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Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Even if you’re dreaming of sitting on a beach with a book and glass of wine in hand, there are reminders that one hundred years ago, on April 10, 1919, Mexican revolutionary hero Emiliano Zapata was assassinated.

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In southern Mexico, in the words of Lila Downs, Zapata Se Queda (Zapata Stays) and remains a beloved martyr who continues to inspire.

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And, to remind all to never forget, and continue the struggle.  The cry of “not one more” echos from the streets.

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Mural on the wall of Taller-Galeria Siqueiros on Calle Porfirio Díaz.

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The zócalo is a sea of red today.  It is the 38th anniversary of the founding of the Movimiento Unificador de Lucha Triqui (MULT) — one of the organizations of Triqui from the Mixteca Baja region of Oaxaca. They have come to (yet again) present their demands to the government.

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For background (in English) on the plight of the Triqui in Oaxaca and the many who have been forced by violence in their communities to migrate to California, check out David Bacon’s article, Can the Triquis Go Home?  Unfortunately, I don’t think much has changed since it was written in 2012.

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Today, the 20th of November, Mexico commemorates the 108th anniversary of the beginning of the Mexican Revolution. It raged on for ten years, as various factions battled for power, and the peasantry fought for, in the words of Emiliano Zapata, ¡Tierra y libertad!  (Land and liberty!)

From the smallest of pueblos to the mega metropolis of Mexico City, most every town and city has a street named 20 de noviembre, including Oaxaca.  In addition, Oaxaca has a 20 de noviembre market, where you will find Conchita, my favorite chocolate store, Pasillo de Humo (hall of smoke/grilled meats), aisles of stalls filled with bread, and lines of counters offering menudo and other traditional street food — a very popular destination for locals and adventurous tourists.

Alas, the Mexican Revolution has a complex and bloody history — 1.9 to 3.5 million lives were lost, revolutionary leaders assassinated each other in turn, and promises were repeatedly broken.  The goals of land, water, liberty, justice and law for the peasantry and workers went unrealized.   However, once the armed conflict ended, a cultural revolution began that celebrated and honored working people, peasants, and Mexico’s indigenous roots and helped to forge a new Mexican identity.  As the documentary The Storm That Swept Mexico concludes:

“If we celebrate the revolution, it appears as though we are celebrating the status quo: the miserable conditions of the farmers, workers and the average Mexicans.  And if we are the inheritors of that revolution, then there is nothing to celebrate. Now if we think of the Revolution as an explosion of creative energy then I think we do have reason to celebrate because it was a movement to create a nation more just, more equal, more honest, and an identity we could be proud of.”

To highlight a Oaxaca connection, today’s NVI Noticias published the article, Enciende Madero mecha revolucionaria; Visita Oaxaca en 1909, about Francisco I. Madero’s visit to Oaxaca to light the fuse of revolution in this remote state.

By the way, in 2005, Article 74 of Mexican labor law established the third Monday of November as the “official” holiday — thus following the USA’s “time-honored tradition” of creating 3-day holiday weekends and setting the stage for the bargain hunting shopping extravaganza promoted as Buen Fin.

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It’s been fifty years since two African American US Olympic medalists, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, cast their eyes downward and raised clenched fists on the medals’ stand during the playing of the “Star Spangled Banner” (national anthem of the USA) at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.  Boos and racial epithets were hurled from the stands, both were kicked off the US team, ordered to leave the Olympic Village, and, upon returning to the USA, they received hate mail, death threats and experienced harassment.  However, their gesture became iconic and their stance against racial injustice is celebrated the world over, including Oaxaca.

Taller de Gráfica Experimental de Oaxaca, Calle La Noria at Melchor Ocampo, Oaxaca de Juárez

“I don’t have any misgivings about it being frozen in time. It’s a beacon for a lot of people around the world. So many people find inspiration in that portrait. That’s what I was born for.” –John Carlos (The man who raised a black power salute at the 1968 Olympic Games)

What most of the world didn’t see or hear about — because it was conspicuously absent from the covers of the country’s major newspapers — was that two weeks before, in what came to be known as the Tlatelolco Massacre, somewhere between 300 and 2,000 peacefully protesting students in Mexico City were murdered by Mexican military and police forces.

