Sunday, August 21, 2011

Cartoon 9: I've discovered that I'm a chameleon!

Now I'm in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas and we are going to be here for a couple months working on a project called 'Fronterizos' which I'll tell you more about later.  Being in one place for a minute has given me the opportunity to self reflect a little and with this cartoon I hope to share part of what I've been thinking about personally. I really have no idea how to explain it but here goes nothing...

             Basically, I am discovering that things about me, unchangeable things about my identity that make me me, are totally changeable. Come to find out they are results of my environment.  This is true for so many things that I never would have expected. From my physical characteristics to my socioeconomic status to my tastes! For instance, while in Limonar, my hair, which is usually straight as the line between you and the baño when you gotta go poo, was super curly all the time because there was so much humidity in the air. So I got to thinking, if I had grown up in Limonar, I would describe myself as someone with curly hair. If I were to close my eyes, I would picture myself with curly hair.   When I lived in Mexico City, my skin constantly broke out because of the pollution in the air.  So, if I lived in Mexico City I would be a person with acne. 
            In the US, I have brown hair.   Here in Mexico, I am considered blonde because most people have black hair so everyone who has light hair goes into the category of blonde.  But my hair hasn't changed colors! Only the lips that are describing me have changed. Whoa. That's deep... jaja (in Spanish the sound of laughter 'haha' is written 'jaja')
            I was in New York during the gluten-free phase (is that still happening?) so I converted to spelt bread to try out the wheat free thing and I loved it! I almost never ate wheat, feeling that it made me tired and that I didn't digest it well.  In Mexico, with less access to vegetarian food, wheat bread has become a super important part of my diet and I crave it and I feel that it gives me strength. 
           But physical traits and food preferences are on the surface and don't really have that much effect one way or the other.  What about something like socioeconomic status? I have always understood myself to be middle class. But outside of the US, compared to the rest of the world, I have pretty much always been in the top 10% of earners.  When I was in Limonar I saw that I am so rich that it is almost silly to consider saving money by not buying myself a chocolate bar although it would make me very happy in the moment.  Or consider not giving 5 pesos to a street performer that makes me laugh.  Yet so much of my past has been dedicated to securing my future because as a member of the middle class our job is to work hard for the security of our retirement and an inheritance for our kids.  These middle class values have guided so many decisions in my life. If I had thought that I was rich I wonder how I would have lived differently...
             Basically, I am seeing that the definitions that I have of myself shape my life. The environments that I frequent turn me into the person I am, from my temperament, or most common emotional state, to my physical characteristics.  I think about how each of my jobs have made me as a person. It makes me thankful that I have the opportunity to choose my job and where I live.  And makes me want to choose really really wisely...

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Cartoon 8.1: Limonar, Chiapas

We worked for the last week in a small mountain community called Limonar, Chiapas.   Chiapas is the birthplace of the Zapatista movement, which is of Marxist and indigenous Mexican roots and started as an underground peoples organization.  It has developed into a social movement that looks to construct a society in which indigenous people are able to live their lives based on their own principles along side the dominant society.  (That was a super basic definition of the movement based on what I have been able to understand so far)

When I thought about going to the birthplace of the Zapatista movement, I must admit my thoughts and emotions went a little crazy.  Hearing the word Zapatista, a vision comes to my mind of guerilleros with handkerchiefs and big weapons. I knew that that vision was based on the education that popular media has provided me and I knew it was a super small and quite possibly false picture of a huge complex reality.  So I tried to educate myself by reading and talking to folks before arriving to Chiapas.  I learned that people often must choose between the support of the Zapatistas or that of the Mexican government and many communities and even families are split.  I knew that I was not going into a concentrated Zapatista community but when I saw the sign that I had enterred Zapatista territory, my feelings based on that image of an armed guerillero bubbled up somewhere between nervousness and excitement.  I was excited at the chance to interact with people who dedicate their lives to fighting for their principles. And I was nervous as a representative of a Neoliberalistic society with my Puma high tops and factory made clothes.  I wondered if I would be judged or rejected.  Deep inside, I imagined that I would go into the mountains and find all of the people with guns and their faces covered waiting for possible invaders.

What I saw when I arrived to Limonar was people living their lives in a simple mountain community working together to get what they need.  Folks were open and curious.  In the short time that I was there, I caught no wind of the Zapatista movement. I thought, Maybe that's the idea?  That its underground?

I meet a wonderful woman from here and she explained to me that there is a difference between the Zapatista communities and the Zapatista army (EZLN).  The communities publicly declare themselves Zapatistas and carry on their lives as usual working the land, earning however they can but with security support from the EZLN.  She said that supposedly the army is clandestine and lives in the heavily jungled mountain areas and that they are the ones who wear the handkerchiefs. She explained that the handkerchief is a symbol for the invisibility and lack of recognition of indigenous people...

Cartoon 8.2: Limonar, Chiapas

The folks here bathe and wash clothes in the river and this was my first time ever doing so. I was a mess. It always looks so easy and romantic in the movies! Knees are very sexual here so the women bathe topless with long skirts. I didnt have anything like that so I used swim trunks and a tank top.  I felt super awkward balanced on the rock bed of the stream trying not to kill my delicate city feet. Feeling awkward is becoming a bit of a habit for me.  I feel like a fish out of water in most of the situations that I'm in.  And in Limonar the people are super curious cuz most don't have the resources to travel.  It seems that their eyes to the outside world are the television and maybe folks that have gone to work in other places and returned.  They were very thankful that we came saying that not much comes through their community. So everytime I looked up there were at least five or six people watching me in my awkwardness haha.  Oh yeh and I almost lost my shampoo and then my conditioner to the current in the river but a kind young man with quick reflexes went running down the stream after them for me. :)

Cartoon 8.3: Limonar, Chiapas

There aren't many financial resources in Limonar so in exchange for the workshops and shows that we offered in the community, they provided us with food and shelter. The daily menu was: 6am- coffee and animal crackers, 8am- rice, beans, tortillas, chile, and coffee, 12pm- pozol (a drink made from the dough that is used to make tortillas mixed with lots of water), 3pm- rice, beans, tortillas, chile, coffee, and 8pm- rice, beans, tortillas, chile, and coffee. 

On the third day, they killed a cow for us.  In my understanding this is a huge deal because it means that the community no longer has all of the milk or cheese or babies that the cow would have produced.   One day I was coming back from the bathroom and I noticed that there were lots of dogs in the field between the bathroom and the church where we were working.  As I moved closer I saw that the dogs were digging into the top of a cow's head.  Apparently they had just killed the cow and given some of its parts to the many stray dogs that are always around.  It was quite a scene because the dogs are all suuuper skinny and the look in their eyes is usually a little sad and scared.  But at this moment they all looked like lions chomping into their prey.  For the rest of the time that we were there, I would find random rows of teeth or bones strown throughout the field...

It rained alot while we were there so we were constantly covered in mud. As you can see in this picture most of the children and some of my coworkers gave up on the whole idea of clean feet and just gave in to the perpetual mud puddle (Dang flower eatin hippies). I couldn't bring myself to do it because I knew that just days before the field had been doused in cow juice.  On the final day there was a huge celebration dance out in the field and finally I gave in. Cumbia in the mud. I have to admit, it was quite fabulous :) It was just the release I needed to start to integrate all this new information...