Posts Tagged ‘Oaxaca Lending Library’

Back in April, I received a message from my hometown library with the request, Help us tell the story of what happened during the COVID-19 pandemic in Mill Valley. A light bulb turned on, my brain went into librarian/archivist mode, and I thought, we should do that here in Oaxaca. What better way to bring the Oaxaca Lending Library community, both here in Oaxaca and those currently scattered around the world, together and provide a venue to share thoughts and feelings, document daily life, and unleash creativity. And, when this nightmare is over, the OLL will have joined an international effort by public and academic libraries, archives, historical societies, and museums to preserve slices of life from this historic time for future community members and researchers to ponder.

Thus, we formed a small committee, met remotely, and issued our own call for submissions. Members and friends, be they here or there, have been asked to submit photographs, stories in prose or verse, and videos. The response has been beyond my wildest dreams and I invite you to view the most recent edition of Archiving the Pandemic in Oaxaca: How will this time be remembered? The contributions are revealing in a variety of happy, sad, challenging, generous, and talented ways.

July 30, 2020 – Calle de Adolfo Gurrión at 5 de mayo, Oaxaca de Juárez.

The project is ongoing; alas, the pandemic’s end is not in sight. However, my heart is lifted in seeing, reading, and sharing experiences with my Oaxaca Lending Library community and knowing we are part of an international effort to help shape the telling of a community story.

(ps) The QR codes on the image above link to the following articles exposing issues medical personnel are facing battling the virus in Oaxaca:

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If you are in town… As background to the December 12, Fiesta a la Virgen de Guadalupe performance of the Danza de la Pluma in Teotitlán del Valle, blogger buddy Chris (of Oaxaca-The Year After fame) and I are again doing a presentation at the Oaxaca Lending Library.  It will be on Tuesday, December 4 at 5:00 PM.  And, new this year:  There will be very special guests!


From the library’s description of the talk, “The Danza de la Pluma, with its giant feathered headdresses, is one of the most famous dances performed in Oaxaca and is particularly special in the Zapotec weaving village of Teotitlán del Valle.  The dance, dancers, and village all have rich stories.  Come join Chris Stowens and Shannon Sheppard, who have spent several years observing and learning about this amazing culture, for a presentation filled with stories, photos and video.”

Alas, it’s not free.  Besides memberships, presentations like this are what keeps the library afloat.  The cost is 90 pesos for OLL members and 130 pesos for non-members.  Reservations can be made using the library’s Online Store.  Hope to see you on Tuesday!

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Residents and visitors, alike, have been in mourning for a couple of years — ever since Margie Barclay retired from publishing her extremely popular and informative Oaxaca Calendar.  While others, like Que Pasa Oaxaca, have tried to pick up the slack, nothing else has quite measured up until now.  There is a new calendar in town — OaxacaEvents!!!


As you can see, it’s visually easy on the eyes and I can assure you it’s also easy to use.  For example, clicking the “View” arrow links to event details.  Though the default is “All,” by clicking on a menu bar selection, you can specify a type of event for which you want to see listings (Music, Art, Dance/Theater, Food/Drink, Sports/Fitness, Learning, Groups/Mtgs, or Festivals).  You can also elect to see event listings for a particular date, use the search feature, and (drum roll, please), if you know of an event that isn’t shown, you can “submit an event” — harnessing the power of crowd-sourcing!  Pretty cool, yes?

The OaxacaEvents calendar is a volunteer effort by Dottie Bellinger and Teri Gunderson in partnership with the Oaxaca Lending Library.  If you’re in the neighborhood, please be sure to thank them, including Margie Barclay who briefly came out of “calendar retirement” to lend her expertise in the initial setup.


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As a background to the December 12, Fiesta a la Virgen de Guadalupe performance of the Danza de la Pluma in Teotitlán del Valle, mañana (Dec. 10, 2014) at 5:00 PM at the Oaxaca Lending Library, Chris (of Oaxaca-The Year After fame) and I are doing a presentation about the Danza de la Pluma in Teotitlán del Valle.


From the library’s description of the talk, “The Danza de la Pluma or Dance of the Conquistadors is one of the most famous dances performed in Oaxaca.  Join Shannon and Chris for a presentation filled with photos and video of their many times observing and chronicling this beautiful dance.”

