I’ve traveled and worked in dozens of countries around the world, and usually find something about the experience that makes me appreciate the United States all the more when I return. Odd things, usually, like safe building codes and the rule of law. But sometimes traveling shines a spotlight on what needs changing in this country. It took a one-woman performance art show in Oaxaca to make me pay attention to genetically modified foods and multi-nationals like Monsanto. And ironically this Saturday a Chilean friend and former model is organizing a protest march and information session at Waterfront Park in Beaufort. Josefina Blanc isn’t trying to radicalize her new home town; she just wants us to pay attention to a policy and apathy that our country is foisting on the rest of the world. Our ambivalence about genetically modified foods has consequences far beyond the junk we feed our children. I just didn’t realize that until I met a dancer who goes by the name Violeta Luna.
We heard about her show on the street, a flier thrust into the hands of tourists passing by a beautiful Colonial building in downtown Oaxaca. I knew, vaguely, about the tortilla riots in Mexico after NAFTA flooded the market with genetically-modified corn so cheap that local farmers couldn’t compete. Honestly though, it was the chance to sit under the graceful arches and magnificent tile work that motivated me to go inside for her performance. But once the music started, I couldn’t take my eyes off Violeta Luna.
She transformed herself from a beautiful indigenous dancer into what threatens her people most: genetically modified corn. It was a dramatic, shocking, creative representation of what she feels has happened – she “modified” herself on stage, literally injecting herself with water and layering artificial coverings over her body until she almost suffocated. At one point she left the stage and walked to where I was sitting. I was embarrassed, and a little ashamed. It’s my country that is pushing this unnatural process on hers. She knelt before me and patted clay over my legs and feet. I felt conspicuous and yet it was logical that she assumed I had the power to spread the word beyond Oaxaca. But when I looked into her eyes I saw so much more. It was not so much a symbolic anointing of a white woman in a crowd of natives but an offering of protection.