An Invitation to an Amazing Oaxacan Adventure

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Why were the Beatles Banned in Mexico

They absolutely love the Beatles in Mexico. In fact, they've dedicated a whole day in Mexico City where people dress up in Beatles attire otherwise known as Beatles Look Alike Day. And they say the Beatles are played more in Mexico than anywhere else in the world.  I remember being in a church up in Ixtlan in northern Oaxaca chatting with some young band members who were giving a concert that day. They wanted me to know that they didn't just play church music - they played Beatles covers as well, and could I tell them what the lyrics to the song Michelle translated to in Spanish. I mean this was really rural Oaxaca. Pretty sure none of those kids had ever even been to Oaxaca City - going to Ixtlan was the big city for them. But they loved the Beatles.
Still it hasn't always been that way. In the 60's and 70's rock and roll was banned in large swathes of Mexico. The conservative right considered it too decadent, prurient, and a negative influence on young people. And the radical left thought it was too western. Why would we want to import the colonizers music when we already have our own strong cultural music traditions was the thinking.
Santana was denied a permit to play in Mexico City and nary a Beatles song was found on the airwaves.  But times have changed and globalization is real.  Still, there is just something I love about Mexico meets the Beatles. Check out this link for more fun photos -

The Number One Grain in All of the World

The roots of corn run deep in Oaxaca.  One of the first known cobs of corn was found in a cave less than an hour east of the city. Some say this is the first known cultivation of corn but my research would lead me to conclude that there may have been at least one other hybridization, which has given us what we now know as zea mays, happening concurrently  in the American Southwest. Still I always like to pay homage and take a deep internal bow to that little cave when we drive past on our way to Mitla.

 Indeed corn runs deep in all of Mexico as evidenced by the saying, "sin maiz, no hay paiz" (without corn we have no country). You find it used for everything from food and drink to weaving (as a starch to stiffen string) to children's toys (think corn husk dolls), to used as tools for pottery and, my personal favorite, a cork to hold whatever brew your gourd drinking container might hold. And please remember, that the sweet corn you might eat on fourth of July in the States is completely different from most of what you find in Mexico where the harder and starchier corns reign supreme and are used for tortillas, tamale masa, atole drinks and a host of local food variations.  Also the elote, found on menus of many American hipster restaurants, is NOT what you'll get in Mexico. Elote refers to the time of the year when the dent/meal corn is still very soft and milky. There's a zillion ways to use it from tea, to meal, to ice cream and more.  It's considered a special delicacy by those in the know.

Corn is the most harvested grain in the world and definitely one of the greatest gifts Mexico has given us. As you can imagine, the anti GMO movement is alive and well in Oaxaca.  My postcard image above came from a whole Anti GMO series produced by Franciso Toledo. In Mexico, being anti GMO is considered patriotic.

How I Became an Ally

We all travel for different reasons and travel feeds us all in different ways but without a doubt, for me, one of my favorite parts is having my mind opened to new and different ways of understanding the world.. And I know it's happened to everyone who has traveled, that tiny snippet of a conversation you might have had in a bus station or at a bistro table that has made a lasting impact on your thinking and the way you see the world. . You'll never see that person again and they probably don't remember the moment.  This is one of those stories.

A little over 10 years ago I had this far flung and not particularly carefully crafted idea that I wanted to start organizing tours to Mexico.  Seemed like learning Spanish might be a good first step (:)) so I figured out how to work remotely and was living with a family in the old colonial city of Merida, State of the Yucatan in Mexico and enrolled in a Spanish study course four days a week for a month.

During that trip a friend from Houston flew down for a long weekend.  I went to the airport to meet him and, as is the custom in many small airports in Mexico, we found ourselves heading back to the city center in a collective taxi.  Typically many airports will have a transportation kiosk that gangs people up according to which part of town they're going and then you ride together. Which is exactly how we found ourselves sharing a cab with a lovely woman from Villahermosa and her teenage daughter.

