No Child Labor a Good Thing?

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Doing the wash while her parents are in the fields

The plight of migrant agricultural workers sadly continues, decades after César Chavez’ death.

In one month this year, five children died just in the migrant camps of Teacapán: one fell into a ravine, another was bit by a scorpion, a third choked, a fourth drowned in an uncovered tinaco… On our trip to visit the migrant workers in Teacapán recently, we met a family that had lost a two year old just a few months ago. Such is what happens when adults need to work in the fields to feed their families, and children are left home to take care of younger siblings and neighbor kids. Click on any photo in this post to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

Most of us can agree that child labor isn’t a good thing. Many of us perhaps campaigned or voted to outlaw child labor. Grocery stores up north won’t buy produce harvested by children, so the local growers are vigilant to ensure that children don’t participate in agricultural activities. But, with the absence of effective support systems, and given the horribly inequitable economy in which we live, outlawing child labor has meant that children are dying, and are not being educated, in record numbers.

The thousands of migrant workers in Sinaloa come from places like Oaxaca, Chiapas, Guerrero—poorer states of the republic. Most of the workers are native Mexicans: Miztecos, Zapotecos… Many of them don’t speak Spanish, as it’s a foreign language to them. Most of them don’t have birth certificates or official documentation, as they were born at home and it’s not their custom to register with the government. Given the lack of language and birth certificates, most migrants are unable to enroll their children in school.

Sound like a hard life? Add to it the fact that the migrant workers are treated like outsiders in most any community in which they work. In Teacapán, for example, I was told the migrants pay 2000 to 3000 pesos a month for rent—of a ROOM, with no running water, no furniture, and most definitely no toilet or kitchen. It was heartbreaking to see.

During my trip to visit the migrant workers, there were still huge puddles of standing water on the roads, in the yards and fields. I was told that Hurricane Patricia dumped 25 inches of rain on Teacapán in 15 hours; the puddles were the months-later remnants of the flooding.

The migrant workers are disciminated against. Many of the townspeople tell their children to stay away from the migrants; they call them filthy and stupid. I suppose if I didn’t have access to water or a toilet at home, I’d be dirty, too. Last Christmas a church in Mazatlán brought toys to the migrant workers’ kids, and some of the townspeople made such a stink because their kids didn’t get toys, that the church was afraid to go back this year. The mistreatment of migrants is by no means limited to Teacapán; that is just where I happened to go visit them.

The migrant workers told me they stay here in Sinaloa for about six months, then travel to Baja or Zacatecas to continue their labors, rotating their residence to follow the agricultural cycle. One worker told me he is paid two pesos for a bucket of chiles; how is that for exploitation! Can you imagine how long it must take to pick a bucket of chiles? Women work all day in the fields, then return home in the evening to cook and care for the kids.

I went to visit the migrant worker families on a trip organized by Sue Parker of Vecinos con Cariño. Each of the ten or so of us on the trip that day paid 400 pesos, money which is used to buy food, disposable diapers, baby formula, and basic medical supplies (cough syrup, cold medicine, aspirin, first aid supplies), after paying the expenses of the van and driver.

In Teacapán we visited the home of Helen and Jerry Lohman. They have a gorgeous place, right on the ocean. Their yard is the biggest stretch of green grass I’ve seen in Mexico outside a golf course. The Lohmans and their driver, Ulises Gil Altamirano (a retired engineer), do all they can to help the migrant workers. Helen has learned the hard way that the migrants do not like to wear shoes (they wear huaraches or go barefoot), nor do the women wear slacks. She has personally sewn 22 pairs of jeans, 57 dresses, and 72 receiving blankets that she’s given out to the migrant families just in the past couple of months. She has five volunteers who now help her. Ulises works as ambulance driver, interpreter, and lawyer for many of the migrant families.

On this trip we also met Brenda Irvin, who lives in Teacapán with her husband. Despite having her arm in a sling, Brenda goes out three days a week every week to hand out nutritive biscuits and milk to the migrant children. Oh how they look forward to her visits! She has divided the town into four zones, and each of the days she goes out, she visits a different zone, in rotation.