Alas, it’s not free.  Besides memberships, presentations like this are what keeps the library afloat.  The cost is 70 pesos for OLL members and 100 pesos for non-members.  Hope to see you there!

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Along with blogger buddy Chris, I’ve been immersed in putting together a presentation for the Oaxaca Lending Library on the Danza de la Pluma, as it’s performed in Teotitlán del Valle.  On the superficial level, the Danza relates the story of the Conquest.  But, as is the genius of art, it reaches into our hearts and souls and explores and communicates the truths we feel.

And so, this brief video from classmates of the 43 missing Ayotzinapa students touched me deeply.

The ballet needs to tell its own story in such a way it can be received without having to be translated into language.  –Twyla Tharp

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One of the biggest challenges of the recent move was carrying 150+ potted plants down two flights of stairs, across the driveway, and up a flight of stairs.  They ranged in size from eight to eighteen inches across and ten to twenty-four inches tall.  Needless to say, major respect was given to the cactus and their perilous spikes.  However, I also gave special care to my two pots by the late potter, Dolores Porras.


Growing up and spending her life in one of the villages of Oaxaca known for working in clay, Santa María Atzompa, her style was unique in the use of color and imagery — a touch of whimsy wherever her pots are found.


If you will be in Oaxaca tomorrow (Feb. 11, 2013), be sure to stop by the Oaxaca Lending Library to see Michael Peed discuss and show his documentary, Dolores Porras: Artista Artesana de Barro.  And, if you’re not lucky enough to be there, check out the website for the film’s trailer.

Porras blurb


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With a nod to Humphrey Bogart’s character in Casablanca:  Of all the volunteer opportunities, in all of Oaxaca, why did I walk into the Oaxaca Lending Library (OLL)?   For the answer, you will have to check out my newly published (yippeee!) article on volunteering at the Oaxaca Lending Library on the Go Overseas website.

The article mentions the various and sundry activities organized by the OLL.  So, I thought I’d give you a taste:

Volunteering at the OLL has introduced me to an incredibly diverse, knowledgeable, and talented group of people from a wide variety of backgrounds.  Be they native Oaxaqueños, year round ex pat residents, or yearly “snow birds,” many have become part of my community and support system.  A library —  what better place to get your questions answered about the who, what, where, why, and how of living and thriving in an unfamiliar culture?  People and books are there to assist with navigating the challenges, celebrating the differences, and exploring the surroundings.

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a panel discussion at the library commemorating fifty years of the Peace Corps.  Two of the speakers had been among the original Peace Corps volunteers in the 1960s, one to Africa and one to South America. The third speaker is an 85-year-old woman who was a Peace Corps volunteer when she was 60+ years old!  All have been living in Oaxaca for a number of years, and credit their Peace Corps volunteer experiences with broadening their horizons and realizing their power to have a positive impact in the world, even if it is just one person at a time.  All continue to find ways to offer their time, energy, and talents to assist various people and communities of Oaxaca.

According to a recent International Community Foundation report on US retiree trends in Mexico:

• Nearly 60% of respondents volunteer their time to a charitable cause in Mexico and over 29% volunteer at least once a week or on a regular basis. Respondents engage in a wide range of volunteer activities, most prominently with education-focused charities, community projects, and the environment.

• U.S retirees in Mexico volunteer because of their strong sense of social responsibility and desire to make a difference in their adopted communities. Survey respondents reported that their volunteer efforts increase their sense of belonging in Mexico, and contribute to an increased sense of community among local neighbors and friends.

• 42% of American retirees surveyed are actively involved in at least one or two Mexican charities in their adopted communities, while another 11% are affiliated with more than three.

Ten years ago, I never dreamed I would be living an ex pat life in southern Mexico.  Funny how life’s curves can lead to opportunities….

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Librarians, especially at the reference desk, are often called upon to be detectives.  However, sleuthing goes on behind the scenes, as well.  Lately, I’ve been cataloging DVDs at the Oaxaca Lending Library.  While most of the films are from el norte, they have been purchased in Mexico and thus have been given Spanish language titles.

Can you match these titles with the DVD jackets below?

