Another Oaxaca Saturday Night:

The 18th, and the town was jumping. On and around the “walking street”, Macedonio Alcalá, about ten guitar trios were playing “romantica” on street corners. Several new night clubs have opened up in the last few weeks, catering to the young folks, variously offering salsa, rock and roll, and jazz.

Off on a side street more than a half-dozen blocks away from the Zócalo, in an old colonial style building, Diana and I sat spellbound along with about 50 other folks listening to duets written in the 19th and 20th century by an Italian and a Czech, featuring the concert double bass.

The musicians are part of the Cruz family, Oaxaca’s version of the celebrated Duartes of Mexico City (of which Celso Duarte, Lila Downs’ harpist, is a member): five sons of a musician father, all musicians, one of which is Daniel Cruz, violinist, who, along with his wife, Dula Cedillo, pianist, oversees the music school and performance space Cuicacalli, where the concert took place. Featured in this concert were brother David, violist; brother Javier, bass; and pianist Dula Cedillo. While all were fine musicians, the kudos clearly went to Javier, who put in an astounding performance.

This concert was part of a series of performances which are varied, and by no means limited to the talents of the Cruz family. The last one we attended featured a harpsichordist and a guitarist, playing individually and together; the next will be of Mexican popular music, and the last in the series – all Mexican classical composers – will feature a different pianist.

[These intrepid young men were ambling along the Alcalá one fine afternoon, being admired by one and all. The head in the masthead photo was dramatically placed in the MACO courtyard, visible from the street]

ADO drops the airport bus:

It didn’t last long: the once-a-day service from Oaxaca non-stop to the Mexico City airport has been canceled, due to low ridership. A good idea and a bad schedule, in my opinion. While a 4:30 a.m. arrival at the airport is a little early, the noon departure for Oaxaca is a lot early – or a lot late, for those arriving on “red eye” flights. What’s needed, it seems to me, is a van service, operating maybe three times a day each way. Meanwhile, it’s back to TAPO…

[On August 1st, there was a parade in honor of the first anniversary of the Women’s march that ended with the takeover of the State radio and TV stations. The mono is holding up a frying pan to commemmorate the “caseroleras”: the women beat on pots and pans as they marched.]

Election reflections:

On August 5, the State of Oaxaca held elections for state Deputies (district representatives). For the most part, things appear to have gone off without a hitch – factoring in the usual strong-arm tactics, vote buying, and ballot-box stuffing that are part of the “normal” way of political life here. The overwhelming victory went to “none of the above”: less than 37% of voting-card-carrying Oaxaqueños bothered to vote. While this is not unusual for an “off year” election, it failed to live up to expectations in a State where the present Governor and the Deputies that belong to his party have been so universally despised.

The contrast between this election and the one held for president last year is a subject for much pontification. Last year, nine out of eleven federal districts in Oaxaca voted for the opposition candidate Andres Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) for President, turning out in numbers large enough to overwhelm the PRI “machine”. This year they stayed home.

[On August 10th, there was a march and a memorial service for the APPO men and women who have been killed in the struggles. The memorial, of sand, flowers, paint flakes and candles, was so large that it was not possible to get a single shot of it, so we are publishing four shots to give a better idea of the whole construct.

Hundreds came to pay homage. In the hours just before dawn, the authorities moved in and removed it. By the time we saw it the next morning, there were only a few grains of sand left.]

Many say this month’s election was a referendum on the AAPO: low turnout always favors the incumbents. Others point out that if the voters really wanted to punish the APPO, they would have turned out in greater numbers to vote for the winning PRI candidates (or the also-loser PAN).

[At this point, a cautionary note: I’m darned if I know who the APPO is, exactly. Formed as an umbrella organization in July of 2006, it has undergone changes in leadership and struggles over political line. Many who “speak for the APPO” are clearly pushing sectarian agendas. I do think I have a glimmering of “what” it is, however: a sort of modified Zapatismo in which decisions are made (and there are few of those) through common understanding of what the problems are and how – in communion – they might be solved. So when I refer to “the APPO” I am really talking about the process of meeting-meeting-meeting and talk-talk-talk within which certain analyses and some general solutions are reached: a manifestation of the collective wisdom of the people, represented to the rest of the world by a few spokespersons of very limited power. Only in a few places, like Zaachila, is there a governing body that calls itself “APPO”.]

