In the last month, several articles in the US press referencing Oaxaca have been called to my attention. They aren’t the usual travel features enumerating the “10 must see sites,” “best places to stay,” and “local fare dining.” Nor do they cater to the ever more popular fear mongering and demonization of Mexico and her citizens. Instead, these articles provide a window on Oaxaca’s indigenous past and challenging present.
Triqui women and children in front of the Government Palace in Oaxaca de Juárez
From the June 15, 2012 New York Times: The Past Has a Presence Here by Edward Rothstein.
OAXACA, Mexico — The past casts a sharp shadow here, wherever you look. You see it on mountaintop plateaus, where the ruins of ancient pyramidal staircases and capital-I-shaped ball fields hint at mysterious rituals that disappeared over a millennium ago.
We are not dealing here with imagined reconstructions, but with the past’s palpable presence. And most of these ancient cities and monuments were abandoned some six centuries before the Spaniards plundered the region. After 80 years of archaeological research, their meanings are still unclear, though much has been written about Zapotec social hierarchies, gladiatorial-style games and stone carvings.
What is more clear is that remnants of those worlds also exist in the valley, where the slow-changing cultures of this buffeted but protected region still reflect Zapotec and Mixtec heritages. So here everything is plentiful that in the United States is rare: indigenous ruins, ancient languages, signs of direct lineage. And there is an edge to it all. Centers like Monte Albán are monuments to power and accumulated material wealth; they are also clearly evidence of a large-scale political organization, relics of perhaps the earliest state in the Americas. [Read full article]
From California’s June 7, 2012 Monterey County Weekly, Native speakers and local missionaries work to save an indigenous Mexican language by Sara Rubin.
Gloria Moreno walks with a slight limp under the weight of the black messenger bag slung over her shoulder. It holds something of a botanical encyclopedia, petals and leaves gathered from the streets of Greenfield, which Moreno says help alleviate any number of ailments – pain, anxiety, weak bones.
Moreno says her collection is part of a medical tradition she began practicing as a teenager in Mexico. It was there, at 15, that she says she was instructed in a dream to take up herbal medicine.
Moreno dreamt her directive in Triqui de la baja, an indigenous language of the Copala region of Oaxaca in southern Mexico.
As native Triqui speakers disperse, leaving behind a notoriously violent region, there’s pressure both to preserve that language, and to leave it behind.
Of an estimated 40,000 Triqui speakers worldwide, about half of them are thought to have migrated away from Oaxaca, and as many as 10 percent live in the Salinas Valley.
Moreno hopes for a generation of trilingual children, but many younger Triqui speakers are encouraged to trade their native tongue for English or Spanish, says a Salinas-based interpreter (who asked not to be named for fear of reprisal), because indigenous Mexicans are viewed as inferior. He trekked two hours to school from his childhood home in Oaxaca where he says he was bullied for being different.
“Because of the discrimination, parents don’t want their kids to learn [Triqui],” he says, “but then we lose tradition and culture.”
To reverse that, he hopes to get a grant or some cash to revive a bimonthly Triqui class piloted at the Greenfield Public Library two years ago. It drew about 35 students; of those, only a quarter were native speakers. The rest, mostly service providers, were there to learn Triqui.
“To speak Spanish, I used to think you had more value,” he says. “When I came here, I learned it is not that way. If you know three or four languages, you can explore and learn more.”
View Barbara Hollenbach’s Spanish-Triqui dictionary at www.sil.org/~hollenbachb/Posted.htm [Read full article]
And finally from the May 28 Los Angeles Times, Epithet that divides Mexicans is banned by Oxnard school district, by Paloma Esquivel.
Rolando Zaragoza, 21, was 15 years old when he came to the United States, enrolled in an Oxnard school and first heard the term “Oaxaquita.” Little Oaxacan, it means — and it was not used kindly.
“Sometimes I didn’t want to go to school,” he said. “Sometimes I stayed to fight.”
“It kind of seemed that being from Oaxaca was something bad,” said Israel Vasquez, 23, who shared the same mocking, “just the way people use ‘Oaxaquita’ to refer to anyone who is short and has dark skin.”
Years later, indigenous leaders are fighting back against an epithet that lingers among immigrants from Mexico, directed at their own compatriots. Earlier this month the Mixteco/Indigena Community Organizing Project in Oxnard launched the “No me llames Oaxaquita” campaign. “Don’t call me little Oaxacan” aims to persuade local school districts to prohibit the words “Oaxaquita” and “indito” (little Indian) from being used on school property, to form committees to combat bullying and to encourage lessons about indigenous Mexican culture and history.
Indigenous Mexicans have come to the U.S. in increasing numbers in the last two decades. Some estimates now put them at 30% of California’s farmworkers. In Ventura County, there are about 20,000 indigenous Mexicans, most of whom are Mixtec from the states of Oaxaca and Guerrero who work in the strawberry industry, according to local organizers.
Many speak little or no Spanish and are frequently subjected to derision and ridicule from other Mexicans. The treatment follows a legacy of discrimination toward indigenous people in Mexico, said William Perez, a professor of education at Claremont Graduate University who has interviewed and surveyed numerous indigenous Mexican students. [Read full article]
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