It was the day Pavarotti had died and someone, I can't remember who, brought up news of his death. The woman shared with us that she had seen Pavarotti at the ancient Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza when he performed there in the late 90's!!!  Now I'm not an opera fan, but that must have been pretty amazing. My friend, who IS an opera fan, was even more excited. And, as often happens to me in Mexico, I am happily surprised by the sophistication of the discourse. We talked about music a bit and it was the first time I heard the phrase "musica folklorico" as it might be applied to contemporary music. In short we were what the Mexicans call "platicar"ing….a sort of friendly kind of chatting with people you don't know well.

Eventually the subject came around to what's brought you to Merida. "Oh I'm studying Spanish and my friend is down here visiting.  We're going out to the Gulf Coast to the beach for the weekend. Maybe do a little birdwatching. What about you?"  Well as it turns out she had flown into Merida with her daughter to go to the American consulate to apply for a visa.   Seemed like a long way to come for a visa. "Isn't there a consulate in Villahermosa (that big, bad, hot, humid, oil town I had visited in my 20's)?", I wondered aloud.  Well yes there is, but the lines and the wait are longer and the outcome is uncertain and she thinks she has a better chance of obtaining one from this consulate than the Villahermosa one.  Plus, she tells me, she's in a little bit of a time crunch because her daughter, who is married to an American and lives in Texas, is having a baby and she wants to be there for the birth.  Wants her younger daughter to be there too. It was her first grandchild.  I wished her good luck.

 I'm embarrassed to say that, up until that time, it had never really occurred to me that the only impediment facing a Mexican who wanted to travel to the States were the same ones facing me wanting to travel to Mexico.  Essentially I had always thought that, as long as you had enough money, you could get yourself in. It was only the poor campesino/farmworker who didn't have enough money to get a passport and a ticket that had to "sneak" in.  My, probably more affluent than I,  taximate still had to jump through way way more hoops, face more uncertainties and pay more to visit my country than I do to visit hers.  Check my passport dates and make sure there's enough money to pay for the plane ticket and away I go. Here was a woman of considerable means, well at least enough disposable income to wrangle a ticket to see Pavarotti, and still having troubles.  Her crime?  Wanting to be at the birth of her first grandchild. I guess you could say I got woke to the lopsided rules about visiting between our two countries. I think it's what is known as a double standard. I really consider this encounter one of the first I had that put me on the path to wanting to learn more about our immigration system and how we can right it. And I always wonder how my Pavarotti friend is doing visiting her grandchildren in the states.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

My October Tour and the Land of This is Not Normal

- Plants and Animals - Seed Necklaces purchased on the streets of Oaxaca and handyed rug from Josefina Lopez - they use a local plant huizache for that gorgeous black and pomegranate bark for the browns.

I was thinking this was going to be a post about how thrilled I am that my October Artisans, Markets, & Village tour is totally full.  And all women signed up. I did not plan it that way.  It just happened so it  must be meant to be!! I'm going to have a great group of chefs,  historians, activists, and artists to travel with.That's code for we're mostly a group of retired women who are doing exactly what we want. 
But instead this is more of a post about the family separations happening and how I feel so woke to the need for all of us to step up and do what we can to uphold the best that this country has to offer in the face of the looming potential for the rising fascism and racism we see all around us . I don't think my concerns are exaggerated. I think this administration has shown us exactly what they are capable of - which is to say they are capable of anything. So as the saying goes, "My page, my politics" and you might find my charming little art/travel blog veering off into the realm of peace and social justice. I'm going to use the tiny forum of this blog to speak up for what I believe.
 I've been an "ally" for a long time - it only makes sense really since I've been running these tours to Oaxaca for a while now. In the process I have almost always been received with tremendous respect, thoughtfulness, and grace when traveling. Fewer things give me more pleasure than watching someone have their heart and soul opened to the wonders of this ancient land. Mexico and her people have been so good to me.  I'd like my nation to return the favor. How about you?

