The Conquest and The Great Escape | Gustavo Esteva (Unitierra Oaxaca)
On this episode, our guest is Gustavo Esteva, a "deprofessionalized" social activist, author, and elder. I sat down with Gustavo in his house on the edge of a small Zapotec town to discuss the legacy of tourism in Oaxaca, how tourism is an extension of the colonization of the Americas, and the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. We touch on the differences between tourists and immigrants and the crushing realities of modern and urban, capitalist living.
Gustavo is the co-founder of La Universidad de la Tierra (the University of the Earth) and the Center for Intercultural Encounters and Dialogues, located in Oaxaca, Mexico. He has authored and edited over 40 books, including "Grassroots Postmodernism: Remaking the Soil of Cultures" and "Escaping Education: Living as Learning within Grassroots Cultures," and "the Future of Development: A Radical Manifesto."
I first met Gustavo in 2015 at the Unitierra Oaxaca in southern Mexico. I had long heard incredible stories of Gustavo through a protege of his, Michael Sacco, a close friend and the founder of ChocoSol Traders in Toronto, Canada. Like Michael, I was invited into the philosophies and lived expressions of interculturality, hospitality, and local resilience that Gustavo and his work so deeply embodies.
Part 1 is entitled, "The Conquest and the Great Escape."
Part 2, which we will release at the beginning of January, is entitled, "A World Where Many Worlds Belong."
Arriving in Oaxaca 30 years ago…
What is the University of the Earth (Unitierra / Universidad de la Tierra)?
Deschooling in Oaxaca
The invention of Oaxaca in 1928 and the Guelaguetza Fiesta
The invasion of tourism and the shifting sands of Oaxaca
Tourist desires / fighting against McDonalds in Oaxaca
Impact of tourism on traditional hospitality / 500 years of conquest
International Forum on Indigenous Tourism in 2002 / Oaxaca Declaration
Community-led tourism in Oaxaca
Reflections and responses to the COVID-19 pandemic in Oaxaca
The vacation as an escape from the prison of daily life
Tourism and immigration in and from Oaxaca
The peril of cities, water, and gentrification at the hands of tourism
Chris: Welcome to the show, Gustavo.
Gustavo: Hi Chris. Good to see you.
Chris: We usually start the show by asking our guests if they would be willing to offer our listeners a little understanding of where we find ourselves today and where we find ourselves in the world and perhaps in our lives as well.
Gustavo: I have really the privilege that in this, that is one of the worst moments in human history, I am in a very good moment because apparently I will finally have the opportunity to process my stuff. I have published a lot of books and essays and articles, but most of what I have written in the course of my life is still unpublished and dispersed and it requires revision and polishing and I've been promising myself for almost 20 years to do that.
And I have been unable to do that. And this is apparently the moment in which I will finally be able to do that.
Chris: When I look forward to that and, you know, over the years I've been honored to hear you speak and to read many of those writings as well that have not been published as of yet. So, I very much look forward to that and may there be something for our listeners as well in the time to come that they might read a little more of your work.
Gustavo: Great. In time I will have a webpage where I told him all that stuff. I will publish a few books, but basically we have most of the stuff in the web.
Chris: Well, I'll make sure that as soon as that website shows up in the world that it'll be ready for our listeners and for the world as well via the end of tourism.
Chris: So here we are in Oaxaca, in San Pablo Etla and you know, you've been here in Oaxaca for at least a few decades now.
Gustavo: Yes. In a sense, it is my whole life because I settled here the last 30 years, but I was coming since when I was a child, because my family comes from here and I was coming to visit my Zapotec grandmother, to this place when I was eight years old or something like that.
Chris: Since you returned to Oaxaca and over the course of the previous decades, many have come to know you as an elder and a vanguard for the social movements here in the state. During that time you founded the Unitierra or the Universidad de la Tierra - the University of the Earth. Could you tell us a bit about how that organization came into being and how it has evolved since then?
Gustavo: Yeah, it is very interesting.
In fact, because we had already, one small organization, basically for, intercultural dialogue and trying to see how we can interact people of different cultures and learning that it is not just to talk. It's not just conversation. It's not trying to have a kind of understanding, but doing things together. Then in the 90's I was involved with, with many people in different communities, participating with them in different activities, trying to learn how to interact, how to create interculturality as a reality not as a dream or a possibility, but something we can really interact in the real.
