Tag Archives: Kary vannice

Look to the Walls

By Kary Vannice

One of the things you’ll notice when traveling in Latin America is that you don’t have to look far to find out what’s on the minds of the people who live there. All you have to do is read the walls.

By definition, graffiti is “a form of visual communication, usually illegal, involving the unauthorized marking of public space by an individual or group.” But graffiti is more and more becoming understood as an expressive art form as well. And municipalities here in Mexico are using it to send messages of public health and safety, encouragement and acknowledgement during the current global pandemic.

San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, has recently sponsored a movement of young artists to create larger-than-life murals to encourage its citizens to mask up and take precautions in an effort to stop the spread of the deadly coronavirus. The Director of Culture and Traditions invited local street artists between the ages of 14 and 25 to participate in a city-wide muralist workshop. Various buildings and walls were designated in strategic areas throughout San Miguel to serve as their canvas for creating powerful PSAs for the people living near them or passing by.

The workshop featured two well-known and accomplished graffiti artists who designed the murals and then acted as mentors to younger artists who apprenticed under them, perfecting their technique while bringing the designs to life.

Luckily for San Miguel residents, the two have very different artistic styles, which makes the murals distinct and meaningful in their own unique ways. One artist, Juce, focused on honoring the many men and women who have contributed to the safety and well-being of all Mexicans, by featuring health care workers, supply-chain employees carrying boxes of safety equipment and even the general public wearing masks. He named the work “The triumph of society and work over a pandemic.”

The other artist, Persak, choose a more artistic approach, literally, designing three enormous murals of the Mona Lisa, Van Gogh and even Mexico’s own Frida Kahlo, all wearing masks.

San Miguel is not alone in leveraging street art as a public and popular way of encouraging Mexicans to participate in the effort to slow the coronavirus. Recently the news outlet El Universal featured Sergio Morales, known as Applezman, a Mexico City street artist who has also been spraying his visual messages along the city’s metro lines. One huge mural features Capitan America, Iron Man, Batman and Spiderman, all flanking a Mexican female nurse in scrubs and a mask. The tagline above it reads A Las Héroes de Verdad, Gracias (To the real heroes, thank you). It is significant in Spanish that the artist wrote “Las” Héroes and not “Los” Héroes. By using the feminine article (las) he is speaking about women, in this case nurses, as the true heroes of the pandemic here in Mexico.

When asked about the mural, Applezman said, “The image is of the nurse because they are the ones who are protecting us, not the National Guard or the Army; they will do so at their due time, but now, the honor is for these doctors and nurses, and everyone who is fighting.”

When questioned about how he hopes his art is affecting the people of Mexico City, he said, “Sometimes we think seeing is believing, but I only tell them to take care of themselves because sometimes those who don’t believe are the ones who fall. We know that everyone can get infected, ourselves, or our colleagues; that’s why I ask people to follow the rules. There are people who are against the system but that is not a reason to not take care of their own health and their families.”

An interesting message from a graffiti artist, someone many in our society would see as “against the system” himself.

It seems, in the time of coronavirus, factions who would have once stood against each other, municipalities and graffiti artists, have found a way to come together to send a message of hope, encouragement and gratitude. And at the same time made our bleak world more colorful and our outlook for the future a bit brighter.

A Muffled Cry for Independence

By Kary Vannice

Several years ago, at midnight on September 15th, I stood misty eyed in the zócalo of San Miguel de Allende as thousands of Mexicans reenacted “el Grito,” the cry for independence that occurred in Dolores de Hidalgo in 1810, just 40 kilometers from where I stood. This famous “call to arms” to rise up against Spanish rule is acted out in cities and towns all across Mexico annually.

And this was exactly what brought tears to my eyes, the effect of thousands of Mexicans joyously singing their national anthem. I had never before felt that kind of national pride. My countrymen have long since turned their Independence Day into a commercial affair and an excuse to party with pyrotechnics. It has lost its meaning to capitalism and the almighty dollar. In all my years, never once have I experienced Americans singing the Star Spangled Banner in unison on the Fourth of July.