Brenda, the Lohmans and Ulises worked hundreds of hours to get registration information for 500 members of the migrant worker community. They got a judge to agree to issue them birth certificates, so the kids could go to school, and the parents could get access to health insurance. But, after all that effort, the documentation remains in limbo; the judge has not come through on his word.

Brenda told me that a few years ago she happened to gain an audience with Governor Malova. She showed him photos of the conditions in which the migrant workers live. He agreed to get the state DIF (Family Development Services) involved. Now Sinaloa DIF sends milk, the nutritive cookies, and some other basic items to Teacapán regularly, and Brenda delivers them to the workers’ families.

I am posting a lot of photos, because the photos tell you more than I can with my words.

If you are interested in taking this trip with Vecinos con Cariño (VCC), contact Sue Parker via email. She tells me she will do a couple of trips in January, 2016.

VCC will welcome your donations; 100% of what you donate will go to help the migrant worker families. The money goes a long way; a donation of US$300 helps them clothe all the kids, for example. They will also take donations of gently used clothing, basic medical supplies, disposable diapers, and non-perishable food items.

National Recognition for Local Handicrafts

barcinas

Beautifully handcrafted barcinas, which traditionally hold dried shrimp

I am very excited that reporters from eight respected national publications will tour Mazatlán and southern Sinaloa from May 7-10, to learn about, report on, and photograph our regional artesanía and artesanos. The tour is coordinated by Turismo Mazatlán and Turismo Sinaloa, as well as by the Association of Hotels and Tourist Enterprises of Mazatlán.

If you are regular readers of VidaMaz.com, you know that we are big proponents of culture, particularly the preservation of local, regional and indigenous traditions. We also support sustainable tourism, ecotourism, religious and cultural tourism. Thus, we are extremely happy to know that tourism officials are taking action to help promote “the little guy,” those who add so much to our communities by producing the gorgeous handiwork we enjoy.

Most traditional handicraft is beautiful and also utilitarian. It reflects the culture, the environment, the people, and the daily life of the place where it is made. Preserving it, helping it thrive and develop, creates pathways out of poverty, builds healthy communities, and prevents delinquency and violence. Just look at the increased success, popularity and value of Native American handicrafts and music over our lifetimes, and the improvement in the quality of what is produced! We can create such a success story here in Mexico as well. Sinaloa is smart to diversify beyond heavy eco-footprint industries like cruise ships. Cultural tourism can help preserve our heritage and the gorgeous natural environment with which we are blessed, and it can help build strong, vital, resilient communities. It attracts a more savvy brand of tourist, one that is increasingly wealthier and more committed to the welfare of local communities. Kudos to all involved!

Publications participating in the upcoming tour include my personal favorite, México Desconocido; the Reforma newspaper’s De Viaje supplement; the Destinos section of El UniversalConceptos Turísticos magazine; Travelers Guide to MéxicoViaja Bonito magazine; Reportour 98.5 FM; and the magazine, Tiempo Libre.

Here in Mazatlán the group will visit:

  • The museum at Seashell City, to view handcrafted items such as lamps, boxes, crosses, Christmas ornaments, and picture frames made of shells.
  • Onilikan in the Golden Zone, to savor their fruit-flavored liqueurs and aguardiente, distilled in that gorgeous copper kiln.
  • Suaves downtown, makers of the world’s best marshmallows, to meet María Clara and experience the process of creating our much-loved local pride, coconut-flavored marshmallows.

I would like to politely suggest that the group visit a few of our terrific local seamstresses such as Sodelva Rios de Garcia, to showcase our long local tradition of sewing Carnavál costumes and royal dresses. They should also tour some of the terrific art and artisan galleries around town. And even though they won’t be active this time of year, I would recommend the official visit include the talleres/workshops for the carrozas or floats of Carnavál, or at least a slideshow presentation showcasing how important, inclusive and wonderful Carnavál is for our local community, and how many terrific artisans contribute to making it a success. Maybe another trip, so they can see monigotes or giant statues being created as well.

