Antiracist Travel Guide: Oaxaca

I know the Supremes are popping off on some WTF shit. And I know you’re inundated both with smart commentary on what the leak means and why we should be in arms. So I’m not going to repeat all that. Instead, I’m sharing what I’ve wanted to write you since I landed in Oaxaca, December 2021. 

Consider this your escape to Oaxaca. Simply said, Oaxaca is sacred.

As a guest and storyteller, I experienced so much beauty and time-transcendence I want to share. As someone traveling in from North America, I also experienced the raw and real pressures of what gentrification looks like when it’s shipped from North Philly or Oakland to some new shiny place in Mexico. 

Like any guest in a foreign land, I’m a student and observer first. 

Oaxaca is like no place I’ve ever been. I experienced so many seeming contradictions that live seemingly seamlessly next to each other. And then I saw patterns that reminded me of both America and South Africa. 

One friend, a life-long Oaxaqueña, described the parallels she sees between gentrification in U.S. cities and Oaxaca City:

  • Locals are increasingly shut out of public spaces they used to enjoy. My friend moved from Centro, which she could easily afford ten years ago, to a place on the southern outskirts of town. 
  • Covid is fueling a mass migration of mostly white “digital nomads” who are staying for longer and shifting the texture of everyday life. Oaxaca City is a relatively conservative mountain town. As hot as it is, many women run in long pants. And yet, as my friend pointed out, many white visitors don’t think twice about walking down the street in beach cover-ups and little else. 

Race-wise, the most pregnant distinction I observed was between indigenous Zapotec and Miztec folk and European/white-passing Mexicans. 

Again, my friend schooled me on the prevalence of colorism—whiteness remains supreme.

Cécile Smetana Baudier. She has a beautiful photo essay of Afro-Mexicans in The New Yorker.

I was reminded of my daily experiences in South Africa, where all the service providers are black with a black or usually white manager. And all the patrons, especially at the finest water cools, are overwhelmingly white. Likewise, in Oaxaca, most service people at the many places I visited were indigenous. The patrons were mixed at more affordable spots like food markets and neighborhood taquerias; that changed sharply in fancy mostly white-patron joints. 

And then, there was this other strange, Anglo-colonial thing. Bars/restaurant where just about everyone sounded American and spoke English. 

Another woman I met said something that again, struck a chord with me as a South African. She mentioned how in certain spaces, she almost feels funny or uncomfortable speaking Spanish. That there’s an expectation she should speak English. 

Throughout my life in South Africa, I’ve felt how my colonizers’  tongue—in this case English—has displaced me from my own land. I’m also in constant dialog with how English is weaponized against black Africans as a class-barrier; you can’t land certain jobs or enter certain spaces without that private school English as your unspoken passport. 

Ok, Magogodi, focus. Back to Oaxaca. 

Next week, my Top 5 places you must visit. Clue–they all have an antiracist tie in and I promise you, they’re all chock full of Joy!


p.s. take care of yourself in this Roe/Wade battle

Mind your energy. Listen with your body. And not only for what’s at stake for you, but for the most vulnerable women and girls among us. The ones who can’t just leave their state and get an abortion in the North. The ones who aren’t named/seen in this debate but might be condemned by decisions. And stay in your body. Its both the frontline of this fight and the storage place of whatever you need to work through in processing this moment.

p.s.s. follow me on IG, I post plenty Oaxaca snaps and adventures in stories

p.s.s. my momma sent this to me and you know mommas aint never wrong: