Sunday, June 30, 2019

A Life Set in Print

When I visited master printer Gabriel Quintas Castellaños in his workshop in Oaxaca Centro, I immediately knew we would make a strong connection. The Keis family has ink running through its veins. My father was a lithographer, my grandfather a typesetter for the Minneapolis Star and Tribune, and several of my uncles were also in the trade. It was what you did if you were a male in the Keis family. Being the first in the family to go to college, I broke with tradition. But the ink is still in my veins and my encounter with Quintas brought it to the surface again.

At age seventy-six, Quintas has been in the printing business for sixty-seven years: seven years as an apprentice and sixty years as a printer. When he was ten years old, he left for Mexico City alone and got a job working for the newspaper El Universal". He rented a tiny room in the attic of a building on Cinco de Mayo and worked an eight hour shift at El Universal learning to typeset and how to do maintenance of printing presses. 

He returned to Oaxaca at age fourteen and set up his own print shop. He began by typesetting newspapers and traveled extensively in the state of Oaxaca publishing newspapers not only in Spanish, but also in Zapotec. In addition, he  printed one hundred posters daily for local cinemas, dances and other cultural events. 

In 1987 he gave up publishing newspapers and devoted himself solely to commercial work and typesetting artist books and posters for exhibitions and cultural events. 
At that time he also began to buy presses and boxes of letters from print shops that were going out of business. What he has accumulated over the years amounts to a museum of printing in Oaxaca. He has over 4000 boxes of letters of all sizes and materials. He has also written a history of printing in Oaxaca that is near being finished. It is his hope that before he dies, he will be able to create a museum of printing so that the younger generation will be able to know how things were done in the pre-computer era. In this day and age of advanced technology, typesetting is a dying profession. Quintas sees the artistic aspect of his trade falling by the wayside as people choose the easier but less permanent form of publishing. In Quintas' words, "Dura más la más pálida tinta que la más brillante memoria" (the most pale of inks outlasts the most brilliant memory).

Despite some serious health issues, Quintas continues to work eight to ten hours a day in his print shop. "Es una vida bonita que he pasado tantos años aquí y sigo trabajando a la edad de 76 que tengo". 
"I love everything about my work, everything. This has been my life since I was a child. This has been my whole life".

Quinta's wife works with him daily, running the small Heidelberg press and binding books. They are the "old-timers of the trade, the "puristas". According to 

Quintas, "typesetters create as they work to make a piece that is pleasing to the eye". He is proud of his ability to always keep the aesthetic as his guiding principle. 

Right before I left Oaxaca to return to Oregon, Quintas typeset a poem I want to use in a photography exhibit here in three languages: Spanish, Zapotec and English. He welcomed the challenge of publishing in languages that were not his mother tongue and the final printing was without error in any of them.

Craftspeople like Gabriel Quintas are rare nowadays as is his profession of typesetting. The pride that he takes in his work  and the quality of what he produces is admirable. May his history of printing in Oaxaca be published and may his dream museum be realized while he is still on this earth. He has indeed lead the life of an artist, set in print.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Muxe: A Poem that Never Dies

We live in an increasing changing world, for better and for worse. What used to be taboo is in some ways becoming more visible in today’s world. And yet we often seem to take one step forward and two steps back in our evolutionary process. I would like to focus on the issue of transgender in this blog entry. My visit to Juchitán to partake in la Vela de las Auténticas Intrépidas Buscadoras de Peligro was a unique cultural event that I was privileged to experience. The three-day celebration was not held last year as the city was in mourning over the devastating earthquake that shook Juchitán in September 2017. The event is now in its forty-third year and is dedicated to St. Vincent Ferrar, the patron saint of Juchitán.
Since I know very little about the transgender world, I do not want to try to give information that I do not know first hand. It is best for me to share the photographs that I took while in Juchitán and let someone knowledgeable inform us about the world of the muxes.
I am very fortunate to have a friend, Elvis Guerra, a muxe from Juchitán, who is a very talented poet. Elvis, who writes in both Zapotec and Spanish, was the winner of the Premio CaSa 2015 for poetry. My photos are a very shallow glimpse into the world of the muxes, a three day look into a very complex world with many layers. Elvis' words go to the very core of it. I sincerely want to thank Elvis for giving his permission to use his poem (originally written in Zapotec and Spanish), Erica Nava for translating it into English, and to all the wonderful people of Juchitán de Zaragoza for their willingness to share their incredibly rich culture so openly with us.

A Muxe is…
Muxe is a leap into the mouth of the abyss.

Muxe is an ever-dazzling smile.
Muxe is a native Zapoteco that dreams he is a princess.
Muxe is a body of a man with the voice of a woman.
Muxe is a joke in school, a burst of laughter in the street, a clown for all.
Muxe is a universe populated by men.
Muxe is being naked in a stare-filled street.
Muxe is a “yes” to everything and to everyone.
Muxe is to challenge the other, to those that hate and have never learned to love.
Muxe is a skirt imbued with hand-embroidered flowers.
Muxe is the one that drinks the wine of brave men.
Muxe is a home, always open.
Muxe is the one that never says “no”.
Muxe is to look in the eyes of those who disregard you
Muxe is to dream that you marry a man.
Muxe is to walk to the altar on the arm of the father who never knew how to love you.
Muxe is the one who was beaten up by his brothers.

Muxe is the boy who played with a doll made of sticks.
Muxe is the one arriving at a party all dressed up
Muxe is carrying a flower in your mouth.
Muxe is a fire on the mountain.
Muxe is waking up with an erection in a mini-skirt.
Muxe is the boy who wants to wear a huipil to his drawing class.
Muxe is the cantina and its dust-filled womb.
Muxe is De Profundis by Oscar Wilde.
Muxe is a student kicked out of his home.
Muxe is an ever-eternal instant.
Muxe is a 65cm waist and a 19 cm penis.
Muxe is the pride of the family. Wait no… that´s false.
Muxe is freedom that is battered.

Muxe is a high-heel that never breaks.
Muxe is the eye that cries for many men.
Muxe is an arm, a leg and many hearts.
Muxe is the movie that you´ll watch your whole life and never finish.
Muxe are those that were born hurt.
Muxe is the corn that never sows its seeds.
Muxe is the flower that falls apart to perfume your bed.
Muxe is a very expense velvet huipil.
Muxe is an etching by Goya.
Muxe is the accent that gives meaning to words.
Muxe is the legitimate mother of freedom.
Muxe is a tortilla that you eat, but don´t recognize .
Muxe is the food you push aside in public, but enjoy in private.
Muxe is the bitch that bites your ear at 11 o´clock at night.
Muxe is a never-ending dance.
Muxe is a poem that will never die.



For anyone interested in excellent resources on issues of gender and bodies to share with children, check out the important work being done by Maya Christina  Gonzalez. .