Oaxacan in Orange County

Or: How to keep Mexicans in Mexico

Another horde of Mexicans has invaded Orange County, but these 30 Mexicans are different—they want to keep Mexicans in Mexico.

They're also bilingual education instructors, teaching Spanish to Mexico's increasingly restless indigenous communities. The maestros are spending a year at Cal Poly Pomona as part of an exchange between the Mexican and American governments.

The overall goal: reduce the hemorrhaging of Mexicans to el Norte.

The teachers visited Santa Ana last Friday, escorted by officials from the Orange County Human Relations Commission. They toured schools, gave workshops at the Centro Cultural de México and screened a documentary at Sol Art Gallery about the current strife in Oaxaca. The Weekly spoke to one of them: Sara Zugaide, a 30-year-old Mazateca Indian first-grade teacher.

What are you doing here in Orange County?

We're here to see how education functions in Orange County. I want to talk to teachers here and share notes; if I can do something better, I want to show them, and if they can do something better, I want them to show me.

But why the interest in Orange County?

From my area [of Oaxaca], many people migrate here, and I want to prepare them for what they can expect.

Does it make you happy that so many Mexicans have migrated to the United States in the last decade?

Thinking with my heart, I'm sad. They had to do what they had to do, but it's not good. Let me talk about my pueblo. To start, there are no men left—it's only women, children and old people. We have to do everything—if we want wood to burn, we chop it. The husband is here [in the United States], sending money back.

How does migration affect indigenous cultures?

Family life is disintegrating. As a teacher, I see kids growing up. All of them think the future is in the United States. I tell them that the solution isn't here, it's in Mexico. I start every school year with an activity: I ask everyone to bring in a drawing or picture of something they want to be when they grow up. Many don't bring me anything. Why? They tell me, "Because when I'm done with school, I'm going to the United States." It's my job to change that vision.

So how do Mexicans improve Mexico?

I place my bet on education. We need to put more resources in it. Us teachers can make the difference. We get those kids first—give us the material and time, and we can keep them in Mexico. Maybe I'm a utopian, but without dreams, what kind of a world would we have?

Most Americans don't even know that indigenous communities still exist in Mexico, and that they face much discrimination. Is it difficult for you to live in Mexico as an Indian?

I actually think it's an advantage. I find strength through my traditions. Look at me—I'm the mother of two babies, yet I'm here. It's hard but I know it's worth the worries because it's for my people. Mexico's indigenous are finally finding our voice. It's small but it's beginning. The fact that my colleagues and I are here shows something.

Does this newfound voice also explain what's happening in Oaxaca?

Yes. The pueblo no longer tolerates corruption. I don't think anyone should ever use violence to make a point. But look: we asked the government to talk to us through peace. We asked for a dialogue. When they didn't give that to us, a pueblo that had been maligned for so long had to explode.

Many Americans claim Mexicans are migrating to the United States in order to take back the American Southwest. So is the reason you're here actually because you're part of the Reconquista?

[Laughs] No! [Laughs again] My land is beautiful—I don't want to conquer others. I do find it strange that the American government is so concerned about where I might be when I visit this country. I'm not a citizen of Mexico—I'm a citizen of the world. I want to travel, not conquer. Reconquista is a discussion that means nothing to me.

GARELLANO@OCWEEKLY.COM

 
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