As part of my MFA thesis project I have been working on a short story collection that portrays the daily life in coffee plantations in Pluma Hidalgo, Oaxaca, México. Given the intensity of the emotional connection I feel to this area, not only because it is my great source of inspiration, I started asking certain questions regarding its history.
I found out that during the XIX century, Oaxaca experienced an economical crisis due to the devaluation of the cochineal, a natural dye that had been the most important product of the states’ trading even before the Colonial era. When this industry was affected by artificial dyes, and Oaxaca lost the monopoly over the production of cochineal, it was necessary to look for a new possibility that would save the state from ruin. A group of traders from Miahuatlán left everything behind, and traveled across the Sierra Sur looking for a place to plant coffee, founding in 1974 the first finca in the area: La Providencia. It was this journey that triggered my interest in historical narrative.
My first idea —when this project was just that, an idea— was to use create a digital story map that would work as a notebook that could gather all the information of the journey, the exact location of the stops the travelers did on the way to Pluma Hidalgo, photographs and legal documents. I imagined this as an opportunity to share the information as well as a way to have certain aspects clear to start, later on, a fictional text around it. However, as I realized the amount of resources offered by the software I would be learning to work with, QGIS, Leaflet and ArcGIS, I decided to take advantage of this experience to step out of the comfort zone of my narrative. My personal challenge transformed into finding the way to incorporate interactive maps, images, movements and transitions allowed by scrollytelling to the idea I have of narrative itself.
The working title for this story is “Transformations in red”, because this journey goes from the cochineal —the insect from which different shades of red are obtained— to coffee —that is, in its natural state, a red berry hanging on small trees. It is thanks to the weekly discussions that are part of the fellowship experience that I now allow myself to talk more about possibilities rather than certainties. Something that I have valued in the first half of the summer is that we are constantly thinking about processes instead of final products; and how interesting these processes are since they are the part that involve the most learning experience, the most growth.
Thanks to our discussions and readings, I have had the possibility of asking questions such as how can digital resources challenge the idea of individual authorship? How can we take more advantage of the democratization of the digital work? How should this help me rethink certain aspects of my work as a writer?
I am looking forward to venturing answers in the following weeks, but mostly, to formulating more questions.
-Lupita Zavaleta Vega