journey

I’m not sure who reads this, but I am still here. My life as I knew it is completely different than it was before. My future will not look the way I imagined it would, and this is cause for both great mourning and great hope.

There has to be hope.

Every day has been a series of ups and downs, but after almost three months I have found some stability. Stability with my job and living situation and finances has allowed to me to think and feel more deeply about what has happened and where I go from here.

Next month, after my quarterly work trip to Portland, I decided I am going to embark on a solo road trip. I will go from Portland to Olympic National Park, camp for a few days, and then spend almost a whole week in Vancouver, Canada in an AirBnB. I know it’s cliche to go on a “find yourself” journey after a major life change like this one, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be good. I know it will– spiritually, emotionally, mentally. I need to prove to myself that I will be OK being alone, that I can be OK with my own company, getting affirmation only from myself and from God.

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reflections

The days pass with dreamlike clouds gliding over dreamlike mountains. A blazing heat bathes the plazas and zocalos, which are always full. In the evenings, the sun turns pink and deep yellow and the air cools, and there is nothing like sitting in the Plaza de Santo Domingo seeing the light reflect off the church’s facade while dozens of people of all ages walk and sit and play and wait and buy and sell and smile and sing. The colors of the traditional clothing and artesania piled on tables and stalls and in almost every shop are richer and brighter and deeper than you can imagine.

The hour feels like a spell, a spell that no one wants to be broken. This has been one of the most fascinating and unique experiences I’ve had.

Two encounters stand out—>

We walk daily to the mercado to sample the best of Oaxacan street food and look for crafts and other things to take home-sandals, bed sheets, chocolate, mole, mezcal.  Yesterday I bought some copal–incense made of tree sap that has been used for ceremonial purposes in Mesoamerica since ancient times.

One section of the market is made up solely of food stalls, or fondas, selling everything recognizable in Oaxacan cuisine.  In a part of this market there is a passageway made of of small, raised stands, each with its own rack of meat (the ubiquitous trio of tocino, cecina, and chorizo) and a small grill. You buy a plate filled with cebollitas and chiles at the entrance, and the sellers hand you a basket. You take your basket to a stall of your choice and they grill the vegetales and the meat you pick out.

Were eating at one of these stalls and being served by a young boy, who eagerly brought us small plates of limon and guacamole. When he heard us talking, he lit up and asked if we spoke English. “I speak English!” he said. We asked him how he learned English and he said that he used to live in Mississippi. He was 11 years old and born in the United States. He said when he was 8 his family had to move back to Oaxaca.

When we asked what he thought about moving to Mexico, he said he liked Mexico better because “they make meat better here.” He said that he stopped attending school when he came to Mexico, and seemed conflicted when we asked if he’d want to go to school. For him, this was what life had become, and what was the point of imagining anything else. He also said that he would only consider visiting the United States “once Donald Trump is out.”

We were reminded of this recent piece in the LA Times about the 9 million mixed status families who are experiencing new uncertainty since the election. This boy is a U.S. citizen, but because his family had to leave the rural south (probably meatpacking work) and return to Oaxaca, he will not likely experience any benefit from that status. As most people who follow this in the news already understand, immigration status and fear of deportation puts tremendous strain on families, who often have to make heart-wrenching decisions, or be torn apart against their will.

This is one of many injustices that have transnational, global, or historical roots and are on full display almost everywhere in Mexico. During our stay in an AirBnB in Oaxaca, we spent an entire morning with our wonderful host, Laura, talking about Ayotzinapa, the teachers’ strike in Oaxaca, and the costs of political corruption that are borne by the most vulnerable and marginalized. The overall atmosphere in the city of Oaxaca is very politicized. Graffiti on the streets scathingly lashes out against presidente EPN and other politicos. Graphic arts collectives sell prints and stencils out of storefront shops, and almost all of them bear some critique against capitalism, the ruling class, patriarchy, racism, or oppression in all its forms.