The echos from 1968 continue today…  Colin Kaepernick continues to be castigated and denied employment as an NFL football player for taking a knee during the playing of the “Star Spangled Banner” and 43 student teachers from Escuela Normal Rural Raúl Isidro Burgos in Ayotzinapa, whose bus was ambushed in Iguala, Guerrero four years ago, continue to be missing.

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The jacarandas are heralding spring’s approach.

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Bathing in the purple rain as the blossoms fall…

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Many thanks to Tatsugoro Matsumoto, one of the first Japanese immigrants to Mexico, for recommending to President Álvaro Obregón that jacaranda trees from Brazil be planted in Mexico City.

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Now, throughout Mexico, underneath the purple rain we walk.  And, this time of year, I always smile, remember, and begin humming Prince’s Purple Rain and Jimi’s Purple Haze.

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On this St. Patrick’s Day, you might want to check out this brief history lesson from PRI (Public Radio International), Mexico remembers the Irishmen who fought for Mexico against the US.

And, for more Irish in Mexico history, I’m re-posting my March 17, 2016 blog post, St. Brendan in Mexico?, below:

The Mexican-Irish connection may date back farther than most of us have considered. Séamus Ó Fógartaigh writes in the essay, Ireland and Mexico, “The first Irishman to set foot on Mexican soil may well have been St. Brendan the Navigator, who, according to legend, crossed the Atlantic Ocean in his ‘currach’ (traditional Irish rowing boat) in search of new converts to the Christian faith. An ancient manuscript found in Medieval European monasteries allegedly described his voyage to strange Western Lands, and is known as the Navigatio Sancti Brendani Abbatis. Some historians claim that Christopher Columbus found inspiration for his seafaring adventure in the pages of the Navigatio of St. Brendan the Abbot.” And, he notes, there is even speculation that Quetzalcóatl was actually a deified Irish monk.

As you raise your pint of Guinness on this St. Patrick’s Day, consider this and the other Mexico and Ireland connections, while you sing a rousing chorus of Saint Patrick Battalion.

The song celebrates the Batallón de San Patricio, the Irish-American soldiers who deserted and fought alongside the Mexican army against the United States during the Mexican American War, 1846-1848. And, don’t forget to watch One Man’s Hero, the 1999 feature film about the San Patricios, starring Tom Berenger.

Sláinte mhaith! ¡Salud! And, remember, don’t drink and drive!

 

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How many of us knew that eighty years ago, in the midst of the Spanish Civil War, children of Spanish Republicans, facing the danger posed by the fascist government of Francisco Franco, were provided refuge in Mexico by President Lázaro Cárdenas?  463 children sailed across the Atlantic Ocean, landing in Veracruz on June 10, 1937.  After a being warmly welcomed, these child refugees were put on a train to Morelia.  Most never returned to Spain.  In the brief interview below, one of the still-living refugees, 87 year-old Amparo Rius Munoz, offers lessons for today.

http://players.brightcove.net/665003303001/4k5gFJHRe_default/index.html?videoId=5467422137001

The documentary, The Children of Morelia – Crossroads and Perspectives will be shown at the Festival Internacional de Cine de Morelia (Morelia International Film Festival), October 2017.

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Rain has been falling in the city for over 24 hours, as Tropical Storm Beatriz slowly moves up Oaxaca’s coast and up and over Sierra Madre del Sur mountains.  According to the National Hurricane Center, “over a foot of rain is possible in Mexico’s Oaxaca state through Friday with isolated amounts up to 20 inches possible.”

At various times in her past, because of the native green stone used to construct her buildings and pave her sidewalks, Oaxaca has been known as la Verde Antequera — the Emerald City.Oaxaca letters in front of Santo Domingo

Walking through the streets on a rainy day, it’s easy to see where she got her nickname.

While Beatriz may be causing headaches on the coast, the campesinos (and all who depend on them) in the Valle de Oaxaca, are rejoicing.

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This week the city of Oaxaca celebrates her 485 birthday.  Yes, we know she is older…  However, we are talking the colonial city, here.  And, despite her age, this birthday girl began the festivities by inviting the best cocineras from the eight regions of the state to cook for her citizens and visitors — from 1 PM until 9 PM — under the shade of a giant tent covering the Plaza de la Danza.  The Primer Encuentro de Cocineras Tradicionales de Oaxaca was not free, but quite reasonable.

The food was riquísima (beyond delicious) and, while we were there, the guys from Santiago Juxtlahuaca in the Mixtec region of Oaxaca, performed the Danza de los Rubios.

