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Archive for July, 2009

Okay, I don´t know how to say this, but living in Brooklyn for the past nine years has turned me into an all out food snob.  And I’m realizing that being pregnant and living in Oaxaca is not helping me resolve this situation AT ALL.

It always starts out great.  Miguel and I get here and immediately load up on all of the wonderful Oaxacan delicacies we can´t get in NYC.  Real, bonafide Oaxacan mole.  Quesillo.  (I´ve probably eaten enough string cheese by now to stretch from here all the way back to Brooklyn.)  Oh, and don’t forget the Tlayudas.  Memelas. Estofado.  Potato filled Tacos.  Fresh tortillas hot off the comal.  Salsas.  Mmmmm salsas!  And all the fresh mango and avocado you can imagine.

comal ladiesAnd so it goes.  We enjoy the local cuisine.  We eat mom’s Mexican home cooking. We go for breakfasts at our favorite food stands where ladies serve the same things their grandmothers served before them, under the shade of the same old colonial chapels.  About a week goes by.  Then another week. Then another.  And then… I start craving stuff. Stuff I can’t get here.  

I can’t get just made, still hot sesame bagels with scallion cream cheese here. I can’t get Thai spring rolls with tamarind dipping sauce. I can’t get a mini-mountain of fresh wasabi to smother all over my crunchy inside out spicy tuna roll.  I can’t get Greek yogurt with honey. I can’t get Gloucester cheese with chive and onion. I can’t get vanilla rice milk or chocolate soy milk.

But here’s my real dilemma.  I can kind of get some of these things. I know, for example, that I can get veggie burgers and Soba Noodles at Sam’s Club. (Read: WALMART.)  And I can get Organic, Pesticide Free Milk and even some Organic Valley Cheddar Cheese at Chedraui, better known as Super Che.  Yes, Sam and Che (not uncle or Guevara ) but the two biggest box stores in Mexico, work their hardest every day to import and distribute all sorts of delightful products to the Mexican masses. 

me and samBut wait.  Are my cravings that important?  And how organic is my Organic Valley hunk of cheese if it has to travel like 5,000 miles to get to the store? Where do I draw the line? 

To me, just the fact that Sam’s Club/Walmart exists in Oaxaca is horrible. It’s contemporary colonialism at its worst. It cuts out all all the middle men and severely limits the abilities of smaller, local businesses and merchants to compete.  Also, we all know Walmart has a terrible track record when it comes to allowing employees the right to organize for a fair wage.

IMG_4612CHEdraui isn’t much better than Walmart, but there aren’t like, whole movements against the store, or extensive documentaries and books being written about the bad stuff they are doing in the world. Regardless, I know Chedraui is not good. And upon entering the Super Che Market in Puerto Escondido, instead of breathing a sigh of relief as I hit the wall of air-conditioning, I watched as my conscience and stomach battled it out…

Conscience:  “What the hell is wrong with you? Have you so quickly forgotten about the eco-cide?” 

Stomach:  “Oooohhh, but I see those super crunchy Asian rice crackers over there! And smoked salmon! Lox!  And didn’t you see that amazing infused olive oil in aisle three?  Let’s just go over to the dairy section…Come on…forget about the ecocide for a second…”

Conscience:  “Okay, ‘mother to be‘ if that’s what you want to teach your unborn kid.”

Stomach:  “I hate you.”

And so, my conscience wins and no matter how many foods I find that I love and want to break open and devour at that very moment, I can’t stop thinking about “the incident.”  Let me explain. 

You see, there’s a massive square block of Oaxacan land about five minutes from my house in Colonia Reforma. I walk by it all the time on my way to the center.  Some say it was a “natural reserve” where rare breeds of bird and other animals thrived for years.  Others say it was privately owned and subsequently sold to the Chedraui corporation.  Regardless, one night about a year ago, Chedraui’s owners decided that they would begin construction of yet another store using up the entire block. 

The weird part is, they started “construction” without notice to the locals, in the middle of the night.  They sent an army of men with chainsaws and bulldozers to clear the green swath of land as swiftly and “quietly” as possible.  You can imagine the chaos and scandal it caused in the community.  Here’s a video about the incident.  Of course after much outrage by various eco-groups, the city ordered that construction cease. By then, it was already too late. Hundreds of trees (some over 300 years old) were brought down. Here are some photos I took on my walk to the center recently. 

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Sigh. 

So you see my internal conflict.  With all this stuff in mind, I think I have no choice but to do my best at being a “localvore.”  I´ll keep shopping at the Pochote Organic Market and El Mercado de Abastos and some of the other specialty stores where I can get some of the stuff I want.  