Being here and engaging in conversations about indigenous rights, national identity, free trade, race, mestizaje, and politics has sparked in me a passion that I had when I was in college, and also fueled my motivation to move forward with my creative work. It has also motivated me to move forward in my plans to find ways to apply my advocacy skills to other causes I care about outside of early education.


The second encounter: On Tuesday, we paid a colectivo bus to take us to Monte Alban, the archeological site of the ancient Zapotec capitol (whose ancient name is still unknown). I had been looking forward to this trip a great deal, but I was unprepared for the impact it would have on me. It is hard to put into words. I have been to other spectacular archeological sites, but there was something deeply spiritual about Monte Alban. The only thing I can compare it to is the feeling I get when I am immersed in the land of my own birth, New Mexico, which itself has a unique spiritual and historical energy. Monte Alban had that same feeling, but in its own unique way.

Maybe part of it was that Monte Alban features prominently in the novel I am writing. To stand on that ground and climb those monuments and behold the breathtaking expanse of the Valley of Oaxaca and its surrounding sierras was just…transformative. Late in the afternoon, dark clouds moved in all around the valley and rays of brilliant sunlight shot through in angelic columns miles down to the green and brown hills and peaks. It began to rain. I stood on top of the tallest building on the site, a restored temple overlooking the vast plaza surrounded by majestic temples and palaces, each over 1500 years old. The feeling was indescribable.

I have always thought of the world in terms of history. The experience of Monte Alban brought together so many of the things that have long been important to me. I am still processing it, but for now I am sifting through my notes on the many details I’ve picked up on this trip that will add greater depth to my story and to my own understanding of the world—- The taste of tejate; the smell of the rain in the Valle de Oaxaca, the color of natural dye made from cochinilla and huizache; the odor of sal de chapulines; the sizes and shapes of the dozens of species of agave plants; the voices and faces of the people; the tension between the past and the present, and the way the past is very much still alive.


The main character in my story’s name is Dzahui. Her name means “rain” in the Mixtec language. At a point of crisis in her life, she and the man she loves journey over the mountains and make a pilgrimage to Monte Alban. At the time Dzahui is living (around the year 1100), Monte Alban has been abandoned for almost 300 years. She goes to the ruins to seek clarity, a vision, some kind of hope for what she has foreseen will be a dark future for her people. In a few hundred years, the world as she has known it will be changed forever. In a thousand years, some of her people will still be alive, and when civilization is sick and dying from its own greed, hatred, and disregard for the earth, those who came only to take from this continent will once again come to her and her people to learn how to survive and live again in a new, better world.

But all that is far in the future. She also comes to Monte Alban for personal reasons, to seek clarity for her own life– should she let herself be loved my this man, the one she has known since she was a girl? Should she embrace him even though she knows that death will take him and she will live on, never able to find his equal through many lifetimes?

In Dzahui’s life, as is always the case, the writer’s own life is reflected. I came here to find meaning and clarity and hope–for myself, but also for what this world has become, what it is becoming, and what role I can play in that.

By this measure, I have found what I was looking for, and even more.

 

 

 

 

no one

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

no one wants to feel vulnerabe

no one wants to feel weak

no one wants to feel like they’re not in control of their feelings

no one wants to feel like they’ve said too much or fallen too fast

no one wants to lose what they already have

no one wants things to turn out differently from what they intended

no one wants to give another the power to hurt them

 

the spirituality of resistance, from Standing Rock to Matthew 25

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Last year I began research for writing a novel. A main theme I’ve been diving into is the link between local, Indigenous resistance to fossil fuel extraction and how these battles are really becoming the most powerful challenge to the entire capitalist worldview that has endangered the planet through climate change. The implications of this go way beyond environmental issues. I believe these movements have a lot to tell us about how to resist in the age of Trump, when traditional allies or institutions don’t seem up to the challenge.

