Archive | July, 2016

Before You Point Fingers, ‘Merica

23 Jul

I know you guys are terrified of a Trump presidency, as well you should be. Many of you are threatening to immigrate to Canada. Personally, I don’t think that all of the non-fascist people moving to Canada is a legitimate answer, for a number of reasons I won’t delve into here (#1 being: if Trump gets elected I need you to stay in the US and fix the situation). I understand your thoughts about self-preservation, though, if Trump does get elected; moving would certainly be easier, although Trump would affect the whole world anyway.

With that national context in mind, though, someone on the Facebook feed asked why people aren’t threatening to move to Mexico instead of Canada. Someone else replied something like, “because Mexico’s dirty and dangerous and you can’t drink the water.”

I laughed hysterically. So the problem is you can’t drink the water in Mexico, huh? Neither can the people of Flint, Michigan. Neither should a large portion of children in schools who are being poisoned with lead daily (see here  And )

And Mexico’s so dangerous? At least kids here can go to school without worrying about being shot. If you want to talk about dirty, let’s look at the pollution in the US. People in the US are dying more and more from illnesses related to air pollution, among other dirty problems.

Look at yourself for a minute, ‘Merica*, please, before you talk bad about another country. I’ll be the first to tell you that Mexico is full of corruption, for example. But the US is too, it’s just hidden a little better there. Here there is much more transparency about the corruption, for better or for worse. Nobody’s walking around calling Mexico the greatest country on Earth just because they’re from there and proud of it. Being proud isn’t the same as being blindly arrogant. I am proud to be from my country, and that’s exactly why I criticize the things that are wrong with it.

I didn’t get to write any of this to little buddy who posted the comment, unfortunately, because I was on Conan’s phone, scrolling and nursing my kid, too tired to sign in with my own account, so I didn’t pick a fight. (You’re welcome, Conan.) I meant to go back to the conversation from my account, but life got in the way. Now I can’t remember whose page it was on, so instead I decided to address those comments and, more importantly, that attitude, even more publicly. I hope you’re reading this, dude, and everyone else who feels this way about Mexico (I know, you’re probably not- but just in case). I’m writing this not just for that guy, but also for my whole country. It’s especially for all of my compatriots who, like this guy, are running around casting stones at other countries before they look in the mirror.


Let me just say, in my humble opinion, the U.S. is not better than Mexico. The U.S. does some things way better, but Mexico is better in other ways. I’m from a fairly wealthy city in one of the poorest states in the USA, and now I’ve lived for almost four years in the poorest state of Mexico. In both places, essentially, if you have a lot of money, your life will be pretty easy, and if you’re poor you’ll have to struggle every day to get by. Some things are more developed in the US, like the road systems. Other things are better here, like more mandatory paid vacation and paid maternity leave. It’s true that Mexico does not have basic infrastructure at the same level as the U.S., which lowers the quality of living to some extent. (Here are some interesting comparisons, if you want to look at statistics: ). But there are a lot of other quality-of-life issues that aren’t mentioned in the reports (like walking to the end of my block to buy organic, free-range eggs from my neighbor for cheap, or like kids having freer childhoods here in Mexico:;  and adults being happier, too:  ).

I do think that escaping to Canada from the US is probably better than escaping to Mexico, for the same reasons that Canada is probably a better place to live than the US. For example, they have wonderful social policies like free universal healthcare, and more access to education. They work fewer hours and have less of a gap between the rich and the poor. Their country’s not so into the war-mongering and world-domination-by-any-means-necessary, just to name a few other pluses. (see more here: )

My main drama, however, isn’t really about defending Mexico. Nor is my goal to compare Mexico, Canada and the US. It’s more an issue with the blatant hypocrisy and alarming ignorance of his statement. This nationalistic ignorance is characteristic of a frighteningly substantial amount of people in my country, as evidenced by the support of Trump as a legitimate presidential candidate. It’s an ignorance that not only harms those in other countries but also harms our own citizens and residents of the US.

