Ella Holowesko ’20 shares highlights of the groups visit to San Agustín Etla, a small town in Oaxaca.
After a typical morning consisting of both grammar and conversational classes at the university, our group enjoyed a packed lunch from home in the courtyard at school. As we awaited the bus we learned that our drive would be approximately forty-five minutes until we reached San Agustín Etla, a small town in Oaxaca. The only information I had ahead of time was that we were customizing t-shirts with an image of our choice using stencils and some kind of graffiti technique. Little did I know, we were first driving to an incredible paper factory and the famous Casa Art Center (CaSa).
Following our long bumpy ride through the mountains I was relieved to escape the van for some fresh air. In fact, that is the first thing that caught my attention. The air was clean and crisp, our surroundings consisted of unspoiled streams and gardens and the view was breathtaking as we all took a minute to embrace a different perspective of Oaxaca.
A group of men who worked at the paper factory brought us into their workshop as they demonstrated the intricate and fascinating process of making this specific kind of cotton paper, which we later found out was used to make jewelry, art, and many other kinds of merchandise that is all sold in the small store next to the factory.
Then, we enjoyed a short walk up to CaSa, a famous ecological art center in Latin America. Immediately I was taken aback by the compelling exteriors of the museum, everything from the exquisite architecture to the open windows looking out onto the mountains created an inviting atmosphere in the museum. After spending some time walking through the exhibition we enjoyed some treats that our teachers had picked up from a Oaxacana bakery as we were given free time to explore and appreciate this incredible area.
The last activity of the day took place at Renee’s home and art studio. He is a well-known graffiti artist in Oaxaca and upon arrival we were asked to select an image of our choice that we would imprint onto blank white t-shirts using graffiti techniques and stencils. After a short presentation on graffiti in Oaxaca and the process, I had flashbacks of our visit to “Prepa Uno” (a high school) where I noticed a lot of graffiti on the walls of the buildings. I realized this is indeed a popular outlet for expression here in Oaxaca, as it is even apparent and allowed in classrooms at schools.
The image I chose was a sand dollar, a beautiful yet intricate and flattened species belonging to the sea. Others chose logos or symbols significant to them too. After a long three hour process of cutting out multiple parts to a pre-drawn stencil, creating a rough draft of the image onto paper, and finally spray painting our stencil onto a white t-shirt we had completed the project.
Our day concluded with many people asleep for the traffic filled drive back to our houses. As I was wide awake, I had some time to reflect on the amazing experiences of visiting a paper factory and spending time at an incredible museum in the middle of the mountain. I thought back to sitting on the veranda of Renee’s home spray painting a sand dollar stencil onto a shirt. His five year old daughter kept peeking around the door in confusion to why fifteen teenagers were sitting in her home. And that is when I realized this is really a once in a lifetime experience and even though we were all exhausted, we were grateful and fortunate for this day.