This year, once again, I found myself in San Miguel de Allende on el Día de la Independencia. But this year, because of COVID-19, it was a very different scene here, and all over Mexico. The town square was blocked off and police were posted at all the entrances. No one would be portraying “el Grito” in a public venue in 2020.

In Mexico City, where last year’s presidential address was nearly drowned out by more than 130,000 red, white and green clad revelers, the president’s words hollowly echoed off the facades of the Metropolitan Cathedral and surrounding buildings with only the local riot police there to hear them. Everyone else was watching the address from their televisions, safely at home.

Perhaps this is the highest demonstration of national pride, to put aside one’s own individual desire to take to the streets and celebrate en masse and instead stay home to protect others from a deadly virus that has yet to be fully understood or controlled.

For the safety of all, Mexicans did not come together by the thousands to celebrate their patriotism, but instead opted for a muffled “grito” from behind a cubreboca (face mask) in small groups or family gatherings, demonstrating that independence is not so much an individual ideal, but a collective one here in Mexico, more of an “it takes a village” approach than one of personal liberties.

Unlike its neighbor to the north, where individuals are being encouraged to gather in large public venues, with no measures of safety or control, to support the current administration’s bid to maintain office, Mexican officials are encouraging and enforcing social distancing and safety protocols to diminish the spread of COVID-19. And given the current state of affairs, it is essential that the public comply for the sake of the collective.

As of Independence Day, a reported 71,049 Mexicans had died of COVID-19. On September 24, just over a week later, that number passed 75,000,out of 710,000 confirmed cases. Yes, that’s a 10% death rate, the third highest in the world, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Research Center, despite the restrictions on large public gatherings.

The 10% death rate, coupled with Mexico’s being in the top ten countries with the most reported cases, makes it the 12th deadliest country in the world where COVID-19 is concerned, as reported by CNN Health (Sept. 24).

Why is Mexico suffering so much? There is much speculation, and some would say absolute quantifiable proof, to answer that question. On September 3, Forbes published an article by a Latin American-focused political analyst, Nathaniel Parish Flannery, who wrote “In Mexico, Covid-19 patients are dying because public hospitals are failing to save them. … According to Mexico’s publicly available epidemiological oversight database, only 20% of the country’s Covid-19 patients who died were intubated. An astounding 51,924 Covid-19 patients never received ventilator treatment before they died.”

He goes on to say, “the official death toll in Mexico is only a fraction of the real total. Tens of thousands of patients in Mexico never seek help, never get tested, and go unaccounted for.”

Flannery points the finger at the current administration for failing to manage the pandemic and for not focusing sufficient energy and resources on saving citizens’ lives.

There are few who would argue that numerous positive cases and deaths go unreported as millions of people in rural areas have little access to testing or adequate treatment if infected. It is likely that the true death toll will never be known.

Where does this leave the Mexican people? Well, quite frankly, bearing the brunt of responsibility to slow the spread of the virus themselves – which most are taking on willingly, as there were virtually no reports of any backlash to Independence Day celebrations being cancelled and the majority of Mexicans continue to wear facemasks in stores, on the street and especially in crowded areas.

If the government is indeed doing little more than handing down rules and regulations for the public to follow in an effort to stem the increasing death toll, individuals are left to shore up the public safety void by setting individual freedoms aside in deference to the survival of el pueblo.

It seems the “it takes a village” approach to overcoming COVID-19 may be Mexico’s best hope of celebrating el Grito in the town square next year and for years to come.

Calming Your Nervios

By Kary Vannice

“Nervios” is a classification of medical disorders used here in Mexico that, for us, would loosely be translated as the “jitters.” In reality, though, the symptoms go well beyond that.

