A good ending:

Giving is a large industry in the impoverished areas around my home in Paradise.  The issues that surround charity are never far from the thinking, doing, and realities of people with something to give and those who are in need.  There are Civil Associations run by Mexicans, and some by foreigners.

[Here’s another piece of Oaxaca’s wall graffiti, this one in Atzompa…]

Still more, are the agencies run by and for foreign governmental and non-governmental entities which often hold, or spend, money from ‘outside’ to invest in, bribe, and otherwise influence the outcomes of certain trends, beliefs, views on security, and other concerns.  Not all of them produce results; still less results that appear to be in the popular interest. However, there are quite a few who do appear to be doing good, although some of them need to learn when to pack up and leave the project to the “recipients”.

[Diana’s been sheparding her daughter, son-in-law, and two friends around. This pic was snapped on “mezcal row” in the Sunday market of Tlacolula]

The weavers of Miramar, Oaxaca, are one example of many whose funders, having achieved the reason for being there, packed up and went home.

I should say here that we have more than one good friend involved in this effort.  Circle of Women, an NGO, was founded 15 years ago to fund, assist in the sales of, and do whatever else seemed appropriate for one small group of woman weavers in the Mixteca Alta mountains, northwest of Oaxaca.

The weavers asked for help.  The founder, once a Board member of Grass Roots International, consulted the weavers to find out how she could be of the most help.  The answer had been long discussed by the weavers:  we need to learn to read and write; we need advice about keeping books; we need money for materials; we need an outlet for our products; we need to know that you will turn it all over to us as soon as we are ready to take it on; and if we think it is time, we will ask you to leave.

Tutors were hired, including an on-the-ground expiditer.  House parties were arranged on both the east and west coasts of the U.S. to sell their rebozos (shawls).   A benefit concert by Oaxaca’s own Lila Downs in Boston shot some needed baksheesh into their coffers.

[The band in Miramar]

In February this year (Valentine’s day, actually) Diana and I had the great pleasure of attending a ceremony where the project, after many years, got turned over to the people.  There was a band, chicken in mole negro, a speech by the village headman and each of the weavers, lots of hugs and tears, and not a few sighs of relief.  “Our job here is done”, I often say upon getting up to leave a restaurant…

Will it all work out for the weavers of Miramar?  Quien Sabe (Kee-EN SA-vay): who knows?  Good chance it will.  If it does, it will probably be due in part to an organization focused on the needs expressed by the recipient; not treating them like dummies; and being willing to quit the scene when the job is done.

There is a beautiful book, “Weaving Yarn, Weaving Lives”, with photos and narratives of the collective members, available on Amazon.

The women of Miramar have temporarily taken down their website.  The closest link that I have is http://www.globalgiving.org/projects/circleofwomenliteracy/  If you want more info, send me an email…

Oaxaca is on the Dominican Trail, a series of churches and monestaries that includes Sto Domingo in Oaxaca, and the great open chapel at Teposcalula, shown here. The next photo is of the altar in the open chapel.]

Bad endings:

Does the end justify the means?  Even if the means don’t work?  It is said that repeating the same action over and over and hoping for different results is a sign of psychopathology.

In June of 2006, the attack on the annual peaceful teachers’ occupation of the area surrounding the Zócalo brought out a great many civil organizations, and created a dialogue among thousands of citizens, activists and politicians.  An umbrella group, “APPO”, a coalition, was formed in an attempt to give a single voice to rebellion.

One day, there were said to be up to 400,000 marchers  on the streets.  There were hopes that a new revolution had begun.  That hope was dashed after 5 months by a combination of APPO’s inability to control some of the more destructive elements of the far left anarchist groups, who seemed to think that breaking windows was revolutionary; squabbling over doctrine; weariness of most of civil society; and the national police / army invasion and their brutal “clearing of the streets” in November.

When I was an apprentice community organizer, the most important lesson I learned (often the hard way) was that being an agitator, while at times being a useful tactic, didn’t qualify as a strategy.  Agitation has some serious limits.  While it might be necessary at some times to get into people’s faces, after a while it just pisses them off.  In Oaxaca, for example, people are slow to take offense, but once they do, they can’t hear a thing you have to say.  It took me a long time to learn it.  On the way, I failed over and over again.  Finally, I got it: agitation is easy; teaching, establishing empathy, and building organizations is hard.

More and more, I see and hear signs that the Oaxaca state teachers’ union local, section 22, has not learned this lesson; that the rank and file of the people in Oaxaca, poor, struggling to survive, beset with demons on all sides, no longer support them; that if they don’t soon change their ways they are doomed, and with them a whole lot of the movement for a better future.

While many of my fellow gringo expats decry the inconvenience caused by the blockades, occupation of public spaces, and disruption of commercial plazas and big-box stores, I can’t say I’ve been bothered much. We – smugness are us – chose to live in the inner city where everything is handy, while many of them headed for the suburbs and a dependence on their cars to get to American-style retailers.  Still, we do recognize their pain, and more to the point, we sympathize with the vast majority of Oaxacans who suffer loss of income because of the blockades, and the few who died because the ambulances, mired in gridlock, could not make it to the hospital.

Section 22 has a new leader, and it remains to be seen if he can govern his people.  So far (early days) this is not the case.  According to Noticias, some members are now in open defiance of some of the policies and practices, and the above-mentioned tactics.  Unless the internals are resolved, it is well within the realm of possibility that we may see a new local; or an alliance with local 59 (formed by the old local after the dissidents took over and broke with mega-boss Elba Ester Gordillo).

