November 26, 2017 – Saveur
On October 4th, the Saint’s day for St. Francis, the village of Santa María Xadani in southern Oaxaca should have been thronged with devotees. The narrow streets should have been lined with vendors selling sweet buns and crisp rounds of masa called totopos, pulled straight from the hot clay walls of a tandoor-like oven called a comezcal. There should have been paper flowers hung between the houses, cases of beer to stave off the afternoon heat, and music late into the night. Instead, a small crowd gathered at 11 a.m. under a covered patio alongside the church of St. Francis. A somber mass echoed through an empty nave. The streets were lined with piles of rubble and empty lots and makeshift encampments, the scars of an 8.2-magnitude earthquake that struck off the coast of the neighboring state of Chiapas on the night of September 7th, bringing down half the houses in Xadani and decimating much of the surrounding area, a region of Oaxaca state called the Istmo de Tehuantepec. (more…)
November 12, 2017 – Roads & Kingdoms
The Istmo de Tehuantepec has always been a fiercely independent place. In the southern part of Oaxaca state, the Istmo is the narrowest point in Mexico, the cinched-in waist of the country’s reclining odalisque, a region known for its raucous parties and dark sense of humor and bold resistance to anything imposed from outside. In 1981, Juchitán de Zaragoza became the first municipality in Mexico to elect an opposition party to power. Nearly a decade earlier, San Mateo del Mar, populated by the twice-conquered Ikoots indigenous community, had developed and implemented an entirely bilingual preschool program, the first of its kind in the state. In the course of the 19th century, Istmeños resisted interventions and invasions by the British, the French, and the Mexican government itself (in 1850 Mexico’s first indigenous president and national hero, Benito Juárez, responded to a revolt to reclaim use of local salt mines by sending troops to burn Juchitán to the ground). The people are brash and combative, defiant and proud, a little difficult and wickedly funny. Above all, they are self-sufficient. But all of that goes only so far in preparing you for catastrophe.
At 11:49 p.m. on the night of Sept. 7, an 8.2 magnitude earthquake struck off the southern coast of Mexico, the strongest to hit the country in a century. Felt as far south as El Salvador and as far north as Mexico City, no place suffered greater or more widespread damage than the Istmo, where more than 800,000 people were affected and more than 70,000 homes damaged, nearly 15,000 of them beyond repair. (more…)