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Mamacita Mexicana.

Okay so, this being a mom thing – I really love it. I mean, I love my kid more than life itself – he’s amazing. No, really, he’s AMAZING.  He comes to parties, art-openings, out to swank restaurants and just chills. I simply throw him in the sling and we’re off. I’ve chatted with numerous Mamas and have been told that this is not the norm for many two month olds, so I feel really lucky. Some people think I’m crazy to take him out with me wherever, whenever, passing him around like a hot potato – but he doesn’t make a fuss and it works for us.  As long as Maxwell is fed, changed and not in the same place or position for too long, he’s super tranquilo. I appreciate that he’s down to come out. And I know it won’t last forever, so I’m enjoying it while I can.

I know that in a few months, he’ll hit that super-Neanderthal baby stage, when he starts crawling and teething and putting everything on Earth in his mouth, and we may end up a bit more homebound, just because it’ll be easier.  And as much as I love going about my life and taking my kid along, I’m surprised at the ease with which I’ve come to appreciate the “stay at home mom” thing.  I can’t believe it, but I don’t mind being home as much as I thought I would.

Sometimes I’m the quintessential Mexican Mama. I spend entire days cooking, cleaning, changing diapers and listening to talk radio. I’ve officially come in contact with my inner Donna Reed. And it’s easy to do that here – in a place where being a mother is looked at as a given, a good thing, a priority.

Also, the fact that I’m a mom makes me feel more integrated, more part of the community here. Before, I was just a Gringa, an outsider, a tourist. Then when I was pregnant with a half-Mexican kid, I gained some more clout. Now, with a babe in a rebozo, strolling through the market, I realize that I’m part of a club, the not-so-secret society of Mexican Mothers.  I was thrilled to discover I was automatically a member of this club, but it turns out there’s some hazing involved. There are some very specific rules that MUST be followed, and unfortunately, I never got the handbook, so I get reminders, suggestions and advice in all forms at least once a day…

For instance, just in case I don’t know, or I might have forgotten, Oaxacan friends, family members and perfect strangers consistently remind me of the most basic thing: CUIDARLO! Take CARE of your baby!  How old is he? Wow! So little! Be careful with him on the street!  Then rules get more specific (sometimes insistent) often having to do with climate concerns. Cover him up! Put a hat on him. A winter hat! And don’t forget the socks! Isn’t he cold? (It’s 77 degrees.) Isn’t it a little late for him to be out? (It’s 7:45pm) Isn’t he a bit squished in that sling you have him in? (Noooo.) You’re not going to bring him into the KITCHEN, are you? (Huh?) If he’s exposed to the smell of food, he’ll get swollen glands! (Hmmm. I’ll take it into consideration.)  Where’s his red string? (Red string?) He needs a piece of red string on him to ward off the evil eye. (Oh, right! I’m on it.)  And are you drinking your Atole?

Let me pause here on the Atole bit. Rewind to when I was 8 months pregnant. Everyone and their mother told me that in order for my milk to come in, I should drink Atole. Atole is kind of like a cream corn soupy porridge, but without that perfect sweet-salt-cream combination. It’s this THICK, hot, grainy, maiz based beverage which I liken to the gruel that made Oliver Twist get out of his chair and demand “Food glorious Food.”   Sorry, ladies who love it. I know it’s supposed to increase your milk supply immensely, and I do feel bad about offending the Mexican corn goddess, but YUCK! And if I had a dime for how many women have told me that I need to drink Atole, I’d be living on a beachfront property in Puerto Escondido right about now. (By the way – my milk supply – out of control. I’m a fountain over here, no Atole necessary.)

Okay, glad I got all that out. Enough kvetching. I’ve known for a long time that Mexico, like everywhere, has its own idiosyncracies. Yes, it is sometimes challenging to be discovering motherhood a world away from my darling NYC, (where it really is freezing but nobody would dare tell me to cover up my kid). But it’s actually comforting to know that so many people are genuinely concerned for the well-being of my son. In the end, being in Oaxaca reminds me that the old adage – it takes a village to raise a child – is still in effect… I’m glad I’m here to witness and be a part of it.