The “We’re the Greatest” attitude is harmful to US residents and citizens because it obscures and ignores all of our shortcomings. And really, what are we the greatest at? Capitalism? Not even that, judging by the bank bailout. Greatest at health? Nope; we develop some great treatments but people’s access to healthcare is pretty low on the global scare, and our citizens are far from healthy in general. Are we the greatest at taking care of our citizens? We don’t even take care of our veterans, nor our old folks, nor our children. Our veterans are homeless and committing suicide. Our old folks are often mistreated or neglected in their nursing homes, or unable to make ends meet at home with the measly benefits they’ve acquired. Our babies and their mothers die at the highest rates of any “developed” nation. Our children are mostly receiving substandard education, and many of them are being poisoned by lead at school to boot. Furthermore, our police are killing off people of color at outrageous, we’re-talking-genocide rates. Our “justice” system is incarcerating the people of color that they’re not killing, along with some poor white folks, mostly to turn a profit in the prison industrial complex.  None of this qualifies us as great in my book.


Muhammad Ali, a hero from my hometown, is indeed The Greatest. Let’s not get confused, guys. You can be proud to be from our country, but it ain’t the greatest at most things.


We are pretty great at making box office hits and making sure the rest of the world knows all about the capitalist aspects of our culture. We are pretty great at selling our  image of being a land of opportunity- a land where anyone can start out poor and become rich, just by working hard. We don’t talk about the systemic barriers to doing so, or the fact that pretty much no one ever has actually done it. But boy can we sell the idea to the masses.


We harm ourselves, our own citizens, with this kind of posturing- this idea that we’re so much better than all the other countries- because, for one, it means we’re not demanding or even hoping for anything better. It means we’re more than content- we’re proud- with this as our status quo.


Don’t get me wrong. I love my home country and many of the people in it. I criticize my country BECAUSE I love it, because I believe that we can- no, that we must– do better. We must do better for our people. For ALL our people- the ones whose land was stolen from them, the ones whose ancestors were stolen and enslaved to build our country, the ones who migrated and toiled to build our country and were then imprisoned or kicked out when expedient, to ALL for real this time, not the imaginary “all” of the Pledge of Allegiance. Our country needs a lot of work so that we can make it into all the things that we bill it as- a land of freedom from repression, a place of equality and opportunity. So far in our history, it hasn’t been that for most people. Buying into the hyperbole about the US and putting down other countries is not going to make anything great for anybody. Learning from each other would get us a lot farther. Somebody send a memo to these would-be leaders of ‘Merica.

I know I’m surely preaching to the choir by posting this on my blog. Sorry, guys, but I didn’t get to say it on Facebook, and you have to pay the price now. Nobody talks bad about my adopted country when their critiques can apply as well to their country. So all you guys with more internet access than I have can do me a favor and keep calling out the hypocrisy. And please, please, please DO NOT let Trump get elected. Or I’m serious- there won’t be any moving to Canada or even Mexico. You’re gonna have to stay and make our country GREAT for everybody, for the first time ever.



*I have a hard time calling my beloved home country “America” because it’s geographically misleading and a bit offensive politically. “America” is an entire continent, and therefore it’s more than a tad presumptuous to use the name to refer to just one of the many countries within the continent.


Let Me Introduce This Year’s Children

14 Jul

Yes, I have the same two children as last year; stores here don’t usually take returns or exchanges, after all. But it’s been a year since our last visit to my hometown, and a lot changes in a year, especially when you’re young. I thought it’d be nice to paint you a brief picture, so you don’t have quite so much catching up to do. Plus, I’ve been talking to the kids all about you guys that we’re going to see in Kentucky- about everything we’re going to do, all the fun times and the naps to be had (cross your fingers for me on nap time). It’s only fair to give you guys the same type of introduction before we get there.

And if you’re not in Louisville, Kentucky, then you can still have a little virtual introduction to my ferocious little treasures. Somehow they manage to fill my whole being with joy and gratitude, even though they’re undomesticated terrorists in their spare time.

My sweet Khalil Michael couldn’t even crawl on our last visit, and now at a year and a third (hehe), there’s no stopping him. He is running amok and imitating his sister as much as possible. He can wash his own hands, put the lid on something and take it off, go and try to find his shoes (nearly always MIA). He attempts to jump, although he can’t quite pull it off yet. His most important job in life right now, according to him, is giving the empty garafón (giant water bottle) to the water delivery man. As soon as he hears the truck honk its horn outside, he goes on alert. If you tell him, “Get the garafón,” he starts screaming in urgency, and tears across the floor to get the empty bottle. Then he races from the kitchen, across the living room, to the front door, carrying the bottle that’s almost as big as he is, making his excited yelling noises the whole time. He’s no longer satisfied with just handing over the empty one, either- he wants to help pick up the full bottle and carry it inside. He even makes the loud grunting-with-effort noise as he tries to pick it up. It’s a pretty important job, after all.



washing hands together- Little Brother loves to do what Big Sister does. 

