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Posts Tagged ‘indigenous peoples’

As previously mentioned, I am currently in el norte.  Visiting my family and friends has taken me from Oaxaca to New York, across the country to California, followed by Colorado, and then back to California.  I have been on multiple airplanes, traversed through multiple airports, and been complimented multiple times on my earrings.  We are not talking gold or silver filigree, we are talking about earrings made from jícara — the fruit of the Crescentia cujete (aka, Calabash tree).  [Click on images to enlarge.]

 

 

Earrings are not the only things made from the dried fruit of these humble trees that grow in less-than-ideal environments.  The Tacuate women of Santa María Zacatepec (Oaxaca) use them as hats.

The gourds are cut in half, washed, and with seeds removed, set out in the sun.  Once dry, throughout southern Mexico, they frequently are lacquered, decoratively painted, and used as cups for tejate and other traditional beverages.

 

 

As youi can see, in Villa de Zaachila, in the valley of Oaxaca, this use is even celebrated in a Día de Muertos mural.

Larger jícaras, known as jicalpextles, are a specialty of Chiapa de Corzo (Chiapas).  However, they have assumed a special role in the Zapotec village of Teotitlán del Valle (Oaxaca), where they are filled with handmade sugar flowers and carried during weddings, religious celebrations, and other important fiestas.

 

 

And, recently there was an exhibition of carved jícaras by Salomón Huerta and José Cruz Sánchez from Pinotepa de Don Luis (Oaxaca) at the Museo Estatal de Arte Popular Oaxaca (MEAPO).  At last, the talent of the artisans who create these pieces is being given the recognition it deserves and their creations are being appreciated as works of art.

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So, hurray for the not-so-humble jícara and the ingenuity and creativity of the indigenous peoples of the world whose traditions teach them to honor and not waste the gifts of planet earth.

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2019 has been proclaimed the International Year of Indigenous Languages by the United Nations.  The issue of “lenguas maternas” (mother tongues) has a particular resonance in Oaxaca, as the state is home to 16 distinct ethnolinguistic groups:  Amuzgos, Chatino, Chinanteco, Chocho, Chontal, Cuicateco, Huave, Ixcateco, Mazateco, Mixe, Mixteco, Náhuatl, Popoloca, Triqui, Zapoteco, and Zoque.

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As anyone who has visited the villages of Oaxaca has discovered, sometimes the abuelos and abuelas only speak their mother tongue, not Spanish.  To honor and celebrate them, their ancestors, and their children and grandchildren, today on the zócalo, Oaxaca celebrated those languages with songs, poetry, and recitations.

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However, like indigenous languages throughout the world, Mexico’s indigenous languages are in danger of disappearing.  The importance of passing these languages and the world views they express to the younger generations cannot be underestimated.

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Thus here in Oaxaca, on February 21, 2019, Mother Language Day, you can walk The roads of the feathered serpent: revaluing one of the variants of the Zapotec Valley of Oaxaca” and “Meet the Zapotec of Teotitlán through storytelling and other activities!” at the Biblioteca Infantil (Children’s Library). 

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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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The National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI) ranks the state of Oaxaca first in Mexico, in terms of indigenous population. [SIPAZ, Población Indígena]   Out of 3,405,990 inhabitants of Oaxaca, 34.2% are indigenous.Grupos Etnicos Oaxaca La Guelaguetza, Oaxaca’s July celebration of its indigenous cultures is in the rear view mirror.  The streets were filled with tourists and hotels and restaurants were happy.  However, the debate continues regarding the role of this annual event.

Santos Reyes Nopala, Chatino

Santos Reyes Nopala – Chatino

Does it benefit Oaxaca’s indigenous population or just the tourist industry?  Does it present reality or reinforce stereotypes?  However, all agree, poverty and inequality ARE problems that disproportionately affect the indigenous people of Oaxaca.  And, Oaxaca and Mexico are not alone…

Santa María Zacatepec, Tacuate

Santa María Zacatepec, Tacuate Mixteco

Tomorrow is August 9, designated as International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples by the United Nations General Assembly in 1994.  This year’s theme is, Post 2015 Agenda: Ensuring indigenous peoples health and well-being.  As the UN Women website explains:

Indigenous women experience disproportionate difficulties in access to health care, as well as higher rates of maternal and infant mortality, malnutrition and infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and malaria. Though indigenous women are counted upon to support the health and well-being of their families, they often face hurdles to access the resources to build the foundation of a better life, such as education and land.

