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“Oh my God!”, Mikey exclaimed as he read about Frida Kahlo for the first time, “she’s like someone you would be crazy about; a painter AND disabled!” Later he added that if she were alive, I’d probably be stalking her.

I started my “Frida Period” when I lived in Tucson, Arizona about 20 years ago. I was mad-crazy about her for about 5 years, buying every book I could get my hands on about her, collecting prints of her paintings, photographs of her were all over my apartments… Frida Kahlo for me was what ponies are for most other girls.

And then, I just stopped.

I felt sated with what I had, I felt like art around me was saturated with her, I felt like she was turning into an mass-produced icon without depth or relevance. So I quit.

Fast forward to last week when we were waiting in line to enter the Frida Kahlo museum in Coyoacan, Mexico. I started choking up seeing the blue of Casa Azul, just like that, the flood of memories came to me. All the hours spent pondering photos of her, absorbing her paintings.

In her place, it was overwhelming to see her actual clothes on display.

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It was overwhelming too, to see the actual spaces of her life. Her garden.

meriah nichols mexico-11 meriah nichols mexico-10 meriah nichols mexico-9 meriah nichols mexico-8Her studio.

meriah nichols mexico-15 meriah nichols mexico-14I teared up when Moxie’s small face photo bombed – and I couldn’t help but think of how much Frida would have LOVED this tiny, perfect and vibrant child of mine.

meriah nichols mexico-17 meriah nichols mexico-16 meriah nichols mexico-3Surprisingly small bed (- with the mirror above!).

meriah nichols mexico-2Diego’s room (downstairs, far away from hers..?)

meriah nichols mexico-20This was a place she loved. Her home. Her space.

meriah nichols mexico-19 meriah nichols mexico-18 Disability was a central theme in the museum – it wove its way so thoroughly in her life and work.

It was like she was caught on edge – between living, expressing and explaining her life. She was walking a line between making herself desirable, beautiful and existing authentically.

Who knows this feeling? Who doesn’t know this feeling?

Frida Kahlo’s life, visage and work has been overexposed and that’s a crying shame. Because she remains relevant simply by dint of her artistic, pioneering spirit. She took the conversation on disability to a new level; she probed and exposed her realities, she made what was once hidden, accessible to the non-disabled. She spoke in a way that was understood, through the language of art.

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She painted in the fluid colours of her emotions.

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Access Details:

The museum is free for people with disabilities and appears to be largely wheelchair accessible.

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I was wondering about how wheelchairs got into her studio/bedroom – and how guests to the museum can access them from a wheelchair?

Also: we got there around noon. The line to get in was long but moved quickly. It was fine. The cafe is anemic; if you have kids, you might want to bring your own snacks (there are plenty of great tables for sitting down at in the back).

The gift shop is also a little on the scant side. Kind of made me sad that I’ve seen cooler Frida stuff in Oakland than in the Casa Azul, but there you go.

PS

It’s a great place to wear out kids

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I gotta admit that I was getting a little annoyed.

First there was a lot of dead silence from disability organizations in the US that I was trying to contact to make connections with other groups or people in Mexico. I mean, I know people are busy, but gimme a break! Not responding at all, ever, after more than one email is just plain uncool.

Then I googled the hell out of Down syndrome and disability in Mexico, Mikey wrote out nice letters of introduction in Spanish and I sent them off as well as offers to volunteer (- the websites had asked for volunteers), and then! I went to facebook pages and drummed on those doors!

Deaf as I am, the silence we received was profound. It was more than a little dispiriting.

But after we met the awesome family at the Carnival, we were re-inspired to connect.

We went looking for CRIT, which is supposed to be a state-of-the-art disability services center. We thought we found it but it was CLOSED and shut tight.

 

We went back and it turned out that the place we thought it was, in fact, NOT – so hey! We found the right place!

This is a really interesting design concept. Evidently, they take whatever the region is about and design the building to reflect that. In Mexico City, it’s “city”; in La Paz, it’s “star fish” because of La Paz being by the sea.

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They try to make it as un-medical-like as possible; replacing white with festive colours, including lots of cheerful things: bright grass, circles – predominately natural light – they are trying to make it a happy space for the children.

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So there we were, all 5 us (Pugsley was in the Myrtle), walking on up, all “hi! We just wanted to stop by and say hi! Can we be friends?”

I give Mikey about 500 billion marital points for being such a sport about translating and also for all the potential embarrassment that an uninvited visit like that holds. For all we knew, they’d recognize me as the crazy lady from Facebook who was bugging them, and would be all, GET THEE GONE!

But they didn’t.

We were introduced to a lovely lady who took us on a personal tour of the facilities and answered all of my (many, many, many) questions. This was what I got out of it:

 Funding:

CRIT was given land by the government but supports itself solely through Telethons. When I said that must things very awkward for fighting for respect and equality, she agreed.