Outside Mazatlán, reporters will visit our neighboring communities including:

  • La Noria, where they’ll tour the gorgeous, award-winning Los Osuna distillery as well as visit the leather makers.
  • El Tablón Viejo in El Rosario, where they’ll learn about handicrafts made from gourds by the Larreta Medrano family.
  • Escuinapa, where they’ll watch barcinas, as in the photo at the top of this post, being made. I would also suggest they visit Ernesto at Productos Rivera, so they can watch the wonders the crafty ladies there do with fresh and dried mango.
  • Malpica, Concordia, where they’ll witness mosaic-making.
  • El Rodeo, Cosalá, and the traditional method of making conserva de Papaya. The last time we visited El Rodeo, Saboreando Ando was visiting there as well. Click through to see photos and video of the making of the conserva.

If you have not already visited the places above, or if it has been a while, now is a good time to go! The weather is perfect, national tourists have not yet arrived en masse, and local handicrafts-men and -women are eager to earn your patronage!

Talented Kids Doing Great Things: UTE Conference

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In June it will be six years since we started this blog, and this past week we were afforded an excellent opportunity to reflect on our experience with it. You see, Greg and I were invited to present at a tourism conference at the Universidad Tecnológica de Escuinapa. It was a wonderful experience—the students were amazing, we met some incredible people, and I also really enjoyed how it motivated me to reflect on where we’ve been and what we’ve learned.

We started VidaMaz.com in order to stay in touch with family and friends after our move. We wanted to be able to share a bit of our new lives with them. What we quickly learned, however, was that the most avid readers of our blog were people who loved Mazatlán, who fantasized about living here, or who already enjoyed living here. We started without any sort of a plan; we were just going to publish posts about our experiences, our daily lives.

And we did.

Then came the swine flu. It had such a huge impact on our daily lives. Movie theaters closed. Concerts were cancelled. Everyone wore masks over their mouths, and used antibacterial gel everywhere. In researching it, the flu seemed to originate on a pig farm in Wisconsin, of all places. But the way Mexico reacted to it caused all sorts of fallout, huge decreases in tourism, and a horrible economic ding on our adopted home.

Next the narco violence rose to the forefront of international media reporting. Wherever I travelled for work, from Istanbul to Bogotá, people looked at me horrified when I told them where I lived. “Why in the world would you choose to live somewhere so unsafe?” So our little blog took on a new passion for us. It was our small way to let people know that we were living peaceful, enjoyable, healthy lives, despite what the media might portray. That Mazatlán was beautiful, was populated by a whole lot of cool and caring people, and that life here was sweet. It was our way to combat the anger we felt that international media insisted on selling only one very negative story of my beloved and wonder-filled adopted country.

A few of the hotels started using our posts, as did some of the realtors and condo associations. They seemed to take our stories about “normal life” as proof to the outside world that living here was, indeed, great. That was fine with us; we just asked for credit. Then we were asked to be interviewed for a few videos, about how it was to live here in Mazatlán as a family, to raise a son here. It wasn’t too long before we were honored to receive an award from the Hotel Association and the State Secretary of Tourism, commending us for our work in tourism. We sure had never planned to be a tourist blog, but such, it seemed, was how we were perceived.

So, six years later, when Dr. Arturo Santamaría Gómez asked us to present at a university conference on using blogs in tourism, we were eager to share our experience and learning. I didn’t realize it would cause me to reflect back, but indeed it did. What had we learned? Where had we journeyed? What stood out most for me was how many incredible people we have had the true pleasure of meeting over the past six years. Even without the blog, we would have met many of them—we are curious, outgoing, we love to learn. But, because of the blog, we’ve met so many more, and have interviewed people in more depth, than we would have normally. This was the true gift of starting a blog—the community it created. The people who are now friends who began as readers, who perhaps wrote us with a question, and now teach us.

So, that very long introduction is to tell you that this past Thursday and Friday we had the distinct honor of presenting at the Congreso Internacional de Creadores de Imagen Turistica, alongside a very interesting Brazilian engineer (Dr. Thiago Duarte Pimental), a Los Angeles Times columnist I’ve long admired (Sam Quiñones), the very talented head chef of Pueblo Bonito (Marino Maganda Pacheco), a charming gentleman from the Nayarit Secretary of Tourism (Raúl Rodrigo Pérez Hernández), and a very talented woman who has changed the face of our fair city in several major ways (Janet Blaser).