This is serious business, people. Somebody has to get the garafón out the door.

I love how when he asks a question he holds his arms out just like I do, granddaughter of a gesticulating, expressive Italian that I am. I love all of his unique invented sign language, like the way he flexes his fingers when he wants to be picked up, like his version of a “come hither” signal. I love the way he blows kisses to me when he realizes I’m about to go to work. I love his tender, prolonged hugs and even his disgusting, gooey kisses, where he opens his mouth wide and slobbers over yours. He is so affectionate when the mood strikes him. The other day, as we were leaving somewhere, he turned and twisted from my grasp to dashed back down the sidewalk to a little girl he’d played with, and he gave her a big fat hug. I also can appreciate his firm boundaries, like that he yells belligerently if I’m trying to love on him when he’s declared that it’s playtime.

I love that he doesn’t wait for story time. He picks up a book and pushes it at you, grunting and insisting until you read it to him. But he doesn’t want you to read it to him the way it says on the page. He wants to open to random pages, point at the things he’d like you to discuss, and go from there. There’s no reading just front to back- reading is multidirectional and the book is finished when he decides there’s something more interesting to explore elsewhere. And in case you didn’t want to lift him up so he can reach the books, he has now learned to push one of our plastic chairs over to the book shelf and climb up onto it by himself. (This same chair-pushing/climbing tactic also means that NOTHING is safe from his tiny hands in our house anymore, unfortunately.)


Even though this book has totally fallen apart, he loves this lone page and “reads” it constantly.

Then there’s little miss Lucia, who is now a big ole FOUR year old. And boy did she get the talking gene from her mama. She has all kinds of great four year old reasoning to entertain, cajole, and madden us. For example, she refuses to believe that she and Khalil were in my belly at different points in time, even though she witnessed my pregnancy. She’s always telling me about how she was pushing Khalil and sharing toys with him in my belly. Shrug. Life is mysterious.

Lately she’s really into figuring out the time in all kinds of funny ways. “All day” is one of her favorite expressions, although I’m not sure she can really grasp it in the same space-time continuum that I’m in. Like when I cook something and she’s displeased about it, she says, “I don’t wanna just eat that ALL DAY!” As if that were the only thing available for consumption the entire day, or week even. The other day, after I told her she needed a nap because it would make her feel better, she told me that no, she really needed to watch a video, because that was going to make her “feel better all day.”Also now she says, “What time is it?” Then you tell her and she asks, “What’s that mean?” She’s working on days of the week, too, although the only one that really counts is sábado. It’s all about ‘how many more days until Mommy stays home from work’. Yep, she’s a Mommy’s girl.

She also obviously has not been exposed to much television. Don’t get me wrong, she loves her videos- her current obsession being “Big Dora” (the teenage-ish version of Dora, where she plays guitar in a band). But she takes creative license with whatever she sees around her, and runs with it. Like she asked one of her tias (aunts) to make a princess dress for her birthday, like the “purple princess.” (I have no idea which one that is or where she saw it, but it’s cool.) She told me one day that she doesn’t want to brush her hair because she saw that princesses just wear their hair “like this,” she says, fluffing out her already curly, tangled hair even more. (Good try, kiddo.)


In her “Purple Princess” dress with her new rocket ship (the only thing she wanted for her birthday, besides a party)

Her conversational skills paint a pretty fascinating picture of the little kid mind at work (fascinating according to me, although I might be biased). Here’s an example conversation with Lucia from a couple months ago:

“Mommy, can I go see Dr. Seuss?” She’s impressed because I’ve just told her that Dr. Seuss wrote the words AND drew and colored all the pictures for the book. She’s noticed that most books have the person who wrote the book and a different person who drew the pictures.

“No, because he’s in heaven, like Paw Paw.” (Yeah, I know- I didn’t really plan to teach her about heaven, it’s just worked out that way.)