And then in that same kind of situation, I was participating in uh, indigenous state forum that met periodically to present publicly one idea or one position, one proposal to the society. And after one year of discussion in assemblies in the communities, their forum declared in 1997, "the school has been the main tool of the state to destroy the indigenous people."
And that it was of course, an historical truth. That was how in the 19th century they created education, that educational system to de-Indianized Indians. That was the purpose of the system of education. The majority of the people in that time were Indians in Mexico. And then they wanted to de-Indianize them. To be an Indian was a problem for the government in that time.
And then they wanted through education to de-Indianize the indigenous people. And in a sense, they succeeded with many millions of people that enter the educational system as indigenous people and came out as something different... very strange that we don't know exactly what it is. But then at the one point, many indigenous people survive it, that process.
And, uh, in 1997, they said "enough," said, "enough is enough." We don't want more of this. And some communities had started to close the school. You can imagine the reaction front page in the papers, "these barbarians, they are dooming their children to ignorance." This cannot be the autonomy. We need to do something. And they put a lot of pressure on them and some communities survived, resisted the pressure.
Then after two or three years, one very good anthropologist, very well known in Wahaca, Oaxaca to teach a lesson to the parents. And then he prepared some tests to compare children going to the school with children not going to the school, to tell the parents this is what you are doing, your poor children, leaving them behind.
For his surprise and the surprise of everyone, after the tests were applied, the children not going to the school knew better how to cultivate the milpa and how to be in the community and to participate in the fiestas and everything. They were very well rooted in their communities. They were better in everything that is school supposedly teaches. They were better in reading, writing, arithmetic, and geography or history, meaning that in their homes, in the community, they were learning in freedom better than in this school with one exception.
The children going into the school knew how to sing the national anthem. The others don't. That was their only advantage. That illustrates very well the idea of the school, the idea of education that was created with a nation-state, another service of the nation-state. But these same communities with whom we were working were very happy with this outcome.
After some time they came with us and express it, their concern. What will happen with our, our young men and women that want to continue their studies about something that no one in the community knows because they don't have any diploma. They will not be able to continue studying outside the community. And then with them, and for them, we created Unitierra. It's a coalition of indigenous and non-indigenous people where young men and women from the communities can come to Unitierra and learn whatever they want to learn. They don't need any diploma and they will not get diplomas. We offered them a diploma of Unitierra, but we are not registered. We don't have teachers. We don't have courses.
We don't have curriculum. We adopted the principle of learning by doing. And then if young men comes and we say that they must have more than 18 years old and knew how to read and write before coming to Unitierra. Then if someone comes and said, I want to become an agrarian lawyer we will send him the next day with an agrarian lawyer and he will learn how to be an agrarian lawyer, being an agrarian lawyer.
Doing the job, doing the activities every day, of course, with the support of some books and some consultations, et cetera. In our experience, a young man can come and become a very good agrarian lawyer. After more or less 18 months, he knows nothing about CB law, penal law, labor law, all the different branches of law, but he knows everything he needs to know to present the case in, in a court. That will be the proof that he's ready, that he presents a case in the court and wins it.
And then he's ready to participate, to become an agrarian lawyer. Then usually when these young men come for that purpose is basically for protection of their own communities. They are in trouble, they have agrarian problems. They have been always, abused by lawyers and then they want to have the preparation to defend their communities.
And that, that is exactly what they get. And our first generation of students destroyed the remains of a curriculum. The most popular area was "popular communication." They wanted, of course the young people want to have a radio and to learn about that kind of things. Then we say something, well, in the first year they need to produce a pamphlet, to produce a radio program, to produce a video, to learn different kinds of things. All of them, at one point I stopped it and said, "all this is my life, this is exactly what I want to do." For example, one guy decided "video is my thing. I don't want to learn any other thing, but video. I want to do video the rest of my life."
And by the way, he's the best video producer in Oaxaca today. He has dedicated all his life to video and he produced all kinds of videos. And he is a very very good video producer. He's an artist and he even won national awards because of his production. This is the kind of things.
After a few years, we discovered that some young people could not come to the city of Oaxaca where we are because they did not have family or friends here. And then they don't have the money to pay for food and lodgement. And then we decided to go to the communities that was Chris, a real blessing that changed the nature of Unitierra.
