[Notice: All images in this section are (c) Copyright Saundra Sturdevant, 2006]
Saundra Sturdevant in Oaxaca Levantamiento (UPRISING) 2006
I had been to Oaxaca once before. Teaching in the academy, I had some jingle in my pocket from a modest assistant professor's salary. It was Xmas break, December 1977. My son John, recently turned 13 and still a lovely soft boy interested in everything and eager for companionship with his mother, traveled with me. It was a great trip.
Late September, almost 30 years later, I again headed for Oaxaca. It was my "Women's Agricultural Labor Project." Portfolios of photographic and interview work in Marharashtra State, India, and California Central Valley completed. Now, an additional phase began, that of documenting Mixtec women's labor in California, beginning with the vast strawberry fields of Santa Maria Valley and citrus In the Central Valley. A certain amount of this work completed, I decided to go to Oaxaca and see what life was like in the pueblos from which the women had migrated, to get I hoped a clearer idea of why. And who and what had been left behind. Mixtecos are one of the major indigeneous cultures in Oaxaca.
I spent upwards of three months in Oaxaca. My individual situation was comfortable, privileged. I had sub-let an apartment four blocks from the zocolo from a North American artist. Close by were world-class museums, galleries, eateries, and an organic market. I had planned, before my arrival on the scene, to spend a considerable amount of time at the Manuel Alvarez Bravo gallery, with its marvelously inclusive photographic library. Around the corner from the Bravo was a quality European bakery with multigrain breads and strudels and an Italian espresso café. Life was good.
I arrived in October while the teachers were still encamped in the zocolo. The photo essays and narratives are attempts to make sense of what I saw and experienced. I never got out to Mixtec lands to document. Contacts I had were in hiding, elsewhere, jailed or disappeared. I spent a good deal of time in the streets documenting various aspects of the Levantamiento, frequently reminding myself that I am a documentary photographer and historian, not a war photographer. Oaxaca was war.
After the carnage of the night of November 25, URO told all foreigners to leave, especially those with cameras. I had met Brad Will at a demo three days before he was assassinated on October 27. He was a gentle spirit, tall, thin, wispy hair in ponytail. At the time, of all things, he reminded me of the Euro-American images of Jesus Christ. Even in death as he lay in the street, with his hands folded across his chest, he had that radiance.
Four days after URO's warning, when I left on a midnight bus to Xalapa, there were three photographer/journalists still in town. Originally, I had planned to spend time in Xalapa viewing Olmec heads, Orosco's murals, and Freda's paintings. Now was a good time to make that trip. As confrontations had intensified during November, PFP (Federal Preventive Police) would greet me as the woman journalist from North America. When photographing from rooftops, PFP on adjacent rooftops would wave their assault weapons in my direction. I was marked. I believe we all were. Nothing personal. Mexico has the second highest kill rate for journalists and photographers in the world. Iraq is currently number one in this category.
I have relied on La Jornada (wwww.jornada.unam.mx/ultimas), superb Mexican national daily, and Las Noticias www.noticias-oax.com.mx/index.php), excellent Oaxacan daily, for
dialogue on events and commentary prior to my arrival, during, and
since. The Oaxaca Study Action Group, composed of ex-pats living in
Oaxaca, continues to be a source for on-going events for the English
Saundra Sturdevant can be reached at email@example.com.
Note on Photography