Now, I know I’ve got some red string around here somewhere…

First I’d like to apologize for having neglected my blog for so long. On my due date, Sept 23rd, I woke up totally convinced that my half-Mexican kid was NOT going to arrive on schedule. Accordingly, I started a blog entry entitled, “Ahorita: (NOT) right now, or how I came to understand Mexican time.” But before I was able to finesse and put up the post, to our surprise, the little guy decided to make his debut! He was only one hour late – and he’s had me pretty busy since his arrival… But I’m back now.

Virgin Guadalupe, Patron Saint of MexicoAs for my Labor Day, I’ve come to the conclusion that Guadalupe IS there and I must have done some serious favors for her in a past life, because my birth experience turned out to be absolutely INCREDIBLE. Not only was my labor super short (5 and a quarter hours total!) but the whole scene ended up looking and feeling the way I had wanted. (Actually, the feeling part I couldn’t have imagined. Pushing a baby the size of a watermelon out of an opening the size of a lemon is a pretty daunting task. Okay, it’s the most intense pain I’ve ever felt in my life, and task is probably the worst synonym I can come up with for labor, but I did it.) It was amazing, inspiring and empowering. And I know now, without a doubt, that I would do it again in the same way. But let’s go back to the beginning…

I had always thought that the day I gave birth I would wake up knowing, “this is the day.” Wrong-O. On my labor day, I got up just like it was any other day. I spent a good part of the morning at the market and then made a huge pot of chicken soup (talk about a random motherly thing to do – my Jewish mother would have been so proud.) While the stock simmered, one of my midwives, Cristina came over. We chatted for awhile, and after a quick check-up she told me I was 1 centimeter dilated. Since it often takes women days to get from 1 to 10 centimeters,  Cristina assumed babe wouldn’t show up until the weekend… So, Miguel and I went about our day. We lunched with a friend. We attempted to take a siesta, but couldn’t fall asleep. We planned to see Soderberg’s CHE Part I at a local theater that nite after my Prenatal Yoga class…

Fast forward to early evening. There I am, stretched out in Warrior Two, breathing in through the nose, out through the mouth, tightening and releasing, working the pelvic floor muscles. I’m feeling great. After about an hour of exercise, it’s time for relaxation. As we all lay still in the dark, our Yoga instructor Lauren (also one of my midwives) makes her way around the room and puts a little dab of essential oil on the back of our necks.  When she gets to me, she puts her hand gently on my neck, and all of a sudden I feel this intense CRACK in my pelvis. Then a ridiculous rush of pain runs from my womb straight up to my head and through my whole being. ((Shudder)) Oh. My. God.  This is it.

OM I keep my game face on for three long OM’s.  The rest of the Pregnant Yogis bid me farewell with smiles, suertes, and you can do its. Out in the courtyard, Miguel is waiting for me. It’s about 7:45. Despite my having what I think are four contractions right there outside the studio, we decide that we should still try and go to the movies, because, well, early labor is supposed to take a while and you should do normal things to pass the time. So we start walking to the theater.

Not five minutes into our walk, we’re in the middle of Jardin Conzatti, one of my favorite green spaces in Oaxaca, and there I am  – hanging onto a tree for dear life. Yep, in labor, I’m an all out tree hugger. When the pain comes, I MUST MUST MUST get to a tree. Hold the tree. Put my hands up and grab onto those limbs. Pull down hard. Breathe fast. Whoo Whoo Whoo.  After a few rounds of this Miguel realizes that passersby are staring, and we should probably get out of there. Besides, the contractions are 5 minutes apart at this point.  (Miguel called our midwife, Cristina, who said to time them and call her back.) Wait – five minutes apart? Are you sure, Miguel?  Isn’t that the “cue flight of the bumblebee” moment in the movies when the ladies rush off frantically to the hospital to scream their heads off?  Why, yes – it is. My instinct tells me – go home. Go home. Go home. Che will have to wait. So we make our way home.