Images of Object Confiscated from Migrants

Gideon Bibles in Spanish published in Tennessee found in the trash at Customs and Border Protection Center in Why, Az. - (photo Tom Kiefer from the NYT)

This is the work of Tom Kiefer, a case of the right person at the right place at the right time.  My guess is he's a little bit of an oddball, moving from LA to the outskirts of Tuscon and taking a job as a janitor at a Border Detention Center because his photography gig wasn't quite working out.  It's a beautiful story about someone who saw things going to waste. Remember I said he was a little oddball as in someone who has a habit of going through the trash.Most of us know someone like that who can't stand to throw anything away.  He was so moved by what he saw began taking things home (a case of stealing government property even though it was trash) and cleaning, sorting and documenting his finds. Apparently he has warehouses of goods.He's produced a body of work, currently some 600 photos, called El Sueno Americano / The American Dream. What first might read like an experiment with Pinterest, upon closer inspection, reveals a writhing, painful, humanity of objects lost or confiscated from people crossing the border.  And then there is the inhumanity. As in,why are we taking, from people who have presumably traveled hundreds or thousands of miles with very, very little, why are we taking the few possessions they might have, however humble? Why are we stripping them of their personal belongings? The anthropologist and artist in me has a deep feeling for material culture and what we can learn from it. I can't encourage you enough to explore his work. It's almost a miracle that we have this record.

Click here for his story and a selection of his work from the New York Times. 

And here's another article and more images from the New Yorker

My Journaling Tour in March

Usually in Oaxaca, I'm so inspired and my journal drawings are on fire. I'm not sure exactly why that is but it has something to do with that amorphous thing they call energy. There is a kind of creative fire in the atmosphere.  

I am excited to be offering a tour next spring in which the focus will be on travel journaling - whether that means sketching, writing poetry or doing collage work or some combination. We'll explore journaling as a means of connecting with place and creating memory. I'll teach some basic bookmaking techniques, and we might try cyanotypes and marbling paper, but mostly our time will be focused on our own journals as we travel to noteworthy places throughout Oaxaca to sketch and write. Each participant will have a day to lead the group in journal prompts and we'll do critiques and sharing most days.  This is the tour I've always wanted to take and so I'm making it happen. For more info contact me directly at

Art and the Resistance

Wow, here's a free downloadable poster that tells it like it is from my favorite body positive artist PhoebeWahl. Now my favorite sister/resister/social activist artist as well.  Click here to get  the download

The poster doesn't just argue for reuniting families but breaks the struggle down into clear, achievable goals.  1) No more detention - let's return to Obama era policies of having asylum seekers and people awaiting deportation be monitored in the community. Asylum seekers, many of whom have presumably traveled hundreds of miles under harrowing circumstances, are actually very motivated to show up for their hearings.  The no show rate for these hearings is low.  Plus we don't want  hard earned tax dollars used for private prisons. Current plans call for doubling the number of detention beds from 40 to 80 thousand. Are you with me? There are plans in this country to hold 80,000 people in prison, many of whom have committed no crime.  Even though I don't want to espouse the politics of outrage, I still want to know, where is the freak out emoji? Here in the Northwest there are detention centers in Tacoma and the Dalles and about 120 asylum seekers (again, not criminals)being held in federal prison in Sheridan Or. as well as an unknown number of unaccompanied minors living in teen shelters in Portland.    2) No more deportations - we desperately need some kind of amnesty for the 11 million plus, mostly Latinx, people who have been living and working and raising families in the United States for years.  It's time for employers and all of us who benefit from Latinx labor in this country (that's basically anyone who eats plus a whole lot of other people)to stop turning a blind eye to this injustice which allows an entire class of people to be subject to tremendous fear, exploitation and trafficking simply because of the uncertainties of their immigration status.The last time we had amnesty was in the mid 1980's under Ronald Regan (just sayin). It doesn't even necessarily have to be a pathway to citizenship. Here I am hoping to placate the Republicans who fear all Latinx voters going Democrat. I even think a carefully crafted kind of guest worker or green card program is doable. Let's bring some humanity to our country. 3) Abolish ICE -  I fear ICE.  What they do now is horrible, but I fear more for what they could become. They've only been around 15 years and it hasn't been pretty and it's getting worse. We need to nip this problem in the bud. CNN said , "Unfortunately, the agency appears to have become the President's personal security force, carrying out his relentless anti-immigrant campaign."  Currently there is proposed legislation to abolish ICE. You can find out more here and here. Write your reps and let them know we want an end to ICE.

And thank you Ms Wahl for this beautiful poster. And thanks everyone for reading.  I know there are so many people out there who want to do something. Start by educating yourself and reaching out to others doing the kind of work you want to do.