Local Oaxacans reflect on their state’s six-month struggle.
Thursday, November 30, 2006
A social movement has taken root in the tourist-friendly southern Mexican state of Oaxaca. What started as a teachers’ strike at the end of May has morphed into a violent struggle between federal police and members of the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (APPO), a body with representatives from cities, unions and social organizations. Although the teachers of Oaxaca accepted a new contract a month ago and are back in school, federal police still guard the zòcalo, or town plaza, of Oaxaca’s capital and clash daily with protestors.
APPO’s main demand is the resignation of Gov. Ulises Ruiz, who is accused of rigging the 2004 election. The group has gained supporters in Northern California in different ways, including a protest at the Mexican Consulate in San Francisco last month and a petition now being circulated at CSUMB that calls for the removal of federal police and the release of political prisoners.
Although the conflict is hundreds of miles away, Oaxacans in Monterey County are watching closely as this historic event unfolds. The Weekly interviewed three local immigrants, all from the Oaxacan town of San Pablo Huixtepec, about 20 miles south of Oaxaca City, to gauge their reactions.
Every Thursday, Minerva Hernandez flies from San Francisco to Oaxaca to pick up tlayudas (large, crunchy tortillas), cheese, clothes and crafts for her store. Hernandez owns El Milagro, an all-Oaxacan depot at 1774 Fremont Blvd. in Seaside. She has continued her weekly trip throughout the six months of unrest in Oaxaca.
“She kept going even though they knew it was going to be some trouble,” says Jaquelino Lavarieja, a relative of Hernandez. “We never knew what to expect.”
The constant threat of barricaded roads and protests have made travel more difficult in Oaxaca. Hernandez says she was afraid to make her weekly trek a couple months ago, but now things have settled down.
Lavarieja stands near a freezer full of handmade ice cream. Colorful piñatas hang from the ceiling. A rack of white blouses is on display in front of a wall of huaraches (sandals). Lavarieja says local Oaxacans can get a taste of their homeland at El Milagro, which opened about four years ago. One of the more popular items is chapulines (dried grasshoppers), he says.
The Seaside resident laments the fact that the turmoil has been a blow to Oaxaca’s tourist industry. “It’s not only affecting the kids anymore,” Lavarieja says. “If they keep going, it will affect the business and the economy.”
Antonio Morales counts the racks of pan dulce at San Pablo Bakery in Seaside. The bakery specializes in sweet Oaxacan breads like mamón and marquesote. While Morales’ business is doing well, the economies of the villages around his hometown are suffering.
People go to the city to sell chiles, cheese or milk, but it’s been harder since the demonstrations intensified in June, Morales says.
“It’s been very bad for all the villages around Oaxaca,” he says.
Although Morales says teachers were already paid relatively well in Oaxaca, he blames Gov. Ruiz for not negotiating with the teachers and allowing the conflict to escalate to this point. Morales accuses the government of stealing money from the cities and killing Oaxaqueños. He says government officials have been putting money in their pockets instead of building schools and clinics in the rural areas.
Morales wishes Ruiz would resign.
If he got out, I bet you it would stop right away,” he says.
Morales remembers downtown Oaxaca City as a calm place where he would walk without fear. Now at least nine people have been killed there in the past few months, according to reports.
The longer the unrest continues, the more desperate people will become and have to turn to stealing, Morales says. “I think it’s going to get worse. Nobody has money and they have to survive.”
When attending school in Oaxaca, Germain Velasco remembers teachers going on strike for a short time once a year. The Marina resident, who works as a buser at the Quail Lodge in Carmel, says that the annual strike never lasted five months like this year’s, keeping 1.3 million kids out of school.
“This is the first time it ever happened like this,” Velasco says.
Velasco says the unrest has made it hard for his relatives living in San Pablo Huixtepec to travel. “It’s kind of shocking to see that kind of stuff going on right now for them,” he says.
But Velasco believes not even a new governor will be able to change the circumstances in the poor state of Oaxaca.
“The APPO needs to realize that it’s not going to change things if they get rid of the governor,” he says. “It’s still going to be the same.”
CSUMB film professor Caitlin Manning went to Mexico this past summer expecting to shoot a short piece on indigenous rights movements. This plan changed when Manning visited Mexico City, where protesters had closed off the town square, demanding a recount of the July election. “I was just absolutely blown away by what was happening there,” Manning says. “It was this huge popular grassroots movement that was unfolding before our eyes.”
Manning ended up creating a 30-minute documentary called No Te Rajes (Don’t Back Down) with collaboration from the Videoactivista collective and student Jessie Garcia. The film follows the 49-day takeover of downtown Mexico City by supporters of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the leftist candidate who in June was narrowly defeated by conservative Felipe Calderon for Mexico’s presidency. Many believe the election was fraudulent.
The film will be shown Tuesday along with a 10-minute documentary about the Oaxacan movement by the Mal De Ojo collective. There will also be a live phone hookup with people in Oaxaca.
CIRCULO BOLIVARIANO DE CSUMB PRESENTS NO TE RAJES AND
FRONTLINES IN OAXACA 6PM TUESDAY, DEC. 5, AT THE UNIVERSITY
CENTER CONFERENCE ROOM, SIXTH AVENUE AND B STREET, SEASIDE.
admission is FREE. 582-3743.