Riding Along with Fundacion En Via

Fundacion En Via is a non-profit micro-financier of small (really small) women owned businesses in outlying areas around Oaxaca city.  But that’s just the facts.

What they do is to make small interest free loans to women who are brought into the program by others in it, to improve their businesses or, as we like to say, ‘take it to the next level.’

When I say small businesses, please don’t picture toy stores and restaurants, real estate agencies and delivery services.  It’s smaller than that.  It’s the woman who sells tortillas she makes in her kitchen who needs to buy more corn to make more tortillas to make more money.  It is he weaver who must rely on a big weaving house for wool (and then must turn her finished product over to them for sale) who could be paid for her own work, her own art, if she could get enough money together to buy her own wool.    It’s the woman who makes candy over an open fire in a pit in her ‘kitchen,’ who would like to finally buy a real, wood burning stove.

The goal of the program is to ease poverty buy giving enterprising women a leg up in a difficult world.

Why women?  The Fundacion believes that statistically, the most stable family members in these households are the women.  The men may be very deserving but also may depart next week for opportunity in other places.  Consider the little town of Teotitlan del Valle.  It is famous for weaving, a cottage industry that got its start in the 50s when almost all of the men departed, mostly for the United States, to find work.  The weaving business was started by the women who stayed behind.

Interest free loans are a miracle for these people.  A similar commercial loan would come with 70% or more interest, IF the borrower could get it.  And we’re not talking BIG loans, either.  First loans are in the neighborhood of $100.  Women who have been in the program for awhile may get larger loans, up to $500.  But $100 goes a long way here.

Each time a loan is awarded, there is an additional set of tasks the borrower must complete.  Usually it’s some kind of class in business management, very basic business management.  Things like keeping business money and household money separate, like keeping track of what sells and what doesn’t.  For one of the loans, the women agree to host tours of their homes and businesses and to present what they do and what their plans are. People pay to take the tours – about $50 per person – and all of the money goes to fund the program.

That last task had me in a van with half a dozen other outsiders, cruising through the countryside to meet women in the program and hear their stories.  We saw six women that Saturday, each with a business and business model that was intriguing.  There was the woman who goes to the big in-town market, buys chilies, onions and garlic in bulk and then resells it at an outlying market for a small profit;  the hairdresser who painted her shop and had an attractive sign painted on an outside wall;  the woman who keeps items available several blocks away and sells them to her busy neighbors who don’t want to walk to the other side of town:  tortillas, cheese, even chicken on weekends;  and the woman who lives out in the country who gets up every morning and makes tortillas by hand between 4 and 6, then comes into town and sells them (all) between 9 and noon.

But there were two women who really stood out for me.  First was Gloria, the candy-maker.  She lives in a typical country house:  brick gloriawalls, dirt floors, essentially open structures that offer minimal protection from the elements.  I didn’t get to sample the candy because she had sold out and was about to start a new batch, but they are made with corn, garbanzo beans, cinnamon and pilancillo (a caramelized sugar).  She brings the concoction to a boil in her ‘kitchen’ – a rough out-building made of bamboo withgloriametate no counters, no sink and no stove.  She heats things over an open wood fire in a pit dug into the floor.  The hot liquid is poured into molds for cooling and then wrapped to be taken to the Mercado a few blocks away.  All of this is done without electricity.

What was remarkable about Gloria was her tenacity.  Everything we take for granted in our lives is either a struggle for her, or is something she can live without.  Her life is simple, basic, utterly connected to the natural environment in which she lives and works . . .  and working is what she does, everyday, all day.  She has had several gloriakitchenloans from En Via, mostly for purchasing more ingredients for her candy, but is now applying for a larger one.  She wants to buy a real, wood-burning stove to replace the pit in her kitchen.  It should enable her to cook more and inhale less.

Toward the end of our visit, someone asked what her plans were for Dia de Muertos, coming up thegloriaJ2 next weekend.  She talked about flowers and food and family, then said it would be an important Muertos this year:  her son had passed away in Tijuana the previous month.  All she could say about it was that he had diabetes.  Whether she and her family were able to retrieve the body and bury him in the local cemetery or not, I don’t know.  I do know that the financial burden of that kind of effort would be huge for a family like this.

