I was advised to cancel the presentation of my novel in Oaxaca. The situation is ugly, they said. And yes, the news was reporting armed conflict in the region, with people wounded and dead. I began to receive regrets from friends and siblings. They could not go because there was no access to the city (the roads were blocked) or because they feared that a stray bullet may reach them. You should cancel, they insisted, it’s not worth taking the risk.
I thought about it. Perhaps they were right. Who would want to go to the presentation of a novel by an unknown author when things were so bad? On the other hand, I was sad to have to cancel after so many preparations. It had taken me six years to write the novel and months organizing the tour with the help of many charitable souls. How disappointing that just when I was finally going to deliver my gift to my dear Oaxaqueños, they decided to have a revolution in the city! Worst of all were the rumors that, due to insecurity, the Guelaguetza had been canceled. That was serious, because one of the themes of my novel was precisely that Oaxacans have always maintained their traditions and festivities despite all their wars.
I consulted with the moon (she is my trusted counselor) and with some friends in Seattle who happened to be in Oaxaca. Dalia Maxum, who would be my presenter in Oaxaca, was in her hometown to celebrate her wedding. No one would cancel that wedding.
As soon as Dalia arrived in Oaxaca she called me and left a message. "Things are complicated, guapa, but people are going about their business as usual. If I were you, I would not cancel.” Another friend, Wendy Call, was in Juchitan. I asked her in Facebook if it was true that they had canceled the Guelaguetza. "They will not cancel anything," she said. "Do not worry." And so it was. The international celebration took place but, unfortunately, it was poorly attended.
When I decided to go ahead with the presentation, my sister Pilar decided to join me. "I will not let you go alone," she said. "Besides, you and I know that nothing will happen." That sign of love is typical of her, a woman who knows how to give. Now you know why she is my spiritual teacher.
In Oaxaca we were welcomed with open arms. The woman in charge of the library Grañén Porrúa, Amada Lopez Curiel, treated us with genuine affection. She organized the presentation in a beautiful building in the old alley of San Pablo. She coordinated the press conference and even contracted the right provider for the Oaxacan tapas. One morning she took us to breakfast at a godforsaken corner where we ate (for the first time) yogurt made from goat's milk. The butter croissants were sublime. When it was time to go shopping, Amada took us to her favorite marchanta knitters who sold us huipiles and blouses made in looms. Artwork such as the weavings of Zyaaya, the Zapotec character in my novel.
The city is still as beautiful as ever. It is true that the teachers have taken the plaza and there are protest marches through the city, but at no time did I feel uncomfortable. On the contrary, the hospitality and generosity of our Oaxacans made me feel very apapachada. I think the name Amada (which means beloved) was no coincidence.
Let me tell you the best part:
One of the Oaxacan artists I most admire is Fulgencio Lazo. Here is his webpage so you can delight in his works: Fulgencio lives in Seattle with his family, and that's how I know him. He and his wife (a charming woman) are the organizers of the Oaxacan festivities in Seattle. When I learned that he would be in Oaxaca the day of my presentation I boldly asked him to present me. I was lucky in that he agreed, and so it was that I had the great privilege to include him in the agenda.
The day of the presentation he told the audience that in preparation for the event they had been reading my novel aloud to the family. He told us that his mother, a Zapotec woman, had been listening carefully. "That's my story," she said. "That’s how my life used to be. That's me." The reading so inspired her that she began to tell her own story, which Fulgencio knew only partially.
Fulgencio's words touched me. As a writer I always try to please my readers, but the fact that a Zapotec woman identified with one of my characters was the biggest affirmation I could have ever received. Better than the best review of any literary critic.
Fulgencio’s mom wanted to buy the novel. She shyly approached the book table, pulled her 200 pesos from her chest, and offered the money to the bookseller. She was shocked to learn that the money was not enough.
"You're going to have to pitch in," she told Fulgencio, who laughingly obliged and said, "Maria, take a picture of this historical moment. This is the first book my mother buys."
Imagine what a great honor it is for me to know that my novel ranks first in the library of the mother of one of my favorite artists.
Imagine what a loss it would have been if I had not gone to Oaxaca.
THANK YOU to all of you who accompanied me. Thank you very much to my presenters who were there despite the situation. Most of all, I am grateful for that first-purchased book, which blessed my novel.