“Mommy, where’s heaven?” (Previously she’d asked me, “Mommy, where’s Kevin?” which brought on a ridiculous who’s-on-first kind of accidental routine)

“It’s way, way, way up in the sky, past where the airplanes can go.”

“Is Dr. Seuss dancing in heaven?”

“Maybe so, baby. I’m not sure. If he likes to dance, he’s probably dancing.”

“Can I go to heaven someday?”

“Yes. But not for a long, long, long time. When you’re older than Mommy.” (silent prayer)

“And then I can be with Dr. Seuss?”

“Yes, and Paw Paw, and all the other great people in heaven.”

Finally satisfied, we manage to read approximately 2 pages of Green Eggs and Ham before there are more questions about other important matters. Like, “Why doesn’t he bring the plate of food on the first page of the book?” We’re at that age when the word ‘why’ is constant, and when the commentaries and questions about the book are wordier than the words on the page, even in a big girl book like this. I try to remember, despite my sleepiness, that this part is more important than the words on the page, anyway.

One of my favorite things about both my kids is that they are voracious and unconventional eaters (considering the standard idea that kids don’t like anything interesting or healthy). I love the game Conan invented with Lucia for when she proclaims that she doesn’t want something on her plate. He says something like, “But you don’t want this bite? This one’s chocolate flavor.” Then she starts asking, “What about this bite? What’s this flavor?” And before you know it she’s eaten all of what she supposedly didn’t like today, and might be asking for more. The best part (for me) is that  sometimes I make up flavors that aren’t even “exciting” and we still get excited about it. I’m like, “Oh, this is hummus and carrot flavor!” and she’s like, “Mmm, hummus with carrot!” (Bwahahaha, the Mean Mommy wins again.) She told me one day that sometimes she doesn’t eat all her lunch at school because her teacher doesn’t tell her what kind of flavor her food is! I adore four year old logic, when it’s not making me tear my hair out in frustration.

Lucia, below, pretending to eat raw nopal… She is such a silly, outrageous, kind, creative, expressive little monster.



Part of the bonus of raising kids in my adopted country is getting to take these trips back to visit. I can think things like, “Oh my goodness, a year ago, Khalil hadn’t even tried food! And now he won’t eat if he can’t hold the spoon himself.”  It’s such a good chance to remember, compare, and reflect. And this has been a good excuse to write a little about these two bright, bright lights in my life.

I’ll leave the re-introduction at that for now. See you soon, Louisville folks!


From Oaxaca with Love, my favorite Seedy Salsa

8 Jul

It’s recipe time- back by popular demand! Okay, really I just got one request, but I aim to please, folks. It turns out that a chef that cooks Mexican food in Gothenburg, Sweden, got turned on to my Oaxacan mother-in-law’s refried bean recipe via my ex-roommate Jeremy from Indiana who’s currently residing in Sweden. (I love this interconnected universe!) So in honor of fabulous roommates now residing in other places, I bring you more delights from small-town Oaxaca.

I’m showcasing one of my favorite salsa this time, partly to share with you lovelies who haven’t been to Mexico an important lesson about Mexican salsa: it’s not all this tomato-jalapeño business like you get with your chips in those “authentic” Mexican restaurants in the U.S. (Shocking, I know.) It’s not even all spicy, although there are usually peppers of some kind involved. Salsa just means sauce- you know, something to add flavor to food. It is a great way to serve more or less the same food about 10 different ways; just change the salsa.

The problem with sharing many of the best Oaxacan recipes is that many of the ingredients are not exported items. You just can’t find chepiles in Kentucky. I’d bet there aren’t any guajes in Sweden, either. With that in mind, this salsa is for the lovely folks of Gothenburg, since I hope you can find these ingredients there.


Guajes grow on a tree and you eat the softish seeds on the inside of the pod. It’s easy to open the pods, making for convenient snackfood if you have a tree around. (You’re jealous, aren’t you? My guaje tree is better than your convenience store.) You can also make salsa from it, of course.


Chepiles- perhaps my favorite food to eat in tamales… They cook down when heated like spinach but are so tender in their flavor. (Don’t let this picture fool you- they aren’t eaten raw.)

