Monday, September 29, 2008

Abastos with Insiders

This morning, I went with my buddies Liz, Nina, and Miguel to the Central de Abastos. This is the main city market that I've been to many times, but it was only the second time I've been there with a Oaxaquena. And that makes a huge difference. Rather than do the unending circle of the lost white girl, past the shoes then the meat, the shoes and meat (it's like in the movie "European Vacation", when Chevy Chase says, "Look kids, Big Ben. Parliament. Look kids, Big Ben. Parliament" ad infinitum), I had Liz and Miguel to lead us straight to what we needed.

You say you need pinatas. Bam! 50 pesos, man. Candies in bulk for the pinatas? In moments, Nina was hooked up. A little apron for Geni for painting? Here's the section with stall after stall of embroidered aprons ("Too expensive," clicked Liz, making that little slightly disapproving sound with her tongue) for 45 pesos.

Bananas, art tables, free soda samples, mandarinas--everything we needed, we got. But the stumper has always been plates. Liz and I had been two weeks ago, and no one sold plates, just mountains of bowls and cups. Plastic plates, there's a ton of them, but nothing in beautiful ceramic. And then we went to a friend's house and she had these great ceramic plates. Liz jumped on our friend, "Where? How much?" Our friend drew us a map of how to find the stall in Abastos and we set off. Turn left at Shalom furniture store, duck under the tarps, and, yes, there were the plates. Dark blue painted flowers on white ceramic. I was so happy. "How much?" I asked. When the lady said 55 pesos for the big ones and 25 pesos for the little ones, I steeled myself. Liz clicked her tongue. But I jumped in regardless and came home with plates. Steve asked me, "Why didn't you buy more?" but, honestly, I had to risk the wrath of Liz to buy the five I came home with!

And I did get a discount in the end, the other benefit of going to Abastos with a Oaxaquena.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Living 'Round a Rosy

When we first hit this neighborhood, way back in May, it seemed on the fringe of things. I mean, not like before when we were up in the mountains. It's funny, though, because up there, it was so remote, I got to know the few businesses very well and had my rounds: the green healthy juice lady, Julita who ran the store and comedor, the little library open in the late afternoon, the lady at the cheap barber shop, the play room and its staff at the park. When you think about it, what else do you need?

I thought I needed centro. It's what Portlanders for some reason call "close-in", meaning near downtown. So, we moved here, on the absolute fringe of centro, and I promptly felt a little lost.

Now it's four months later, and I've made some happy discoveries. There's Plastic Man, the guy who runs the cleaning products and plastic toy store around the corner. He seems to know absolutely everything, like when the trash truck isn't going to show up and when it's going to come at exactly 11am instead of 8am, and why.

There's water guy who pushes an extremely heavy cart loaded with water jugs up and down our hill, servicing the neighborhood.

There's Tortilleria Elvis, where the tortillas look nothing like Elvis, but they are hot and fresh and 80 cents a kilo.

There's the hidden little park four blocks away with a slide the perfect height for Geni to climb, and that glides to a gentle landing. I don't know why, but a good portion of slides in Mexico are built very steep, involving the child sort of crash falling on their butt as a landing. I see it over and over again and wonder why a Portland-style slide can't made here.

And then there's the jewel of my life these days: Jugos Rosy. Rosy runs a little hot comal grill where she makes mushroom tacos, squash flower empanadas, spicy chicken taquitos, and also fresh-squeezed juices. You pull up a stool and ask, "Que hay?" and then it all happens, beginning with her patting out fresh masa for hand-done tortillas. But the real surprise was that I already knew Rosy, I just didn't realize it. She is the mother of one of my students from the English school when I first arrived here. So, upon meeting her, I felt like I had a friend in my new neighborhood. And the mushroom tacos are 90 cents. That's friendship, man.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Art Crap!