  • Amor sin escalas
  • Asesino intimo
  • Buenas costumbres
  • El golpe perfecto
  • Una historia de traicion
  • Noche del crimen
  • Vecinos y enemigos
  • Secreto en la montaña

Answers will be revealed at the bottom of the next blog posting.

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My Spanish language abilities are progressing little by little (poco a poco).  However, one thing my wonderful and extremely patient Spanish teacher, Laura Olachea, has neglected to cover is Madre-isms; those too numerous to count and unique to Mexican Spanish, expressions that the mamas, hijas, and hermanas for the most part never use, at least not in mixed or polite company.

Of course, being that one doesn’t know what one doesn’t know, I was oblivious!  Oblivious, that is, until I read Norma Hawthorne’s review of the new book, Madre: Perilous Journeys With a Spanish Noun, by Liza Bakewell.  Intrigued, I purchased the book when I was in el norte in June and immediately plunged in.

Cover of book, Madre: Perilous Journeys With a Spanish Noun, by Liza Bakewell

In July, while I was immersed in the “madre” minefield, Liza arrived in Oaxaca for some much-needed R & R, to write an article or two, and to promote her book.  I had the pleasure of getting to know her (she’s warm, smart, and funny), eat one of Aurora’s (you will meet her in the book) empanadas, and assist with setting up a couple of speaking engagements.  The first, in English, was at the Oaxaca Lending Library, where the audience was overwhelmingly women and, as expected, mostly gringas.  There was much surprise and laughter as Liza read excerpts from the book, expanded on points, and answered numerous questions.

Liza Bakewell at the Oaxaca Lending Library showing her book, Madre...

The second speaking engagement, the following evening, was at the Instituto de Artes Gráficas de Oaxaca (IAGO) and was conducted all in Spanish.  And here, surrounded by the Rini Templeton exhibit, I looked around and noticed the majority of people attending were Mexican men.  However, like Guillermo Fricke, Director of IAGO, people listened closely, occasionally chuckled knowingly, and stayed to ask questions and make respectful and thoughtful comments.

Guillermo Fricke listening to the talk by Liza Bakewell at IAGO

It was a much more reserved gathering than the day before, but no less attentive and appreciative.  And, reflecting on previous events and observations and now reading Labyrinth of Solitude, by Octavio Paz, I’m coming to understand, except for fiestas, that is the Mexican way.  Though, I wonder, if it had been all Mexican women in attendance, would it have been different?  I think so.  There is something about the bond women share that crosses boundaries and cultures….

However, thanks to Liza, at least while in Mexico, I may never utter the word, madre, again!

(ps)  If your local library doesn’t have Madre: Perilous Journeys With a Spanish Noun, ask them to order it!

(pps)  Another insightful review of Madre has just appeared on GlobetrotterGirls.com

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I’ve been wanting to write this post for almost two months…

Back in February, when L was visiting, we, along with thirty or so other curious and interested (mostly) gringos, toured two of the libraries Libros Para Pueblos has established — one in Santiago Etla and another further up the valley in San Pablo Huitzo.  Local officials and library staff welcomed us and school children read from story books, gave book reports, and performed skits.  It was a non-touristy introduction to Oaxaca for L, and a moving, informative, and inspiring experience for both of us.

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Libros Para Pueblos is a program of the Oaxaca Lending Library and is staffed by a dedicated group of volunteers, spearheaded by Janet Stanley, a one woman dynamo!  Its mission is, “putting books into the hands of the children of Oaxaca” by establishing  libraries in the villages of the state of Oaxaca, thereby encouraging a love of reading and promoting education.

As I explained in my previous post, Books… children… What’s not to like?!, the need in this state is enormous.  Little by little, progress is being made and over the past ten years, Libros Para Pueblos has set-up, always with the support and participation of the local communities, over 40 libraries.  It is a much-needed program and well worth supporting.

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As I write there are 18 upcoming activities listed on the Oaxaca Lending Library website — and these are just for the remainder of February through March. I know, because I put them there and there are several more events waiting in the wings for me to add!

Snowbirds and full-time residents alike, can fill their days by attending classes and book talks, touring nearby crafts villages, enjoying spa pampering, exploring ecotourism, and more…

The energy, creativity, dedication, and hard work by a multitude of volunteers at the library is a sight to behold. You name it, they will organize it!