We have started to go to the communities to learn with them what they want to learn. It can be something very simple. For example, we don't have water. We need to do something because there is not enough water. Even when it rains it is not enough. And then we go with the commission of them. We go to another community where they have solved that problem. And then they see the technology or whatever, and they say, oh yes, that is exactly what we need. Then we learn with them, how to do that in the community.
Sometimes the problem is a little more complex. They tell us, "well because of the current situation in Oaxaca and in Mexico and in the world, our young men and women cannot continue their studies. They can not because we don't have resources to support them. And they cannot find any kind of job, even as waiters in the restaurant.
They cannot find how to produce their own their own life. And they cannot migrate to the United States anymore. And then they are tempted by the cartels and the criminals. They start with a little assault here, a little assault there. And then after some time, they enter into the world of, of crime.
We need to stop that, but we don't know what to do. And then we work with them. We learn with them how to create an alternative for the young people. Of course, that's not easy. That is not like the problem of water and that just building some technology, it is something different, more complex. And that is what we learn with them, how to deal with their daily problems and learning with them, um, how to live in this very difficult time in the world.
Chris: Well, it's an incredible legacy that you've founded here. And, uh, I'm very honored to have been witness to it for the last five or six years here in Oaxaca. May it continue to grow in a good way. Yeah. Speaking of Oaxaca, we all know very well here that, uh, this, the city at the very least, if not many of the towns in the state have, for a long time, been tourist destinations. But in the last maybe five or six years that it has become over touristed.
Given the fact that your grandmother lived here and you know, you've been living here permanently for the last few decades. How have you seen the city and its people and it's culture change over time as a result of tourism.
Gustavo: Well, I will say very clearly that there are two different phases. One is the invention of Oaxaca around 1928. Oaxaca was a wide collection of the different people, different cultures, andthere was not something like the Oaxacan spirit or the Oaxaca tradition. And then there was a moment in which the Mexican government was trying to unify the Mexicans, uh, after the revolution.
After the revolution, they were very different revolutionary factions in Mexico. And then they created these very famous party, the first incarnation of the dominant party that governed in a very authoritarian way for the next 70 years in Mexico. In 1928 they we're trying to do something similar in every state and in a very real sense. It was the invention of Oaxaca and the first time that they created something like political parties, really a real political party in Oaxaca It had 37 different factions because there were many different ideas and ideologies and interests and projections.
And of course there are many different cultures of Oaxaca. And then they decided to do something for unification. In 1928, they invented the Fiesta of the Guelaguetza. That "Guelaguetza" was a very old tradition. For centuries, the different peoples of Oaxaca came together to this specific hill in the city of Oaxaca for a traditional celebration and exchange.
They were bringing what every people were producing. Pineapples or coffee or different kinds of things. They were bringing for exchange. It was not selling. It was a really exchanged as a gift for the others, for the other peoples. It was the traditional celebration in which the people came together for that exchange.
And then they decided to transform that into a special celebration, in a formal celebration to unify Oaxaca, to bring dancers and to bring a lot of things for that celebration that was trying to create a unifying spirit. I would say that that campaign was very successful. That today you can talk about Oaxaca and many people are very proud of being people from Oaxaca.
"Oaxaqueno" is something very important than there are many 300,000 in California that are very proud of being Oaxaquenos. And it is something that many people say, yes, I am Mixtec, but I am Mixtec of Oaxaca. And that, that is something to be proud of.
There is something like Oaxaca's gastronomy that is very famous and very appreciated. There are some clothes, some specific huipiles that are very Oaxaca. And then there are many things that are now associated with Oaxaca and Oaxaca accepts. At the beginning, it became that Guelaguetza, very important touristic attraction, but it was not a massive flow of tourists.
It was just, some of them were coming in July for the celebration and it became a tradition and then they created hotels for them. Oaxaca, in that time, was a very small city. It has almost no hotels and then those were created in the thirties to host this small amount of tourists coming every year and then staying, and then also started to come in December for all the fiestas of the city of Oaxaca. But it was not a massive flow tourists.
They really did not affect the situation of the city and the condition that the city was still for the people of Oaxaca, not for tourists. I have seen that a precise change in the last 30 years. Still, when I came 30 years ago, the city was our city.