This salsa is made out of what we call semillas. Even though semilla is just the generic word for seed, this is the most common snack-food seed in Southern Oaxaca: the seed of calabaza. Calabaza means something like pumpkin or squash. Soft, small summery squash, though, is called calabacita (little squash). You can use the seeds of any hard gourd/squash- acorn squash, butternut squash, any squash or pumpkin with hard seeds.

These seeds are also really good for you, by the way; they’re full of iron, among other things.

Here are some examples of our calabazas (ambigious pumpkin/squash goodness):


softer but still not very soft squash “calabaza”


harder, winter-ish squash “calabaza”


more cheap and delicious convenience food- semillas!

Here, you can just go buy a bag of already-roasted semillas for 5 pesos (pretty cheap).If you can’t buy roasted seeds, it’s pretty easy to roast them yourself. Just separate them from the fleshy part of the squash as best you can- it doesn’t have to be completely separated because the rest will come off easily when they’re dry. Here, they get put directly on the comal (griddle), like so many foods. (Ovens aren’t commonly used unless you’re producing a bunch of bread or something.) A frying pan will do if you don’t have a griddle. Alternatively, you can roast them in the oven.

Space the seeds out a little on your griddle or oven pan so that they’re not on top of each other. Add some salt and toast them (over low heat on the griddle) or roast them in the oven (at 400 degrees Fahrenheit / 200 Celcius) until they’re browned on the outside, turning occasionally. The smaller the seed, the faster they’ll roast.


Tortillas roasting over a traditional comal


This is more like the comals used on an inside stove, which goes right over 2 burners on the stove. Getting a fire started is okay on a special occassion, but mostly I’m grateful I don’t have to do it every day.


If you want seeds just for snacking, you can also add a little oil and some spices before roasting. I really like mine with some cumin and cayenne pepper (my recipe from back when I used to have to roast them myself, bwahahaha). You can eat them with the shells and all; they’re delicious and nutritious. It’s good to prepare them anytime you are using a squash with edible seeds- less food waste and more healthful snacking for you.

Here’s the recipe for Salsa de Semillas (by Paulina, my badass, feminist, Oaxacan mother-in-law who shows lots of love via what she cooks for us):


Paulina and me on the coast during my first visit, before she was my mother in law


Paulina showed me how to make salsa in the traditional molcajete on my first visit to Mexico

It’s not meant to be spicy, so if it’s hot for you, use fewer chili peppers.


1 cup roasted semillas (approximately)

10 dry, red, medium-to-low-spicy-level chili peppers- chile costeño is what is used here, but it’s hard to come by outside of here. You can substitute maybe 8-9 chiles del arbol mixed with 1 chile guajillo.

1 (medium to large) or 2 (small) cloves garlic

3 leaves of Pitiona (optional) (apparently known as Bushy Matgrass in English)- If you don’t have this, don’t worry.


salt to taste


chile costeño


Pitiona, a common herb used in cooking and natural remedies here (Sorry, guys, this probably doesn’t grow in your backyard, either.)


Step 1: Roast the seeds, as described above, if you are not buying pre-roasted semillas.

Step 2: Roast the chili peppers.

Roast the chiles on a dry griddle or frying pan on low-medium heat, similar to how you roasted the seeds. It only takes a few minutes, though, and you need to move them around on the pan every minute or two. It’s okay if they get blackened a bit, but you don’t want them crispy. You also don’t want tons of smoke from them filling up your house, so keep the heat fairly low and don’t let them get too burnt (and open a window). When they are a little black on each side (more or less- you don’t have to turn them over one by one), put them into some water to soak for about 15 minutes (longer is okay, too, but not necessary- you just want to soften them up for blending).

Step 3: Combine ingredients.

Put seeds, chili peppers, garlic and (if available) pitiona in a blender or food processer. You can also use the traditional mortal and pestle if you prefer (if you are working on your arm muscles, for example). Add a little bit of water to help the blender grind it up, and then add more to make it liquidy. Be careful, though. There is no exact amount of water, but add little bits at a time to get the right consistency. You want your salsa to be thinner than a normal paste but not watery like ketchup or something. It should be somewhere in between. Add salt if needed (depending on how salty your semillas already are).

That’s all! You can enjoy your salsa on any food. We especially love it on eggs and beans (my family’s common breakfast), but it can go on all kinds of stuff: rice, cauliflower- anything that needs a bit of pizzazz.

