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Photos from Yadriel Lagunes
Photos from Yadriel Lagunes

Recuerdos de…

Memories from Oaxaca

Por Yadriel Lagunes
May 2023
One year ago, I met Sandra Cisneros at an event at Bard. I asked her how she connects to her Mexican roots and embraces her Chicana identity, and if she had advice for other Mexican-Americans like me to do the same. She wrote, “For Yadriel, Travel! Read! Grow!” in my copy of The House on Mango Street. Inspired by this quote, I took the Spanish Intensive class at Bard, whose study abroad program in Oaxaca changed my life.
My given name was in honor of my grandmother on my father’s side, and for the majority of my life it was my only connection to my Mexican heritage. I didn’t learn Spanish in my home and I have never been to Mexico before. My family records are scarce because my father lived on a rural ranch in Veracruz and immigrated to the United States when he was seventeen. One photo of my grandmother survives. She was a Zapotec woman but I don’t know much about her life. I called her “my father’s mother” rather than my grandmother because I never met her. The lost knowledge of her life made me feel disconnected from my name, my family history, and my heritage, but it also gave me the curiosity to learn more about my identity. 

I worked hard during the Spanish Intensive during the semester to have an intermediate level of Spanish before I went with the class to Oaxaca. When I got to Oaxaca, I knew that all of the hard work was worth it because I had the ability to make deep and personal connections with people of different walks of life. When I got off the plane, I met my host named Yolanda, an elderly woman who was the owner of a hosting business for thirty years. At first, she scared me because she drove like crazy to bring me back to her house. The road was hers; it didn’t matter if she made illegal turns or almost hit a street dog.

We spent the New Year together and ate Domino’s pizza (Yolanda’s favorite brand) filled with quesillo, the famous cheese of Oaxaca. Every morning of the month, I woke up early to have breakfast with her at eight o’clock in the morning. When I returned from school, we ate lunch together at two o’clock as well. She prepared delicious food like entomatadas, tacos dorados, and pollo con mole colorida. I was not used to eating more at breakfast and lunch than dinner, but Yolanda had a lot of patience with me. I looked forward to seeing her everyday because we had the best conversations. Yolanda had a great personality; she was very independent, energetic and dramatic. She told me a lot about her life, like stories about her adult children who are in the United States. Yolanda took care of me because I kept her company. She encouraged me to eat more, and in the last weeks of the trip I felt healthier. She inspired me to take care of myself when I returned to the United States. The moment we said goodbye, we hugged tightly. 

I made impactful memories during my trip to Oaxaca, but I will never forget meeting Olga, a weaver and businesswoman from Teotitlán del Valle. During the month, my class and I worked with Fundación En Vía in this community as English teachers for adults with the objective to help them sell their artisanal crafts to English-speaking tourists. To inform us about the culture of Teotitlán del Valle, Olga did a demonstration of dying the wool to make colorful tapestries. She used red pigment of the cochinilla, an insect that grows on cacti. This technique was passed down through many generations of her family and, in the present, she runs her tapestry business with her husband and her son, who weave the wool she dyes. She greeted us in Zapoteco, the language of my grandmother and some of my extended family members. After Olga’s presentation, I asked her, “How do you say the word “mother” in Zapoteco?” because I explained to her that I would like to relay the word to my father, who didn’t learn Zapoteco. She smiled and said “shiana”. She wrote it in my notebook and helped me with the pronunciation, because Zapoteco has many dialects. I thanked her and started to cry, and suddenly she gave me a big hug. With one word, my language changed: my “father’s mother” became my “grandmother”. 

I am very thankful to have this profound experience in Oaxaca that nourished my body and my soul.   
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La Voz, Cultura y noticias hispanas del Valle de Hudson



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