Oaxaca is beautiful. Blue skies, lush greenery and rolling hills surround a city brimming with Spanish colonial architecture. It is Dias Los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead festival, which, despite its name, actually lasts for three nights. People are decorating altars in almost every home, business and church with marigolds, bread, incense and images of saints. People are laughing, dancing in the street in celebration.
But it does not take long to notice not everything is perfect. Walls have been graffitied in anti-government sentiments. Stalls in the market sell clothing and prints with anarchist artwork – and in the main square, surrounded by hundreds of milling people, music, flowers and market stalls, a series of tents are set up.
The government is attempting to bring through sweeping education reforms, which, among other things, would mean schools teach only Spanish nationwide, and not bilingually to include indigenous languages, as is currently the case. Currently, a teacher’s child can inherit their parent’s position without formal training. The government attempted to bring in standardised testing, based on the results of the children in Mexico city, one of the richest places in the country. This means many teachers from poorer areas, who don’t have access to the same resources, or who teach primarily in an indigenous language, are severely disadvantaged and would be without a job.
While formal training sounds reasonable, to introduce it would mean many teachers and aspiring teachers, especially from poorer areas, such as Oaxaca, could simply not afford to train. It would mean many small villages and towns would be without teachers who speak the indigenous language, which is the first language in many of these areas. And with no guarantee teachers from wealthier villages would be willing to take the poorer pay and living conditions in the remote areas, perhaps no teachers at all.
Valeria, a trained musician who works as a tour guide in Mexico, explained that despite widespread dissatisfaction at these reforms, the government refuses to let up. The tent protest in the town centre is just one of many set up around the country, she has told me, which have fluctuated in size over the past seventeen years. Many of the teachers protesting were not able to continue working during the protest while attending the protest every day. When I asked her who was teaching the children while they were protesting, she smiled and said “exactly.”
A quick Google search will turn up multiple instances where the protests have flared up and turned violent, but Valeria says the many have gone unreported in western media over the years. Each time there have been a handful of deaths, but over seventeen years that now totals in the hundreds, maybe thousands. Many people have simply “gone missing”.
The government shows no signs of respecting the wishes of their people and letting up on these reforms. But likewise, the people show no signs of backing down, despite the danger to their personal wellbeing. I can only hope that people power has more perseverance than a corrupt government.