To get to the spot where we always hail cabs, we have to traverse a few blocks, another park, and (OOPS!) make a quick stop at a mini-market – (there are a few supplies we just realized that we haven’t got for the home birth).  All the while I want to be hugging trees. I hate anything not naturesque. I’m  pissed when I have to go through a contraction up against a graffiti covered concrete wall.  I don’t want to be around people either.  Just Miguel. Miguel and nature. Oh, and I want to walk in the grass.  F the “keep off the grass” signs. There’s a nicely designed spiral grass formation in the middle of the park and I want to walk around and around it. I brave two contractions in the spiral and we jump into a taxi. The cab driver wants to bring me to the hospital, but, nope – we’re going home.

parque llano

When we walk in the door, Miguel and I lose each other for a bit.  He’s busy trying to fill up the birthing tub which we installed a week before. I’m busy trying to load two video cameras, (the small family one and my big professional one.)  I need to load the tape, mount a microphone, set the timecode and white balance- but I keep on getting interrupted by these darn contractions!  Come on, I tell myself, you’ve done this a million times – but I’m super distracted.  In the meantime, Miguel realizes that we don’t have enough water to fill up the tub.  (You see, unlike in NYC where there is a seemingly  infinite stream of H2O coming from who knows where, here in the Global South, you have this tank of water on your roof. Every three weeks or so, you run out of water and have to pump water from a bigger underground tank up to the littler tank.  This takes some time, and usually the first batch of water is sandy and silty – not optimum for a birthing scenario.) Miguel tells me we have to let go of the water birth possibility. I realize I have to let go of the big camera possibility. We agree. I load the smaller camera and get back to my contractions.

I want to change. It’s hot. I want to wear one of Miguel’s white button down shirts, the one from our engagement party. I want to be on all fours, on the floor in our bedroom with a pillow under my knees and my hands on the cold tiles.  I need water.  I think of my mother in labor with me, on her back in a hospital bed for 11 hours with no water. I can’t imagine how she did it.  If someone tells me I can’t be on all fours, I’ll strangle them.  I can’t believe how often these waves are coming. I also can’t believe how the pain goes away completely in between. I realize that this is the miracle of childbirth, that I get real bonafide BREAKS in between contractions. It’s not like other pain – which starts strong and persists.

I want Miguel to be next to me for every contraction. I call out to him. He comes right over, falls to his knees with me.  He breathes with me.  I love him. I nuzzle into his neck. I hug him.  I can’t believe this is actually happening. He brings me mango and water. The mango is sour and not yet ripe, but it’s delicious.

Our midwives, Cristina and Lauren are here now, it’s 9:30 or so.  I hug them.  Their smiles are warm, welcoming and reassuring. They make me feel safe and strong. They have suitcases and set up lots of equipment.  They check me, and realize I am 8 (!) centimeters dilated.  They can’t believe it.  They remind me, “This is what you wanted, Miranda! You’re getting your birth!” I’m excited, but the pains are so intense that I can’t really go beyond this wave that is happening right now. Miguel says, “you’re almost there” and I say, “don’t say that, don’t say that, don’t say that.” Maybe I don’t believe it.

I want to take a shower. The warm water feels good. It helps me relax. My legs stop shaking. I feel like I’m high, there’s so much adrenaline, serotonin and oxytocin rushing through me. Soon the hot water runs out and I get out of the shower shivering. When I grab my bathrobe, I discover the terrycloth belt which is part of the robe. This is perfect! I think to myself as I fling the belt over a hook in the bathroom, pull down and brace myself for the next wave.