My mom sent me a recipe for bagels the other day.  Maybe I´ll just have to make my own. But if anyone wants to send me and Miguel some Kashi Go Lean Crunch or a bottle of Pom Blueberry, please feel free.

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This past week, like so many other cities around the globe, Oaxaca celebrated its own “Semana de la Diversidad Sexual” or Gay Pride Week. Flyers plastered on adobe walls and telephone poles around the center beckoned crowds to attend roundtables, films, dance parties, and even a parade – the first official GLBT march the city has ever seen. I´d been missing BK and jonesing for some super concentrated, fabulous gay energy, so I joined in…

I started off the week with a viewing of Tony Kusnher´s amazing four hour 1996 dramedy, ANGELS IN AMERICA, starring Al Pacino, Meryl Streep, Emma Thompson and Mary Louise Parker. (If you haven’t seen it, put it on your Netflix queue asap.) As I was dropping my five pesitos into the wooden donation box at the entrance of the city’s beloved, free indy-theater, El Pochote, I couldn’t help but overhear a gay gringo expat mention that he was disappointed with the turnout. I counted heads as I made my way down the aisle to my favorite seat…Siete…Ocho…Nueve. There were 9 of us (inlcuding the projectionist.) I sat down, opened my bag of popcorn and hoped that it was because of the drizzle that had just started. More people are on their way…Right?

Perhaps. But the sad reality is that an overwhelming majority of Oaxacan citizens aren’t there yet. And although Oaxaca is without a doubt a gem of a city, and one of the cultural capitals of Latin America with regards to art, folklore and cuisine, (not to mention the mobilization of so many liberals that took place after the incidents in 2006 ) this city – this country – is FILLED with homophobia. It´s devastating to me, but it´s something I’ve had to come to terms with since I first came here in 2002.

Miguel and I consistently find ourselves cringing at how often and how non-chalantly the F word (here it´s the P word ) is thrown around. On top of that comes a ton of anti-gay joke telling, and the most typical comment- “Oh I have no problem with them, as long as they don’t…” As long as they don’t what? Tell you that they are gay? Hold their partner’s hand in public? Want to get married? Adopt children? Be protected under the law?

Currently, Oaxaca state doesn’t have a single anti-discrimination law in place that specifically protects members of the GLBT community. This means that people who get beat up on the street, or get fired from their jobs for being gay are on their own. Fortunately, Oaxacan based NGO’s like La Asociación Civil Diversidades, and El Colectivo Feminista Lila who helped organize this first official day of protest are on a mission to change all that. And so, on Saturday, June 27th, they called upon members of the GLBT community to meet in El LLANO Park and prepare to march.

On our way there, I clutched Miguel’s hand and confessed my fears… “What if they don’t come? What if no one comes?? I want it to be BIG! It NEEDS to be BIG!” When we jumped off the bus and heard the banda music pumping in the distance, I felt a huge sigh of relief. They came out.

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There were gay punk teens, women in huipiles, dads with tots, massive monos de calenda wearing rainbow flags. There were lesbian lovers, graying gay gringos, bearded ladies, sassy transvestites, and everyone in between.

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I watched, filmed and (and of course had a few moments of teary-eyed hope) as we took to the streets to dance, chant, and list demands.

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The gritos went something like: “We´re not only here to have fun, we´re here to get things done!” & “Today marks the beginning of the end of machismo!” & ” No que no, si que si, empezamos a salir!” “Ready or not, we’re coming out!” Onlookers and unassuming passersby stood on the sidelines, some enjoying the “show,” some dumbfounded, some pointing, some curiously staring, others glaring, but mostly they were peaceful.

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When we arrived in the main square, across from the entrance to the mammoth Catholic Cathedral, Oaxaca´s GLBT leaders listed their demands

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Plain and simple – they want equal rights for all GLBT factions including the recognition of transgender individuals, as well as the implementation of laws to protect people against hate crimes committed in the state and the country. It felt good to hear the words echo through the main square. Por fin. En voz alta.

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I made my rounds through the crowd, spontaneously interviewing people, asking them why they were there and what their hopes were for the future. (Video forthcoming.) Most GLBT Oaxacans only want freedom from discrimination. They are aware of what they are up against, but they refuse to sit around and wait for society to change on its own. That’s why they’ve come out. To remind the community that they’re here and they’re here to stay.

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And although Oaxaca won’t by any means celebrate passage of a marriage equality bill in the near future, the community has taken it upon themselves to start the process of moving forward. And I am proud to have been here to witness it.

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One day, I’ll tell my Oaxacan-American kid about it. I imagine him saying something like, “De veras, Ma? Órale!  Como han cambiado las cosas!”  For real, Ma? Wow! Things sure have changed.

 

 

Gallery of additional photos:

Still Photography: Miguel Ayuso

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