The late professor Carlos Zolla Luque, an expert in Mexican traditional medicine at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), described nervios as characterized by a “state of unrest” in which it is customary to experience “insomnia, loss of appetite or compulsive eating, anxiety, rapid pulse, occasional despair and other disorders such as hair loss, dermatitis and weakness. Any circumstances that alter the emotional state or mood are interpreted as possible triggering agents.”

Now, let’s be honest, we are all staring down the barrel of another six months of civil unrest, economic uncertainty, and social isolation – as if the past six months were not enough to make anyone reach for the Prozac.

Unlike the other North American countries, Mexicans have long recognized what modern science now calls “stress-related disorders.” Ancient folk remedies throughout Mexico always included several different plants and trees as cures to calm the nerves. In 2014, a team of UNAM scientists itemized 92 “medicinal plants for the treatment of ‘nervios’, anxiety, and depression in Mexican traditional medicine” – a great resource for getting high-strung, stressed out, insomniacs to chill out and take a nap.

In the midst of a global pandemic, regional economic crisis and racial tensions boiling over (for good reason, I might add), it’s safe to say we’re all experiencing more than a little stress in our daily lives. The good news is, here in Mexico, they haven’t lost touch with their ancient ways and some of these old folk remedies are still very much available to us today. Anyone who’s been to a traditional “tianguis” market knows there’s always at least one vendor there selling dried herbs to cure what ails ya’.

Two of the 92 Oaxacan antidotes for los nervios you’d more commonly associate with a flower shop than a pharmacy. They are a local chrysanthemum and Ipomoea stans, a variety of those lovely blue/purple morning glories you see on your morning walks. However, in their case, it’s not the flower that’s used, it’s the roots.

In other plants, it’s the bark or the leaves, or the berries that hold the power to relax one with a tense and uneasy disposition. Calderona Amarilla (Galphimia Glauca, or thryallis), for example, by far the most wildly studied of the folk remedies, uses the seeds and branches to make a soothing tonic.

Another recognizable Mexican flower, the cempasúchil, the Mexican marigold (Tagetes erecta) traditionally used Day of the Dead displays, while not reviewed in the study, has long been used to cure headaches, “fright,” insomnia, excessive crying and nervousness.

There are many other at-home treatments readily available in your local fruit and veg store. While not necessarily native to Mexico, these are well-known “medicines” for nervous Nellies.

Passionflower – There are over 500 varieties of passionflower and only some of them produce a curative effect, but you’ll often find dried Passiflora in local natural farmacías, which you can use to make a calming tea.

Ruda (common rue) – Originally from the Mediterranean, this herb has a long-standing place in Mexican households for its calming and relaxing effects. A tea can be made from its delicate leaves to reduce anxiety and nervousness.

Sage – What we think of as a nice addition to a savory dish is actually an antidote for anxiety here in Mexico. If you’re lucky, you can find it fresh in the produce section. But if you strike out there, move on to the dried herb section of the store and look for salvia.

Lavender – Oil of lavender can be put into a diffuser to create a peaceful and comforting atmosphere. The leaves can be made into a tea and flowers can be added to a hot bath.

Chamomile – You’ll often find this fresh in the herb section of most fruterías. And it is always available in the bagged tea section of the local supermarket.

Hibiscus tea – Yes, the ubiquitous agua de jamica served in cafés and street corners across Mexico is a great tonic for anxiety. So, if you’re feeling edgy, double down on this aguita the next time you have comida corrida.

Red rose – Even this iconic symbol of love and romance has calming effects. Four flowers left standing in a liter of freshly boiled water for one hour can be consumed a half-cup at a time to sooth the stomach and the nerves.

There are better days ahead, but until then, to keep from popping Prozac from a PEZ dispenser, why not take a more natural approach to calming your nervous system? It’s worked here in Mexico for thousands of years.

Earth Day Celebrates Mother Earth – Do We?