I love this belt thing – I fling it over doorknobs, fall to my knees and pull down. At some point, I try the birthing chair but I don’t really like how it feels – it’s too big for me. I don’t want to sit. I go back to the bedroom. I’m on my knees and I drape my upper body over the foot of the bed.  I clench the mattress edges and tighten my fists when the contractions come.  I shouldn’t do this, I know – I’m resisting the waves, I have to let go and channel the rushes down. Lauren guides me, she tells me to put my head down so my neck touches my chin, and to let go of my upper body, release the tension, channel the pain down, down, down. When I let go, I can feel the difference – I can feel my body opening. I can feel him moving down.

The next two hours blur together. I’m my most instinctual ANIMAL self. I crawl around on the floor on all fours like a cat. I moan low, deep moans from my core. I hug Miguel for long moments. Film me, I tell him. I fall asleep completely in between contractions.  I call out to my son, Come baby.  I feel the Goddess, some other energy, there. I tell myself that 200,000 other women are doing this right now, and I can do it. I want to cry, because it hurts, but I can’t summon the tears, and here comes another wave. Motherfucker, I say. I can’t do this.  “Yes you can” says Miguel.

At some point, the midwives tell me that I should try to go pee, because an empty bladder will make more room for baby to move down. I go into the bathroom with Miguel. I’m standing above the toilet. I go through three intense contractions there. I feel how gravity is helping.  Poor Miguel, I pull down really hard on his neck.  At the end of the third contraction I feel a new pain. A different pain. The ring of fire. I’ve been told about this. It’s the burning sensation, the stretch when the baby begins to crown.

I walk out of the bathroom and tell the midwives about the new pain.  I want to sit on the birthing chair now. I’m in the hallway. I’m about to give birth on the floor in the hallway. Cristina looks me in the eyes and tells me, “Your baby is coming now.” She takes a mirror and shows Miguel that the head is crowning. Both midwives ask me if I want to touch the head, but I say no. No. No. I don’t want to touch the head. I believe you.

I tell Miguel to set the camera up so that we can film this moment. He tells me that he wants to be present.  I insist that he go and put the camera on a table in front of us.  “How’s the shot? Can you see me?”  There I am, producing my birth, after all. The camera is rolling. Miguel comes back to me. I brace myself, my hand on his knee. He is right there by my side. I’m ready.

I push. Once. Twice. Three times. And our son joins us.

lafamiliasun

Labor Day has taken on a completely new meaning for me this year. I’m four weeks away from my due date (more or less) and taking all necessary steps to prepare myself to have our kid at home.
Yep, you heard it here, I’m going to join the ranks of indigenous women all over the planet (and a very small percentage of modern ladies, not to mention celebs – Ani Difranco,  http://www.mindful-mama.com/media/p/26.aspx   Demi Moore, and Meryl Streep  http://www.merylstreeponline.net/healthy.html ) and go for it in the comfort of my own casa.
Miguel and our two amazing midwives, Cristina and Araceli will be here with me.  We’ve got a massive tub or (tina) coming, in case I want to give birth in water.  We’ve got an OBGYN whom I’ve already had check ups with (and worked with) who has worked with the midwives before and is considered our backup.  (He´ll be able to attend me either at a clinic or at the Civil Hospital (2 minutes away) “por si las moscas” – just in case.) 
So, against the advice of about 72% of friends and friends of friends who have given birth, I’ve opted to not be in a hospital or clinic, and to go it natural – no drugs available.  No epidural, no Demerol, nothing to even take the edge off.   
What do I hope to achieve by doing this? Well, first of all, I want to say for the record that I don´t have anything to prove. In the end, all Miguel and I want is to have a healthy baby.  But I do want to experience my son´s birth in the most organic way possible.  
Why a home birth? It´s pretty simple for me. Some women feel comfortable in hospitals with technology all around them at the ready, and that´s what they need.  Personally, hospitals don´t make me feel safe, they make me feel like an outsider, intimidated, and sometimes even frightened. 
When I am experiencing the most intensely profound and intimate moment of my life, I don´t want to be bathed in flourescent light, surrounded by people who I have never met before.  (This inevitably happens in most all Mexican hospitals.)  Being at home in my own space, in the company of my amazing partner and two women who have delivered hundreds of babies gives me confidence. 
Why no drugs? I´ve heard all sorts of stories, “Go for the Epidrual, girlfriend!  It´s sweet relief!” or  “You´re nuts if you want to go through that pain. It´s not necessary!”   But others have said they have felt completely “cut off” from the experience.   I don´t wnat to be cut off from the experience. In the end, a home birth choice equals no access to such drugs.  