San Pedro Amuzgos, Amuzgo

San Pedro Amuzgos, Amuzgo

 According to a recent article in Noticias, a woman born in Oaxaca has a four times greater risk of dying from maternal causes than in the rest of Mexico, and 56% of these deaths are of indigenous women.
San Pablo Macuiltianguis, Zapoteco

San Pablo Macuiltianguis – Zapoteco

The Chief of the National Commission for Development of Indigenous Peoples (CDI) Oaxaca delegation, reported that Oaxaca has the highest indigenous poverty rate in Mexico, with 1,719,000 indigenous in Oaxaca living in conditions of substandard infrastructure, health, and education, which, he acknowledged, affects women more.

San Pedro y San Pablo Ayutla, Mixe

San Pedro y San Pablo Ayutla – Mixe

In Oaxaca city, on August 9, a cultural event will be held at the Alameda de León, from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM with bands, poets, and artists supporting the campaign “What happened to my rights?”

San Juan Bautista Tuxtepec, Mazateco and Chinanteco

San Juan Bautista Tuxtepec – Mazateco and Chinanteco

Let’s hope there will be answers and action.
(Photos are from Guelaguetza 2015 desfiles (parades) and Diosa Centéotl contest.)

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August 9th is International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples; so designated twenty years ago by the United Nations General Assembly in an attempt to guarantee the human rights of over five thousand indigenous groups that exist in 90 countries.

Zapotec woman at Oaxaca's Feria del Tejate y del Tamal - July 23, 2014

Zapotec woman at Oaxaca’s Feria del Tejate y del Tamal – July 23, 2014

However, to cruise around the online versions of CNN International and the New York Times, one would never know of the day’s significance.  At least Día Internacional de los Pueblos Indígenas isn’t being ignored by CNN Mexico.  In an article published today (in Spanish) they cite seven challenges faced by the indigenous of Mexico:

  • Justice – The CNDH reported on July 24 that there are 8,334 Indians in Mexican prisons. Of these, the majority “have not been assisted by a defender and interpreter or translator companion, and even often know why they are internal,” the commission said in a statement.
  • Health – 20% of the indigenous lack access to health services, a rate similar to the population as a whole, except, as the article notes, in recent months the issue has drawn public attention following cases of indigenous women who have had to give birth in hospital courtyards or bathrooms, as they were not given immediate attention by hospital authorities.
  • Education – 50% of Mexico’s indigenous are said to be educationally “backward.”  And the article noted, the three states with the highest failure rates in primary and secondary school are Guerrero, Michoacan and Oaxaca, three of the states of the country with the largest indigenous populations.
  • Housing – 40% of the indigenous have inadequate housing.
  • Food – 42% of Mexico’s indigenous population receives insufficient nutrition.
  • Poverty – 72% of the indigenous in Mexico are living in poverty.
  • Discrimination – In August 2012, the National Council to Prevent Discrimination (Conapred) released a survey showing that 44.1% of Mexicans believe that the rights of indigenous people are not respected.

    http://noticiasmvsfotos.blob.core.windows.net/media/infografias/8a206f5d5c58f9e85b3774ff6fd05a2b.jpg

    Pueblos Indígenas en México (Indigenous peoples in Mexico) — Infographic from NoticiasMVS

And, regarding discrimination, yesterday ADNPolítico.com published an article, 5 ‘retratos’ de la discriminación hacia indígenas mexicanos (in Spanish).  Despite the fact that the first article of the Mexican Constitution declares, any discrimination on grounds of ethnic origin is prohibited, the story highlights five recent cases that have made national headlines:

  • The death of a 20-year-old pregnant Mixtec woman and the baby she was carrying, after she had spent 5 hours in the waiting room of a community hospital in Copala, Guerrero.
  • The case of a 13-year-old girl, with a gunshot wound to the abdomen, who was denied medical care in the Civil Hospital of Oaxaca.
  • A Tarahumara laborer from Guachochi, Chihuahua, died after spending five days outside a hospital in Guaymas, Sonora, without food and without shelter, having been denied admission to the hospital because he did not have enough money.
  • A 10-year Tzotzil boy originally from Chiapas who, while selling candy to buy his school supplies, was humiliated by an official of the municipality of Centro, Tabasco, who forced him to throw his merchandise on the ground.  A video of this travesty went viral and sparked outrage.
  • A gas station in Zapopan, Jalisco, was closed last June after its owner was shown on video assaulting an Indian couple who was eating outside the station.

We, in Oaxaca, just experienced the spectacle of the Guelaguetza celebrating the indigenous cultures of Oaxaca.  However, some say (in Spanish) it presents a static view of indigenous peoples, reinforces stereotypes, and sells exoticism — all to promote tourism.

