What an honor to have had the opportunity and privilege to participate in this cultural immersion experience in Oaxaca, Mexico. I simply cannot capture enough through a written description. It was difficult enough to decide upon one thing to write about in this blog. Although I learned an abundant amount during those 6 weeks living in this amazing region, I decided to draw upon my experiences with la gente (the people) of Oaxaca. From the woman I passed every day on the corner selling tamales (rain or shine), to the 6 year old boy promoting his family’s restaurant. I learned the most from the conversations and interactions with these beautiful souls and will forever hold them in my heart.
One of my favorite days in Oaxaca was when I supported the artists from the Museo de Textil. The event consisted of talented traditional textile artists from many different regions in Mexico. The artists were unable to sell their art in their home pueblos, and so the organization provided an opportunity for them to sell their textile work in Oaxaca City. The woman I was mainly offering support to was from Michoacan, Mexico. Her art was exquisite and full of so much history. The pride in her eyes when sharing the stories of her art was magical and so meaningful. I encountered highly talented and passionate artists in Oaxaca, who proudly and genuinely enjoyed telling the story of their culture and describing their masterpieces.
Another encounter I had with la gente in Oaxaca was when I interacted with a taxi driver on my way home. After asking where I was from, the taxi driver shared his story of his journey to and experience living in the U.S. He expressed how he got the U.S.A. and how he would never wish his journey upon anyone. After sometime living there, he had an encounter with a police officer in the U.S. who ended up deporting him and dropped him off at the border of Tiajuana, Mexico (almost 2,000 miles from Oaxaca). He then expressed how grateful he was to have arrived there at all. He currently works long hours in Oaxaca and was still in high spirits engaging in conversation with me. He asked me how I liked Oaxaca and expressed much love for his city.
Another taxi driver shared with me that he is Zapotec. He shared with me that he still speaks the Zapotec language, but for a long time it was banned in schools to teach the language to Zapotec children. He expressed that many children don’t speak it anymore. Although things have changed recently and the schools are now allowing the language to be taught, he expressed that it is sadly dying out. What a tragedy that a huge piece of the Zapotec cultural heritage was banned for the people of Oaxaca. For me, this really exemplified the importance of maintaining cultural traditional practices (especially for the identity of the Zapotec individuals).
The conversations that I engaged in with the people of Oaxaca changed my life. Most of the time I felt sadness holding so much privilege. Having the privilege to travel, to leave my home country, to be fully welcomed by the people of Oaxaca. I remember a conversation I had with a fellow Oaxacan friend I made. He expressed his desire to see the U.S.A. He expressed his dream of seeing snow one day. His goal was to continue perfecting his English, so that one day he could make a living in the U.S.A. The openness, ambition, and positivity in his voice was captivating. His motivation was inspiring.
This experience has without a doubt changed my life. What I will emphasize in this blog are the people I interacted with (although I hardly capture them here) and what I have learned from them. Imposing my own presumptions was one thing I learned not to do in Oaxaca. Hearing the people out was the best decision I could have made to build the beautiful relationships I had in Oaxaca (after all, they are the experts in sharing the life stories). I learned more than I could express from their stories and their way of life. A typical day walking down the streets of Oaxaca consisted of greeting all of the strangers who passed you by. Wishing them a good morning, afternoon, and night. The genuine care that the community had for each other was beautiful. Going out of their way to help each other out when needed was typical. I learned more than I could have imagined in 6 weeks from la gente in Oaxaca. Forever I will carry the conversations, values, and lessons that I learned in my heart.