Next we went to visit Olga Guitarez, a Teotitlan weaver.  Teotitlan is famous for hand made wool Olgarugs.  It seems almost every home in the pueblo has at least one loom.  Olga’s family has been in the weaving business for generations.  In fact, her father was rather famous, having been featured in books on Zapotec weaving.

One of Olga’s proud moments during our visit was when she brought out a rug her father had made.  It had been sold to a woman in the United States, who years later, returned it to the family.  The rug was magnificent, unique.

Teotitlan sits a short distance from the main highway, and the first few businesses you come to are large tapette (Zapotec for rug) showrooms.  They have looms, spin and dye wool and even weave, but mostly as a show  for commercial tour busses that come though daily.  The rugs are often made elsewhere by craftspeople who get a fraction of the proceeds.

LuismeOlga, whose house and workshop sit far off the main drag, was one such weaver.  The big rug dealer would give her wool, which she would then dye and weave into a tapette.  She was paid a flat fee for the rug which would then be sold for many more times that amount.  Olga’s first loan with Fundacion En Via was simply to enable her to buy her own wool and to begin selling her work herself.  She’s gone from being a poorly paid contractor dependent on the big rug house to being a self sustaining artist.

The rugs are beautiful!  I’ve been on a commercial tour to Teotitlan, been to the large rug houses, seen the demonstrations and even bought a rug:  a beautiful thing that I love.  But Olga’s work, and that of her husband, Luis, is amazing.  Completely unique in design and color, so much so that they have taken to signing their work with a family logo.

I bought an extraordinary rug from Olga.  Actually it was made by her husband Luis. It took him aluiseme2 little more than a week to complete and I paid about $125 for it.  By comparison, the rug I bought on the commercial tour, which is very nice but hardly the work of art that Luis’ rug is, cost about $280.

If you come to Oaxaca, go to Teotitlan on the bus or in a collective taxi.  Walk into town and ask where to find Olga and Luis Guitarez.  You will get to see the real deal, get to meet some very nice people and may come away with a rug you will cherish for decades.

 

Temporary Resident Success

Because I expect to be back and forth to Mexico in the coming years and don’t want to be limited to the six month stay granted by the standard Tourist Permit, I decided to apply for a Temporary Resident Visa.  This is a process overseen by the Instituto Nacional de Migracion, and like everything bureaucratic in Mexico is ridiculously complicated and loaded with redundancy and unnecessary steps.

I had to begin the process at home, in San Diego – that’s the rule.  You don’t just show up in Mexico and ask for a Visa!  You go to the Mexican Consulate in your home town and do a whole application process.  My Consulate is in Little Italy, and I had my first visit one morning shortly after they opened around 8 am.

I’d completed all the paperwork I seemed to understand from the instructions I found on the INM website, but went to the meeting prepared to hear that I’d made this mistake and that mistake and to go away and come back when everything was correct.  Which is exactly what happened. My representative was a rather stern young man (Mexican bureaucrats are all rather stern, especially when dealing with Gringos) who spoke no English.  He was however, somewhat patient with my spotty Spanish and was able to communicate what I needed to do to correct my package.  Most of my problems related to income verification – you have to prove you have sufficient resources to support yourself in Mexico.  They have difficulty understanding anything other than W-2 income which creates an extra burden of proof for self-employed people.

I returned the next day with new documentation, met with the same man, who eventually, almost grudgingly nodded . . . yes.  He applied a very fancy stamp to my passport including my photo and lots of official looking scrolling.  But this was not my Visa.  It only granted me entry in to the country and gave me 30 days after entry to go to the INM office in the city in which I planed to reside (Oaxaca) and jump through another 50 hoops.

In Oaxaca, I constructed a new package, completed new paperwork and prepared to meet with Migracion.  Once again, I was prepared to be smacked down the first time but to learn what I needed do to be approved.  I’m mentioning this again because your mindset is very important.  When you meet with the bureaucrats and their decision makes no sense or seems hard nosed, it does no good to argue or try to change their minds.  It certainly does no good to become enraged.  The best posture is to politely ask for clarification – what do you need to do to move to the next step – then go away, make the adjustment and return, humbly, politely.