Mixtec dancers from San Antonio Huitepec at La Guelaguetza, July 21, 2014.

Mixtec dancers from San Antonio Huitepec at La Guelaguetza — July 21, 2014.

The focus of this year’s International Day is “Bridging the gap: implementing the rights of indigenous peoples.”  Is it all talk, no action, and a lot of window dressing?  I don’t know, but it sure seems like that to me…  Sometimes, “poco a poco” isn’t good enough.

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According to the Indigenous Farmworker Study (IFS), there are approximately 165,000 indigenous Mexican farmworkers and their children living  in California — with a significant percentage coming from the state of Oaxaca.  Writer and photographer David Bacon has been photographing and interviewing indigenous Mexican migrants working in California’s agricultural fields for many years.  The following Truthout article is from his photo-documentary project, Living Under the Trees, sponsored by the California Council for the Humanities and California Rural Legal Assistance.

Young, at Work in the Fields

by David Bacon

(Photo: Bacon/After Image)

(Photo: Bacon/After Image)

Most young farm-workers in California are migrants from Mexico, especially the south of the country, where many people share an indigenous culture and language. Ricardo Lopez, living in a van with his grandfather in a store parking lot in Mecca, a tiny farmworker town in the Coachella Valley, says working as a migrant without a formal home was no surprise:

This is how I envisioned it would be working here with my grandpa and sleeping in the van. It’s hot at night, and hard to sleep well. There are a lot of mosquitoes, very few services, and the bathrooms are very dirty. At night there are a lot of people here coming and going. You never know what can happen; it’s a bit dangerous. But my grandfather has a lot of experience and knows how to handle himself. With the money I earn I’m going to help my mother and save the rest. I’ll be attending college in the fall at Arizona Western College—my first year. I want to have a good job, a career. I’m not thinking of working in the fields. Not at all. I look at how hard my grandfather has worked. I don’t want to do field work for the rest of my life because it’s so hard and the pay is so low.

Lopez describes the reality for farmworkers in California in a way that gives tangible meaning to the facts and numbers describing farmworker life. There are about 120,000 indigenous Mexican farmworkers in California. Counting the 45,000 children living with them, that is a total of 165,000 people. They are the most recent migrants from Mexico. They speak twenty-three languages, come from thirteen different Mexican states, and have rich cultures of language, music, dance, and food that bind their communities together.

<snip>  Click HERE to read full article.

This project is therefore a reality check. The idea is to give indigenous migrant communities a vehicle they can use to find support for dealing with the social problems they face, such as housing, low wages, and discrimination. This documentary work is not neutral. Its purpose is to help provide a means for people to organize and win support in a world that, at best, treats them as invisible, and at worst demonizes them. I used to be a union organizer, and this work is very similar. Social documentation not only has to have an engagement with reality, but should try to change it.

Click HERE to read full article.

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As I’ve mentioned before, Oaxaca is one of the most indigenous and (no surprise) one of the poorest states in Mexico.  And, the Triqui of the Mixteca region of Oaxaca are some of the state’s poorest residents.  They have recently come to the attention of sports lovers, as a result of the heartwarming story of their youth basketball team, dubbed the Barefoot champions of the mountains.

However, while their success story makes us feel good, it is rare.  Political violence and poverty continue to chase the Triqui out of their beautiful and ancient mountain communities in search of a better future for their families.   And, discrimination continues to follow them into el norte.  To add to the strikes against them wherever they go, Spanish is not their native language — the state of Oaxaca is home to 16 distinct ethnolinguistic groups, with Triqui being one.  And so, the story of Bernadina Hernandez and her grassroots efforts in Hollister, California should be known, appreciated, and celebrated.

A little background information…

Muchisimas gracias a Jody for turning me on to Bernadina’s story.

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In 1999, UNESCO designated February 21 as International Mother Language Day.  Tomorrow, February 20, Oaxaca begins her own celebration of Día Internacional de la Lengua Materna 2013 with a 2-day conference.

dia internacional de la lengua materna oaxaca 2013

The issue of “lenguas maternas” has a particular resonance in Oaxaca, as the state is home to 16 distinct ethnolinguistic groups:  Amuzgos, Chatino, Chinanteco, Chocho, Chontal, Cuicateco, Huave, Ixcateco, Mazateco, Mixe, Mixteco, Náhuatl, Popoloca, Triqui, Zapoteco, and Zoque.  As anyone who has visited the villages of Oaxaca has discovered, sometimes the abuelos and abuelas only speak their native language, not Spanish.

