Oaxaca: Reunion in the Mountains in the Rain

Posted: 09/06/2011 in Activism, Development, Education, Immigration, Inequalities, Mexico, Non-Profits

On Thursday I was finishing a list of agenda ideas for the comité reunion when Silas, the legal director, asked me to participate in a conference call with the team from Oaxaca. The ladies there, Rebeca and Adelina, were planning a training for up to 1500 people this past Sunday, and Silas and Lilían and I offered our advice. Truthfully, anything that large is outside of my experience, but I was interested in the discussion of engaging a large group, using testimonies, building energy, etc…

As Silas and Lilian were sharing their ideas, I have to admit I was spacing out at times. Occasionally my brain will decide, seemingly on its own, to take a break from speaking in Spanish and do some thinking in English and this was what it was doing until I realized that Silas had asked me a question which was, “Do you want to go?”

On Friday night I bought a ticket onto a rattling overnight bus to Tlaxiaco, Oaxaca. Oaxaca is incredibly rainy and, almost without fail, from the moment I arrived until the moment I left it alternately drizzled and poured. While Tlaxiaco is small, it’s something of a hub in the even smaller mountain communities that surround it. I spent the day reading at the hotel and exploring the Saturday market until Rebeca and Adelina arrived.

El Hotel Mexico in Tlaxiaco with its adorable, brightly painted patio.

El Hotel Mexico in Tlaxiaco with its adorable, brightly painted patio.

Sunday morning we took an hour cab ride up a twisting mountain road to the community of San Esteban Atatlahuca.

A helpful public mural with information about cervical and uterine cancer, some medically dubious.

A helpful public mural with information about cervical and uterine cancer, some medically dubious.

El Centro de San Esteban Atatlahuca.

El Centro de San Esteban Atatlahuca.

Residents of all the surrounding villages had been invited for what was described to me by one attendee, Jesus, as a kind of election, “Like for Arnold Schwarzenegger in California…” I decided not to point out that probably every possible thing was different about these two elections since I was grateful for Jesus’ attempt at a point of reference. The reference itself was notably out of place in this otherwise isolated, largely indigenous community but Jesus had worked in Denver, Colorado for ten-years and wanted to try his English out on me. To most everyone else who arrived for the day, I stuck out like a space alien.

Over the course of several morning hours, the public meeting space filled up. An impromptu table was set up in the back and filled with food to sell –taquitos, elote, tamales. Intense games of tag and chase were initiated by the under-eight crowd.

Reunion, training, and election in the public meeting space.

Reunion, training, and election in the public meeting space.

Before the election, Rebeca and Adelina had been invited to give a training on some CDM basics for anyone who had worked or wanted to work in the United States –federal minimum wage law, discrimination in hiring, protection from pesticides, etc… The space was huge and the group, while in no way unruly, seemed collectively a bit confused by our presence. I don’t know if there is a good way to present detailed information to a large group that has been rallied to attendance for some other purpose, but everyone was kind and eager to take pamphlets and fliers.

The Policia Municipal acted as helpful roadies for the events of the day.

The Policia Municipal acted as helpful roadies for the events of the day.

Rebeca and Adelina present on wages and salaries for migrant workers.

Rebeca and Adelina present on wages and salaries for migrant workers.

CDM's training gets underway.

CDM's training gets underway.

Afterward, Rebeca and Adelina took down names, listened to stories, and answered questions but told me in the taxi back that people aren’t usually forthcoming about their experiences in the United States, even to a migrant rights organization, even though they speak Mixotec and Spanish fluently and are from small Oaxacan communities themselves. People are afraid and not understanding their rights and the context of their experiences only furthers that fear.

My goal in attending was to observe the training and see what I could learn to inform the training materials I will produce for CDM staff like Rebeca and Adelina, as well as to think about how we should be measuring the impact of such events. For me, the impact of the day was entirely unexpected. As I waited by my pack for Rebeca and Adelina to finish up, an extremely old woman came up to me. Like all of the women there for the day, she had brought a woven basket slung over her shoulder, filled with whatever she had grown or made to sell or trade. She came right up to me saying, “Good afternoon,” so of course I stood and took her hand and returned her greeting. She asked me the obvious questions that most others had avoided, “Who are you? Why are you here?” When I smiled at her and answered her questions she lit up with great warmth and told me I was very welcome there. Her name is Teresa, she said, and she was glad to know me. She then asked if I wanted an avocado and, assuming she meant to buy, I said I would gladly take one. She slowly set her basket down and bent into it and then started putting avocados in my hands, one after another after another. She gave me seven and she said I should take them as a gift to remember my time and eat them with some tortillas. She then smiled, waved goodbye, picked up her basket and proceeded into the meeting.

Teresa's avocados back at my apartment.

Teresa's avocados back at my apartment.

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Comments
  1. hbs says:

    a moving story, thank you Elizabeth

  2. […] in Oaxaca and conducting a training in using the new materials. I had been to Oaxaca for outreach once before, but I’d never visited the CDM office in what we affectionately call […]

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