Of course there is always the corruption to deal with.  Will the new leader, having replaced Santiago Chepi in a recent election, continue – as have all the “new” leaders ever since I have been here — to be labeled as just another money grubber feeding off the generosity of those they claim to oppose?  If so, there is little chance that things will get better, either for them or for the majority of Oaxacans.

I don’t mean to minimize the very real problems, such as inadequate class space and books, lack of shoes, and hunger,  that keep teachers from teaching and children from learning; and I do support the teachers in their resistance to implementing the so-called “education reform” law, which is basically the next step toward privatizing the schools and breaking the unions.  I’m just not sure they can pull it off.  Reform, it is said, like charity, begins at home.

I don’t have any concrete ideas as to how they should proceed.  I only know this isn’t working, and the likely backlash could set back the march toward democracy in Mexico for years.

For those of you that are intending to come down here, on a tight schedule, with things to see and do that are outside the center, my advice is to study on patience and flexibility.  There is much to see and do in the center, you can get around the blockades by various alternate routes but it will be slower going; and while you may not be able to get to choice “a” at a certain time on a certain day, you can probably get there tomorrow, and choice “b” or “c” might provide you with some interesting surprises…

Book Reviews:

Oaxaca is beginning to sprout lots of new authors, some electronic and some in print ; most in both.  As well, there are painters, photographers galore, and of course singers and musicians. It’s been a while since I have posted to our “books and cds” web site.  Check these out:

**Santo Gordo, which I reviewed in the last Newsletter, can be bought from Amazon.  If you order through our website, I get a very small cut.  It doesn’t cost you a penny more.

**Robert Joe Stout lives in Oaxaca.  He worked in print media, as a reporter, and has written other books.  In 2006, he was one of the contributors to “Oaxaca Study and Action Group”, a very pro-APPO news site.  His excellent Spanish and his reporter’s nose for news, along with his generally progressive bent, made him one of my favorite sources.  I didn’t know he had ever written any books; the subject never came up, and Bob is not one to toot his own horn.

“Running Out The Hurt”, his latest book, is a joy to read even if you don’t know – or care to know – the intimate details of the game of Baseball.  If you do know – and enjoy – the game, then this book, written by an aficionado, will evoke memories of daytime baseball in the minor leagues, sitting in the stands with a beverage and an Oscar Meyer hotdog, booing the ump and tsssking when the ball is bobbled.

The teen-age protagonist, a natural athlete who has little experience of life, becomes a star player on a minor league baseball team in Mexico.  His brother had been offered the job, but the family sent the best player they can offer.  Armed wth his brother’s passport and visa, he leaves his native Cuba to seek his fame, make a lot of money to send home, and uphold his family’s honor.

After overthrowing the ball to the catcher and allowing a run which gave the runner’s team the game, and the series; and unable to overcome his feelings of shame; he leaves the hotel in the middle of the night and disappears.  We follow our tarnished hero as he wanders through Mexico, trying but failing to escape his fate as a great ballplayer.

I can’t tell you how the book ends – I’m still reading it – but I can tell you that so far it’s a terrific read, and that I intend to finish it as soon as I get out this Newsletter, and finish updating the website, and hey!  I thought I had retired in 1994, and here I am still working… hmmmm…

** Lila Downs, a friend and a diva,  recently won a Latin American Grammy for her dvd / cd release, Pecados y Milagros.  To hear some cuts, go to www.liladowns.com Awsome…


*** Interested in hiking – flatland strolling or mountain trails –  or perhaps exploring  nearby archaeological sites?  Just click onwww.hoofingitinoaxaca.com  for a schedule.  Better wait until next snowbird season, though: the organizer has returned to his northern nest…

***After a challenge by a civil rights organization was held up by Mexico’s supreme court, striking down the constitutionality of Oaxaca’s version of the Defense of Marriage Act, the lesbian couple who instigated the suit was married here.  They could of course have gone to MexCity, where the issue had already been decided, but instead elected to fight for the rights of all LGBT couples in their home state.  Brave, resolute, and fighting for the civil rights of all: my kind of people…

*** In an experiment which is sure to be followed by other municipalities, Oaxaca has been installing outside security cameras in the Center.  That of course is nothing new.  The difference is that they have hired a group of deaf folks to monitor them.  Turns out the hearing impaired have three big advantages: they can read lips (yes, they can zoom to that level); they are not distracted by ambient noise; and they can see detail more clearly and read body language better than their ear-sensitive brethren and sistren.  There are signing interpreters in the room, to communicate what the observers have… well… observed… to the relevant authorities.

**Tom Fehrer, who provided the portraits in “Weaving Yarn, Weaving Lives”, mentioned above, has combined with Robert Adler, also a photographer, to produce a travelling exposition, inspired by the migrant house COMI, a shelter and rest stop on the long, wearying, and dangerous migrant trail.

It will take a lot of money to mount, hang, take down and ship these almost-lifesize figures, encased in plastic and hung from the ceiling. Right now, they are trying to raise money through Kickstarter, a web presence that donors can go to while deciding which of the many deserving projects they might support. Iknow both of these gentlemen, and for what it’s worth, I think they are the real goods.  To learn more about the project, click   HERE