By Kary Vannice

April 22, 2020, marked the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, our annual celebration of Mother Earth. A day when we pay homage to the natural beauty that surrounds us and take stock of the environmental quagmire we find ourselves in 50 years after the start of the environmental movement.

There are few who would balk at calling our planet “Mother Earth”; after all, she does provide us with the essentials to maintain human life – food, water, and shelter (for some). But would any of us really treat our true mother as we treat Mother Nature?

Fifty years is a milestone, a time when we often take stock and look back to see how far we’ve come, to assess the progress that’s been made … or not made.

On the first Earth Day in 1970, 20 million Americans, one in every 10 people, took to the streets demanding that the US government pass laws to protect them, the animals, and the environment from rampant air and water pollution, which, at that time, was almost completely unregulated.

Celebrations of Earth Day 2020, due to the COVID-19 virus “shelter in place” orders in 45 of the 50 United States, have been almost entirely virtual, and have exerted much less impact. It has been the same in Mexico, where one scientist candidly pointed out the irony of the situation: “Social distancing from home will imply an excessive increase in the use of electrical energy. The consumption of electrical energy is one of the factors that produces the greatest number of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. This electrical power will burn more fuel, considerably polluting the atmosphere.”

But, while the only thing these situations may seem to have in common is irony, that’s not entirely true, as this excerpt from an Earth Day article published on Fortune.com points out.

Virologists and scientists say that our broken relationship with nature is at the very heart of this pandemic. Accelerating biodiversity loss—caused by a mix of pollution, over farming, urbanization, and changing temperatures—has made complex ecosystems much simpler and more unstable. That makes it easier for viruses to jump from animals to people, as they have begun to do with alarming frequency.

The truth is, we haven’t come far enough in 50 years. While some things have gotten better, many have gotten worse, and we are not where many eager young environmentalists had hoped we would be in 2020.

On the first Earth Day, polluted rivers, many of them veritable oil slicks from factories’ unremittent dumping, were a top agenda item. And, while most first-world countries have indeed regulated corporate sludge dumping, some developing countries still lag far behind. And our oceans are far more polluted than they were 50 years ago, so much so that scientists can’t even quantify the effects that plastics will have on the biodiversity of sea life, not to mention the fact that our oceans are also warmer and more acidic than they were in 1970. It all adds up to a grim prognosis for all, not just our fishy friends, since biodiversity really is the key to health, at both the macro and the micro level.

This year on Earth Day, The New York Times reported that the World Wildlife Fund estimates that, on average, thousands of different wildlife populations have declined by 60 percent since1970. And that “last year, a comprehensive scientific assessment from the United Nations warned that unless nations step up their efforts to protect what natural habitats are left, they could witness the disappearance of 40 percent of amphibian species, one-third of marine mammals and one-third of reef-forming corals.”

We haven’t done much better on land either. The rate of rainforest destruction has also increased. Before the 1970s, deforestation in the Amazon was mostly done by local farmers, clearing the land to grow crops. In the latter part of the century, deforestation became more of an industrial affair, when large-scale agriculture entered the region. By the 2000s, cattle ranching was the number one cause. In 2018, 30 million acres of the Amazon rainforest were lost. That was slightly less than in recent years, but it’s not slowing fast enough.

Why does it even matter? Well, this brings us back to our Mother. The Amazon has been called “the lungs of Mother Earth,” the largest producer of life-giving oxygen and a huge storehouse for carbon dioxide, which is the main cause of global warming. We humans need the trees to survive. But it doesn’t stop with the trees. The Amazon is also the richest, most biodiverse ecosystem on the planet, home to at least 10% of the world’s biodiversity. And biodiversity equals health, not just for Mother Earth, but for all her inhabitants, including humans.

