Oaxaca is a land of contrast and connection. It is the hub of southern Mexico. Most of its 3.5 million people are concentrated in the mile - high Oaxaca City and surrounding Valle Central. The valley is flanked by rugged mountains all around - dramatic homelands to the Mixtec, Zapotec and many other indigenous cultures - sustaining centuries-old languages and traditions.
Oaxaca is well-known for its arts, especially the traditional crafts and folk art. Coupled with its diverse natural beauty, this had led to a vibrant tourism industry. Along with coffee as the primary agricultural export, tourism has dominated the local economy.
The history of Oaxaca is also one of turmoil, with longstanding tension between the indigenous communities and the dominant "western" government emanating from Mexico City. The region has long-suffered from geographic and economic isolation and is the second poorest state in Mexico. About three-quarters of its population lives in extreme poverty, and average annual income is about one-fifth of that in Mexico City.
Recent events have further depressed the local economy. International trade policies have damaged the ability of Oaxaqueños to export agricultural goods. Conditions of poverty, corruption, and inadequate support for education and social services has occasionally spilled over into dramatic social unrest. Coupled with other factors, this has dramatically impacted tourism.
As a consequence, many people have emigrated from their Oaxacan homelands - out of desperation, to work in degrading and unsafe conditions in the fields of northern Mexico and the United States. Perhaps one quarter of Oaxacan people have emigrated - and their remittances back home have become the third largest part of the economy, behind tourism and coffee exports. And yet, with the U.S. economic downturn and growing anti-immigrant sentiment, this element of support for Oaxaqueños has also suffered greatly.
Beyond the central valley and a few other population centers, many of the Oaxacan people are distributed across the landscape in hundreds of small and remote villages. Life in these villages has become very difficult in recent decades. Often, most of the men have left. Services and transportation links are rudimentary. Education is minimal, and economic prospects are almost non-existent.
And yet these communities endure. The villages have retained their rights to the land and their traditional forms of local government. Subsistence farming is practiced with devotion. Women are coming together to re-assert their creativity and capacity for leadership. Hope remains. There are many ties between people in Seattle and the Oaxaca region. Many Oaxaqueños have emigrated north and have shared their cultural heritage, as they retain their ties to home. Many people in Seattle travel to Oaxaca and treasure the experiences they have had there. However, people in the United States have limited opportunity to connect more deeply and to make a real contribution to challenges faced by the Oaxacan people. Seattle Oaxaca Connection hopes to enhance those opportunities.