A Gift

A Gift

Diario de Oaxaca: Un Regalo

Peter Kuper

An excerpt from Diario de Oaxaca (Published by PM Press in the US and Sexto Piso in Mexico)

Diario de Oaxaca is the result of being in the right place at the “wrong” time.

When I moved to Oaxaca with my wife and daughter, I wasn’t looking for trouble; on the contrary, I was hoping for some escape. Escape from the United States under Bush’s administration, escape from my workaholic schedule, escape from consumer culture and a ceaseless barrage of depressing news stories. A breather. A break from routine. Escape. Not that we left in a panic or this was the sole reason we moved to Oaxaca.

In a way this trip had been percolating for nearly forty years. My father, a university professor, had his first sabbatical in 1969 and transplanted our family to Israel when I was ten- years- old. That year shook my limited world view –not that I got much better at geography, but the existence of life beyond the borders of the United States came into focus. Since the birth of our daughter in 1996, my wife and I had spent years discussing giving her a similar experience.

The day we landed in Mexico, July 3rd 2006, the news was all about suspicion of fraud in the throes of a major teachers’ strike with encampments and protests throughout town and just getting from the airport to our new neighborhood required circumventing strikers’ barricades.

Nonetheless, for the first few months I enjoyed escape. We had moved into a beautiful house in San Felipe del Agua; though only a short drive from the downtown troubles, it felt like a world away.

When I wasn’t busy finishing my graphic novel, Stop Forgetting to Remember, I enjoyed taking long walks around the picturesque neighborhood and occasionally making drawings of the insects and cactus in our front yard. It wasn’t until September, that I made the time and headed into town with my sketchbook in hand. After a day of drawing the scene around the Zócalo of strikers and barricades, I felt like I’d genuinely arrived in Oaxaca.

Over the next few months, as the teachers’ strike reached a boiling point, family and friends in the United  States corresponded urgently, asking how we were faring and questioning whether we should stay, given the threatening news reports they were reading. I found the reports so inaccurate, I began taking regular trips into town then sending illustrated e-mails detailing the reality as I experienced it. Beyond wanting to reassure people it wasn’t as bad as advertised, I felt anxious to counter the misinformation I found disseminated in so many international newspapers. Heading stories contrary to my direct experience activated my desire to telegraph what I’d seen. I didn’t look to take on the job of Oaxaca reporter, but I had firsthand information about this subject and rediscovered that applying my art this way was part of my DNA as a political cartoonist. Those e-mails found their way onto websites and into various publications worldwide and telling Oaxaca’s story transformed from an art exercise into a responsibility. Those dispatches evolved into the “diary” entries in a book.

Gradually, my desire for escape from life’s troubles, segued into embracing my experiences. After answering the call to draw Oaxaca’s dark times, I found myself compelled (by another part of my DNA, no doubt) to capture its light. I hope this collection will illuminate both the storms that Oaxaca weathered as well as the rich details of daily life that made our two years in Mexico a gift.

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