At the INM office across from the Catedral, I was ushered in to see a really tough looking woman.  The office was not busy, but her body language said she was overworked, tired and really didn’t have patience for dealing with another stupid American.  She didn’t smile, and stared holes through me with each question.  She took my passport into an adjoining office where I saw her relax in a chair and become personable with whomever was behind the desk, laughing (probably about me), becoming animated.  By the time she was back to the desk her face had once again become a stone wall.  She began to talk to me, in Spanish, of course, but rapidly.

‘Senora,’ I said, ‘Por favor, mi espanol es muy mala.  Por favor, hablame mas depacho, mas lento.’ (my Spanish is very bad, please talk to me slower)

She sighed deeply, seemed to roll her eyes and then talked not only slower, adding a pause between each word but also louder as if I were deaf.  It was so silly, I couldn’t help myself.  I began to laugh.  Then she began to laugh and . . . everything shifted.  She kept her smile, called a co-worker over who spoke a little English and had him interpret for me when needed.  Slowly we evolved a list of half a dozen things I needed to do to correct my package.  On leaving I shooke her hand and thanked her for her patience with me.

The next day I returned with my corrected package, presented it to another person in a desk across from my original rep, who made it a point to pass by, put her hand on my shoulder and say, ‘Buenas Dias.” The pacakage was perfect and I was given the stamp of approval in a matter of minutes.  But, I still had to pay the fee.

You do this at any Mexican bank, but the time  was 12:45 and the office closes at 1.  The rep told me there wasn’t time.  I had to return in the morning with my receipt for payment.  Which I did.  Now, in about 10 days, I will have my Temporary Resident Visa Card, which will enable me, among other things to get Mexican National Health Insurance . . . for about $300 a YEAR.  It’s not great for sore throats and stomach upsets but if you SICK, it pays everything!

 

Viva Zapata!

Emiliano Zapata is a near constant presence in Oaxaca.  His face is painted – formally – all over town, and often, in the heat of protest, it appears less formally.  Zapata is a hero to Oaxaqueños, an Icon.  He represents something that is very much alive today.  Let me see if I can make that clear.

Disclaimer:  I am not an historian.  I do not have dates and places nor even names.  What I have is hearsay, sentiment, myths, legends and all of the stuff that goes into creating collective consciousness.  This is not a history lesson.  It is an attempt to describe perception. 

ZapataIn the decades leading up to the Mexican Revolution, circa 1910, most of the country was owed and controlled by a relative handful of wealthy and powerful families.  It was the era of the Hacienda, an era that rather mimicked the Plantation era of the  US South.  Wealthy families owned hundreds, even thousands of acres of land , with huge ranches yielding up their riches for a privileged class.   If you weren’t a member of one of those privileged families . . . well, you probably worked for them; not as a slave, but as a very poorly paid laborer.  And you really didn’t have a choice.  It was either work for the Hacienda or . . . don’t work.

So hundreds of laborer families lived on the Hacienda’s land and kept everything running to the benefit of the Dons and Doñas.  The laborers were paid peanuts, hardly enough to feed their families . . . especially when the only place to shop was the store owned and operated by the Hacienda family . . . in the US, we called it the Company Store.  Everything you needed was there:  frijoles, maize, even a little meat.  But the price was astronomical and the pay from the Hacienda was almost immediately exhausted.  That’s when the good-hearted land owners stepped in with credit.  Laboring families amassed huge debts to their bosses for the basics of life.

You would work until you died to pay that debt . . . and then it would be the problem of your children.

That is the world Zapata came to change.  He marshaled his troupes in the South, Pancho Villa in the north.  And while they both were instrumental in creating a new order in Mexico, it is Zapata who is revered today.  He was an agrarian, a hero of the farmer.  He had the notion that the land belonged to the people who worked it, that the resources of Mexico belonged to all of the Mexican people, not just the privileged few.

