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According to the Indigenous Farmworker Study (IFS), there are approximately 165,000 indigenous Mexican farmworkers and their children living  in California — with a significant percentage coming from the state of Oaxaca.  Writer and photographer David Bacon has been photographing and interviewing indigenous Mexican migrants working in California’s agricultural fields for many years.  The following Truthout article is from his photo-documentary project, Living Under the Trees, sponsored by the California Council for the Humanities and California Rural Legal Assistance.

Young, at Work in the Fields

by David Bacon

(Photo: Bacon/After Image)

(Photo: Bacon/After Image)

Most young farm-workers in California are migrants from Mexico, especially the south of the country, where many people share an indigenous culture and language. Ricardo Lopez, living in a van with his grandfather in a store parking lot in Mecca, a tiny farmworker town in the Coachella Valley, says working as a migrant without a formal home was no surprise:

This is how I envisioned it would be working here with my grandpa and sleeping in the van. It’s hot at night, and hard to sleep well. There are a lot of mosquitoes, very few services, and the bathrooms are very dirty. At night there are a lot of people here coming and going. You never know what can happen; it’s a bit dangerous. But my grandfather has a lot of experience and knows how to handle himself. With the money I earn I’m going to help my mother and save the rest. I’ll be attending college in the fall at Arizona Western College—my first year. I want to have a good job, a career. I’m not thinking of working in the fields. Not at all. I look at how hard my grandfather has worked. I don’t want to do field work for the rest of my life because it’s so hard and the pay is so low.

Lopez describes the reality for farmworkers in California in a way that gives tangible meaning to the facts and numbers describing farmworker life. There are about 120,000 indigenous Mexican farmworkers in California. Counting the 45,000 children living with them, that is a total of 165,000 people. They are the most recent migrants from Mexico. They speak twenty-three languages, come from thirteen different Mexican states, and have rich cultures of language, music, dance, and food that bind their communities together.

<snip>  Click HERE to read full article.

This project is therefore a reality check. The idea is to give indigenous migrant communities a vehicle they can use to find support for dealing with the social problems they face, such as housing, low wages, and discrimination. This documentary work is not neutral. Its purpose is to help provide a means for people to organize and win support in a world that, at best, treats them as invisible, and at worst demonizes them. I used to be a union organizer, and this work is very similar. Social documentation not only has to have an engagement with reality, but should try to change it.

Click HERE to read full article.

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A recent article from California’s Merced Sun-Star addresses an issue many in Oaxaca’s ex-pat community have been discussing.

Exchange student learns sustainable gardening

By RAMONA GIWARGIS – rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.com

MERCED — In the small town of Mitla Oaxaca in Mexico, a little girl drew inspiration from her grandmother’s colorful garden more than 10 years ago.

Though the family wasn’t very wealthy, the dinner table was always filled with fresh and nutritious foods.

“When I was young, my grandma always had a garden,” said Xochitl Juarez, now 26. “She was really poor, but she always had fresh fruits and vegetables.”

(photo by BEA AHBECK - bahbeck@mercedsunstar.com) Xochitl Juarez of Mexico planted a 10,000-square-foot garden in the shape of a circle because 'everything in life is a cycle,' she said.

(photo by BEA AHBECK – bahbeck@mercedsunstar.com)  Xochitl Juarez of Mexico planted a 10,000-square-foot garden in the shape of a circle because ‘everything in life is a cycle,’ she said.

After falling in love with agriculture at a young age, Juarez sought to help her community learn new farming techniques to become more sustainable.

“A lot of people that come here are from small towns and they have to grow their own food,” she said. “If they have the opportunity to be sustainable, we’ll have a better life with more healthy foods and better nutrition.”

Juarez left her hometown of about 10,000 people and traveled to the United States for the first time as part of the Multinational Exchange for Sustainable Agriculture program.

