Yesterday I went to Tule…a small town of about 15,000 near Oaxaca City. What a charming place. Most of the men are gone up north, my driver said (as a huge brand new black diesel pickup backed up to a vendor’s booth) and come back before Christmas. Yes, I know, I said.
I read that as much as 70% of Oaxaca’s budget is augmented by money from the migrants. The problem is that this takes the pressure off the local political system to make substantive changes in the economy.
I am finding out that some migrants up north are willing to live in crummy conditions so they can save every penny and then come back and build a house and buy a car. Everyone’s dream. On their web site June 17 MSNBC featured an article entitled “Migrant’s Money Goes A Long Way In Mexico. The article goes on…”Last year, Mexican migrants sent home a record $20 billion, making them Mexico’s biggest foreign earner after oil, according Mexico’s Central Bank. In the first four months of this year, the amount was $7 billion, a 25 percent increase over the same period last year. Half of it flows into poor villages like Boye, a corn-growing community of 900 people founded by Otomi Indians long before Europeans came to the Americas. Clementina Arellano grew up with her six brothers in a shack in this dusty town. She now has a home with Roman-style pillars at the doorway and a garden full of flowers and singing birds. How did she transform her fortunes so dramatically? By waiting tables and sweating in a furniture factory for about 10 years in Hickory, N.C., and sending home up to $500 a month.”
I am still emailing a girl I mentored for several years while working with a violence prevention/alternative education program for Latino school drop-outs. Her Mixtec family lives/lived high in the Oaxacan mountains. The girl, I’ll call her Maria, isn’t in the US legally and can’t come back, but she told me in an email that I could go with her family to her village next time they came down. She said they had a huge house that was “big enough for the whole village to fit into” and there would be plenty room for me. I know because I saw a picture of it when I was in her home. In the summers, when other migrant children were attending the Summer Migrant School Program, Maria and her siblings would continue working in the fields to help their parents earn money.
Maria had never been anywhere in town except school and wasn’t socialized vis a vis US culture. She and her cousin were angry…had joined a gang and were getting into fights in school. I used to take them places…would always have a thermos of coffee in the car with me. Now Maria says whenever she smells coffee she thinks of our trips…cute. Most of the Mixtec families from Oaxaca were wonderful and I fell in love with the people.
Maria had two incisors that were growing straight out of her gums. A local dentist was willing to extract them for free (write it off) and give her braces. At her last appointment she sold her jacket to buy him some flowers. I told the receptionist later to make damn sure he knew where the flowers came from.
The parents would leave the children, some just toddlers, on their own for two months every year and return to Oaxaca to work on “their land” so they wouldn’t lose their right to it…since the land is communal and if it isn’t worked a certain amount of time each year, they would lose access to it and would also be ostracized from the community, Maria said.
Maria was in the program for nearly 8 years…from the time she was in the 7th grade until she was a junior in high school and finally went to a live-in alternative high school program. She is now living with a significant other…has a two year old and is in a nursing program at Portland Community College and working. Her primary language is Mixtec. She has done this on her own. She was very artistic and had dreams of being a clothing designer…or maybe just wearing the clothes that designers design. She would draw these jaw-dropping pictures of girls in gorgeous elegant dresses…
I understand why the teachers are striking! Basta!
Tags: Culture, Mexico, Mixtec, Oaxaca, Oregon, Touching Experiences