Standing Rock is only the most recent and high-profile example of how resistance to fossil fuel extraction has changed. For the last 40 years, big Green organizations who depend on wealthy donors and work with energy companies to balance economic growth with environmental concerns have dominated. This has not worked, and extractivist companies have only pushed into new and dangerous frontiers – including fracking and deepwater drilling. We’ve seen the consequences: The 2010 BP spill, man-made earthquakes, poisoned water, and train car explosions. This greed and recklessness will be further encouraged by Trump. The narrative that you shouldn’t limit fossil fuel companies too much because that might slow economic growth (i.e. profits for the rich) or result in los of jobs is so ingrained in both parties. Many mainstream environmental groups have bought into it, further enabling the carbon polluters and extractors. Meanwhile, the most vulnerable people around the earth suffer the consequences.

The strongest and most effective opposition to the fossil fuel giants’ work, though, no longer comes from the mainstream environmental movement, but from Indigenous communities, farmers, ranchers, and their allies, who see their activism as fundamentally a fight for cultural survival:

Naomi Klein writes:

The power of this ferocious love is what the resource companies and their advocates in government underestimate, precisely because no amount of money can extinguish it. When what is being fought for is an identity, a culture, a beloved place that people are determined to pass on to their grandchildren, and that their ancestors may have paid for with great sacrifice, there is nothing companies can offer as a bargaining chip. No safety pledge will assuage; no bribe will be big enough.

It is no coincidence that the resistance movements have been framed not in terms of hatred against oil companies, but in terms of love of the land and protecting the water. Standing Rock is only the latest in a long line of water protector movements—First Nations in British Columbia organized in unprecedented numbers in 2012 to block a pipeline and tanker terminal that would have carried fracked oil from Alberta’s tar sands through their forests and salmon-rich coasts. The Lummi of the Washington Coast teamed up with the Northern Cheyenne 1000 miles away in Montana in 2013 because a coal mine there would have not only threatened local water, but the companies in charge wanted to build a terminal on the coast that would carry coal and oil to Pacific markets.

This understanding of the interconnectedness of life, communities, and resources –on a very local and concrete level, is what is so inspiring. The consequences of climate change and the impact of the relentless pursuit of growth on the environment are not abstract in Standing Rock. They are not abstract in the coastal rainforests of British Columbia, or in New Orleans, or in Flint, Michigan, or in South Florida, Nauru, Bangladesh, the Niger Delta, the Peruvian Amazon, or the Sahel. In these and other places, people are fighting local battles in what is increasingly a global war.

Many people now view the United States as a site of many battles in a larger war. This war is not just over abstract notions like the preservation of our Democracy and “American values.” People are battling on local fronts, inspired by the stories of their neighbors.

But we’ve had a lot of recent practice in this, most notably in the responses to the shootings of unarmed Black men in cities across the country. Those battles became part of a larger war.

Now the war has widened and there are more fighters.

This is why the spirituality of Standing Rock and other water protectors resonates. There is deep spiritual truth that fuels their action—and will hopefully fuel more of our action moving forward, even as it makes our individualistic culture uncomfortable. Matthew 25 movements in local churches are responding to injustice in more practical ways, rooted in a spirituality that goes much deeper than If it can happen to them, it can happen to us, or, I am my brother’s keeper.

At a time when leaders and commentators want us to think in terms of “Us vs. Them,” radical identification with the “other” is not just a spiritual or political act, but an act of resistance. The water protectors battling on the front lines of the climate wars surely understand what the oil moving through pipelines represents and they know they want to live in a cleaner, more just world. But the reason they fight is because they fundamentally identify with the rivers, animals, and land that are under threat. Their very existence—physically and culturally—is tied to those things. They are those things. Any distinction between nature and the people (a distinction that has been imposed violently by Western colonialism) is meaningless.

In the same way, Jesus taught in Matthew 25 that any distinction between God and those who suffer in the world was meaningless, from the standpoint of how we should act.

The question of how you identify with your neighbor isn’t just philosophical. The assumption is that if you identify with the person suffering, your reaction would be to do what you can to stop that suffering. Indigenous communities seem to instinctively understand this with regard to their defense of their land. The same should be said of the rest of us in this time when there are so many around us who need defending.