Delegation to Mexico
Topics: NAFTA -- Immigration -- Corn
Mexico trip home page
On Thursday we headed out to the countryside, or campo. We went to the community of La Providencia which has about 50 families. La Providencia is in the Oaxaca state, in the Mixteca region. The Mixteca region is one of the most eroded places in the world, and it has the highest rate of migration in Oaxaca State. First we met with the Center for the Integral Development of the Mixteca Countryside (CEDICAM). This organization works with communities to carry out projects such as reforestation, sustainable agriculture, and protecting native seeds. All of these projects help keep community members from having to leave the community to migrate to Mexico City or the United States. We spent two nights in the community, staying in groups of three or four with families who welcomed us into their homes.
Later, we chose one of the people whom we met and wrote stories based upon what we had leaned about them during our stay.
Sketch of Don Sosimo
This man is strong. This man is of solid working stock with hands of soft leather, a man who wears cologne of churned soil. He is short, which is to say he is closer to the earth. Salt and pepper whiskers on his upper lip give him authority and mark his rank in the community by years of wisdom.
This man is pride. As he tours the milpas and walks past his cities of corn, he talks of nursing his organic crops from a chemical fertilizer addiction. He talks of using animal dung and worms to coax his native corn back to independence. He talks of the cohabitation of beans and corn and the mutual benefit each gleans from the other, and as he says this I realize that my skin is as pale as his corn, and that his skin is as dark as his beans, and that for the curt space of two days we are cohabiting. The connection is there and it is strong.
The dirt that paints his clothes is beginning to change the color of my shirt. The rocks where he plants his feet so surely are teaching my feet lessons of humility. The sun that wrinkles the corners of his eyes makes me squint. He tours us past the apricot trees, and as he stands safely aside, I am pelted with fruit. We both bend low to choose the ripe ones. Their juice is sweet on my tongue.
The two days are now gone. Now I am left with just memories of Don Sosimo’s whiskers and words. “There is no honor,” he says, “in leaving your land.” Often I had thought about moving far away when I grew older and stating a new life, but he is right. Now as helicopters shout slow thunder over the city and protesters a block away clamor for change, I am ready to return home and grow my own cities of corn.
My name is Dometila. I am in my fifties. I have had several children, but now I have only my youngest daughter with me. She is visiting during the school vacation. The rest of the time she lives in Mexico City with her husband. During the school year, two of my grandchildren, her children, live with my daughter in the city. The oldest girl, Jennie, stays with me and goes to school here. She is a great help to me. Also living with me is my mother, who is 86 year s old. Her eyes are bad from cataracts and her knees are very painful so she can't help much.
My husband died 35 years ago, soon after my youngest daughter was born. He drowned in the river. The water was deeper then than it is now.
In the village, most of the young men have gone. Only four or five remain. They can't find employment here, so they go. Daughters are more likely to stay and to help. My youngest was in the U.S. for three years while I cared for her two daughters. But she returned.
Life here is good. It is safe. The food is healthy. But some years are bad years. You work hard to plant the corn and beans, spend money for seed and fertilizer. Then a plague might come, like caterpillers, and you have nothing for all your work and the money you spent. When we do have a good crop, the price is low: 1 1/2 pesos for a kilo of corn, 4 or 5 for beans. The price of fertillizer is very high. Only now I have begun working with the CEDICAM. They have helped me some. Soon I will receive worms to help create compost so we won't have to buy the fertilizer.
At this time of year much of my time is spent in the kitchen cooking for my family. We make the tortillas from the corn we grow. We go down the path to fetch it from the storage shed in a basket, carry it up the dirt stairs to the kitchen, and put it into the grinder with water to be ground into dough. I roll some into a small ball and put it between two pieces of plastic on the machine we use to flatten dough. I press it flat, but not too flat. I take it off the plastic and put it on the top of the store where it is level. The stove is fed with firewood which we have fetched earlier. After the tortilla cooks for a little, I turn it with my fingers. When the other side is done I grab the tortilla from the stove and put it in a basket to keep warm. It should be eaten soon then, with beans. Cold tortillas are too hard. We keep them to feed the pigs.
We have two pigs. The community shares bulls to pull the plow, and a burro to carry supplies.
When I need money, such as for buying the supplies for the next crop, I make tamales and sell them at the center of town. I make the sauce on the evening before I go. Then I rise at three in the morning to make the tamales. This Friday my daughter was here to help me. Then I walked to the marketplace and sold until three in the afternoon. I sold 50 tamales for 2 1/2 pesos each.