Um, you see the main plaza, our "Zocalo," was basically occupied by the people of Oaxaca. Many people living in Oaxaca, they were crossing the Zocalo every day, even if it was not necessary for their activities to go to the Zocalo. There was kind of, of deviation of the normal path to be in the Zocalo, to enjoy the Zocalo, to enjoy our Plaza. It was really our plaza. It was one space in common that we enjoy together. And that was really Oaxaca.
We had a very conservative class and that was great. They owned the historical center and because they were very conservative, they established some rules. For example, you cannot build a building of more than three floors, these kinds of things. And they protected all the constructions of the, the time of the colonial period. And it was really very beautiful, one of the most beautiful cities of Mexico and of the world in fact and very very well protected, very well conserved because of the conservative class owning it.
Then in the last 30 years, that kind of a spirit, that kind of condition began to be destroyed because the city was transformed in a city for tourists. And then we had massive flow tourists every year, particularly two moments: in July during the summer time and in December we have been literally invaded by tourists.
Step by step, the people in the city started to changed their activities. We could see that last year, when the pandemic closed the city for tourists, and there was no tourists coming. And suddenly, it was not only the waiters of the restaurants or the people working in their hotels, but thousands and thousands producing handicrafts for the tourists, organizing some services, that the whole city was living for the tourists.
This also effected us in different ways. It was changing habits. Let me give you one example. One of our last struggles to protect our city was when they decided to put the McDonald's in the Zocalo, in our main plaza. That was not acceptable. There was already McDonald's near the airport, but not in our plaza, not in the main plaza.
And then it was all the classes in the city of Oaxaca. We were there with Francisco Toledo, sharing some tamales in the plaza and a really very fantastic movement. And then we succeeded and we stopped that. Even you had already the arch. That is how we discovered that the McDonald's.
Chris: The golden arches.
Gustavo: Yes. And then we discovered it and then we stopped it. And then there, there was no McDonald's in the Zocalo. Yes, we protected that, but we could not stop McDonald's. And so then there were several McDonald's and then it was not only for tourists, but also contaminated people of the city of Oaxaca, that despite our fantastic gastronomy, our incredible plates of every kind of things, they were going to McDonald's and you could see young people fascinated with my McDonald's. Today we have been also invaded by pizza and sushi, and you can see all around Oaxaca pizza and pizzerias and sushi restaurants.
That is for me, a kind of offense for this city, with that incredible richness of our gastronomy. But this is the effect of tourism. That is one of the traditional signs, elements.
Tourism is one of the last expressions of colonialism. It is a colonial occupation of places.
And because they want to attract the tourists, they adapt the cities and the traditions and everything for the tourists. And the tourists, most of them are asking for the kinds of things they are used to. It's very strange. It's a fundamental contradiction. They're supposedly coming for something different, but they want something of the kind of thing they are used to.
They want the hamburger. They want the kind of things they're eating at home. And then, they impose that tradition, they impose that kind of behavior because of money, because of the economy of tourism. The society is transformed to have an income from the tourists. Then, we accept that position of servants of the tourist.
And then part of our dignity is sacrificed for the tourists. Then we change our ways of life. We change our activities, our creative activities, our gastronomy, almost everything at the service of tourists.
I think that one of the worst impacts is in our traditional hospitality. I think the tradition of hospitality is really a very old tradition. I think most human beings, historically, has been hospitable, that there is in every people, they have different traditions of how to express hospitality, how to host the the foreigner, how to express a kind of affection and respect for the foreigner when he or she comes to your place. And that was clearly, in any case, our tradition, the tradition of the people itself of what we call today, Mexico.
And what we have seen in 500 years is clearly the abuse of hospitality, how that hospitality was systematically abused. We have, of course, the classical example that Moctezuma was hosting with all his capacity, Cortez. He was, Cortez, hosted in the palace of Moctezuma, and he took Moctezuma prisoner in his own palace.
And that was typically an abuse of hospitality. And then we have 500 years of abuses. We have hosted all kinds of gods, technologies, products, commodities, all kinds of things. And every time they become an abuse of our hospitality and they destroy our things to impose things that are not as good as our own things.