I returned home satisfied and sleepy, but the day wasn’t over.  There was a calenda (parade) scheduled for 5 PM and a procession of “Gigantes” at 7 PM — route for the latter was unclear.  I was hot, tired, and torn.  To go, or not to go?  That was the question.  Thunder began rumbling and I figured my answer was to stay in for the evening.  However, at 7:30 PM, when a the sounds of a procession came practically to my doorstep and not a drop of rain had fallen, I had to run out to join it.

The “Gigantes” were supposed to represent the giants of all time that Oaxaca has given to the world.  Most were a mystery to me, though I think I saw Benito Juárez and maybe Porfirio Díaz (both Oaxaqueños) and I’m guessing the bunny is a nod to the alebrije wood carving and decorating tradition.  In any case, it was great fun!

Just as the calenda reached the Plaza de la Danza, it began raining on this parade and everyone made a beeline for the cover of the Cocineras tent.  I’m sure they will eat well!  And the rain?  It was probably the best birthday gift Mother Nature could bestow on Oaxaca’s parched earth and dusty sidewalks.

This was just day one of the anniversary festivities.  Tomorrow (Tuesday) is Oaxaca’s actual birthday and the church bells will begin chiming at 6:45 AM.  So I’d better get to bed!  By the way, the Encuentro de Cocineras Tradicionales de Oaxaca opens again at 1 PM tomorrow and lasts until 8 PM or whenever the food runs out.  For a complete schedule of events, click HERE.

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I read the news today, oh boy…

Fidel Castro, Leader of the Cuban Revolution Dies at 90.

Sitial Moncada museum, Havana -- April 2016.

Sitial Moncada museum, Havana — April 2016.

The revolutionary’s achievements in the face of US meddling made him a powerful symbol of resistance against hegemony.

Terminal de Omnibus de la Habana -- April 2016.

Terminal de Omnibus de la Habana — April 2016.

Cuba Declares 9 Days of Public Mourning to Honor Fidel Castro.

"As long as there is a man or a woman with a gun in hand the country can not be occupied."  On a street in the Vedado neighborhood in Havana -- April 2016.

“As long as there is a man or a woman with a gun in hand the country can not be occupied.” On a street in the Vedado neighborhood in Havana — April 2016.

And, from the personal poster collection of my friend, archivist and librarian, Lincoln Cushing, Castro’s Revolution, Illustrated.

Farewell Fidel and thank you for standing up to US imperialism.  May the Cuban people continue to stand strong.

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One of the much anticipated features of this year’s Fiesta Titlular a la Preciosa Sangre de Nuestro Señor Jesucristo in Teotitlán del Valle was the debut of the new Grupo de Danza de Pluma Promesa.

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Danzantes

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Danzantes

Unlike in many of the other villages, where the Danza de la Pluma is danced by folkloric dance troupes, in Teotitlán del Valle nineteen young men and two little girls make a promise to their god and, thus, their community to learn and perform the dance at each of the four annual major religious festivals in the village for three years.

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Moctezuma with Malinche and Doña Marina

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Danzantes woven wool leggings

This is not a commitment to be taken lightly, as there are 40+ dances that comprise this Zapotec retelling of the story of Moctezuma and the Aztecs battle with Cortes and the Conquistadors.  The entire telling of the story takes almost eight hours to perform in the church plaza — in conditions that can vary from brilliant sun with sweltering temperatures to gusty winds to drizzling rain.

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Subalterno offering water

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Subalterno imitating the danzantes

It’s been almost six months since we first saw the new group at one of their early practice sessions.  In jeans, t-shirts, and gym shoes, the guys were at the beginning stages of learning the steps.

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Moctezuma, a danzante, and Doña Marina

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Moctezuma and the danzantes

They have learned well and it’s going to be an outstanding three years!

 

 

 

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What can one say about a country that celebrates a poet/essayist/philosopher/journalist as a national hero?  Granted, José Martí was also a fierce fighter for Cuban independence from Spain and died in battle on May 19, 1895, shot by Spanish troops in Dos Ríos, Cuba.

