SPS in the News
December 8, 2006 Unrest in Oaxaca Hits Home - Skagit Valley Herald
By FRANNY WHITE Staff Writer
BIG LAKE - Abruptly removed from the arson fires, protest marches and overall unrest of the Mexican state of Oaxaca three days ago, Sierra Yri feels out of sorts. "I just feel so bad and almost sick to my stomach that I have this nice, big house and there are people in Mexico without electricity, shoes,
food," said Yri, 19. "I want to help so much." Yri, whose family moved to Big Lake four years ago from Monroe, had been in Oaxaca with 16 other University of Washington students since September
for a study abroad program there. But civil unrest in the southern Mexican state led the unversity to end the program two weeks early. Yri arrived home Wednesday.
The conflict began in June when Oaxacan Gov. Ulises Ruíz refused to give state teachers their usual annual pay increase. The situation has been especially tense since late October, when violent clashes between members of the leftist Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (APPO) and the Mexican
federal police led to government buildings being set afire.
At least nine people, including an American reporter, have been killed, and an estimated 60 protest supporters have gone missing amidst the violence. But Tony Giest, chair of UW's Spanish and Portuguese department, said no UW students were injured. About two weeks ago, while walking with a fellow American student, Yri got caught between APPO protesters and federal police. "We were terrified, and two Oaxaqueñas helped us get away," she wrote in an e-mail shortly before leaving Mexico. A picture of the blonde duo ducking out of harm's way that ran in the next day's newspaper, Las Noticias, called them "scared tourists." Streets in central Oaxaca were often barricaded by protesters, making it difficult to get around, she said. Even locals were afraid,Yri said. "A lot of the people definitely don't feel safe right now," she said. "One of our teachers, a Oaxaqueño, was constantly on the phone during class calling people to tell them not to go out." Her host mother, a member of Mexico's upper middle class who had a pension and didn't have to worry about money like Oaxaca's working poor, described the damage protesters were doing to their own town as "juvenile," Yri said. Having survived the unrest alongside the locals there, Yri said she feels a special connection with the people of Oaxaca. "I feel that my heart lives in two places, Oaxaca and Washington State," she said. "The Oaxacans have been so good to me."
Considering that many of Skagit County's Mexican immigrants come from Oaxaca, Yri said she feels for them. "I can't even imagine how it must be to live here and read about the terrible things happening there and not being able to do anything," she said.
Giest said the UW students learned a lot during their three months in Oaxaca. "It was like being in a living political science workshop," Giest said. "They were experiencing it firsthand." Being back home has been a shock for Yri. "I was in the mall and was just so overwhelmed in being shoved back into having to buy the right brand and hearing English," she said. "I broke down and cried."
With her new perspective, Yri feels compelled to help others. She's a premedical student and plans on using her Spanish while helping patients as a cardiologist. Once life in Oaxaca calms, she also wants to return there with her parents, Judy and Scott Yri, to share the town she now considers a second home.
Franny White can be reached at 360-416-2148 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.