Posts Tagged ‘immigration’

Don Gregorio was one of the first people our Witness for Peace group met in San Juan Sosola, a small village in the Mixteca region of Oaxaca. One of the first things he told us was a story about a young woman from the village who had died in Los Angeles without her family being able to contact her.

You don’t even have to scratch the surface in Oaxaca to learn something about Mexico-US migration. Talk to just about anyone and they’ll ask, “where are you from?” Once you say, “the USA,” you’ll hear stories about brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, and cousins living north of the border. The challenges facing separated families are painful, even without workplace raids, desert border crossings, and deportations.

If you do scratch the surface, you can learn why beautiful, peaceful villages like San oaxaca 2010 07 19 s j sosola 058 Juan Sosola are pretty much empty of young adults, most of whom leave as soon as they are old enough to travel on their own. Some reasons, like soil erosion caused by excessive logging, go back centuries to the time of Spanish colonialism. Others are more recent, like the pressures put on Mexico in the 1980s to reduce price supports for tortillas, and the flood of subsidized corn from the USA which entered Mexican markets after the North American Free Trade Agreement went into effect in 1994.

According to Jesus Leon Santos, of the Center for Integral Doaxaca 2010 07 19 s j sosola 079evelopment of the Mixteca, the region has experienced longer periods of drought and periods of intense rain brought on by global climatic change. Moreover, he says, chemical inputs of the “green revolution” made the land less productive.

Miguel Angel Vásquez, of EDUCA , Services for an Alternative Education, says 60% of the Mexican youth who enter the labor market every year are unable to find work. Oaxaca is Mexico’s second poorest state, and according to some figures, a third of its people are now living in the USA.

And it’s not just Mexico. In a religiously affiliated shelter in the city of Oaxaca we met 3 young men from El Salvador and Guatemala, trying to make their way through Mexico past migration police and criminal gangs. A Salvadoran man says, “If I could stay in my country and make money I’d never leave.” But he’s making his second oaxaca 2010 07 19 s j sosola 044 attempt to reach the USA – the first ended with arrest in northern Mexico – despite his knowledge of the perils of the road. It’s not like he expects money to fall from the sky, he says. He expects to work hard so he can send money home to his mom.

When the farm economy is failing, rural people migrate. That’s the story of US history in the 19th century, of modern China, of modern Mexico and Central America. But unlike the “mill girls” who left my state’s small towns in the 1830s and 1840s for the bustling new cities of New England, and unlike the workers in Chinese sweatshops now, Mexicans and Central Americans have to cross a highly militarized border and face a climate of racism and persecution if they reach the other side.

Our ten days with Witness for Peace deepen my understanding that “immigration reform” requires addressing the reasons why so many people are forced to migrate in the first place. My passport will enable me to return across the border to my own community with new insights, and with my heart enriched by the people I’ve met.

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A Trip to Zaachila

by Judy

Thursday for our Spanish lesson, Arnie and I went with our teachers Gladys and Angelica to the Thursday market in the village of Zaachila, about 15 miles southwest of Oaxaca. In the bus, an old lady told us she was going to the market to buy turkey and chicken eggs so that she could raise the birds for meat. She also told me the name of a local plant that we saw along the roadside – huamuchil – and how to use the seeds in tamales. We have learned that if we want to know something, one of the best ways is to ask the “abuelitas” and “abuelitos” (grandmothers and grandfathers) that we meet in the streets and markets. They are the ones that remember the traditional ways of doing things, and they have been very kind. I like it that Mexicans use “abuelita/abuelito” as a term of affection for all old people, not just their own grandfathers and grandmothers. It reminds us that the old people are a treasure to be respected by us all.

In Zaachila, one of the vendors let us sample from her big bottles of mezcal. Each bottle had something different in it to flavor it – pieces of pineapple, guayaba, rosemary, etc. Tasted great, but we decided that we didn’t real need to buy a big bottle.

We also stopped at a stand where a woman was making the famous traditional drink ofoaxaca 2010 06 24J zaachila vendedora de tejate Oaxaca, tejate. It’s quite a process. First, she mixes ground corn, Mexican cinnamon, and dried flowers from chocolate trees, all in a huge pottery bowl. She adds water, a little at a time, and makes a thick paste. Then she gradually adds more water until the mixture is thin enough to drink. For some reason the mixing all has to be done with bare hands and arms, up to the elbows. She told me that it really takes a lot of work and a lot of strength to do it. When the tejate is ready, it is served in traditional bowls made from gourds (jicaras), painted red and painted with big flowers. It looks like curdled beige milk. Usually we don’t eat food in the markets because it’s easy to get sick here, but I just had to try, because I’d heard it’s sweet, subtle, and refreshing. I bought a bowlful, and Arnie and I both had a sip. Well, I had several sips because it was delicious. We spent the rest of the day wondering if had been stupid to drink it, but we never got sick.

Then we encountered an abuelita who was selling corn out of big burlap sacks. There are lots of colors of corn here – white, yellow, red, black, and more. We asked where it came from, and she said she and her husband had grown it. Among poor people, she said, husband and wife work together in the fields. She said it was last year’s harvest. The rains hadn’t come this year, and if the rains don’t come, there would be no corn to harvest this year. She told us it had become drier and drier in recent years in Oaxaca. Before, there had been more rain and it had been easy to harvest abundant crops of corn. “But still we continue.”

Because of the droughts, she said, there had been many Oaxacans forced to travel to the United States to earn a living. She herself had a brother-in-law in Los Angeles and a son in Seattle. She said it was unjust the way immigrants were treated in the U.S. They die of thirst crossing the desert and are shot at the border, she fumed. (A recent shooting of a 14-year-old Mexican by a U.S. border patrol agent who crossed the line into Mexico has caused outrage throughout the country, especially since the U.S. has not allowed the agent to be extradited to be tried in Mexican courts.) The abuelita reasoned that since people in the U.S. no longer cultivate their own fields, they need Mexican workers and ought to treat them better. As I said, if you want to find out what’s really going on, just ask an abuelita.

We also met a man selling jicara gourds that he had decorated beautifully. He said he painted the flowered red ones (the kind used to serve tejate) with paint from the hardware store. But he had decorated others with beautiful combinations of rich colors that he obtained by grinding local rocks into a powder. He had learned the art from his grandfather, and had now taught his own two sons, who help him in the workshop. I bought a beautiful jicara of deep blue and tan, decorated with delicate lines of black paint.

The bus back from Zaachila was crowded. An old woman holding a live chicken sat down beside our teacher Angelica and began to feed it a tomato. Arnie thought about looking at the pictures in his camera, but he decided not to, for fear he would look like a rich tourist. However, then the old woman with the  chicken got out her I-phone and began showing pictures to Angelica. Just goes to show … something.

It was a wonderful visit to the Zaachila market, and I am grateful and somewhat amazed that people here are so generous in telling us about their work and their lives.

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Ariz. lawmaker takes aim at automatic citizenship


PHOENIX — Emboldened by passage of the nation’s toughest law against illegal immigration, the Arizona politician who sponsored the measure now wants to deny U.S. citizenship to children born in this country to undocumented parents.

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Five years ago local police decided it would be nifty to arrest undocumented immigrants in New Hampshire and charge them with trespassing, just like Arizona police have now been mandated to do there.  In NH, this approach was met with civil, legal, and political resistance.  Here’s an article I wrote about what happened, published May 4, 2010 in the Concord Monitor.

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