If you try this salsa, let me know! I want to keep my mother-in-law updated on her worldwide fame in the kitchen. Take care and buen provecho.


It should look more or less like this.

P.S. Sorry, y’all, but all the photos are from Google and not me, except for the plastic bag full of semillas and the pics of Paulina and me. I’ll try to do better next time. xoxox

Corruption for All: Democracy and Education in Oaxaca

1 Jul

Somewhere between six and ten people died and lots more were injured during a protest in our state, Oaxaca, on June 19. It’s impossible to know for sure how many people died, or exactly what happened, because everyone has a different account, and you can’t really believe anybody. The government, the police, the media, and the teachers’ union are all notoriously corrupt. Both the causes of the protests and the way they are being carried out is a lose-lose situation for everyone in our state, especially for all the children and youth.

The government says six people died, but nobody trusts the government. Elections here are even more rigged and fraudulent than in the U.S. Buying votes is normal. You might get killed by the competition if you are running for office, partly because if you are elected you can (and probably will) steal enough money from the people to keep you set for life- therefore it’s worth killing over. The government is full of outright, blatant lies: just Google “the missing 43 Mexican students ” (here’s some of the info: if you haven’t already heard about the biggest government and police corruption scandal during this president’s reign. In this most recent case, in Nochixtlán, Oaxaca, the original official story was that some other organization or group jumped in and shot the protesters. Originally, reports even said the police went to the protest unarmed, which isn’t the slightest bit credible. So you can see why government and police reports aren’t believable.

Unfortunately, there are reasons to doubt the utter honesty of the teachers’ union as well. I imagine that accounts from teachers and other folks on site when it happened are more realistic than accounts by police or the media. But the union here is not really the voice of the teachers. Membership in the union is obligatory and participation in protests is mandatory, although they rotate participation some so they don’t have to be protesting every day for these month-long strikes, at least. While I don’t think our public school teachers are the bad guys in this scenario at all, and I’m in favor of unions, I think this particular union is not good for our schools or the kids, and not even particularly good for the teachers. (More info about the teachers’ union, sección 22: )

Some articles act like the teachers are screwing over the system, and it certainly sounds like it when you read that teachers’ and staff compensation account for 94% of education funding ( ). But teachers don’t get paid excessively, I can assure you (people aren’t shy about discussing income here, so teachers I know have told me how much they make). It’s not bad pay but it’s not outstanding, either. Thus, this statistic in context speaks way more to a) other folk that get paid, for example folks who only exist on payroll and not in a classroom, including dead people (yes this really happens here- some live person is cashing in the dead person’s paycheck) and b) just how little funding there is for education. Here, there’s no funding for transportation or food, and next to nothing for anything else. This means classrooms not only don’t have enough books, sometimes they don’t even have classrooms. (Conan and other students had to help build their own high school, for example.) Parents pay so much out of pocket that for “free” public education that school is inaccessible for many people. Not only do parents pay for school materials for their children- which is already hard on many families-, but also they regularly get asked to pay extra fees for whatever the school needs. Parents also have mandatory volunteer work days at the school (because schools can’t hire other staff), and they get fined if they don’t attend.

What Are They Fighting About? The Existing Problems, the Reform, and the General Lack of Confidence in the System

Mexico has some of the worst educational outcomes in the world. It “ranked 118th out of 144 countries in quality of primary education, behind many poorer countries, including Honduras, El Salvador, Bolivia, Bangladesh and Sierra Leone.” ( Within Mexico, the state of Oaxaca is pretty much at the bottom of the barrel in education. The federal government passed a bill for Education Reform back in 2013, because pretty much everyone agrees that radical changes to the system are sorely needed in Mexico.

The reform sounds helpful on paper, and in general people seemed to be mostly in favor of it before. Some of its official objectives are creating more equity, and that it be free and accessible. The reform proposes lots of money for more schools, money to improve existing schools, money for food in schools in poor areas, and other such necessary funding. Who knows if it will be enough funding and where the money is coming from, but that part sounds great. It proposes transparency about where the money goes in schools. It calls for better textbooks, more parental and community involvement, and more access to teacher training. It will also require teachers to undergo evaluations and trainings, and to justify their absences if they miss more than 3 days of class. There are lots of things that it doesn’t cover that would be nice, like changing the curriculum, teaching critical thinking, things like that- but it’s a start. (this article gives a good overview in English and here’s some info in Spanish directly from the government about their plans:

Since nobody believes the government, however, and the news can’t be relied upon for real, relevant information, either, we are also inundated with rumors and counter beliefs about the reform. The number one complaint is that they are going to use this to privatize education. The government viciously denies it, but they are working on privatizing other public things, like petroleum. The government also said the police weren’t carrying guns, among other lies; they don’t prove themselves trustworthy, to say the least. So the government repeats that the tenets of the reform are to make education free of fees, and people shrug their shoulders.

