Oaxaca Journal, V.5

By    Tuesday January 9, 2007

AFTER EXPERIENCING MONTHS OF OAXACA CITY'S TRAVAILS, we decided to enjoy the bigger picture of Oaxaca State during the holidays. This region of Mexico boasts a greater variety of ecological environments than any other part of the country, from dusty brown mountain ranges to deep blue coastlines.

An especially incredible area includes the beaches surrounding Puerto Escondido, or Hidden Port. I first visited there with a couple of buddies back in 1983 and the place left me with indelible memories. There was the beauty of a remote seaside village, a fantastic abundance of ocean wildlife, and an undertow that almost snuffed out our lives. Returning with my wife and daughter to the very spot where I almost bought it 24 years ago gave me a renewed appreciation of...well, surviving.

Though Puerto Escondido has undergone tremendous changes over time, it remains a magical place. One of my favorite memories: after struggling out of the pounding surf, my friends and I sat down with cold beers to watch the sun slowly set. As a bonus, a full moon was rising in counter balance and a deep calm washed over everyone on the beach. Everybody stopped and sat quietly as the sun dipped below the horizon; they began to clap as it disappeared. It was like the spontaneous joy passengers sometimes feel as a plane lands safely, or in this case, recognition of the paradise that flashes before us here every day.

New Year's Eve was an exact replication of the experience, including a full moon, clapping, and a beer. The biggest difference was the beautiful blond woman and ten year-old girl sitting next to me, which made me wonder: where the hell were my wife and daughter when they could be sharing the moment with me? (Answer: back at the hotel playing Crazy Eights as it turned out.)

Anyway, the six days we spent in Puerto Escondido was like arriving in Mexico anew and a perfect way to ring in the New Year. When we returned to our neighborhood up the hill from Oaxaca's capitol, I felt refreshed and thrilled to leave a vacation in Mexico only to return home to... Mexico!

Which brings me back to this city. Now that that the strikers have been vanquished, barricades torn down, and most of the graffiti painted over, there is little visible evidence of what transpired during the six-month strike. Most of the events that took place in Oaxaca's center exist only as memories.

On the positive side, the teachers returned to work after many of their demands were met, including receiving back pay. Still, hundreds were jailed and many still languish behind bars. Governor Ulises remains in power, his administration as corrupt as ever, and the roots of the teacher's discontent remain unanswered. Though the streets are quiet, just below the surface everything Oaxacans fought for, and the oppressive poverty they continue to endure, festers.

Outwardly, the only reminder of the long struggle and confrontations, the tear gas and fatalities, are the stains left on the cobblestone streets; remnants of the burned vehicles and everything that signifies. So, this not the end of this story, not by a long shot.
To be continued....

Above: Undertow, © 2007 Peter Kuper, courtesy of the artist
Below: Beach People, Puerto Escondido, © 2007 Peter Kuper, courtesy of the artist

This is the fifth installment of a regular communiqué from
Peter Kuper, a cartoonist and
illustrator whose work has appeared in numerous newspapers
and magazines, including Mad, where he has drawn Spy vs. Spy
for the last decade.

Peter's recent books include Sticks and Stones, which won the
Society of Illustrators Gold Medal in 2005, and his graphic novel
adaptation of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. Kuper's coming-of-
middle-age graphic novel, Stop Forgetting To Remember, will be
published by Crown in July 2007.