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November 5th was opening day of the inaugural Oaxaca International Independent Film and Video Festival. Having volunteered at the Mill Valley Film Festival for eight years and attending it for many more, I enthusiastically poured over the nine-day schedule and made sure to arrive at the newly reopened Auditorio Ariel for the first film a half an hour early. Of course, the theater wasn’t open, no line had formed, and the only other people not sporting official film festival badges or wearing official volunteer t-shirts, were other gringos. When will I ever learn?!!

Other days and films followed, including the wonderful documentary, Awakening From Sorrow: Buenos Aires 1997. The voices of the now grown children of the disappeared, tortured, and murdered during Argentina’s “dirty war” of the late 1970s and early 1980s, are woven, along with haunting artwork, music and archival film footage into an exquisite “tapestry of remembrance” in their quest for justice. And, come to find out, it screened at last year’s Mill Valley Film Festival.

In addition to the films, the festival also featured an English language and a Spanish language literature competition. The Oaxaca Lending Library, where I volunteer, underwrote the English competition, including bringing the winner, Charles Whipple, to Oaxaca from his home in Japan(!) and hosting a reception on Nov. 11. The evening temperatures were mild, perfect for gathering in the courtyard of the stately 17th century home of the Rufino Tamayo Museo de Arte Prehispanico de Mexico, savoring the delicious canapés created by Jean-Michel Thomas of ¿Donde esta el chef?, and listening to Charles Whipple read his awarding winning story, A Matter of Tea.

The evening closed with the Mexican premiere of, Twenty Five Hundred & One, a documentary chronicling Oaxacan-born artist, Alejandro Santiago’s sculptural tribute to the thousands of men and women who have left his pueblo almost deserted, in their search for jobs. Alejandro Santiago and several of his family members and the crew who help create the 2,501 sculptures were present, as was director, Director, Patricia Van Ryker. It was a lovely way to spend an evening…

Photos from the reception can be found in a photo album on the Oaxaca Lending Library’s website.

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Tears have  been falling on Oaxaca.  This season has brought historic rainfall courtesy of multiple hurricanes and tropical depressions in the Gulf and Pacific.  Ground is supersaturated, rivers have overflowed, fields and villages are flooded, bridges have collapsed, overpasses are closed and, in the city, water has been pouring down from hills, turning city streets into rushing streams and leaving streets potholed and sidewalks covered with a fine silt.  Twice in the past month a huge hole has opened up just a block away, closing a major bus route.

Hole in the road

The damage has been occurring daily for several months and, watching CNN International, I kept asking, “What about Oaxaca?  Why are they ignoring the unfolding tragedy here that has been devastating the homes and livelihoods of impoverished and mostly indigenous communities?”

Unfortunately, it took a lethal avalanche of mud and boulders tumbling down onto the remote mountain village of Santa María Tlahuitoltepec (50 miles east of Oaxaca City) in the early morning hours of Sept. 28 to bring rain-soaked Oaxaca to the world’s attention.  Thankfully, early estimates of the possible death toll proved to be exaggerated, but the destruction is catastrophic and the communities require an enormous amount of assistance.

Relief efforts have begun, collection stations have been set up throughout the city, and the Oaxaca Lending Library, where I volunteer, is spearheading its own drive to gather supplies and cash.  In addition, the Oaxaca Lending Library Foundation, a US tax exempt 501(c)3, is collecting financial contributions.  Dr. Alberto Zamacona, a Oaxaca Lending Library board member, runs medical missions to the Santa María Tlahuitoltepec area and will be overseeing the purchase and delivery of construction materials to help rebuild this extremely poor Mixe community.  If you would like to donate, please send a check to:

OLLF, c/o James Corrigan, 5443 Drover Drive, San Diego, CA 92115, USA

AND write “Flooding” in the memo portion of the check.  Donations will be transferred to Oaxaca and the Foundation’s treasurer will send you a receipt for tax purposes.  The need is great, so any donation you can make will be much appreciated and put to good use.

Unfortunately, this may have been another human-caused tragedy that could have been avoided.  Corruption And Deforestation Caused Oaxaca’s Mudslide Disaster, an informative and thought-provoking article by Kristen Bricker explores this issue.  And Oaxaca continues to weep….

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