After 50 years, if you run the numbers for air pollution, water pollution, environmental toxins, species extinction, deforestation, overpopulation, waste disposal, and climate change, you’ll see that while some areas have made some small gains, there are simply too many losses to make up the difference. Far too often the real issue comes down to the environment vs. the economy. And in this fight, the environment will always be the loser, unless the consumer, the true driver of global economies, starts to make environmentally friendly products and companies a priority, sending the message that they aren’t willing to sacrifice one to benefit the other.

Now consider your real mother, what would you be (or have been) willing to sacrifice for her health and well-being? Does Mother Nature not deserve the same sacrifice?

Mexico’s Women Eco-Warriors

By Kary Vannice

In September of 2019, the online edition of Forbes featured an article titled “The Greta Thunberg Effect: The Rise of the Girl Eco-Warriors.” But the truth is, women have been advancing the environmental movement for generations – even here in Mexico. Though not making headlines around the globe, these five Mexican women deserve credit for their contribution to the eco-movement.

Margarita Martínez, 21, a student in the Sustainable Development Engineering degree at Tecnológico de Monterrey, has dedicated her time to promoting environmental care in her environment, raising awareness among young people about the threat of climate change.

The Spanish-language newspaper El País named her “the Mexican cleaner” for her initiative Limpiemos Nuestro País (Let’s Clean Our Country), which has managed to remove more than 65 tons of garbage from public spaces located in Monclova, Coahuila and Monterrey, Nuevo León.

In an interview, when asked why she decide to create such a movement, Martínez said it was the “indifference” that exists towards the realities that the world is going through, not only environmental matters, but also social matters, since the challenge of climate change is a socio-environmental problem that affects us all, but especially the unprotected and unsupported classes.

Wendy Herrera, a student in the Industrial Physical Engineering program at Tec de Monterrey, headed up a team to create a smartphone app that allows users to generate points and exchange them for services or products to protect the planet. You can cash in these points to do things like pay for groceries or take public transportation, all for taking care of the environment.

The app is called Iknelia, which translates from Nahuatl as “help.” Iknelia also seeks to raise awareness through content such as videos, environmental programs and a calendar of workshops aligned with the theme of the environment.

At the age of 22, Ixchel Anaya was studying interior design when she became a mother for the first time. When she realized that disposable diapers were causing her baby a painful rash, she started looking for alternatives. And although she found a lot of products in Europe and the United States, she found there were no products in the local market and decided to make her own design with the help of her grandmother.

Since 2009 she has dedicated her life to the manufacture of cloth diapers from environmentally friendly textiles. Her product can be reused up to 600 times, is better for the baby’s health, and allows families to save up to 25 thousand pesos, all while reducing disposable diaper waste in Mexico, which is estimated at 14% of all waste.

Sarita Mazuera, the Chief Operations Officer for Veolia Mexico (an international company specializing in efficient management of water, waste and energy), is another woman dedicated to the development of techniques and alternatives to both care for and improve the environment in Mexico.

She has also been a member of the national Water Advisory Council, an independent body focused on analyzing, evaluating and finding solutions for the country’s water crisis. And, to inspire more young women to become change makers, she participated in the international movement Girls on The Move Week, which mentors young women in order to strengthen their development in professional fields.

Sandra Pascoe Ortiz, an academic from the University of Valle de Atemajac (UNIVA) in Guadalajara, developed a biodegradable plastic primarily made from the nopal cactus. Using a mixture of powdered dried cactus and cactus juice, along with other organic ingredients, she managed to create a plastic that starts decomposing in the soil after one month. If put in water, it starts to break down in a matter of days. Even if it were not to break down completely, her plastic is 100% non-toxic and can be ingested by both humans and animals without causing any harm.

When it comes to her revolutionary new plastic, she recognizes that despite its being an environmentally friendly material, it is not a complete solution to stop environmental contamination of non-recyclable materials. In an interview with Forbes, she said, “I believe that it is never too late to start changing things. Every day, there is a new opportunity to do things better, so if we each do what we have to do, there is another opportunity to reverse all the damage we have done to the planet.”

I think the other women on this list would agree!