Going Home – Sophie Lau
I had a different experience than most of my classmates in Oaxaca during the fourth week of the program. There was definitely excitement in the air on the evening of June 19th as my classmates and I were were thrilled that the (much anticipated) Golden State Warriors Finals was to be broadcasted. Earlier in the afternoon, I met up with my group members and the IESO University students to visit a local jewelry maker. After the meeting, I returned home and took a nap.
Two weeks prior, I had met a Chinese family in Oaxaca. Although I enjoyed trying out the flavorful tastes of fresh quesadillas, moles, and tacos I was craving some simple Chinese style vegetable soup. I found “Comida China” next to Llano Park and met the lovely owner Wan Yi (Translation: Auntie Wan). Without speaking a word, she embraced me with a big smile as she welcomed my friend and I to her restaurant. We introduced ourselves and immediately felt a connection because we realized we are both immigrants from China. The ability to instantly converse in one’s own native language (Cantonese) was also refreshing and intimate.
For the next two weeks, visiting Wan Yi became part of my routine. But it was more than the meals that I shared with her. (She did not charge me for any of the meals that I had at her restaurant after the first visit!) She confided in me the journey it took to immigrate to Mexico more than 10 years ago with her 9 year old daughter. Through laughters and tears, we shared narratives of triumphs, heartbreaks, and successes.
On the evening of June 19th, Wan Yi invited me to her home for dinner. We all watched the Warriors game over dinner. Suddenly, she received an urgent call about the potential riots at El Zocalo, downtown Oaxaca. Earlier, the police had issued a public warning that they would be carrying drastic measures (including gas) to evacuate the hundreds teachers who have been camping there for the past months. I saw a worried, concerned, and panicked look on her face as she hung up the phone. Before inquiring about what happened, she had already ordered her daughter to close and lock the gate to ensure safety. Seconds later, I received text messages from the director of Becari learning school and our professor summoning everyone to remain indoors or to return home if we were outside. I did not realize the severity of this request until there was an official notice from the city of Oaxaca informing everyone to stay indoors.
Although we were in a state of shock and confusion, we resume our meals and continued to watch the game. Minutes later, the devastating fate of the Warriors lost lashed anguish and disappointment onto our faces. Around 10:30pm, Wan Yi, her husband, and oldest daughter Ying Ying walked me home. A group of about 8 teachers marched in front of us hurriedly. It was less than an hour ago that we heard about the clash between the police and the teachers. Seeing the group of teachers marching in front of us, we were timid and fearful. They carried some bags with them and looked upset; we did not know what to expect but felt scared nonetheless. Wan Yi did not appear timid however, and Ying Ying and I walked swiftly beside her toward the group. A surge of relief rushed through us as we passed the teachers and we continued walking swiftly toward the house.
The next morning, Luna (our professor) and Martha (director of Becari language school) held a debriefing meeting regarding the events that took place the night prior. Everyone seemed to be in a daze of worry, confusion, and fear. We shared our deepest thoughts and concerns while acknowledging the heartbreak and reality of the crisis in Oaxaca. We held hands and said our prayers for wisdom and strength among the people who are standing in solidarity. We prayed for peace.
Many roads were blocked to Mexico city and businesses were closed on the next two days following the events. It was as if the city turned mute. It was quiet on the streets and one could hear the sound of silence. It was unusual for such a loud city of colors and vibrancy. At least 8 people died in the clash as radical extremists took hold of the situation and started to shoot police officers and teachers. My heart became weary and I shared the concern with my fellow classmates and professor. With their understanding, I started to look for the next flight home. Because of my personal obligations to travel to China in less 2 weeks, I rushed and made plans to return home earlier in anticipation that the riots and violence could potentially worsen.
I am content with the decision to return home earlier than planned. I am grateful for all the sweet memories I have shared in Oaxaca. My heart goes out to the people and the beautiful land.