From the moment I arrived in Oaxaca City I fell in love with this city’s beauty and friendliness. Expecting to ground my research with interviews and archival research, I have quickly realized that the city itself has offered some of the most stimulating and fascinating experiences. I came to Oaxaca in order to gain a better understanding of the COCEI political and social movement that began in Juchitan, Oaxaca in the 1970s. Even today, the cultural renaissance led by COCEI continues to promote Zapotec culture and language in Mexico through cultural centers and the works of prominent Zapotec artists, like Francisco Toledo who took a prominent leadership role in COCEI’s cultural projects. Internationally renowned, Francisco Toledo currently lives in Oaxaca City and has become a symbol of the democratization of art in the region; a process that places art at a juncture where politics, indigenous identity, and everyday life interact.
When I visited the recently opened children’s library in Oaxaca City I was delighted to find how this space not only features work by Toledo, but reflects a joint effort by artists, children, and the community to create a haven for learning and education specifically for children. I decided to see for myself after conversations with people that repeatedly led to praise for the BS Biblioteca Infantil de Oaxaca. When I walked in I immediately realized why this space has earned its place as a source of local pride. Built with the sponsorship of the Fundacion Harp Helu, the construction of the BS was contingent on the condition that no tree could be cut down in the process. As a result, the library building winds through shady trees and offers children and adults a space with a playroom, a computer room, discussion rooms, several reading rooms with large windows, and an outdoor garden space that inspired me to pick up a book and read for a while on a comfortable bench under a mango tree. Above all, several elements caught my attention. I first noticed a beautiful, turquoise fountain, sculpted by Toledo that features a well-rounded toad sprouting water. Turquoise, toads and water are all prominent symbols of fertility in Zapotec mythology, and therefore reminded me how even in this space that appears remote from my research, I can see continuing strands of the Zapotec Cultural Renaissance that began with COCEI’s leadership and Francisco Toledo’s prominent support. Second, I found thrilling how the library’s ceilings displayed black and white paintings by local children, a decision that serves to emphasize the significance of community and collaboration. In everything, the library seeks to stress “inclusion,” offering ample books in braille as well as reading workshops for the visually impaired. There is also no cost for its services and space, so absolutely anyone (even a curious student from NYU) can sit down and enjoy a book.
Posted by Sofia Huizar- MA Candidate at CLACS