Courtesy of Gracias Madre

Gracias Madre and Guelaguetza are raising money to build houses.

Andy Wang
November 16, 2017

On Thanksgiving, L.A. vegan restaurant Gracias Madre is throwing the Gracias Por Oaxaca fundraiser for earthquake relief. From 1 p.m until 5 p.m. (or until all the food is gone), guests can enjoy a Mexican-inspired vegan feast with a butternut squash tamale, cranberry habanero sauce, wild rice and black bean pilaf, salad, pumpkin cheesecake and a cranberry margarita or mocktail.

The suggested donation is $25, and all proceeds will benefit Por Oaxaca, an organization that builds provisional housing in Oaxaca. If you’d rather donate your time instead of money on Thanksgiving, you can sign up to be a volunteer.

Por Oaxaca was started by the family behind Guelaguetza, the L.A. Oaxacan restaurant that’s partnered with Gracias Madre on the Thanksgiving fundraiser. The owners of Guelaguetza, siblings Bricia, Paulina, Fernando Jr. and Elizabeth Lopez, were all born in Oaxaca. Their parents, Guelaguetza’s retired founder Fernando Lopez Sr. and Maria Monterrubio, live in Oaxaca. Earthquake relief is an important cause for this family, which celebrates Oaxacan food and culture at Guelaguetza.

At first, Bricia and her siblings personally sent money, diapers, baby wipes, formula and feminine products to Oaxaca after the devastating September 7 earthquake. Because Guelaguetza is very much the nerve center of the Oaxacan community in L.A., Bricia got calls from people asking how they could donate things. She also had friends who were shipping items to Mexico.

Courtesy of PorOaxaca

But then Bricia got a call from her father.

“My dad physically went to deliver the stuff we bought,” Bricia says. “He told me, ‘You know what? This is not what people need. People are going to need somewhere to live. The only way we’re going to actually help is to build houses.’”

Bricia asked if tents or sleeping bags would help, and Fernando Sr. told her that it was too windy for tents and too hot for sleeping bags.

So the Lopez family started Por Oaxaca by donating their own money, and Fernando, who had managed the construction of his own home in Oaxaca and has been overseeing the construction of a house his children are building, got to work.

He put a team together and quickly built two houses. Por Oaxaca is now building multiple houses every week and is close to finishing its 30th house. Bricia and her family plan to create more than 100 houses.

Bricia recently visited the building sites with her toddler son, Eduardo, and her younger sister, Elizabeth.

“When I arrived, I understood everything my dad was telling me,” Bricia says. “Being in the town and seeing the people and meeting them and being around this sort of gratitude was life-changing.”

Courtesy of PorOaxaca

Her father was correct: These people need houses.

“People don’t need things,” Bricia says. “From an American or L.A. perspective, we live in a city of things. I receive Amazon boxes every day. We buy things we throw away. We over-order at restaurants. We have abundance. Our first response is, ‘What things do they need?’ We forget about basic human needs like a roof over your head.’”

And having a house gives the earthquake victims hope, which is something else they need.

There’s a little garden next to the window of each house.

“We always tell people to plant a seed, to plant a flower,” Bricia says. “As they bloom, the town will get more beautiful. It’s a reminder that things are always changing and getting better.”