“Oaxaca is not folklore. It is Rebellion”
On one of the first days on the trip, we saw a graffiti art on the street that read “Oaxaca is not folklore. It is Rebellion”. This graffiti art was a reminder of my fears and provide me with the lense to observe Oaxaca culture. The Food and Agricultural Organization declared 2017 the year of “International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development”. This trip allow me to reflect on how I contribute to inequality and social change as a tourist, researcher and individual in Oaxaca and on future travels.
That includes being selective on the souvenirs that you buy, to the places that you visit, and how do you engage and learn from the locals. Our visits to diverse communities with EnVia, Sierra Norte and La Mesita projects is the biggest manifestation on how to practice responsible tourism. I was concern of being “that American tourist”, who romanticizes a simpler way of life and that fails to recognize how markets, neoliberalism and internationals politics affect the everyday lives of the individuals in Oaxacan communities. I just didn't want to see the culture and folklore of Oaxaca, I wanted to see their struggles, fights and challenges.
For me, it was honor to visit Oaxaca during this time in my life and due to the political climate in the United States. I paid close attention to radio, newspapers articles and conversations about how Oaxacans and/or Mexicans perceive risks of external political factors and globalized markets trends. Native Indigenous groups in Oaxaca survive and thrive under La Conquista Española and were able to preserve their indigenous language, culture and foodways in some of the most remote regions of the country, because of the economic needs of the Spanish crown. I was jealous. As Dominican Republic, was one of the first Spanish colonies of the Nuevo Mundo we mix racially first, assimilated first, suffer and died first. Today, most Dominicans have forgotten their Amerindian roots and little knowledge survived from that time in history for anthropologist and historians to recover the pieces of a lost tribe:the taino people.
As the guide on Monte Alban mentioned, the Zapotec and the other groups of the Oaxaca region, were more complex civilizations as such they cannot be compared with tainos.Thanks to this trip, I was able to engage with individuals, and households on a community setting to understand their everyday dynamics. We learned and visited about diverse economic activities in Oaxaca: weavers, tortilla makers, cheese makers, hospitality, food and agriculture sector. For me, learning about how they produce income in addition to meetings community and family responsibilities like Guelaguetza, Compadrazgo and basic households needs it is not hard to understand, but hard to accept. My training on western economics and social science somethings conflicted with the behaviors I observed. Some of the questions it prompted are: Does being a food centric culture limits the economic productive of the household? (Time spent at the mercado, cooking, planning meals) Are Guelaguetza and Compadrazgo commitments perpetuating social stratification and inequality? How can social and economic mobility be achieved on this rural settings? What should be the role of “big government” on this communities? I can’t answer half of these questions, but they definitely gave me perspective on how I interpret economic concepts and realities.
In the first chapters on Zapotec Science Farming and Food in the Northern Sierra of Oaxaca by Roberto J. Gonzalez he tells us more about how this communities and food culture was able to persevere through the years after the spanish colonization (1500s) and the green revolution (1960). I was really interested to learn that their most famous crops ( maize, beans and squash) and their companion growing technique they called “American trinity” instead of how we called them in the northeast the “Three sisters”. This is just an example of how we blend or synchronize the new and old world crops, knowledges and techniques or like other historians called “The Columbus Exchange”. This simple practice is still well know today, but the culture aspect of different names, crops and climates allows us to understand more deeply the complex and diverse food culture of Oaxaca. In Neveria and Benito Juarez, I asked questions on economic diversification and risk management of crops in this region. I was curious to understand the market trends, household needs and the livelihoods of these agricultural producers in the Sierra Norte. I was please to see such a focus towards organic and polyculture production that sustain the produce biodiversity of this reach region, especially corn.
“Traditional knowledge” and its transferer was a topic that I wanted to observed. I observed continuous generational transfer of knowledge of the Zapotec language, weaving practices, cargos and other “usos and costumbres” ordinances. When it came to medicinal plants, agriculture, synchronizing between catholicism and Zapotec myths, I saw a disconnect between the elderly and middle age population and the younger ones. Although some young ones are proud to claim their heritage and fulfil traditional cargo roles and follow usos and costumbres, at the same time they want to better connect and perhaps belong to the 21st century and western ideals of happiness and success.
As an immigrant to the United States, I found that after one move or migration, trying to “fit-in” gets easier and easier after ever move. In Oaxaca, the places we visited and stayed gave me a surprising cultural comfort that I didn’t knew I need it or want it. How do you feel more comfortable on a culture that is not your own? This cultural comfort allow me to explore and examine topics about my own latinidad and culture such as family,language,religion and how do I interact with my own community members in the states.
Oaxacans are sincere, welcoming and luchadores. Their hard work ethic, sincere hospitality, family and community values are something I hope to replicate on my own life. At the same time, I want to acknowledge their lucha: A Continuous fight with the state government for rights and representation, the claims of marginalized groups, banners of disapproval of politicians and community members, graffitis with call to actions, art, and honest opinions walking in the pedestrian boulevard. This is the rebeldía I observed on Oaxaca. A rebeldía, that lives in many Latin American countries and cities and it is igniting now in the United States. A clamor. A demand. A call to hold your government accountable. A warning to the world that Oaxaca is fierceless and won't give up.
Where are you traveling next thats inspires you?