And so the last weekend of summer is upon us.  I can imagine all of my Brooklyn friends making plans for the long weekend, some choosing to escape the city for the quiet of a B&B on the Hudson, others keeping it local – fireworks, frisbee, a Prospect Park BBQ.  But for me, Labor Day has taken on completely new meaning this year. Four weeks away from our due date, Miguel and I are spending the weekend ticking off things on a long list of preparations for our home birth. 

Yep, you heard it here, I’m going to join the ranks of indigenous women all over the planet (not to mention celebs like Ani DifrancoRicki Lake, & Demi Moore) and go for it in the comfort of my own casita.

mothering

    demi moore pregnant vanity fairricki_lake_your_best_birth3

Miguel and I have chosen Cristina and Araceli, two well-respected, seasoned midwives (who happen to run their own Oaxacan midwifery school) to be with us on our day. We’ve got a massive tub coming, in case I want to give birth in water. We’ve got a progressive OBGYN whom I trust as our backup.  I’ve already had check ups with him, and even produced a video with him about “the humanization of childbirth” in Oaxaca. He knows our midwives and will be able to attend me either at a clinic or at the Civil Hospital (2 minutes away) “por si las moscas” – just in case. 

So, against the advice of about 72% of friends (and friends of friends) who have given birth, I’ve opted to NOT be in a hospital or clinic, and to go it natural – no drugs available.  No epidural, no Demerol, nothing to take the edge off.   Some people think I’m nuts.  I´ve heard it all, “Go for the Epidural, girlfriend!  It´s sweet relief!” or  “You´re crazy if you want to go through all that pain! In this day and age, it´s not necessary!”   But then there are others who have gotten the shot, and have said they have felt completely “cut off” or “detached” from the experience.  I don´t want to risk being cut off from the experience. Regardless, by having chosen two midwives who only attend home births, I’ve opted out of the drug possibility, and I’m at peace with that. 

Okay, so why a home birth? It´s pretty simple for me. Some women feel comfortable in hospitals with technology all around them, and that´s what they need.  Personally, hospitals don´t make me feel safe, they make me feel like an outsider, intimidated, and sometimes even frightened. 

When I am experiencing what I imagine will be the most intensely profound and intimate moment of my life, I don´t want to be bathed in blue flourescent light, with people I’ve never met before checking out my vulva UNLESS ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY.  What I do want is to be able to connect with my husband, switch positions, drink water, and focus.  I want to let the process happen naturally.  If I arrive at 24 or 48 hours and the babe still isn’t ready to come out, then he’s not ready, but I don’t want to be told that I need to be induced, cut, pushed along or given a Cesarian, just because things are taking longer than modern medicine says they should.  (If I go to any Mexican hospital, the aforementioned things are very likely to happen as Oaxaca has an 80% rate of Cesarian. To put that in perspective, in Japan there is a 10% rate of Cesarian.) But I digress. All I know is, being at home, in my own space, in the company of my amazing partner and two women who have delivered hundreds of babies is going to make the process of laboring easier for me. Punto.  

What do I hope to achieve by going this route? Well, first of all, I want to say for the record that I don´t have anything to prove. In the end, all Miguel and I want is to have a healthy baby. We know we have to be open to the possibility that things could take an unexpected turn. (This is why our backup plan is so elaborate.)  That said, I do have (and will retain) the hope that I will be able to experience my son´s birth in the most organic way possible. 