I know:  that sounds a little Socialist, doesn’t it?  But that attitude has produced a situation here where the Mexican National Petroleum industry – owned by all Mexicans – pays about 40% of the national budget.  Can you imagine where we Americans would be if we had simply decided that our natural resources were the property of all the people, that the profits made from exploiting them would benefit all of the people, not just a few mega corporations capable of buying a congress?

So why is Zapata so important today.  Today Mexico is headed backwards.  President Peña Nieto is working to privatize thepetrol petroleum industry.  There is a lot of money in the deal . . . and probably a lot for him and his buddies.  He’s basically selling an asset that belongs to all Mexicans to Shell/Exon/Mobil, who will make billions as a result.  And what does the average Mexican get?  Higher taxes.

I have no idea how this is going over in the rest of Mexico, but here?  The people are outraged.  There are posters all over town, tables and petitions set up . . . it is a constant conversation.  And though it all, 100 years later,  the face of Emiliano Zapata looks on.

Life and Language

I learned the most interesting thing about the Spanish language in class last week.

We English speakers are famous for taking responsibility for our actions (unless we are politicians or other types of sociopaths) by reporting events in the first person.  We say, “Oops! I just spilled my drink.” or, “I broke the window.”  I did something that caused this unfortunate event.  I have control over my environment and my life.  I make things happen.  I am sovereign in my personal universe.

In Spanish it is different.

In Spanish, when describing an event, particularly an unfortunate event, we use the 3rd person with the impersonal ‘se’ before.  “Se me derramó la leche” – my milk spilled itself.  “Se rompió la ventana” – the window broke itself.  “Se me olvidaron mis llaves” – my keys have become lost (it’s something they did, not me).  “Se me quemó el pavo.” – the turkey has burned (itself – I didn’t have anything to do with it, it just happened).

I have been going on and on about how people in Oaxaca live in a magical universe.  Well, DUHHH!  Of course it is magical when things happen mysteriously all by themselves for no apparent reason or personal cause!  The unseen is very active in the lives of Spanish speaking people – which I guess is one of the things they are always saying about Spanish Language Literature:  the real and the imaginary merge.

We English speakers may be put off by this failure to take responsibility, in language and in life.  It’s something we do obsessively, and for someone not to do it puts them in a league with scoundrels and crooks.  But here there are no clumsy people.  Nobody makes mistakes.  Stuff just happens!

Mystery and Magic

This might be a continuation of the previous post.  My thinking about the Oaxacan approach to life and its relation to religion has continued to bubble and churn and I have come to a new place of understanding.

Oaxaca has a reputation for magic and for mystery.  I tried to express that a few posts ago when I talked about getting off the plane in three dimensions and suddenly feeling as if there were for or five here.  Here, Mary, in the form of Nuestra Señora de Soledad, or the Virgen de Juchila, really does intervene in the daily lives of the people.  Here, on November 1 and 2, dead loved ones really do come back to spend a little time with the living.  I am not speaking metaphorically.  I believe in this collective consciousness, these things are real.

I had to write a short piece for my class comparing the approach to a holiday in my country with the same thing here in Oaxaca.  I chose Christmas.  In the United States we have almost lost the connection between Christmas and the birth of Jesus.  To us Christmas is all about gifts and parties and spending, spending, spending.  We borrowed a figure from pagan Northern Europe, Santa Clause, and gave him sovereignty over Christmas.  If I were a Martian, dropped squarely into the United States during the holiday season, I would probably conclude that the celebration – including Santa, decorating, feasting, and partying – was created by the major retailers, many of which would not be profitable without the holiday shopping season.

Is Christmas in the United States really on a par with Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day and Father’s Day, all pretty much designed to make greeting card companies, florists, and candy manufacturers more profitable?  I know that’s a pretty big stretch, but really, so much of our American lives is about the bottom line and how we can grow it.  What’s becoming increasingly apparent in this new Millennium, is that our rush to boost profits benefits very few of our people.  Most Americans are losers in this equation.  Our race for profit has devoured our middle class and made a sizable portion of our population – the poor and homeless – disposable.