I am writing an article on artist statements, and I found a great crap-o-meter tool that generates fake art statements. Here's the statement I created:

Work of Meta-Art in the Age of Symbiotic Reproduction

The vortex creates, the chaos profligates. In the trans-gender hallucination, art objects are resurrections of the musings of the vortex -- a vortex that uses the chaos as a zeitgeist to enmesh ideas, patterns, and emotions. With the devolution of the electronic environment, the vortex is superseding a point where it will be free from the chaos to consume immersions into the machinations of the delphic hallucination. Work of Meta-Art in the Age of Symbiotic Reproduction contains 10 minimal flash engines (also refered to as "soundtoys") that enable the user to make brilliant audio/visual compositions.

measuring chains, constructing realities
putting into place forms
a matrix of illusion and disillusion
a strange attracting force
so that a seduced reality will be able to spontaneously feed on it

Serena Makofsky's work investigates the nuances of vibrations through the use of stopframe motion and close-ups which emphasize the Symbiotic nature of digital media. Makofsky explores abstract and cutting scenery as motifs to describe the idea of hyper-real hallucination. Using surreal loops, cathode rays, and allegorical images as patterns, Makofsky creates meditative environments which suggest the expansion of art...

Thursday, September 11, 2008

My Crazy Sexy Cool Career

Divining the depths of Craigslist for writing gigs can be a downer of an endeavor, considering that many ads suggest that the writer get paid nothing. Or close to nothing. Of course, I live in the land of low wages. Mexican minimum wage is, I believe, five dollars per day. Most people make more than that, far more than that, but the kids at the tortilleria down the street? Probably 50 pesos for a day's work. Which is about what some of these writing jobs pay--one cent per word, including all research and editing time.

I saw a funny response to one of these low-paying jobs on Craigslist:

IN RE: Horse Racing Article Writer Wanted

Reply to: [?]
Date: 2008-09-10, 11:08PM PDT


You are looking to hire a person with extensive knowledge of horse racing and excellent writing skills. You want to pay $0.01 per word through paypal.

This might become a long term gig.

OK ... lets me get this straight - YOU WANT TO PAY ONE CENT PER WORD.

Since I am a writer, I am terrible at math. Hang on, let me get my calculator...


Back ... OK, for a 1000 word article, you are willing to pay $10.00!

You have a deal! Here is my first article:

And the Horse You Rode In On.

Please credit my 7 cents to ...

Please let me know when you are ready for my second article.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

What She'd Be Doing Now

I always think of Jenny when I watch the "Where the Hell is Matt?" video. She would have been there, dancing.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

APPO and beyond

A lot of people ask me what went on in Oaxaca two years ago and what's going on now. I'm a member of the Oaxaca Study Action group which addresses political issues and social movements in Oaxaca, in Mexico, and in the world. Another member, Scott Campbell, recently posted this excellent article that summarizes some of the issues at hand.

The APPO two years on: Where now for Oaxaca's social movement?
By Scott Campbell
September 5, 2008

This fall in Oaxaca marks a season of commemorations. Already marches for fallen APPO members Jose Jimenez Colmenares and Lorenzo San Pablo Cervantes have woven their ways through the streets of the city, pausing at the spots they were murdered in 2006, holding ceremonies at the Cathedral. Twenty-four more such processions await Oaxaca in the coming months. That number will only grow as efforts are pursued to identify the, at minimum, eight bodies in hidden graves discovered recently in Oaxaca's main cemetery.

In what is a lifetime for social movements and a blink of an eye in history's ledger, a little more than two years have passed since the people of Oaxaca erupted in spontaneous but ingrained rebellion against the barbaric rule of Governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz (URO) and all that he embodies. Mere days after URO's storm troopers raided the city center on June 14, 2006, in an attempt to remove the encampment of striking teachers (after regrouping, the zocalo was retaken by the teachers and their supporters), the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (APPO) was formed. At its core, the APPO was a consensus-driven, horizontal grouping rooted in the millennia-old indigenous practice of assemblies. David Venegas, APPO participant and member of the anarchist group VOCAL, recently wrote in the Oaxacan daily Noticias that "the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca is, naturally, opposed to power, since horizontalism, respect for consensus and respectful dialog are the fundamental principles of the assembly."[1] For more than five months, APPO controlled the city of Oaxaca and much of the state. Not until Vicente Fox, in one of his parting shots as president, sent in paramilitary federal police on November 25 did URO regain "control." Rather it would be more accurate to say the APPO lost physical control. Much has been written and recounted about those "days of freedom", as one friend called them, that it is unnecessary to relate them here. For a comprehensive recounting, I recommend Nancy Davies' The People Decide: Oaxaca's Popular Assembly, available from

Two years later what is left now in Oaxaca? Has the APPO been reduced to a memorial mechanism to commemorate its fallen? Is it accurate, as URO keeps insisting with epileptic vigor, that, "nothing is happening" here? Or are we seeing a movement in chrysalis, reconsolidating only to reemerge just as vibrant, but even smarter, than before?

