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Monday, 28 August 2017 22:48

Reflections on Our Annual “Home” Visit

Written by Mary Gill & Pat Denevan
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Mary Gill & Pat Denevan – Oaxaca, Mexico

When we met with Manny and Mary Ryan-Hotchkiss on our annual visit, Mary asked us to reflect on what we see in Portland and in Oaxaca.

Mary—First, we noted how the mood of the people in general expresses itself. Aside from activists, nobody said much about the political state of affairs in Portland or the US. Black members in our family are as vigilant as they have always been. The police bias toward racism has always been prominent. Having arrived in 1975, we remember when the police left dead possums on the doorstep of a Black restaurant. And the father of one our children’s classmates was killed with a choke hold—he stopped a robbery in a gas station, and the police automatically assumed that because he was a tall Black man, he was the robber. Now however, many people feel permission to spew hatred toward immigrants, people of color, indigenous people, and refugees. The incredibly noticeable gentrification of the neighborhoods made me sad and angry. Maryknoll Affiliate Martha Gies, who has worked in housing in Portland for years, commented that “ethnic cleansing” is taking place—the Black community is moving out to the “numbers,” far out to the east of Portland.

More people without homes are evident. Fear, ignorance, and hatred have been sown, and the whirlwind is reaping a harvest. From being in mission these last 15 plus years, I know that entering another culture to accompany people is anything but easy. It calls for self-knowledge and humility (which only happens with lots of mistakes and humiliations); then the people decide what you are good for, and you do it. No outside “experts” need apply! Outside expertise may be offered for projects, but the people affected will decide if, what, when, and how.

Of course, like Portland, Oaxaca is full of racism. Skin color makes a huge difference in society. It is just more integrated into the class system. Movement to the city is occasioned by scarcity in the country, although some villages are conscious of reclaiming their heritage and are blessed with enough natural resources to do it. Invasion by mining companies (Canada) and the corruption of the government in selling off the oil (US) also makes for conflict.

The good news is that people are learning to resist nonviolently in both Portland and Oaxaca and that we have a Creator who loves all of creation including humans, and, as we evolve, lessons will be learned. This learning is anything but complete, and, as in life there are still opportunities!

Pat—These are a few of the obvious contrasts I noticed between Portland and Oaxaca:

Vehicles—In Portland I was astounded by the number of huge SUVs and pick-ups used just for city driving—for security or prestige? However I was delighted to see so many hybrid and electric cars in Portland. There are some vehicles of that size in Oaxaca, but not so many and more older models. Poverty is up close and in your face especially at street intersections where children juggle lemons for a handout and adults sell everything from papers to rechargeable electric fly swatters.

Supermarkets—The number of products in supermarkets was overwhelming. In the Personal Care aisle there were so many creams, soaps, deodorants, tints, etc. that I had trouble just finding a plain shampoo. We have supermarkets in Oaxaca like Walmart (we never shop there), Soriana, and Chedraui, but smaller in size. We shop at La Soledad, which is like a Mexican Costco.

Housing—In Portland I was amazed by the number of new luxury apartment buildings causing gentrification of poorer neighborhoods. In our village of Huayapam, rich people are building large modern houses, often right next to very humble homes, which makes the contrast striking.

Pace of Life—In Portland people seem to be in a hurry all the time and drive really fast on the freeways. In Oaxaca, life moves at a slower pace and time is relative. Once I complained to our friend, Basilio, that we were going to be a half hour late. He replied, “Es buena hora.” (We will be on time!) Mary and I are becoming more well known in our village of Huayapam. As we drive through in our pick-up people often call out, “Hóla, Patricio” or “Buenos días, Mari” which makes us feel welcome.

All in all, we are glad to be back in the culture and with the people of Oaxaca.

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