Four Days in Paradise (And How Work Followed Me There)

This past week Mara and I went to Mazunte, Oaxaca, for a short but replenishing visit to the beach. The landscape of this quiet town is rocky coast surrounding a small inlet with a few small restaurants and hostel type accommodations.

Within the first couple hours on the beach, just after ordering breakfast, I see a familiar-seeming face just a few beach chairs away from us. I turn to Mara, “No way. I think that’s my old boss.” Sure enough, after a few sneaky side-glances to corroborate my suspicions, I hear the bellowing laugh that I knew so well from 3 summers ago working for the Legal Aid Justice Center in Fairfax, Virginia. “Arnoldo?” I cry, and he responds, “Katy?” with a big laugh. We talk and catch each other up on the migrant issues on either side of the border, and plan to meet up in Mexico City the next week so I can accompany him to Tochan. Crazy, but not so crazy coincidences. Still, he’s one person I never expected to see on the semi-deserted Oaxacan coast that morning.

Here are some pictures from the trip:

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This was our favorite swimming spot. There were barely any people and the waves were perfect.

photo 1 We woke up every morning to a glorious panorama of the Pacific.

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We took hikes at sunset to the rocky point called Punto Cometa.image_2For breakfast, I ate homemade multigrain chocolate-plantain bread.

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Needless to say, we’re already aching for a chance to go back.

 

Re: [Grabadoras]

This last week I was obsessively working to finish a linocut to participate in the National Female Street Art and Graffiti Festival in Juárez next month. (Part of the rush was the fact that tomorrow I’m leaving for vacation on the Oaxacan coast.) I still don’t know if I’ll be going to Juárez or not, but I’m entering a piece with the Mujeres Grabando Resistencias collective, and have learned a lot about how this group works through that process. Here’s the piece! It says “One day we will walk fearlessly,” and the hashtag is a reference to the feminicides in Mexico. grabado_juárezThere are eleven of us participating including me, and the parameters as a collective were its size, that it would be vertical, that it had to demonstrate a positive as opposed to a victimizing message about gender violence, and all of our pieces will be unified with the hashtag #VivasNosQueremos. The pieces are going to be blown up to about 1 meter in height and then wheat-pasted as part of the festival. Later we will do a campaign here in Mexico City. The festival is called FEMINEM. Here’s an interview with one of the main organizers (in Spanish).

 

Block Prints, Block Heads and Artist’s Block

There have been a series of difficult and tense situations in the Casa in the last couple of weeks. Mike blamed goblins, but I think that explanation, unfortunately, dismisses the very human agency behind the violence and malice at play here. I can’t really get into details for reasons of security and confidentiality, but I’m impressed by how we’ve responded as a community in the face of adversity. (One of the incidents involved on of our refugee guests getting falsely arrested, beaten, and detained for approximately ten days on what appears to be nothing more than the basis of being a black African man. His treatment by police and other government officials is appalling. We’re now trying to see how to take action to seek justice for his case. This person is now rethinking whether Mexico is truly a viable option for him as a refugee fleeing violence. The reality is that racism is a real threat to vulnerable populations such as black refugees and greatly impacts their ability to live a safe, stable life here.)

For a daily dose of female empowerment, and to counterbalance the ills of society, I’ve been working tirelessly on a piece to submit with a women’s printmaking collective for an exhibition in Juárez in July. The deadline is fast-approaching, and I’m still in brainstorming and sketching mode. The piece is about gender violence, but must reflect a positive, as opposed to a victimizing message about women. Juárez is a symbolically important place for the festival/exhibition to take place, as it is scarred by the feminicides which reached a horrific rate in the early 2000′s. Although there are less murders now, the rates of violence against women remain devastating. Juárez is also located in the state of Chihuahua, and on the Mexico-U.S. border, which makes it a cross-roads for migrants going into Texas, as well as a city within a state with high levels of violence related to organized crime, corruption and impunity.