And because the people started to see that kind of things in Oaxaca they started to establish something that is a contradiction with hospitality, that is a denial of hospitality that means imposing rules and limits to the tourists. Some communities in Oaxaca that were very attractive for tourists, that many tourists were coming and at one point they said, no, this is not possible.
And then they said, okay, we will organize the things for certain number of tourists, no more than this specific number. In one community which they allow only 10 at the same time. In another community it is only 40, it is bigger. They can accept 40 tourists, but no more than 40 tourists.
If you have for the 41, they say, "no, sir, you cannot come." "You can come later, but not now because we have the limit." And they establish the very moment they enter the city. In one specific place, they tell the person, "you cannot throw in the street, anything, not even your cigarette after smoking it, there are specific places where you can throw anything."
And, and it is a very, very clean village because they have many rules for the behavior of the tourists. They organize a specific ways for visiting the village. It's not what the tourists decide, but it is what the community decide. This is really a contradiction of hospitality. That is not really hospitality. In hospitality, you open yourself and you open your place for the foreigner. In this case, they're saying, no, we cannot be open. You need to adapt to certain rules and we will put some limits in your behaviour.
You cannot do whatever you want, but there are very clear limits for you behavior because usually the tourists feel they can do anything they want, they come with this in mind. They have this construction in the mind that is to be a tourist, to do whatever you want to do. And then they, they are incredibly destructive. And then we, we applied in many communities these specific rules. This was not the case in the city of Oaxaca. That The destruction continued in the city in many different ways. Hmm.
Chris: Well, it's something that came up in my research for this episode was that almost 20 years ago here in Oaxaca there was a international forum on Indigenous Tourism.
There was indigenous people from 13 countries and from 21 states in Mexico taking part in order to learn from one another, how they might be able to engage in some kind of community led tourism.
I have a couple notes here that I'm just going to read for our listeners regarding the conclusions of some of the groups in that meeting;
They forged what was called the Oaxaca declaration, and it acknowledged indigenous peoples as internationally recognized holders of collective and human rights with the rights and responsibilities to their own territories and the processes of tourism planning, implementation, and evaluation.
The second point of the declaration indicated that tourism is beneficial for indigenous communities only when it is based on and enhances self-determination. A third point states that indigenous peoples must be the natural resource and wildlife managers of their environments.
A final recommendation stated that indigenous peoples must establish and strengthen strategies of coordination and information sharing both regionally and internationally.
That is an indigenous tourism network in order to assert participation in initiatives, such as these.
The Oaxaca Declaration also underscored the need to respect and implement internationally recognized rights and stress the need for active indigenous participation in policy development and in receiving equitable share of the derived benefits. So that was 20 years ago.
Gustavo: I was there, Chris.
Chris: I imagined, I imagined!
Gustavo: I was one of the organizers of that meeting. That was very important for us and very, very close friends, indigenous people coming from different countries. And for us, it was fantastic, really great. It was kind of fiesta, Chris, to share the same problem, discussing the same kind of problems and then how should we limit our hospitality and not allow this behavior and trying to change things.
But I would say something that I think is important. 20 years ago, we still had some hope that the governments at the national international level will do something. And then we were presenting claims and we we're presenting massive claims in Mexico and in other parts, to say, "we need some laws, we need some regulations. We need to establish some limits to this operation. We need some international rules to define these kinds of things."
Today, we know that, that was some illusion that the governments that are associated with the corporations, you do know better than I, that a few corporations own the tourists. And they moved the tourists from one place to the other, according with their interests every year. They are collaborating in this destruction of the planet and destruction of cultures and the destruction of everything. They in a very real sense control the governments. They have, in most cases, the governments at their service. They are not protecting the interests of the people, but the interests of these corporations.
And it has been literally impossible to create something that is a decent, social regulation of this kind of operation. We don't believe that our governments or international institutions will present a real solution for this and many other problems.
And then we have no w, the whole thing in our hands which in a sense is better and a lot more effective. As our communities have been demonstrating, the communities themselves, the system of government at the level of the community can really implement effective regulation of tourism.
There are some communities, very, very well-protected in Oaxaca from the tourist invasion. They're, in a sense, is still hospitable and they can invite you and you can come and they can be open and be hospitable within certain limits. Now it's said, if we can say these contradiction in terms, it is regulated hospitality.