However, as Ernestina Gaitán Cruz notes in an article in sinembargo.mx, most of these indigenous languages lack an alphabet, having been passed from one generation to another through an oral tradition, and because these “Mother Tongues” are not taught in the schools, a significant number of these languages are in danger of becoming extinct.

Oaxaca is not alone.  From the article, Indigenous Youth Step up to Protect their Roots:

UNESCO estimates that every two weeks, one language disappears from the world.

Education systems have historically played a large part in the disappearance of indigenous languages, sometimes even forcing their extinction by severely punishing and shaming children for speaking native tongues or expressing indigenous identity in any way.

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In some communities where a large portion of the population speaks only the native language, another issue arises: access to important information on topics such as health care, employment opportunities, legal rights and public services.

And, it isn’t just a particular community that suffers, as The Endangered Languages Project explains, The disappearance of a language means the loss of valuable scientific and cultural information.

Zapotec village of Teotitlán del Valle

Zapotec village of Teotitlán del Valle

One of the missions of the Centro Académico y Cultural San Pablo in the city of Oaxaca is to document, study, and preserve the indigenous languages of Oaxaca.  The center includes a library, offers language classes, and will be hosting several events during Día Internacional de la Lengua Materna 2013.

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For lovers of textiles and Mexico, the latest online issue of the magazine, HAND/EYE (love the title!), has a terrific interview with friend and textile designer/collector/researcher, Sheri Brautigam.  The article, Documenting the Lives of Textiles, covers a wide range of topics, including preservation and revival of traditions and concerns re traditional versus modern designs.  As would be expected, given the subject matter, it includes lots of photos!

 

Documenting the Lives of Textiles

BY Annie Waterman | October 10, 2012

Close-up of traditional shawl

Courtesy of Sheri Brautigam

An Interview with Sheri Brautigam

Textile expert, Sheri Brautigam, shares with HAND/EYE Online, her experience as a documenter of “living” indigenous textiles. 

HAND/EYE: How did you first find yourself in Mexico and documenting “living” indigenous textiles?

Sheri Brautigam: I went to the university in Mexico City in the 60’s and that was the beginning of my lifelong relationship and many in-depth experiences with Mexico. This time, I was training Mexican English teachers through the English Language fellowship with the U.S. State Department—sort of like the English Teachers’ Peace Corps. My location was in a small town in the State of Mexico—Atlacomulco, surrounded by many different indigenous villages. When I went to a nearby village Mazahua ‘Saints Day’ festival and saw the amazing garments the ladies were wearing, I started my documentation.

H/E: How did you first get into becoming a researcher/ textile collector?

SB: I had a textiles design studio (surface design textiles) in San Francisco for about 18 years, so I had been collecting world textiles since the 1960s. That was when they were readily available from world travelers. I have loved and been involved with textiles most of my life and always want to know how these beautiful things are made … and now in Mexico, it’s even more exciting to see them in context. 

H/E: What sort of future do you predict for the world of traditional textiles? What changes have you noticed over the years? 

SB: I’m very hopeful that many traditional Mexican textiles will survive and become even finer. This I have seen in Oaxaca and Chiapas. When appreciation comes from the outside world and the artisans can earn money, they have an incentive to keep producing. The more money they can earn from superior work also encourages some artisans with higher skills to train their children. The more affluent indigenous people become, the more pride they have in their own culture and the continuation of their textile traditions.

Certainly some of the indigenous will leave their village and go to the towns and cities to work and wear jeans and t-shirts—but when they come home they will wear a huipil for the feast day. It’s their cultural identity.

Click HERE to read full article.

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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 sitting on a sidewalk

Triqui women and children in front of the Government Palace in Oaxaca de Juárez

From the June 15, 2012 New York TimesThe 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.

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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.

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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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Hip hop is probably not the first thing that pops to mind when you think of Oaxaca.  However, I can assure you, there is more to Oaxaca than colonial architecture, religious processions, colorful traje (costume), and traditional music.  As repeated blockades and occupations attest, and the El Silencio Mata posters illustrate, there are voices struggling to be heard.

For one of those voices, check out this trailer from the documentary film, Cuando Una Mujer Avanza (When a Woman Takes a Step Forward), about “Mare” a young Zapotec hip hop artist from Oaxaca.  As the promo states, her unique life experience is a rarely heard perspective on life and community liberation.  As an up and coming MC in a state known for popular and indigenous rebellion, Mare’s life and experience has been channeled into very powerful and conscious rapping and singing.

