I remember the day I saw the house that was to be our restaurant for the first time. It was — is — a 200-year-old colonial house in downtown Oaxaca, a city in Southern Mexico. The sheer magnitude of the place — with several rooms arranged around a roofless inner courtyard that included a fountain and a century-old, knobby orange tree — was enough to leave a person in awe, let alone a six-year-old child. It seemed like a mansion to me, brimming with hiding spots. I didn’t know it then and, perhaps, it took losing it ten years later to realize that place was home, with everything that word entails.
Just a few days before my 16th birthday, in May 2006, the teachers’ union went on a state-wide strike. They settled with improvised tents in the central plaza, el Zócalo, and all over downtown Oaxaca, including our restaurant’s street. It wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. The teachers had been going on strikes that sent children in the public school system into an undesired vacation every year for a couple of decades. They still do it (it’s an effective strategy to get higher wages). Only, that particular year the Governor didn’t budge, and his attempt to remove the teachers forcibly just served to escalate the conflict.
Eventually more political discontents joined, and together they formed the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO). This group soon appointed itself as ruling body and demanded the resignation of the Governor. Barricading the city, seizing and burning public buses and buildings, the APPO effectively took control of Oaxaca , all while wrecking its tourism-based economy. Of course, the Governor didn’t resign.
By September, my family was bankrupt and the economic predictions were grim. It was expected — correctly as the future revealed — […]