Chris: Wow. And so at least, in that sense, the communities and the people in the communities, if they succeed or if they fail, at least they're responsible for their successes or their failures. Yes.
Gustavo: And they can learn. They see, they took a decision. That was the wrong decision. They learn. This is, perhaps, the best example in Mexico and the world is the Zapatistas' theory of praxis.
Theory is praxis and praxis is theory. They take a decision and after doing this, they have a reflection. What happened? How was it? Was good? Was bad? What is the outcome? And then they can change and modify their own behavior, their own rules by themselves.
Chris: And so in that, in that context of indigenous or community led tourism after the Oaxaca Declaration, after 20 years, do you think, from the community's point of view, that they have succeeded in trying to transform tourism through limits? What's been your experience?
Gustavo: In some communities it is a total success. Yes. Some communities have been able to really have a control of this operation and, even in a very real sense, they have succeeded in controlling the flow of tourists regularly. Because those that come to those communities, they really enjoyed the experience, in spite of the limitations.
At the first moment, they are not so happy. It's very strange for them to have this regulation, but after seeing what happens, they are really hosted beautifully and they can really enjoy the real community, what the communities is, what it has in terms of nature and in terms of the social organization, et cetera.
And they really enjoyed this period. So they share the information with others and then they, these communities are having, even during the pandemic time, some people coming to visit them because this is good for everyone. And this is an kind of arrangement that is good for everyone. In the case during the pandemic, they imposed even more controls.
They had many communities closed in Oaxaca because of the pandemic and did not allow foreigners to come in, but in certain cases where they have all their rules well-established, they have rules for accepting some foreigners under certain conditions. Then because they have this experience and then they have some successes and very, very clear successes in protecting the community, protecting major, predicting the life of the people in the village and they now have emulated one experience in that direction.
Unfortunately, I don't see that in the city of Oaxaca. In the city of Oaxaca, the pandemic represented really a tragedy for many, many thousands of people. It was really not only those in hotels and restaurants that were many of them were closed, but those having a whole life associated with tourists. I think we need to associate these with this happening in the world.
And I am afraid that after the situation of the pandemic that deprived many people of the possibility of traveling and that they wanted to travel, but they were not allowed to do to do that. There is a kind of anxiety. We can see in the following months an explosion of tourists, but I have the feeling, or at least the hope, that this will be not permanent.
It was just the explosion. We are having many, many forms of this explosion. After the confinement, many people are going to the street just to go to the street, just to have a feeling of freedom.
I am sure that we will have something like an explosion. We are already seeing it in some moments and some areas, an explosion of tourism. But my hope is that tradition of tourism, as one element of life that became, for many people around the Earth, the way of escaping the prison of daily life. That after suffering months of working like mad not only 40 hours a week, but more than 40 hours a week.
A job that perhaps you don't like, but that perhaps you even hate, but that is what you need to do to survive. Then when the idea of the vacation comes, it is a principle of escaping from that prison. And then you want to go as far as possible from that prison. In some places, it has some element of interest, that is a kind of civilization.
You have Europe, when for two months, the life is paralyzed. Everybody is in vacation. And then a whole thing is the different kind of life is created in those two months. It is not necessarily damaging. It is not necessarily destructive that kind. That vacation is not typical tourism. It is. traditional visits to certain places. Traditional ways of life that are for the summer in Europe. Of course, there are also the usual things, but in Europe the summer is something different. It's now part of a tradition, part of a way of life and something that the people in Europe protects like mad. They are ready to fight like mad to protect these holidays, these two months of holidays.
This is not the same in other places like the United States, where they have the schedule of days and weeks where they can go for a trip and they escape. Many people are escaping in the most stupid way for three days, traveling a thousand miles for just three days of being in another place, literally escaping from the prison of the daily life.
And then part of this is that, because they are escaping from prison, they feel the need to do in the other place, the place they are visiting, many things that cannot be allowed in their own place. That can be very stupid, very offensive, very inappropriate, immoral, aggressive, et cetera, et cetera.
They are in a process of liberation for all the strings attached it to their own daily life, in their own places. And then they have very bad behavior as tourists, temporary tourists, in many different places. In many cases, moved by the corporation. The corporations made some arrangements with local hotels, local restaurants that have high proportion of the profits for the corporations, telling them if you don't accept my conditions, I will not bring tourists the next season.