To be sure, there are conflicting messages and what will emerge is far from predetermined. A bleak picture can easily be painted. For starters, the APPO for all intents and purposes no longer exists, in terms of an assembly which meets, makes collective decisions, and takes action. However, many organizations that were part of the APPO still use that name when publicizing their actions and sending out communiques, which ironically - or tragically - frequently denounce other organizations that were APPO members and who also use the APPO label. Obviously this creates confusion at best and dejection and disillusionment at worst.

There are no clean divisions here, but the conflict can be uneasily broken down into two general camps. Those who have chosen to use the political and social clout of the APPO to engage with the current political system and try to get what they can from it and those who reject any relationship with the system that in 2006 was killing and disappearing their comrades. This has created, as Kiado Cruz, editor of, wrote, "a general paralysis"[2] within the social movement and in its current formulation there is no hope for forward progress. This loggerhead has led to diminishing displays of social mobilization under the banner of the APPO, and in further blows to the now agency-less entity, these disputes between the two camps often take place publicly.

One example of the mutual animosity occurred during a march on August 10th, marking the murder of Jose Jimenez Colmenares. While the procession paused where Jimenez fell, anarcho-punks spray painted the walls of the building Jimenez was shot from. A couple of the slogans included denunciations of Zenen Bravo. "Our fallen don't fit in ballot boxes. Understand that, Zenen!" screamed the walls. Bravo is now a state representative in Oaxaca, a former council member of the APPO, and an organizer with the Popular Revolutionary Front (FPR), a Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist group. Elected in 2007, his decision to run on the joint ticket of the PRD-PT-Convergencia ("center-left" political parties) was a major blow to the integrity of the APPO which as a general rule rejected involvement with political parties and electoral politics. Later on in the march, German Mendoza Nube, another leader of the FPR, was heckled with calls of "traitor" when he gave a speech. FPR members rushed the hecklers - who were the anarcho-punks, members of the anarchist group VOCAL, and other - and an intra-APPO street fight nearly broke out.

The next day, along with the dispute being mentioned in the media, the "official" APPO website, run by an FPR member, exaggerated the incident and denounced VOCAL. The following week a march occurred for Lorenzo San Pablo, another murdered APPO member, organized by VOCAL, and the "official" APPO website did not see fit to mention it.

While this dispute plays out in the streets and the internet, the power-hungry members of APPO continue their dance with their former oppressors, now colleagues, while those seeking to stay true to the original premise of the APPO propose to construct something new. It is this phase of consolidation, deliberation, and reconstruction that many believe hold the promise for a successful social movement.

Many initiatives have taken place in recent weeks which display this new trajectory.

* A five day citizens' forum was held in the upper-class neighborhood of Reforma in early August. It was inspired by the community's successful effort to block the construction of a Chedraui (a Wal-Mart-type business) store after the company cut down 200 trees in a park there at 4am where they hoped to build their store. The forum focused not just on what to do with the denuded site but also on "participative democracy, what kind of city we want,"[3] and the problems facing each neighborhood in the city and what actions, independent of political parties and the government, can be collectively taken to deal with those problems.

* Going on right now is a "barefoot researchers" seminar organized by VOCAL and alternative education project Universidad de la Tierra (Unitierra). This free and open project meets every two weeks for five hours over the course of several months to undertake, among other things, "a systemic reflection of the economic, social and political situation in Oaxaca, with a national and international perspective, with an emphasis on autonomous social movements; that is to say, those that struggle from the grassroots to transform society without taking power."[4]

* Most recently, the First Assembly of Community and Free/Pirate Radio Stations was held in Zaachila, Oaxaca, at the end of August. There participants created a permanent assembly for the promotion and defense of community and indigenous radio stations, one of the most important tools of the social movement and which is under constant attack by the state.[5]

In a recent interview with Noticias, Gustavo Esteva, president of the board of Unitierra and long-time academic specializing in social movements, was described as noting, "Without a doubt" his 50 years of observing the social situation in Oaxaca, "I've never seen such movement and effervescence from below", which should worry the government...He explained this social effervescence is "invisible to the media because there is nothing spectacular; it is not defined by marches, but the solidifying of initiatives for the generation of a new social fabric".[6]

