stop was to add even more pesos in order to reactivate my service.  With that chore in the rear view mirror, I crossed Independencia onto the Alameda, on my way to Mercado de Benito Juárez (or, Bennie J’s, as my friend G christened it years ago), only to find much of it covered with tents.

P1090803I’d read the news and had steeled myself for the return of ambulantes, but wasn’t prepared for ten times the number of Sección 22 teachers union tents from when I left in mid May.  Navigating the ropes tethering the tarps was a challenge and I had to forgo the umbrella.  The teachers looked cold and miserable and the restaurants under the portales looked mostly empty.  This is definitely not a picnic for anyone.  Continuing on to the mercado, I filled my shopping bag and headed for home.

P1090816However, the signs of protest are everywhere.  In the “Emerald City,” the more things change, the more they stay the same.

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Yesterday, the city of Oaxaca celebrated its 483rd birthday as a Spanish chartered city.  Early in the morning bells were rung, Las Mañanitas was sung, tamales and atole were served, an air force flyover buzzed the city several times, multiple musical events were held, a convite paraded through the streets, fireworks exploded from the Plaza de la Danza, and more, and it continues.  I was going to write about it, but…

Today a more urgent anniversary requires our attention:  Mexico Marks 7 Months Since 43 Ayotzinapa Students Disappeared.  Family, fellow classmates, friends, and supporters around the world keep their names alive and cry for justice.  And artists continue to reach into our minds and hearts through their music, artwork, and film making.

In the documentary, Ayotzinapa’s 43 Disappeared: Family & Friends Remember, we hear the voices of their classmates and relatives. They don’t trust the official story and are determined to find out what happened.

Near the end of the song, “La Patria Madrina,” from her new album, Balas y Chocolate (Bullets and Chocolat), Lila Downs chants the Ayotzinapa 43 mantra that can be seen and heard all over Mexico, ¡Vivos los llevaron, vivos los queremos!  (They were taken alive, and we want them back alive!)

And, on walls throughout Mexico, our attention is called to the missing 43 students from the Escuela Normal Rural Raúl Isidro Burgos, teachers’ college in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero.

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