Another analysis says that the low turnout shows the strength of the APPO, whose message to the voters was essentially the Zapatista line: they’re all a bunch of crooks, don’t waste your time; spend it instead in building co-operative infrastructures where you live. Still others say that after a year of constant tension people were just worn out: only interested in tending their own garden and unwilling to throw themselves into the fray yet another time.
I’m inclined to agree with Gustavo Esteva, who recently wrote an article in La Jornada entitled “A Quiz about the 5th of August”. He says the abstention contains a little of all the above, but is primarily a judgment that the Deputies are of no importance, since no matter which party they belong to, their pay – and the distribution of patronage – are the Governor’s to give or with-hold. (This is especially true since the administration of Vicente Fox, during which laws were enacted and / or changed “decentralizing” the way federal funds are distributed. Traditionally, much of the money given to each state was “earmarked” for various local projects, thus bypassing the governors. I believe the reason for the change was that PAN (Fox and Calderon’s party) have their strength at the Governor level, whereas the PRI and PRD had more clout at the municipal level.)

Interestingly, the PRD and the PAN lost seats in almost every state, and the PRI picked up the leftovers. Many are blaming AMLO for the PRD losses, saying that his insistence that he is “the true president” and his refusal to help the “loyal members” win seats while pursuing a more wide-ranging set of long-range goals, made the folks scrapping in the electoral arena look like mere opportunists (which of course they mostly are).

AMLO does indeed look like he is leaving the PRD behind. In the year and more since the 2006 presidential election was stolen from him, he has been cris-crossing the country, reputedly signing up over a million people to join his reform movement.

Meanwhile, the battle for the municipal presidency of Oaxaca city is heating up, well in advance of the October 7 elections…

“Transborder Lives” is a must-read:

I don’t generally “go for” books by anthropologists, preferring for the most part to get my info from reportage of one type or another. Occasionally, I run into an exception to my jaundiced view, as I did with Michael Higgins’ “Streets, Bedrooms an Patios”; and Lynn Stephen’s book is another. We probably wouldn’t have bought it if we hadn’t gone to the Welte Institute a couple of weeks ago to hear her present it.

I was drawn to her idea that there are many borders – cultural, class and language to name just a few – and that people are crossing them all the time; that the Rio Bravo is just one border more (and that once you get across, there are still more borders to cross). As well, I instantly saw the sense in her contention that “transborder” is a more accurate description than “cross-border”, since the people who cross still are in many ways part of the home place even if they do not return for some time, because they often re-form their communities with old neighbors in the places they go to, among other reasons. It was these ideas that captivated me, and got me started reading the book. Since I started, I’ve discovered a lot of factual material that contradicts or modifies many of my previously held notions. While I am only about half way through, I am long since past the point where the book has “paid for itself”.

I was also intrigued by the depth of her empathy for many of the people who populate this study, some of whom she has known for decades. They are far more than “subjects” to her, and so they become more dimensional to us.

Not to say this book is not scholarly – even dry in places. It is a well-prepared ethnography, based in past works (including her own earlier “Zapotec Women”) and thoroughly footnoted. The tasks she sets for herself are clearly stated and the conclusions well argued (I think: as I said, I’m no anthropologist).

If you think you might be interested in getting your own copy of “Transborder Lives”, you could consider ordering it from Amazon through our book and cd page. We get a cut, but it won’t cost you any more than ordering it directly from Amazon.

A word about the Welty Institute:

Early on in my time in Oaxaca, I was casting around for something to do that might earn me a few pesos. Ruth Gonzalez, then the Librarian (by the way, her 88th birthday was a couple of days ago), told me about an elderly blind woman living alone in a large house a little ways out of town, who needed someone to come in part time and help her with her correspondence, and an occasional trip into town. The woman’s name was Patsy Welty, and she was the widow of a retired Navy commander named Cecil Welty, who resigned his commission in protest after he was ordered to shell a village in North Korea. The two of them left the U.S. and moved to Mexico. Cecil pursued a career as a gentleman archaeologist and anthropologist in Oaxaca, amassing along the way a large collection of original manuscripts, colonial era maps, and other Oaxaca memorabilia.

Eventually, the collection became too large for their house and Cecil and Patsy endowed a library and study center which was named after him. When I came on the scene, the Institute was housed in three small rooms in the rear courtyard of the El Gekko coffee house. Now, a much expanded collection – fleshed out with, among other things, scholarly works in a few languages which have been presented over the years at Institute symposia, and written using materials from the Institute’s archives – resides in a converted house in Colonia Reforma, a couple of blocks from the ADO bus terminal. There is a garden / patio where the book presentation was made, and lots of reading spaces.

Patsy passed on a few years ago, after making her own arrangements to assist the continuation of the Institute. Further inquiries can be made through the Institute web site.