The kind of information that my students tell me they believe about the reform is that, for example, they just want to fire all the teachers. We’ve heard that they’re going to take away everyone’s retirement benefits. We’ve heard that you won’t even need teacher training to be a teacher- that anyone who can pass the exam will be a teacher (which is not a very credible claim, since so much of the reform emphasizes teacher training, but there you have it). A big concern is that if teachers don’t pass an exam they will be fired on the spot. According to the proposal, teachers with poor evaluations will receive more training and then take the exam again in a year- and have a third chance with more training if the fail the second time. Supposedly the evaluations will take many factors into consideration, including the environment and culture where teachers are, which is really important here in Oaxaca where there are many indigenous languages spoken throughout the state, and many kids growing up in a household where Spanish isn’t spoken. Of course the reform needs to take regional and cultural factors into account, and it does propose to do so- but once again, it’s easier to believe what your teacher friend down the street tells you than what the government puts out there. And the teacher may or may not believe what they’re being told about the reform, but regardless they have to protest it or there will be serious sanctions against them.

My impression before this protest was that most people do want evaluations for teachers, or at least some kind of accountability, to deal with the very real problem like teachers selling their guaranteed, lifelong position off to someone else when they retire. Some people are definitely concerned that there is ZERO oversight on teacher quality; teachers are guaranteed a position for life (and beyond, when teachers give their position to their child, for example), no matter what they do or don’t do. Parents are also sick of the strikes; Oaxacan kids have lost more than an entire school year in the past 7 years of strikes. (from this article, which was also one of the broadest and best articles I read covering the situation:  ) And that’s not including the 6 or 7 months-long strike that happened in 2006, which was the 25th consecutive year of teacher strikes in Oaxaca under this teachers’ union. (  )

But ever since people got killed, the tides have changed drastically in terms of public support. Most people are vocally or actively standing with the teachers now (including a lot of international folks who don’t seem to know what is actually going on here), which also means they’re against the reform now. Also, people down here still revere teachers and, more importantly, lack trust and faith in government to a much greater degree than the cynicism and distrust they have for the teachers’ union. The union talks a good talk, and the demands during the annual strikes (yes, every year for the past 30 years or something now, according to  ) always include some demand or the other related to the wellbeing of the students.

While pretty much ALL the systems and agencies in this country are corrupt, the government is seen as the most corrupt. Certainly the federal government cares very little about Oaxaca, too. (For example, when the months-long strikes were going on in 2006, for ages the federal government washed their hands of the situation, saying it was a local issue.) So the union is robbing people, sure, but the government killing people- and getting away with it, as usual- is certainly worse.

At the very least, no matter how people down here feel about the union and the striking teachers, most people doubt that the reform will actually help Oaxacan children anyway. After all, it’s been proven over and over that people can’t rely on institutions here. It’s pretty depressing, if nothing else.

The Effects of the Protests

The protest is ongoing and the demonstrations and blockades, along with its secondary effects, are widespread throughout Oaxaca- plus there’s some similar action happening in our neighboring states of Chiapas and Guerrero. Teachers have been on strike since mid-May, first of all, although it was all pretty low-key until elections in early June. Things heated up, then calmed again, and then the killings happened.


a shot from 2015 strikes (borrowed from


teachers camping out in the zócolo, the main square, of Oaxaca City- a common sight…. (image from… Teachers have rotating schedules for when they have to participate in protests- thank goodness! They have families, too. 

