Cervantino Festival in Guanajuato, 2009. So many clowns, so little time.
My college friend Carolyn, with whom I almost got into lots of trouble many moons ago, recently visited Oaxaca for the first time with her husband Tom. She reminded me of the off-the-charts emails that I used to send select friends who I thought wouldn’t freak out and try to airlift me out of Mexico after reading them, which turned out to be a fairly small number. I actually have a whole file of emails and notes marked “Mexico Book Chapters.” Here’s the Cliff’s Notes version of how I ended up in Oaxaca:
I never really watched the 80s hit TV show Cheers, but I do know it’s a wonderful thing to live where everybody knows your name. In my barrio of Xochimilco – once a separate pueblo but now a northern neighborhood of the capital city of Oaxaca – it’s a little like living in Mayberry (I did watch the Andy Griffith show, back in the day). Here, my neighborhood shop owners all say “Hola, Susy!” before I even get through the door.
Pépé y yo at the Xochimilco aquaduct, the mountain of San Felipe in the background
I can think of some politicians who might have learned a few things from the meal I shared with friends this past Thanksgiving Thursday. It was a celebration across race, nationality and language, religious affiliation, gender preference and probably a lot of other mixed labels that no one thought to ask.
And it’s why, more than ever, it’s important to give thanks for what we do have because it reminds us of what we need to fight for. It’s quite possible that I’m going to become an activist at this stage of my life and I’m OK with that. A gratitude activist maybe.
November 9 felt like the Day of the Dead, although the real Día de los Muertos had happened the week before. All I’ll say about Election Day is that since I had gone out to a neighboring village to be with my friend Michelle in case I needed moral support, the internet streaming was non-existent and we ended up listening to election coverage on Sirius radio in her parked car. I did need the moral support plus a whole lot of Snickers and some mezcal to make it through the night, but that’s another story for another time.
So through Election Day trauma and even though Mexican Revolution Day and American Thanksgiving have both come and gone, I never had gotten around to really processing this year’s Day of the Dead.
My sons will laugh themselves silly to hear this, but I was way too technological traveling back to Oaxaca from Dallas this week. It took five plastic bins on the security belt to hold my stuff, because I kept having to remove yet another item from my carry-on bag. Used to be that I could get away with just removing my laptop and iPad, but no more.
When I thought I’d left my Mexican cell phone and iPod on the security belt in Mexico City, where I was changing airlines, terminals and planes, I was in for a total of two passes through the security line, frantic conversations with five officials, and three fruitless searches through my carry-on and over-sized purse.
I may have stayed out of the country just a tiny bit too long – I feel like I’ve landed in an alternate universe here in el norte. I think the cultural weirdometer is mostly due to this absurd political climate.
Downtown Dallas: only weird since Oaxaca has 3-story limits
Maybe it’s just context, like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’s McMurphy futilely claiming sanity in the psychiatric hospital. From my bi-cultural perspective, I now see the weird sides of both Mexico and U.S. — my definition of craziness changes depending on where I am. But it’s a close race, I’ll tell you.
Last night, they were dancing in the streets: a whirl of bright color to the brassy strains of bands passing down the stone streets of Oaxaca. A friend and I watched the parade over beer and guacamole from the rooftop terrace of Mezquite, which has a killer view of Santo Domingo plaza and some of the best wait staff in the city. It’s the beginning of Guelaguetza month, when Oaxaca’s 16 different indigenous groups get a chance to show off their native dress and dance here in the state capital.