And literally they do that. Suddenly, Cancun or Puerto Vallarta can be without tourists because the corporations move the tourists to another place where it is more profitable for them. Then I think that whole thing may collapse, that perhaps one year, two years after that explosion, people are learning, they are recovering a way of life.
Even trying to escape from the prison in their own place. Part of the problem, I, I must say I will not celebrate, Chris, this because today it means suffering for many millions of people. They lost their jobs, they lost their source of income and they will not recover them. Never. They are discovering this now and some of them are hungry, some of them are suffering a lot of miseries. They are forced to reinvent themselves, to create other way of life. And because of this, because this very impressive change in the conditions of living (in the whole world), my hope is that the people will find, in their own place, the opportunities to live without a prison, to live a different kind of life. And they will visit their own place, their forests that they have in their own place without needing to move far away to escape from that prison. That is my hope that the classic, typical flow of tourists that defines it and the situation before the pandemic will not come back.
We are seeing even this in the rearrangement of the whole system of the lives. Of course, the whole thing collapsed in 2020. They are now in the process of recovery, but they are not back in the situation before 2020. I must say many corporations before the pandemic, they learn to have virtual meetings instead of physical meetings. There was already a trend of many corporations of having virtual meetings instead of physical meetings. And that suppresses a lot of traffic.
That was a different kind of tourism. And the people moving for corporate meetings, they were already also doing some kind of tourism when they were visiting another city. But that was also suppressed even before the pandemic and more with the pandemic. Many corporations had been suppressing offices because they can have now all the people who work in their home and they, they had their virtual meetings instead of physical meetings.
And then that will change. I think. That is my hope, the mobility in the world, with one aspect that we must consider as something radically different. I think that migration will continue. That is not tourism. The migrants are going to settle. It's no longer temporary migration. In Mexico, we had very old tradition of temporary migration.
The brazeros were going to California for two, three months, every year in a very stable way for the people in California, for the people in Mexico. That was a temporary migration. That was just finding a job, an interesting job in another place, a very well-paid job. And that was very good. In a very real sense I saw this. I had that physical experience of a person coming back from California and telling the family.
"Now we have the money for the whole year. We are free and we can do anything we want." And of course, what they were doing is not just, uh, doing nothing. They were cultivating the milpa, repairing the house. They were very active in these nine months, but they did not have any more, any kind of economic pressure. They have enough money for the whole year with these three months of work.
That was a temporary migration, very positive for both parties. The farmers in California were getting very good labor force to protect the crop or for specific activities in a very convenient way.
This is not case today. What do we have? It is massive migration. Perhaps Subcommandante Marcos is right. That perhaps in a few years we will have something like a third of the people on the world as migrants. Wow. That as much as that number. Some places are approaching that fear. We are seeing this even in central America and some countries in Africa. There is a really massive migration and not only because of the war in Syria. We have mass immigration because of the wars there. It is countries that are not at war or have internal wars, civil wars. But many other cases in which the physical and economic conditions are destroyed.
Part of this is because of climate collapse. In many places, people can no longer survive because of the collapse of the physical conditions and natural conditions they had, and they are forced to migrate. In many other cases, it is economic, social, political conditions that force them to migrate. Then we will have massive migration, but I will not call it that tourism.
It is a reaccommadation of the people for different kinds of conditions. In a very real sense, the migrant, in many cases, is protecting the place more than the locals. They try to arrive and to create a place for them and for the rest in indifferent conditions.
Chris: Yeah. How do you think we come to this dynamic of movement in a way that acknowledges escape? Right? You mentioned that tourism is a kind of escapism and for most of my twenties, this is what I did. I was a part-time escapee or tourist or backpacker. That was the underlying reason for my travel, even though I very much wanted to learn about others cultures. I wanted to experience ruins and forests and the natural world, but at the end of the day, it was really a result of not being able to thrive in the economic system that I was living under.
In your book, grassroots postmodernism, you tell a story of your time Tepoztlan, a small town about an hour's drive south of Mexico city. You speak of the hospitality of the Tepozteco people and how their fierce resistance to conquest is the very thing that keeps their hospitality alive. You wrote, "the Tepoztecos and Tepoztecas succeeded in stopping the project designed by developers to rapidly transport millions of tourists to their sacred mountain from Mexico City in 20 minutes or less. They were denounced as foolish for losing the train that could have fully quote "incorporated" them into one of the most modern cities in the world."