Since then, the government and teachers’ union have had two separate dialogues, both lasting for several hours, where NOTHING has been gained nor lost on either side. Nobody is reporting any clear news on what the hell they’re saying in there for all those hours (perhaps they’re talking about their grandkids, a la Bill Clinton), but there they are. So far they haven’t set up a third meeting. (Here’s an example of the very vague reporting:

The union and the government are at an impasse. The union won’t accept the reform, and the government won’t rescind the reform, which is now written into law and already partially implemented. The union is promising to get more drastic and expand their actions to other parts of the country. More and more police are arriving. There are rumors of military involvement. The only thing to do is to wait and see. Here’s a lot of relevant information about what’s happening:  I suspect things will get crazier before they get better, despite the government’s vague promises that they will resolve this within a few days.

A big part of the protest is the numerous blockades that the teachers union and their allies have set up throughout the state. They’re mostly letting people pass (with some delays) but blocking commercial trucks. So some areas are short on food supplies, and the gas supply is short everywhere, although it’s coming through sporadically, here at least.

I can’t attest to the extent of the problems happening due to the protests, because there’s also a lot of misinformation and false information about it. For example, I just read an article saying that in Puerto Escondido (where I live) and in Huatulco, there’s gasoline but only for 12 hours a day and each car can only get 200 pesos of gas. In reality, the situation here is that gas seems to randomly arrive at one or two gas stations and everyone lines up to fill up. At times there are cars parked lining up hours before a pipe even comes in. At times people are waiting in line 3 hours to get gas. Sometimes you can get lucky and get a short wait. But it’s not how they painted it in the media.

The news is also stressing how much people are suffering from a lack of food, and it’s hard to say to what extent that’s true. Here we still have plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables at the market. The prices of the stuff that gets trucked in from Oaxaca City has gone up, but even that seems to still be plentiful enough. The two supermarkets in town have some empty shelves, but they are at least getting sporadic shipments of things or they’d be totally empty by now. I have been able to get most of the things on my grocery list every week despite the situation, for example. But I don’t know how it is in other areas. Supposedly Oaxaca City is seriously affected, but a friend of mine there said she’s not seeing that. The government just set up a schedule to airlift food to our state, but I’m not sure exactly where it’s going, or what food they’re taking. Our family in Juquila says they aren’t getting stuff like cookies and other commercial food, but nobody’s going hungry there, either, or at least not because of the strikes. It’s all a bit 1984-esque to me.

The strikes are hurting a lot of the small businesses, though, which a large portion of people rely in for their income. Less people are travelling, for example, so all the folks who have their restaurants along the (very slow, winding) “highway” are not getting as much business. Our friend in Juquila had to come down here for hamburger buns for his restaurant, as another example. It is making people late to work for transportation problems in some areas. It means my friend has extra hours added to her weekly journal to her Masters-level class in the next state over. It’s definitely inconvenient and costly for a lot of people who already have enough economic problems. I don’t think it’s as bad as it sounds on national news, but again, it’s hard to know for sure. I do know that people are a bit sick of it. “I don’t know why they can’t protest in Mexico City instead of here,” one friend said. It’s a good question.

selling gas photo

Surviving beyond the system: individuals selling gasoline at higher prices for desperate folks- here in Puerto Escondido (sorry it’s not a great pic- taken from our moving car)

Conclusions: What about the kids? What about a total revolution?

Regardless of the outcome of this battle, the kids are not winning. The children of Oaxaca, already living in the poorest state of this country, living in a country with one of the worst educational systems and outcomes in the world, are not benefitting in any way, shape, or form from any of this protest, and they might not benefit from the reform, either. I don’t know what the answer is to all this, but it would be nice if some institution did something with the best interests of the children in mind as their primary motivation. I’m sure President Peña Nieto and Local 22 Teachers Union are open to your suggestions, dear Reader. (lol)

We do desperately need reform, or, better yet, revolutionary improvements for our students here in Oaxaca. Yes, we need books, food, transportation, uniforms, and so, so much more. We need a different curriculum, dynamic teaching and learning strategies, a way to make school worthwhile, relevant, and accessible for kids so they’re not routinely dropping out at 12. We need institutions that serve the people, institutions that people can count on. We need police who don’t shoot protesters as the status quo. We need governments that don’t order, support, and cover up killings and disappearances. If corruption is always going to exist, we at least need a bit less corruption in all levels of our public institutions and agencies. We need much more than what anyone here in Oaxaca can even realistically imagine receiving at this point. And that’s the worst part of all, perhaps- that there’s so little hope, for our state, for our youth, for our future.