My linocut print is going to reflect a more local context, that of the neighborhood surrounding the Casa in Colonia Tabacalera; more specifically the few blocks of Puente de Alvarado between Metro Revolución and Metro Hidalgo. The idea behind the piece is that one day women will be able to walk in the street alone without being afraid of gender violence. The route I take home from the art collective requires walking along this strip which is territory of a prominent prostitution ring. Many of the women are transgender, and recently there was a story uncovered about the PRI party of Mexico City (which is located right along this same strip) and its employment of sex workers within their political party offices. So there’s a loaded discourse on this territory about the rights of sex workers, but also the question of how sex work falls into the domain of patriarchy, gender violence and the State. If anything so far, this project is an amazing experience in the collective process of making art with a message of social justice. Still, as always, it’s been difficult to pin down an idea and make it come to life with the message I want it to send. I’ve spent several hours over the last week staring at blank paper or spacing out thinking about how to best represent the image in words, and vice versa. (One of the requirements is the print must contain a phrase.) I’ve never participated in something like this before so it’s REALLY exciting but also slightly nerve-wracking (hence the creative paralysis) but the greatest part is to be working in the company of women who are helping one another through the process.

 

June Brings Rainstorms and New Volunteers

It’s been hard to keep up with everything going on around here. As always, the Casa is full of an eclectic mix of people (Below: Guest Bill Gosnell teaching juggling in the reception). Volunteers are coming and going,  and it’s like overnight I’ve been converted into a veteran member of the team.

We have guests from all around the world, as well as several migrants and refugees staying with us through the Casa’s Solidarity Lodging program. The couple that I have been accompanying for the last month just found a new apartment, which will double as their restaurant. I’m planning a mini documentary project to record their progress in renovating the space and getting the restaurant up and running. They’ve been working tirelessly for weeks now, but it looks like they will be able to open within the next month.

Will Gosnell, traveling juggler educator and friend/guest at the Casa, does an impromptu juggling lesson in the reception.

Will Gosnell, traveling juggler educator and friend/guest at the Casa, does an impromptu juggling lesson in the reception.

The Haverford CPGC summer volunteers, John Kouakam ’17, Jake Lichtenbaum ’16, and Rafael Moreno ’17 got here just last week. John and Rafa had stayed at the Casa previously, during the Haverford-Casa Migration Field Study which is coordinated by the Casa and is an intensive learning tour of migration on the Arizona border and in Mexico City.  They will both be volunteering at Tochan, the migrant shelter the Casa helps coordinate. Jake will be working at Barrio Activo, a community and cultural center in a neighborhood in northern Mexico City which offers a summer program for youth vulnerable to delinquency and violence.

And my outlook on the Casa shifted drastically last week. Literally; I moved up to the fourth floor where my neighbors are Bertha and Mara, along with several cacti, jade and aloe plants. In the morning I wake up, stretch, and say hello to the Monument to the Revolution, now in plain sight from just outside my door.

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The weather is changing too. Lately the rain comes daily. Whether in the form of  an afternoon torrential downpour, light mist from the morning onward, evening thunderstorms, and the occasional threat of hail, water has been a more constant presence in the last weeks. Weekend before last, some compañeros(as) from the Escuelita dressed themselves as mutant GMO corn people and made an appearance at the Festival del Maíz. Then, an unbelievable rainstorm hit and they came to seek refuge in the Casa.

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School and work and convivencia haven’t left me time for much else lately, but I’m looking forward to a mid-June beach vacation in Oaxaca. I’m also working on finishing up and printing Casa t-shirts, posters for the cooperatives we support, systematizing Casa donations policies, attending a workshop tomorrow on migrant detentions in Mexico, and I just completed the first evaluation for the Escuelita, which concludes the first of three sections of the school.  We also just started a planning meeting for a trueque to happen in the Casa in July. Our very first trueque in the Casa with an alternative currency of our own, and various workshops, musical performances and talented artesan producers.