Update:  Check out the article, Mare Is a Rapper Hell-Bent on Equality for Women in Mexico.

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Just the thought of introducing genetically modified corn and the chemicals it requires into Oaxaca, where maíz has been cultivated (Just fine, thank you very much!) for thousands of years makes me sad and angry.  Education is growing, opposition is mounting, and alternatives to the profits-before-people-and-the-environment Monsantos of this world are being set up.  By the way, “agroecology” is a new word for me… and I like it!

From the February 20, 2012 Nation of Change

Native Farmers in Mexico Help Drive Local Eco-Friendly Farming

By Emilio Godoy

The largely invisible work of small local groups of indigenous farmers in Mexico who are spearheading the defense of their territory and identity and of native seeds is strengthening ecologically sound family farming, experts say.

“For thousands of years, indigenous people have been responsible for developing agricultural biodiversity,” Narciso Barrera, a researcher at the public Autonomous University of Tlaxcala in southern Mexico, told IPS. “However, these efforts remain basically invisible, and they should be highlighted and linked with other local movements.”

Since 2000, Barrera has worked on mapping Mexican political ecology, a discipline that studies the relationships between political, economic and social factors and environmental issues and changes.

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“Agroecology is the key, because it encompasses social aspects, education, economics and farming practices,” said Barrera, who has published the results of his studies in the Spanish journal Papeles de Relaciones Ecosociales y Cambio Global (Papers on Eco Social Relations and Global Change).

I encourage you to read the full article.

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Fascinating and revealing… from Upside Down World.  I encourage you to read the full article.

Defying the Myth of Native Desolation: Cultural Continuity in Oaxaca
Written by Kathleen Melville
Friday, 09 December 2011 15:56

Woman grinding masa on stone matate

“There is no remedy, and the Indians are coming to an end.” – Don Felipe Huamán Poma de Ayala, 1615 (quoted in Restall, 100)

Despite the passage of nearly four hundred years, Huamán Poma’s dismal pronouncement remains the sad ending to many popular narratives of the conquest. In classrooms throughout the United States, students learn that the arrival of Columbus spelled the end of Native American civilization and that the Spanish conquest obliterated indigenous culture and society in the Americas. As Matthew Restall notes in “The Seven Myths of the Conquest”, this pervasive “myth of native desolation” (102) obscures the strength and vitality of indigenous people throughout history and into the present.

In Oaxaca, Mexico, the lives and work of indigenous people belie the myth of native desolation and attest to thousands of years of continuous, evolving culture. In July, over 30 educators from the United States convened in Oaxaca for a summer institute funded by the National Endowment of the Humanities. Our goal was to better understand the histories and cultures of indigenous people in the region so that we might help illuminate and preserve them through our teaching. With unit plans that we designed and shared, we hope to disturb and diminish the myth of native desolation and to enrich our students’ perspectives on native culture.

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Globalization and transnational corporations also pose a significant threat to indigenous cultural continuity. Artisans in Oaxaca complained that Asian companies have been mass-producing textiles and wood carvings abroad and then undercutting the tourist market locally. As documented in several articles on this site, the agricultural corporation Monsanto aims to expand its reign into Oaxaca and eliminate small maize farms like the Vicente family’s. Drug cartels, their own breed of transnational organization, also jeopardize indigenous culture by increasingly luring young people into lives of violence far from home. These giants make for formidable foes in the fight for cultural survival, but the indigenous communities of Oaxaca have faced formidable foes in the past. From the Aztec conquest to the Spanish conquest to the present day, indigenous communities in Oaxaca have endured and evolved, defying the myth of native desolation and defining a culturally sustainable future for themselves.  [Full article]

(FYI:  I just had first-hand experience with the threat cheap imports pose to the livelihoods of Oaxaca’s artisans.  I do all my Christmas shopping in Oaxaca (so much more enjoyable than hitting the malls in the USA) and purchased backscratchers for stocking-stuffers that “looked” like they were made from the ubiquitous carrizo found anywhere a trickle of water is found in Oaxaca.  However, there they were in a bin at one of the chain drug stores here in el norte!  I’m thinking they were made in China.  Wood carvers, potters, and weavers, the conversation is the same; business is down and these creative and talented folks are being forced to return to work in the fields.)  — casitacolibrí

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Mexico’s favourite singer-songwriter dishes on development, gender, indigenous issues, peace and music.  An interview with Lila Downs (in English) from the IFAD social reporting blog:

By the way, Chris, over at Oaxaca-The Year After has posted more from the recent concert at the Guelaguetza Auditorium, covered in my Sublime sounds and spectacle post.

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