In Oaxaca, there may be a little gift giving at Christmas.  It’s a new thing, caused mainly by American media teaching Mexican kids that they should expect a visit from Santa on Dec. 25.  Traditionally, Dec. 25 has been about the birth of Jesus and had nothing to do with gifts.  Gifting was (and still is) done on January 6, the day the three Magi presented gifts to Jesus.  It is a day we hardly notice north of the border.   Yet here, the Oaxacans have kept the giving of gifts tied to the Biblical event that provides the rationale for gift giving.  And of course, after gifts and after church there’s another huge celebration lasting into the night.

I’ve talked about it alot, but here in Oaxaca there is some kind of celebration almost every week and sometimes more than one a week.  Each celebration has its own character, its own rituals, but there are a few things they all seem to have in common:

  • They begin with families and communities coming together for some kind of parade
  • The parades usually end up at the church where there is a religious ceremony of some kind
  • After church, the parade resumes but takes on the flavor of a party:  a big block party for the whole community
  • The parties are joyous and include everyone, young, old, rich, poor.  At that moment, everyone is the same and the  community is united.  They can last into the wee hours of the morning.
  • The celebrations are almost always tied to some event, some ritual in the Mexican version of Catholicism.  These happy, exuberant events are intrinsically tied to the religious lives of the people.

Where we in America have separated our faith from our lives, where we have pigeonholed religion into a little box from which it never escapes, these people have it in their DNA.  Life without it would be un-livable.  And among the many results is that life here, no matter how impoverished, is a magical adventure.

I’m reading over what I’ve written and visions of the Middle East and the rise of the Islamic States flood my mind.  It’s different here.  In 1859, Benito Juarez, President of Mexico and a Oaxacan, nationalized the churches.  He seized the properties and took power away from the foreign based masters of  religion.  At the same time he issued a formal proclamation separating church and state.  That stance has been affirmed over and over, most recently in 2010 when the Mexican constitution was amended to  declare that Mexico is a ‘Secular’ nation.  The church is very important in the lives of these people, but it does not direct the course of the State.

And make no mistake, this is a troubled State.  Mexico is plagued with poverty, drugs, ignorance, hunger and graft.  But here, in the South, in the midst of all of this chaos, is a group – or rather several groups – of people who have found a way, despite the problems, to be happy.   There is a unity of work, thought, religion and life here that is so rare in our American universe.  It is delightful to see.

 

 

 

Keeping It Real In Oaxaca

I have been studying more than Spanish at Instituo Cultural Oaxaca.  Much of the school’s method of embedding language involves exploring the unique culure(s) of Oaxaca and through the language, discovering the rich tradition of celebration that exists here.

In America, as in many parts of the world, we secularize many religious celebrations.  We borrow Santa Claus from pagan Northern Europe  to delight children and add a modicum of frivolousness to Christmas.  And, let’s face it:  we love the Easter Bunny.

But not so much in Oaxaca.

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Here, the Christmas season is filled with  big celebrations:  Dias de la Vergens de Guadalupe y de Juchila y de Soledad, Festival de los Rabanos,  Day of the Magi and Candalaria.  In fact the entire calender is filled with celebrations the year round, almost all of them centered on a religious event.

We have turned Christmas into an economic event.  The point of December 25th is to drive dollars to the bottom lines of major retailers, and in fact some would not be profitable without the Christmas shopping season.

That doesn’t work so well here where nobody has any money anyway, where most gifts are bought in the Mercado or from small vendors in the street.

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It is true there may be a little gift giving on Christmas Day in Oaxaca, driven mostly by the American media training Mexican kids that they should expect it.  There is even a little head nod to Santa.  But here, Christmas is about the birth of Jesus and that is what people focus on.

On January 6, the locals have one of the biggest celebrations of the year:  Day of the Magi.  It commemorates the day the three kings brought gifts to the baby Jesus.  Here, instead of a fat bearded Santa in a hot costume, three men dress up as the Magi and appear in the Zocalo.  Parents stay up all night the night before and hit the streets in the wee hours to buy gifts for their children from the vendors flooding the streets.  In the morning the gifts are from the Magi.  There are parades, visits to churches, and then the Fiesta begins with tamales, cervezas, mezcal, fireworks, more parades, laughter and complete community involvement.