 Clients:

The people who use CRIT are all kids with disabilities. Most of the kids are pretty severely disabled. We saw many kids with Cerebral Palsy there, some kids that looked like they they had Muscular Dystrophy. We also saw a few Little People, kids without obvious disabilities and kids who were using a wheelchair but we couldn’t tell what their disability was.

 It was pretty awesome.

We didn’t get numbers, like how many kids are served, percentages of disabilities held or anything like that. We also didn’t get the ages served, but we saw babies through teenagers there.

There is a waiting list of up to 2 years. Yeah: TWO YEARS!

 Therapy:

Every major type of therapy is covered. The most popular, she said, was the water therapy. There is a big pool that is heated to around 34 degrees (Celsius), the temperature at which the muscles will function best. Parents and therapists work with the kids in the pool and there are individual hot tubs for just the therapist and child.

We totally wanted to jump in – it looks SO FANTASTIC!!!

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One thing we noticed was that there is an area for wheelchair training and practice and that area INCLUDES STAIRS. So kids are trained in how to get their chairs down and up short flights of stairs. !!!! whoah, right?

They also practice over grass, sand and rocks.

I would have taken photos of all of this but I was only allowed to take photos of the areas without people – understandably.

 Playground

Our own kids were going NUTS there, running all over the place, laughing, squealing and just having a blast. We took them over to the playground and I have to say, I just felt so goooooooood being on a playground full of kids with disabilities. It really made me happy.

There was so much I wanted to ask the parents on the playground, but in the end I had to be content with smiling, nodding, and warm feelings of camaraderie.

A lot of the parents come from far away and they stay at the center for the ENTIRE day, covering all different kinds of therapies for their kids. So the playground serves as more than just a play space – it’s a place for napping, eating, respite. Many parents looked really tired, but every one of them smiled in welcome at us.

A few of them even played with our kids.

The playground equipment was really tricked out: they had swings for wheelchair users, for kids who lay down and so forth. Something for everyone.

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 Parent Therapy:

Parents also receive therapy in the form of counseling and support. Our guide mentioned “spiritual therapy” and when I asked her more about it, she said that disability is still regarded largely as a punishment from God. Spiritual therapy covers that ground, helping the parents understand that it’s not a punishment or curse; it’s simply what it is.

 And so…

There are over 20 of these CRIT centers in Mexico. I asked about volunteering at them and I was told that they can usually always use volunteers.

I think what I would like to do when we head into Mexico again next September is to volunteer to talk a little about the Disability Rights Movement in the US, show the video of Sit Ins, talk about what access can look like.

We can also do things like colour with the kids! Whatever, it’s all good. It would just nice to be involved. We have direct contact information now – YAY! – so hopefully we can avoid all that empty emailing and stone silence.

IMG_7306More Info:

CRIT: information from Wikipedia, including locations

Having been a minority for most of my life, I am the gal you want to have around if you are looking to connect with someone with whom I have a minority connection with. I have absolutely no shyness, no shame: I will pounce on ANYONE that I see walking in the street with a hearing aid or anyone that I see signing. I will also rush forward with anyone with Down syndrome.

I’ve been on the lookout, believe you me, since we’ve been in Baja. I have seen precious few people from the respective deaf/Ds tribes and I’ve been feeling bummed out about it. It’s just like…. where is everyone?!!! 

Anyway, so last night we were walking down the street and Mikey saw a young lady with Down syndrome and told me so. I naturally rushed forward, gleeful: ‘hola! hello! hola!’ – smiling and addressing the girl and her mother and brother. Mikey stepped forward to translate (what a great sport; I’ve *got* to work on my Spanish).

The gist of it all: we were thrilled, THRILLED to be seeing and meeting someone with Down syndrome here. THRILLED. Yes, that needs to be in bold and caps because it was a joy-rush, all right. But the mother of the girl was not thrilled to be meeting us. In fact, after only a couple of minutes and despite that they had been sitting in a bus stop when we first saw them,  she excused them all and walked into a store behind us. I wouldn’t exactly say they were running away from us, but um… it was pretty close.

I don’t know why.

Could be that the mom isn’t into having strangers acting like second family? Or that she doesn’t want to talk about Down syndrome?

We introduced Moxie, “she has Down syndrome too!!!!!!!” and the mom was like, “that’s nice” in a tone so flat it could compete with a straight line.

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At least we have met someone with Down syndrome here; I’m really hoping we will connect with more people. I’ve emailed every organization that I can find in Mexico related to Down syndrome with an offer to volunteer/connect – IN SPANISH AND MORE THAN ONCE – and we haven’t heard back from anyone.

I might just have to show up on their door step and that’s okay. At least, I  hope it’ll be okay. I hope they won’t try and run away too 🙂

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miss busy
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