[Click HERE for full article]

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In 1999, UNESCO designated February 21 as International Mother Language Day.  Tomorrow, February 20, Oaxaca begins her own celebration of Día Internacional de la Lengua Materna 2013 with a 2-day conference.

dia internacional de la lengua materna oaxaca 2013

The issue of “lenguas maternas” has a particular resonance in Oaxaca, as the state is home to 16 distinct ethnolinguistic groups:  Amuzgos, Chatino, Chinanteco, Chocho, Chontal, Cuicateco, Huave, Ixcateco, Mazateco, Mixe, Mixteco, Náhuatl, Popoloca, Triqui, Zapoteco, and Zoque.  As anyone who has visited the villages of Oaxaca has discovered, sometimes the abuelos and abuelas only speak their native language, not Spanish.

However, as Ernestina Gaitán Cruz notes in an article in sinembargo.mx, most of these indigenous languages lack an alphabet, having been passed from one generation to another through an oral tradition, and because these “Mother Tongues” are not taught in the schools, a significant number of these languages are in danger of becoming extinct.

Oaxaca is not alone.  From the article, Indigenous Youth Step up to Protect their Roots:

UNESCO estimates that every two weeks, one language disappears from the world.

Education systems have historically played a large part in the disappearance of indigenous languages, sometimes even forcing their extinction by severely punishing and shaming children for speaking native tongues or expressing indigenous identity in any way.

<snip>

In some communities where a large portion of the population speaks only the native language, another issue arises: access to important information on topics such as health care, employment opportunities, legal rights and public services.

And, it isn’t just a particular community that suffers, as The Endangered Languages Project explains, The disappearance of a language means the loss of valuable scientific and cultural information.

Zapotec village of Teotitlán del Valle

Zapotec village of Teotitlán del Valle

One of the missions of the Centro Académico y Cultural San Pablo in the city of Oaxaca is to document, study, and preserve the indigenous languages of Oaxaca.  The center includes a library, offers language classes, and will be hosting several events during Día Internacional de la Lengua Materna 2013.

Cartel-web-cursos-2013

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In the city and in the villages, the signs are everywhere…

Sign for Neuroticos Anónimos

The recent article, Native neuroses: Sharing their emotional struggles in Spanish by Marisa Gerber, gives a little background on the popularity of Neuróticos Anónimos, south of the Río Bravo del Norte (aka, Rio Grande).

After two days spent cleaning the new apartment and schlepping the small stuff (boxes, plants, furniture, etc.) down two flights of stairs, across the driveway and up one flight (with a lot of help from my friends), today the moving crew is coming to do the heavy lifting.  For some reason the above topic resonates!

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Sunny, warm, and dry, Oaxaca’s sidewalks, mercados, restaurants, and zócalo are filled with “snowbirds” (the human variety) escaping the bone-chilling and wet wintry weather of el norte.  Alas, almost immediately after the previously mentioned “big move” next week, I’m heading in the opposite direction — to the bleak gray north for several weeks to visit family and friends in California (it’s not all bikini beaches and blue sky) and then east to celebrate my first grandchild’s first birthday — the best and maybe only reason to visit upstate New York in the dead of winter!  And, if previous return trips to el norte are a predictor, I’ll be missing the warmth and color of Oaxaca almost from the minute I step off the plane.

The “snowbirds” and I have the luxury of coming and going.  Some people do not.  One of my favorite journalists interviews a young Oaxaqueña trying to support her young daughter by working the fields in Madera, California.  As the title suggests, it is a poignant story…

The Only Job I Can Do–A Young Mother’s Farm Work Story

Editor’s Note: Lorena Hernandez is a young farm worker and single mother from Oaxaca, Mexico. Today she lives in Madera, Calif., with her daughter and aunt. She told her story to David Bacon.

hernandez_blueberries.jpg
Lorena Hernandez picking blueberries   [photo by David Bacon]

MADERA, Calif.–To go pick blueberries I have to get up at four in the morning. First I make my lunch to take with me, and then I get dressed for work. For lunch I eat whatever there is in the house, mostly bean tacos. Then the ritero, the person who gives me a ride to work, picks me up at 20 minutes to five.