82Here, the giving of gifts is tied to the actual event in Christian belief that makes gift giving part of the holiday season.

Part of the Fiesta for Day of the Magi involves the sharing of a Rosca de Reyes:  a large round bread into which have been baked 5 or six small plastic babies.  Everyone takes a piece and those who find a baby will be responsible for making the tamales and other items for the next big celebration:  Candalaria.   The tradition of the Rosca de Reyes is found in lots of other cultures, but in the United State we find it mostly in the Gulf States as part of Mardi Gras.  Surely you’ve hear of ‘King Cakes.’

Candalaria occurs a month later on February 2.  It commemorates the day Jesus was presented at the Temple for the blessing of the Rabi.  Here, people buy dolls representing Baby Jesus, dress them in elaborate, sometimes expensive costumes, parade through the streets with them to the Church where the dolls are sprinkled with Holy Water and blessed by the Priest.  The people are very proud of their dolls and love to show them off.  A blessed doll brings protection and good luck to the family and the home throughout the year.

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I was here for Candalaria this year and I can tell you it was one of the biggest celebrations of  the year.  The parades were endless, happening one after another in various barrios, sometimes intersecting but always with music, singing, fireworks and so on.  In my on village of Jalatlaco, the party went on until 3 in the morning.  I remember the band:  trombones, trumpets, woodwinds, drums and a tuba, playing wildly for hours.  The tuba player, in particular, was amazing.  His rhythm and the force of his playing drove the music.  He played like a man possessed, looked as if he was wrestling with the tuba.

In the United States we would make them stop playing, stop shooting rockets, stop singing by 10pm.  Here there are no limits.  And you have no choice.  You can sit in your room and curse the noise or you can get dressed, go down to the church yard and join the party.  It was an easy choice for me.  And now I have a wonderful memory of a night I didn’t get to bed until 3.

 

Shift in the Wind: An Air of Desperation

I have completed my first week back in Oaxaca, and though it has been everything it was supposed to be:  exiting, adventurous, energizing and so on, it has also been challenging.  The task of simply getting set up has been littered with problems and I’ve spent a lot of time just running around dealing with logistics.  Things just seemed to go wrong.  The HSBC Bank near my apartment, the one I used exclusively last time because of the location and low fees, no longer accepts my ATM.  The next closest bank that does is in the center of town, a 30 minute walk away.   This year, my landlord has stopped accepting credit cards which means having to retrieve large amounts of pesos from said ATM.  I mean, no matter how you slice it 5,850 pesos (one month’s rent)  is a lot of cash – nothing you want to be carrying on  your person all over town.

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My apartment, though much better than the last one has its limitations.  I have 15 spoons and one fork; one cutting knife that is so dull it might as well be a butter knife; one drinking glass;  two ancient pillows that might as well be stuffed with concrete; no bath towels or wash cloths; no three prong adapters for the multitude of two prong outlets, and so on.  I broke down Tuesday afternoon and violated one of my own rules:  I went to Walmart.  It’s a long bus ride – the city wouldn’t allow them to locate anywhere near the historic center – through an area of town undergoing massive road work.  Imagine riding a third world bus through a bombed out war zone.

And there is another interesting thing about going to Walmart in Oaxaca:  it’s a ghostwm2 town.  Here is this HUGE (typical) Walmart, stocked to the rafters with everything you could possibly want to buy, all in one place  (which is a big deal here:  in town, if you have a shopping list with a number of items, it usually means going to several small tiendas to procure them) all at better prices than anywhere else  . . .  and the shoppers stay away.  The parking lot is empty.  Odd as it seems it is certainly in line with the general snubbing of all things connected with the Coca-Cola lifestyle that I’ve witnessed here before.  It is also in line with something else I’ve noticed this time:  an even tougher economy.

