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Archive for April, 2007

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Monday, April 30th, 2007

May Day is coming up. An op-ed piece was printed in the Oaxaca Noticias daily newspaper criticizing the employment practices of WalMart and VIPS.

I and many expats here usually tip 20% to help make up for their small salaries and for all the people who don’t tip at all. I talked with a woman expat from Europe who has lived here 30 years and now makes sausage and baked goods to sell. She was trained as a nurse. The working conditions are terrible she said….nurses are expected to contribute out of their salaries to the electricity and janitorial services of the hospital…among other expenses.

In the year that I have been in my apartment I have found out that Adelina, who works for the landlord 12 hours a day (cleaning, cooking) and is supposed to clean all our apartments once a month (free cleaning the landlord said when I moved in) and does all the washing by hand, gets about $7.00 a day. (However, instead of buying a washing machine for her, the landlord has bought a gas lawn mower so he can mow the postage stamp lawn in the courtyard.) Adelina lives in a rusty tin-hut at the end of an ally on the other side of the Periferico…no water…no cooking facilities…just a room barely big enough for a double bed for her and her daughter. She walks to work and back home at 9 at night in the dark…about 2 miles.

The landlord owns several business/office spaces in my block and another apartment house on another street…at least that I know of. They are well to do by anybody’s standards. Ana, who is bilingual, found out from her regular vendor at the market that our landlord, whose son has a chilli stall and lives downstairs, is very powerful in the market. The way our landlords have made their money, the vendor says, is by lending money to the sellers in the market at 25% interest…which may be their only option…I have no way of knowing.

For my part I have told sweet cheery Adelina she doesn’t have to clean my apartment. Before she returned home to Canada, Ana, who lived next door, used to give Adelina $20 a month for a tip for apartment cleaning. When I leave I will give Adelina money for her services (answering the gate and providing security) during the year so she can send her 5 year old daughter to school next year.

Foreigners, at least those not living on the local economy, get charged more for everything, which would be ok, except that it drives up the cost of living for the locals. It’s not that I want do-good credit for this…it’s to warn other travelers what to expect who come here to live short-term. I am retired and fortunately don’t have to live on the local economy. I have no idea what it is like for foreigners who live and work here.

This Side Of The Border Problem

Friday, April 27th, 2007

Oaxaca is Mexico’s second poorest state with many mountain villages nearly empty of working age men. But over half of the poco English speaking men I have talked to have said they learned the language by working on the East Coast…sweeping a parking lot, waiting tables, dish washing, working on dairy farms in NY state. Many others refer to back-breaking work picking strawberries in California and Oregon….or better…construction in Las Vegas. A woman working as a janitor at the Toyota outlet here said her husband has been in the states for four years. “Oh, where,” I asked. She didn’t know.

My friend Mica had an aunt in Huayapam, Juvita, who sold her successful Tejate business in the market here and unbenownst to her husband, Pedro, paid huge money to an inept “coyote” to take her and two daughters across the border illegally. She died in the Arizona desert. Her daughters survived and are still in the US, leaving her husband here alone. Pedro’s sister, Carmen, is married to a man who hasn’t been back from the US for several years, leaving her here with her 4 year old daughter, Paula.

For 8 years, I mentored a teenage girl from a family of 10 from the Mixtec, in the northwestern Oaxaca mountains that have been playing both sides of the border for years…some of the children legal and some not. The parents have to return every year to work the communal land.

Many are trying to get legal status for work in the US. One young waiter in the Zocalo left his wife and two children in Los Angeles to come home to a small village in Oaxaca to file immigration papers. He is living with his parents and travels by bus one hour twice a day from Tlacalula to Oaxaca City to wait tables at a restaurant in the Zocalo…sending his wages home to his non-working wife. He has been told by immigration all he can do is wait. He has been waiting for one year.

A long-time American born friend from Oregon came to Queretaro with her new Mexican-National husband who is an auto mechanic to file papers for him. They tried once unsuccessfully. Now, in order to be with him, she is stuck in Mexico…trying again. He had been in the US for ten years, living frugally, sending every extra penny home (with Mexico ripping off up to 20% money sent home charges) to support an ill mother with the extra ($40,000) going into “savings” here. Big mistake. As often happens the two brothers entrusted with the money now say there “is no money.”

An AP article of April 27, 2007 illustrates part of the problem that leaves Mexican migrants in a catch-22:

Farm labor shortage may leave crops to rot in field
Tighter border, better paying jobs keep workers away

More Killed On World’s Roads Than War Or Disease

Friday, April 27th, 2007 BLAIR: GREATEST THREAT IS BAD DRIVING By Bob Roberts, Deputy Political Editor 24/04/2007 BAD driving kills 1.2million people a year and is a bigger danger to the world than war or disease, Tony Blair said yesterday. A thousand young people around the globe ... [Continue reading this entry]

Black In Mexico

Thursday, April 26th, 2007
Until 1650 there were more African slaves in Mexico than anywhere else in the Americas. Until 1810 there were more Africans living in Mexico than Spaniards. (From Bobby Vaughn's dissertation "Race and Nation: A Study of Blackness in Mexico" ... [Continue reading this entry]

Making Tejate

Tuesday, April 24th, 2007
Tejate is a rich frothy drink that is famous in Oaxaca. You get hooked on it. Labor intensive, it is made with criollo corn boiled in wood ash and ground and mixed with toasted and ground mamey seeds, ... [Continue reading this entry]

International Driving

Sunday, April 22nd, 2007
Don't know if it's just Oaxaca or maybe it's the whole of Mexico. However, my dentist says that drivers in Oaxaca are worse than in Mexico City! But in Xalapa they were ever so polite...big fines meted out ... [Continue reading this entry]

Arrazola & Zaachila

Friday, April 20th, 2007
Charly and I took the long way around to Arrazola about 10 miles south of Oaxaca City where copal wood Alebrijas are made...the most famous craft in Oaxaca. Most of the pieces are carved out of one piece of ... [Continue reading this entry]

Xalapa Veracruz

Tuesday, April 17th, 2007
About 5 miles from Cuatapec, Charly and I caught the annual Xalapa (pronounced halapa) Fair the night before we took the comfortable 1st class bus back to Oaxaca. A small nino was earnestly helping his mom set up her display ... [Continue reading this entry]

Cuatepec Veracruz

Monday, April 16th, 2007
A designated "Magic City" the signs say. About 5 miles from Xalapa Veracruz NE of Oaxaca on the east coast of Mexico, I wouldn't say it was exactly "magic" but this pueblo of about 4000 people was certainly charming. ... [Continue reading this entry]

God Help Oaxaca

Sunday, April 15th, 2007
On April 11, in a speech memorializing the 88th anniversary of the death of Mexican hero Emiliano Zapata, a leader of the teachers union, Pedro Matias affirmed that the month of May 2007 will bring a series of mobilizations which ... [Continue reading this entry]

Anniversary of Death Of Zapata Today

Tuesday, April 10th, 2007
Emiliano_Zapata.jpg Emiliano Zapata (August 8, 1879 – April 10, 1919) was born to Gabriel Zapata and Cleofas Salazar in the small central state of Morelos, in the village of Anenecuilco (modern-day Ayala municipality). He was of mixed ... [Continue reading this entry]

AP Correspondent Romero Fired But Damage Done

Friday, April 6th, 2007
Those of us who have been living here through the teacher strike have been yelling our heads off about the misreporting of Rebeca Romero on the Associated Press Wire Service that were picked up by local media throughout the United ... [Continue reading this entry]