Bringing the Land & People Together in Mexico

On day two of our trip, we visited EDUCA (which stands for the Spanish equivalent of "Services for an Alternative Education"), an NGO located in Oaxaca City. It was housed in a two-story building, with a wall out front and a formidable door.

EDUCA was formed in 1994 to promote civil participation, indigenous rights and indigenous leadership. That year was a turning point in the history of Mexico. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) took effect and, in response, the Zapatista uprising began and Mexican civil society emerged. EDUCA was inspired by the Zapatistas to organize indigenous communities on the local level. There are 10,000 such localities in Oaxaca.

The speaker, Miguel Angel Vásquez de la Rosa, outlined 6 Pillars of Indigenous Resistance: language (the indigenous mother tongue), territory (80 percent of Oaxacan land is communally owned), the community assembly, community work (tequio, which is unpaid), volunteer positions (cargos) and celebration (Fiesta!).

The word "democracy" has been so thoroughly discredited by its association with the Mexican (and U.S.) establishment that they've come up with a new word to describe the form of government they want to create: "communalocracy"—rule by the community. They want to replace the nexus of corporate and government power that has impoverished Oaxaca, especially its indigenous inhabitants.

The Mexican government has been supporting energy and mining mega-projects in Oaxaca, ostensibly to relieve poverty. But these projects— even the wind farms and hydroelectric dams—have ruinous environmental and economic consequences for the locals. The primary effect (and, likely, the purpose) of these projects is to dispossess indigenous people.

This has led to emigration from Oaxaca to northern Mexico and the U.S., which has caused disintegration of the social fabric, as well as poverty and violence. Even many of the Tachuatl, or "Snake People," the traditional guardians of the land, have been forced to leave. EDUCA believes these issues can best be remedied on the local level.

Thence, we took a fleet of taxis to the Pochote organic market. In my taxi, we spoke with the cabbie, whose English was decidedly better than our Spanish. He'd lived in Mexico City until the age of 4 when his dad split and his mom returned home to Oaxaca. My fellow delegate Sue said, "Qué lástima" ("How sad"). As we paid him 50 pesos and bid him adieu, I wondered if we could've done more to help him.

People in need pass through our lives all the time, and we rarely take the time to make even a token effort. The needy in Mexico were more obvious and numerous than those back home, but poverty in the Twin Cities has become more visible in the past few years. There are so many poor and so few rich wherever you go. I think spare change can help, but big change, like repealing NAFTA, is what's really needed.

The Pochote market was in a picturesque old square with a church. After picking up lunch from the stands there, we listened to two speakers. The first was a woman who wrote a book on nutritional sovereignty in 2000, featuring recipes from the Mixe region. Her mantra was: “Food is life. Food is knowledge.” They don't waste food. Even if a kernel of corn falls, they pick it up and use it. Before producing the food, and throughout the process, they ask permission from the Earth. They give thanks when they eat and when they harvest.

Food reinforces community organization. Kids participate, older folks measure out ingredients, women cook, men bring chairs and firewood. Different kinds of tamales are used in certain rituals: the corn ceremony to give thanks for the harvest, at weddings for the parents of the bride, for the Day of the Dead and for wakes.

The second speaker was a local farmer. He told us that the market allows campesinos and local producers to sell their goods. It's difficult to create this kind of space with the transnational corporations dominating the economy. He talked about how organic agriculture tries to transform nature in ways that are benign. These farmers cure their animals homeopathically, use their manure for compost and plant their own saved seeds in double-dug beds. Through this approach, producers are spiritually, economically and socially strengthened.

That night, we went out to dinner in a nearby zócalo (public square). People, who mostly looked indigenous, would come up to our table and try to sell us things. We mostly declined, trying not to feel too guilty.

Afterward, we wandered the square, which was full of people, mariachi bands and some dancing. A bedraggled group sat on the steps of a seemingly abandoned building with what appeared to be political banners. It looked like they’d been sitting there all day, if not longer. They’d wait until Doomsday, it seemed, until they got the change they wanted.

Land Stewardship Project member and frequent volunteer Mickey Foley was a participant in the LSP-Witness for Peace Mexico trip. You can read more of Foley's reflections from the trip at his blog.