I’ve seen so many shops, restaurants and bars – places that were doing ok in January – closed now.  Some are seasonal closures – the summers here are brutal and the touristas stay home with their money – but many  of the closures feature official notices posted on the door.  This year, in Oaxaca, there is a new economic reality . . . and this year it all relates to education.

The new President of Mexico, Enrique Pena Nieto, swept into office with  broad reforms to the nation’s educational system.  The teachers’ union here is almost as powerful as a drug cartel and they have gone to extraordinary measures to protect themselves and their members.  As a result, you have teachers, particularly in rural areas with no degree, no credentials, no training and no accountability.  Teaching positions – with their union guaranteed salaries – are actually bought and sold and there is little control over who teaches kids or how.

The reforms end all of that.  They require regular testing of students to determine the effectiveness of the education they are receiving from their teachers and the teachers are  held accountable.  As a result, the union has been on strike for months . . . and the kids have been out of school since the beginning of their summer break.  With no money flowing to the teachers, with families strapped to make arrangements for kids who normally would be in school, there is a definite strain on the economy.  And there seems to be no end in sight.

In Oaxaca, the most obvious sentiment (though not necessarily the most prevalent) is that the reforms are yet another attempt by the regime in Mexico City to strip Oaxaca of resources, to short change this very poor state.  After all, there is a rich  history of that already in place.  So the streets are filled with chanting marchers who spray paint slogans on historic buildings and break windows.  The quiet ones, the ones going about their business, the ones who may actually be in the majority, recognize the need for change and are holding on to see it take place.

I talked with one of my teachers about this the other day and she gave me a couple of tidbits that I thought were relevant.

A college graduate with a teaching degree is almost guaranteed a job in Mexico.  However, the rule is: they start at the bottom.  They are sent to the most remote and poorest schools and have no choice in the matter.  Often these schools are in places the missionaries and humanitarian organizations target.  There may be  no desks, no blackboard, no books, maybe no water; and most likely it will resemble an old one room school with kids at many different levels being taught at once.  Many grads  reject the offer and find something else to do.  Which leaves these schools in the hands of whomever is willing to take on the responsibility.

She told me that probably 7 out of 10 Oaxacan families include a teacher.  Think about that!  We used to joke that there were more real estate licenses in California than drivers licenses.  Here the credential of choice is the teaching certificate!  With that one piece of information it is very understandable why the streets are filled with protesters.  It is also easy to understand why the economy is staggering.  Unfortunately it makes an easy solution to this problem an impossibility.

October 2  is a National Day of Mourning in Mexico.  In the late sixties, just prior to the Mexico City Olympics, dozens of people, mostly students were killed by government snipers in a protest in the capitol city.  The day is marked with marches of remembrance for the victims, but the marches themselves usually turn into protests about the issue of the day.

gLast week, on October 2, walking home from the mercado, I got to the Zocalo at about the same time as the marchers.  I videotaped the loud, but essentially peaceful protest and the video is embedded below.  The marchers were mostly students and their teachers demanding an end to the reforms.  After they passed my position, I continued on home, down the main tourist drag, Calle Alcala.  This is a beautiful walking street lined with wonderful colonial buildings  . . . many of which were covered with spray painted slogans , some of which had smashed windows.  The smart shopkeepers were just rolling up their steel security gates as I walked along.  One man was already out with  his rag and solvent, removing graffiti from his wall.

I came upon a large group of police in full riot gear including face guards, heavy vests and shields.  I must say I greatly admire their posture in all of this.  They will stand back and allow the graffiti and small vandalism rather than risk a confrontation that could turn violent.  In theg2 next day or two, city crews will walk the parade route and repair the damage.  It’s so much better than ‘nipping it in the bud,’ which is what we’d probably do in the States.

As I passed the police I noticed one officer and his plexiglass shield.  Someone had spray painted an Anarchy symbol on it.  Imagine that!  The officer maintained restraint over his natural tendency to react and instead,  just let the vandalism occur.  After all, it’s small stuff, really: it’ll be off that shield by nightfall.  And avoiding the riot that certainly would have occurred had he reacted, avoiding it by just standing there and taking it?  That’s almost Ghandi-like in its wisdom.