However, it is his writings that appear to be his most powerful and lasting legacy.  Exiled from Cuba due to his political activity against Spain, he spent many years in the United States and while there, he wrote a passionate report following the 1886 execution by hanging in Chicago of the Haymarket martyrs.  And so, let’s commemorate this May Day with words from José Martí…


Every human being has within him an ideal man, just as every piece of marble contains in a rough state a statue as beautiful as the one that Praxiteles the Greek made of the god Apollo.  — José Martí

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Memorial José Martí, Plaza de la Revolución, Havana

To educate is to give man the keys to the world, which are independence and love, and to give him strength to journey on his own, light of step, a spontaneous and free being.  — José Martí

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Biblioteca Nacional José Martí, Havana

Men are like the stars; some generate their own light while others reflect the brilliance they receive.  —José Martí

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Display at the Biblioteca Nacional José Martí, Havana

Man can never be more perfect than the sun. The sun burns us with the same light that warms us. The sun has spots (stains).  The ungrateful only talk about the spots (stains). The grateful talk about the light.  — José Martí, La edad de oro

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Courtyard of El Sitial Moncada, Havana

In a time of crisis, the peoples of the world must rush to get to know each other.  — José Martí

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Bookseller stall in the Plaza de Armas, Havana


I have a white rose to tend
In July as in January;
I give it to the true friend
Who offers his frank hand to me.  — José Martí

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Dagoberto, our waiter at a bar on the grounds of Castillo de los Tres Reyes Magos del Morro, Havana — the white rose he made and presented to me

If translated back into Spanish, those last words may sound familiar to you…

Cultivo una rosa blanca,
En julio como en enero,
Para el amigo sincero
Que me da su mano franca.

This Playing for Change YouTube video may refresh your memory, then there is Pete Seeger.  The above is one of four stanzas from Martí’s Versos Sencillos that are often used as lyrics to Guantanamera.

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The Mexican-Irish connection may date back farther than most of us have considered.  Séamus Ó Fógartaigh writes in the essay, Ireland and Mexico, “The first Irishman to set foot on Mexican soil may well have been St. Brendan the Navigator, who, according to legend, crossed the Atlantic Ocean in his ‘currach’ (traditional Irish rowing boat) in search of new converts to the Christian faith. An ancient manuscript found in Medieval European monasteries allegedly described his voyage to strange Western Lands, and is known as the Navigatio Sancti Brendani Abbatis. Some historians claim that Christopher Columbus found inspiration for his seafaring adventure in the pages of the Navigatio of St. Brendan the Abbot.”  And, he notes, there is even speculation that Quetzalcóatl was actually a deified Irish monk.

As you raise your pint of Guinness on this St. Patrick’s Day, consider this and the other Mexico and Ireland connections, while you sing a rousing chorus of Saint Patrick Battalion.

The song celebrates the Batallón de San Patricio, the Irish-American soldiers who deserted and fought alongside the Mexican army against the United States during the Mexican American War, 1846-1848.  And, don’t forget to watch One Man’s Hero, the 1999 feature film about the San Patricios, starring Tom Berenger.

Sláinte mhaith!  ¡Salud!  And, remember, don’t drink and drive!

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Wishing all my sisters, whoever and wherever you may be, a happy International Women’s Day.  The struggle continues, because…

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San Juan Guelavia, January 2016

From an article today:

An estimated 120 million girls and women under the age of 20 have been subjected to forced sexual intercourse or other forced sexual acts – around 10 per cent.

More than a third of women worldwide have also experienced physical or sexual violence at some point in their lives, with this being most common between a woman’s teenage years and menopause.

Meanwhile, nearly a quarter of a billion more women are in the global workforce today than a decade ago, but they are only earning what men did in 2006, according to the World Economic Forum.

And one in 10 married women are not consulted by their husbands on how their own cash earnings will be spent.

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A year and a half ago, I cut off the top of a pineapple (piña, en español), stuck it in a ten inch pot in full sun, watered it very occasionally during the dry season, and it actually began to grow.  This member of the Bromeliaceae family is thought to have originated in the area between southern Brazil and Paraguay and spread throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.  Reaching Mexico, it was cultivated by the Mayas and Aztecs.  Spanish, Dutch, and Portuguese conquerors took it across the pond, and the rest is history.  No surprise, as the fruit (which resembles a pine cone — hence the name) is sweet, succulent, and ridiculously easy to grow!

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A symbol of home: warmth, welcome, friendship and hospitality.  The Welcoming Pineapple

Grown in the Papaloapan region of Oaxaca, the pineapple has inspired elaborate embroidery designs and the crowd-pleasing Flor de Piña dance.   What’s not to love?!

 

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