Reflecting on this new movement, Kiado Cruz labels it "communalocracy". "It is important to reflect on our actions if our movement is really to be beyond ideologies or if we are really to be movement that has a face and a heart that we intuitively know is based in the depths of our way of thinking, feeling and acting that we inherited from our ancestors...With this intuition we can be sure that amongst ourselves we can define the constructive means of action."[7]

What results from these forums, seminars and assemblies remains to be seen. However, it is clear that though the APPO may be broken - just as much by internal splits as government repression - the will of the people to continue the struggle has not waned. The focus on face-to-face, direct, horizontal community organizing, and the rejection of interacting with or relying on political parties, government and hierarchical organizations, holds great promise. It ensures that what emerges will be a movement that is genuinely one of the people of Oaxaca. A movement whose direction, actions, and victories will belong to the people.

And as David Venegas writes, "Power, as much as it licks the superficial wounds put on its body by the insurrectionary actions of the people in 2006, and although it paints and adorns itself with words of social peace, reconciliation and development on its horrendous body, it will not be able to cure itself of the deepest wound caused by the people in 2006, the wound created at the source of its strength by the consciousness gained by our people of the unsustainable situation and of the need to fight tirelessly to obtain true justice, freedom, dignity and peace. It is this mortal wound that resides in the heart of power and from which it will never recover."[8]

Scott Campbell is an organizer from the SF Bay Area currently residing in Oaxaca. All quotations were translated from the Spanish by him. He posts observations and translations Oaxaca-related material at

1 Venegas, David. "El equilibrio del poder." Noticias - Voz e Imagen de Oaxaca. 13/8/08. Noticias did not publish the Op-Ed online.
2 Cruz, Kiado. "Dar vuelta a la esquina." 24/8/08.
6 Matias, Pedro. ""Incompetentes juegan con fuego": Gustavo Esteva." Noticias - Voz e Imagen de Oaxaca. 3/8/08.
7 See Cruz, Kiado above.
8 See Venegas, David above.

Friday, September 05, 2008

The Real September Finally Arrived

I try to have faith in what Steve tells me. For example, when he said freelance gigs slow down in late August and don't pick up until after Labor Day, I decided I could deal with that. But then, when the day after Labor Day came, and the day after, and I wasn't hearing from any of my regular editors nor from any news ones to whom I had pitched articles, I decided, "No, it's not the Labor Day thing. There's a problem here. The economy in the U.S. is down. At least half my clients are in the U.S., and they're not buying right now."

I went on a pitch frenzy, and sent out resumes left and right.

Suddenly, today, I got two new jobs. And then two of my regular editors contacted me. I realized Steve was right. I'm only six months into freelancing full time as opposed to doing it as a supplementary gig, so I haven't lived through the cycles of it yet. I have to remember that freelancing is like chaos theory, so if I can hit an average amount of gigs/money over the course of a month, I needn't worry. Now if I can only tell myself this is January and February, which Steve claims is another tough stretch.

Enough blogging, I have writing to do!

Thursday, September 04, 2008

The Breakfast Club

It started last year. My dear friend, Gaby, gathered a group of us mommies for breakfast at Marco Polo restaurant in Oaxaca's Reforma district. We met again yesterday and I just can't believe my good fortune to know these women and see how they view life in Mexico. There's Flor who is a businesswoman and into fashion; Tere who's smart and diplomatic, from Guadalajara but has to move wherever her husband gets a math professor gig; Liz who is hilarious and sharp, a revolutionary and an expert bargain-shopper at the market; and Gaby, my Oaxaquena chakra-cleanser and buddy.

We gossiped and complained and joked and interrupted each other. After awhile, my brain was snapping with all the Spanish slang and double meanings. But I think I maintained at about 80 percent comprehension. We were there for four hours and I have rarely felt so at ease with a group of people who I'd only known for a year, mostly having crossed paths at school drop-off and pick-up.

I told Steve that it's such an honor to be included in their company. That's the thing about being what they call "a foreigner"--I always feel a little bit onstage, that my words and actions represent a whole culture of a place (a place with which I have a difficult relationship, to say the least). And that what I do has to counteract years of bad politics, racism, and stereotyping on the part of the United States.

But there, at the table, it was simpler than that. We could just laugh at things and even at ourselves. I hope I'm not the only one wishing that there will be a third annual breakfast club, too.