Last week our Professor took us on a walking tour of the center of the city and we were able to see where the majority of tourism occurs. The center of the city is called El Centro which literally translates to “The Center”. It consists of city hall, a very prominent cathedral called Santo Domingo, and several upscale shops and restaurants.
Oaxaca is a beautiful city lined with cobblestone streets and culture radiates almost as brilliantly as the sun. Aside from established storefronts, vendors are set up lining the cathedral that sell hand woven blouses, jewelry, and woven bags. However my favorite part of El Centro is the Zocalo. The Zocalo is a giant square that consists of city hall and a park although it’s hard to tell because currently there are hundreds of tents set up all around, where the protesting teachers sleep and give demonstrations. Although it’s hectic and quite easy to get lost if you aren’t paying attention, it’s still really fun to see all the things for sale and observe market interaction.
Earlier in my blog, I briefly mentioned the teachers, but now that I have had the opportunity to ask more about the situation, I will address the movement. Mexico has free public education for all grade levels, including university and professional school, so the work force for teaching is quite large. To the best of my understanding it seems that the teachers want better pay and benefits, so they occupy the Zocalo, which contains city hall to perform demonstrations in hopes of influencing political reform. In 2006 when the teacher’s first occupied the Zocalo, the federal police responded with brutality that left a permanent scar on the hearts of the Oaxacan people. The attack on the teachers got Oaxaca to band together and actually removed the corrupt leader, Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, from power. Every year since, the teachers have occupied the Zocalo even in the face of the possibility of retaliation. However the impact of their presence has diminished with time and has become less of a scene that attracts attention and more of a commonplace annoyance to the people because change isn’t being made anymore.
What’s very interesting is how the attitudes of people in Oaxaca vary in regards to the situation. Some such as my homestay family feel that the impact of the teachers is nonexistent and more bothersome than anything else, others feel terrified about the situation and seem to be constantly in fear of police retaliation similar to that of 2006. Anyhow elections are this upcoming weekend, so currently everyone is waiting for the results before any moves are made on either side.