The whole experience of being pregnant, educating myself and making choices has been a challenging and wonderfully insightful process for me. The only thing I can say I have learned for certain is that each woman I meet has her own set of beliefs, ideas, needs, and hopes for her labor and delivery experience.  So, hey, if you’re one of the 216,000 women who is going to give birth on the same day as I am, and you believe you need a shot, get the shot. If you don’t think you can bare the pain and want to schedule your Cesarian for next Tuesday, schedule your Cesarian for next Tuesday.  I’m gonna try my hardest to have a natural home birth with midwives, the way women have been doing it for centuries.  

This is what I wish for my Labor Day.  

 

 

Curious about how I made my choice?  Check out INA MAY’s Guide to Childbirth.

 

I think it’s safe to say that approximately 32.6% of my decision to move to Oaxaca was based on the fact that we’d be living around the corner from my one-of-a-kind mother-in-law, Carmelita. Not only is she the most outgoing, entertaining, happy-go-lucky Oaxaqueña I have ever met, she’s also retired and DYING for a new grandkid (her other three grandkids are 7, 13, & 15.) On top of this, she loves me to death.

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Every time I go over to her house she has some wonderful little surprise for me. For instance, yesterday, Miguel and I decided we would lunch with the folks, and when we called them to let them know we’d be coming over, Mama asked us what we wanted to eat. I said “Tinga!” (Tinga is a delicious chicken tomato onion stew goulash that you eat with tortillas.)  Of course it takes about two hours to make Tinga, and since we called them right before lunch, it wouldn’t have been possible yesterday. Fast forward to today, just before lunch, Carmelita calls us to let us know that (SURPRISE!!) my Tinga is ready and waiting for me. And that’s only the half of it.  For real…

What, it´s too hot in here, Miranda? Oh, let me get you a fan… You’re thirsty? Oh, let me get you a lemonade… You’re not feeling so well? Let me rub your back. You want to go to Yoga? Let me pay for that. You want to use cloth diapers? Oh, no problem – I’ve already bought the material and sewed 50 for you… I know it sounds like I´m a spoiled brat, but, well, I am. And I am loving every minute of it.

carmelita and me.

Don’t get me wrong, sometimes I feel a little guilty and have to put the brakes on, like when she “steps in” while I´m doing my laundry and wants to finish it for me. Or when she IRONS the baby clothes. (Seriously, who IRONS baby clothes? Totally unnecessary.) But it’s the love that I can see in her eyes, when I walk in the door, when she gives me a big hug and rubs my belly, that makes me feel unbelievably blessed. There’s just something so wonderful about having a motherly woman doing motherly things for you in such an unconditional way. I think that this is one of the reasons I´m supposed to be here now- to be on the receiving end, to know and feel what it’s like, and to really understand what it is that I will one day offer my own child. 

Everyday in her actions, Carmelita teaches me another lesson about offering up unconditional motherly love.

Last week, she told Miguel and I that we’ll have to get a petate soon (this is basically a straw mat that you put on the floor) because she will be sleeping over a few times a week after the baby comes so that she can help us. Really? A 58 year old woman (who lives 5 minutes away) is volunteering to sleep on a straw mat on the floor so that she can wake up to baby’s cries and help us do dishes, clean the house, cook and change dirty diapers?  Now, that’s love.  Unconditional, motherly love.

Sam, Che and Me.

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.

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

Okay I’ve gotta be honest here. I don’t know if this Internet at home thing is actually good. My Oaxacan husband and I arrived in Oaxaca almost 2 months ago and somehow, not always being able to connect was liberating.  When you have to go to an internet café and pay per minute to use a shabby PC in a not too comfy chair with teens who listen to their headphones way too loud flanking you on both sides, you go in with a purpose. Respond to two emails. Read one article. Update Facebook Status. And get out of there.  Now, here I am, wonderfully isolated (minus Brian Lehrer’s voice!) able to surf and compulsively check check check all sorts of feeds and inboxes and start a blog just because I finally CAN.  So, begins my life as a pregnant Gringa in Oaxaca?