I work as long as my body can take it, usually until 2:30 in the afternoon. Then the ritero gives me a ride home, and I get there by 3:30 or 4 in the afternoon. By then I’m really tired.

Costs of Rides, Childcare on Little Pay

I pay $8 each way to get to work and back home. Right now they’re paying $6 for each bucket of blueberries you pick, so I have to fill almost three buckets just to cover my daily ride. The contractor I work for, Elias Hernandez, hooks us up with the riteros. He’s the contractor for 50 of us farm workers picking blueberries, and I met him when a friend of my aunt gave me his number.

<snip>

No Vision of My Future

I don’t have friends, just acquaintances from work. They don’t have responsibilities like I do, so they go out on the weekend. They share their stories with me because since I have a daughter, I don’t go out. I just stay at home.

I wash my daughter’s clothes on the weekends because during the week I’m so tired. There isn’t time to clean the house during the week either. That’s what we do on the weekends.

I don’t have a vision of my own future. I don’t really think about it. I know I want to work every day. I don’t think I’ll ever return to school because of my age. My job will be working in the fields. I’m at peace with my current situation. I would love to go back to school, but it’s too late for me. Perhaps one day.

Please read full story HERE.

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I’m from the cradle of modern mountain biking; Marin County, California.  In fact, it has become so popular in Marin over the past 30+ years, traffic jams have ensued at trail heads and battles between hikers, horseback riders, and mountain bikers over safety and environmental issues frequently make the headlines of local papers.

With this recent article in the Wall Street Journal, it looks like mountain biking has “officially” come to Oaxaca.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the wise Zapotec elders up in Oaxaca’s Sierra Norte will find a way to keep the peace.  And, more than that, I’m hoping all you mountain bikers out there will be respectful of this beautiful land and her people.

From Friday, April 13, 2012 online Wall Street Journal…

Blazing Trails in Mexico

Mountain biking is rare in Oaxaca—but not for long

By TREVOR CLARK

[mexbike]
Mountain biking on the Tequila Trail near Oaxaca, Mexico – Trevor Clark

IT WAS EARLY. Hours from sunrise kind of early. My wimpy headlamp struggled to break through the predawn drizzle, and I could barely see my front tire or the trail ahead. Roots, rocks and stumps all seemed to be in cahoots, working together to upend me.

MEXBIKE

WHEEL WORLD | Riding out of the village of Benito Juárez in Oaxaca –  Trevor Clark 

I tried to become one with the bike. I tried to feel out the trail with my other senses. I tried to anticipate obstacles, but I am no Zen master. My mountain biking skills are rough under the best conditions, and I was in the jungle in the dark.

My mate’s more powerful headlamp suddenly provided a snapshot of a sharp turn and a wooden footbridge ahead. Then, lights out. I made an educated guess, went straight and took a hit that emptied my lungs: “Huhhhhh!” Cold water rushed into my clothes and pack as I lay in the stream, bike still on my feet, straight up in the air.

For a few moments, I laughed hysterically at my predicament and the fact that I was OK after missing the bridge. Then I picked myself up and kept moving.

We made it to the peak of Piedra Larga, a 10,761-foot-high lookout, for breakfast, corn-based hot chocolate and sunrise. As the sun slowly emerged from a thick layer of fog, we found ourselves hovering above a golden sea of clouds. The scenery was worth every blind pedal stroke.

MEXBIKE
HIGH ROAD | Taking in the view from a rock spire in the Sierra Norte – Trevor Clark

Seven of us had come to the Sierra Norte of Oaxaca, Mexico, a forested mountain range in the northern part of the state. Oaxaca is known as the country’s culinary and cultural center, and many visitors experience it through cooking classes and gallery walks in the capital city. We, instead, were mountain-biking part of an ancient Zapotec network of walking trails that have connected eight villages to each other and the rest of the world for eons.

Mountain biking is fairly new to Mexico…. [Read FULL ARTICLE]

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