Your book was written in 1998. Some 15 years later, I passed through Tepoztlan on my way to Oaxaca from Mexico City. I spent only a few days there, but while I was there, I experienced what I considered to be this very hospitality you wrote about. But on my way out of town on a Friday afternoon, the road leading out was empty and the road leading in was packed full of cars with tourists from Mexico City. Since then, I've heard that it's only gotten worse, this urban escapism, gentrification, and exoticization of Tepoztlan. How can we approach the cancerous growth of cities and our shrinking capacity to live in them in a way that doesn't abandon the skill of home, that is by leaving it?
Gustavo: I would like to say two things. One is how, Tepoztlan, in spite of that massive occupation every weekend, they have still these thousands and thousands of cars and tens of thousands of people coming to this small village and how they have organized it to protect their life. They still have their own life.
They still have their own way. They put some limits to this flow of tourists and then they have ways to control what is happening. Yes, they're invaded then the life, their normal life is impossible Saturday and Sunday. But it is interesting how they are accommodating this invasion, making it part of the life and protecting them.
Still, you have the Tepozteco. Still, you have the mountain there and they're still protect their own things in their own, in their own way, in a very interesting way. And on the other side, I would say that the beauty leaves in a monster of 25 million people, life is impossible. No matter what you do, you have so many still beautiful neighborhoods, places where you can have something like a good life in that monster.
But for most of these 25 million, life, it's terrible. It is impossible. No matter what you do, no matter if you have a good job or money, if you don't need to work, still, to live today in that monster is a horror.
You have still in Mexico city people that work for eight hours and they spent four hours going, coming and going from the job. And then you have daily journey, 14 hours because those four hours in public transportation, or even in your own car, it's the horror. It is really impossible.
Then I can very well imagine that a they want to escape as much as possible every week. Not, not only in longer periods of vacation, but every week they want to have another possibility. And then there you have around Mexico city, a lot of places like Tepoztlan, where the people go.
In fact, in Cuernavaca, that very big city, now near Tepoztlan. Cuernavaca is now a weekend home of a million people in Mexico City, meaning that Cuernavaca becomes during the weekend twice the size because many people in Mexico City built a house or bought a house in Cuernavaca and they are going there to spend the weekend.
That is the normal life for them to have a life in Cuernavaca because they cannot have the life in their own place in Mexico City. And then I can imagine that and of course, I think everybody knows that the only solution for that specific problem is to abandon Mexico city, to reduce Mexico city. You cannot have a decent life with 25 million people and they are destroying everything.
They will not have water. They know they will not have oxygen. They will not have anything. In a real sense, that process is already happening. During the last 15-20 years, more people are leaving Mexico City than the people that are coming in.
The flow of people to and from Mexico City has clearly inverted, in the same way that I started to do that thirty years ago and then I abandoned it at their 50 years of living in Mexico city. I was born there and I enjoyed many things to Mexico City for 50 years. After 50 years, I abandoned that Mexico City. Thousands and thousands are abandoning Mexico City and other big cities. That is already happening. I think that the big cities will be abandoned and it is impossible to keep them going.
Right now, they are suffering a lot on trying to decide what to do because they are in trouble with water. The main source of water for Mexico City is collapsing, and then they will not have enough water to bring to Mexico City. And then that, that is the real crisis, a very serious crisis. And there are not clear solutions for that.
Chris: Yeah, I've heard similar things from some scientists friends here in Oaxaca that the water crisis basically ensures that people will be forced to leave their homes and forced to find new places to live. It seems the flow of water is predicated on the flow of people and in Oaxaca, tourism seems to be an enduring cause of drought.
The entitlement of tourists means they almost certainly use too much and of course the hotels and Airbnb owners do little to stop it once they're confronted with the customer service prisons, they're locked up in. So, more tourism equals less water equals more tension and strife and migration.
Eventually this builds up. People started looking for someone to blame. And the foreigner is often the easiest culprit. Some might blame the local government or even themselves, but by that point it's often far too late. Local hospitality can turn into local hostility and that's where I'd like to go next, uh, towards hospitality, if that's all right with you, Gustavo.
Gustavo: Please, please.