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Students attended the conference from several universities in Mazatlán, from throughout southern Sinaloa and northern Nayarit. And were they enthusiastic! I told them their clapping and hollering made me feel like I was an Olympic star! In addition to the main talk, Greg and I gave a 2 1/2 hour workshop on blogs and videos. We were blown away by the students’ commitment to encouraging tourism in a sustainable way—environmentally, socially, and in a way that builds an equitable, respectful relationship between the visitor and host. It was such a joy to be able to work with them!

In addition to the students, we of course met some awesome faculty, tour providers, city tourism professionals, and regional business people. We honestly do live in a place where people rock! We met one young lady who wrote her master’s thesis on a mango tour in Escuinapa. Rather than keep it to herself and make money off it, she has given it to the people, where it belongs, and they are launching it as a public project. Stay tuned and don’t miss out on this cool glimpse into a local farming tradition!

We are truly blessed to have found such a beautiful home and community here. We are very grateful to have been welcomed to a place within it. It is not often we get to teach young people, so this experience was truly splendid.

Please, take a moment to let us know the kind of stories that you most enjoy here on VidaMaz.com. We’d love to hear from you.

 

Religious Tourism in Mazatlán and the Nearby Towns During Holy Week

Crucifix over MZT

I took this photo during the Vía Crucis/Stations of the Cross of PAJUMA Mazatlán (Diocesan youth group). It is taken from the top of the lighthouse after the celebration of an open-air mass. Unfortunately this event does not happen every year.

When I arrived in México I couldn’t wait to participate in some of the incredible Holy Week religious events that I had so long heard about and seen—especially those that re-create Jesus’ long walk to the cross, the Via Dolorosa.

Because our son is still in school, we can’t travel while classes are in session. So, we take advantage of the school break to see some of this gorgeous country, and thus we are usually out of town and miss these great events locally. We have had the pleasure of participating in Holy Week ceremonies in the states of Chihuahua (Copper Canyon) with the Tarahumara, Zacatecas, Guanajuato, and Michoacán among a few others…

Do you know that there is a long tradition of beautiful Holy Week events right here in Mazatlán and the surrounding towns? Kindly, our friends over at Mazatlán Interactivo have agreed to permit us to use their photos and legwork to share with you some of what is available right here in southern Sinaloa.

The biggest events locally take place on Good Friday, which this year falls on March 29, 2013. The reenactments of the crucifixion are generally held late in the morning. These involve members of local parishes dressing up in period costume and acting out the 14 Stations of the Cross. This can get very graphic, with realistically simulated whipping, nailing of hands and feet, and bleeding. It is a beautiful and very moving sight to behold, and I highly recommend you experience it. The actors’ lines come directly from Bible verses.

In some communities there is also a Procession of Silence  after darkness sets in on Good Friday. Members of the community process through the streets holding lit candles and religious relics. Often there is solemn music and the procession is followed by a mass.


Mazatlán
Here in Mazatlán the Diocesan youth group annually conducts PAJUMA (Pascua Juveníl de Mazatlán) a three-day event that takes place in the baseball stadium Estadio Teodoro Mariscal on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday (March 28-30, 9 am – 7 pm each day). The full three days’ attendance is only 50 pesos, and there is no age limit on participation. The kids reenact the crucifixion of Christ there in the stadium and then, still fully dressed, process from the stadium to the cathedral.

MARCH 29, Good Friday, 5:00 pm
Procession of Silence
PAJUMA participants will leave the baseball stadium at 5:00 and head out to the cathedral of the Immaculate Conception downtown, passing by the Aquarium, along the malecón (not many places in the world you can see a Way of the Cross enacted along the oceanfront!), the Fisherman’s Monument, and the pangas in Playa Norte. The procession will then turn left and go down through Plaza Zaragoza to the cathedral.

MARCH 30, Holy Saturday, 5:00 pm and 6:00 pm
Mass of the Resurrection of our Lord, and then the closing of Pascua Juveníl de Mazatlán. Entrance is free after 5:00.

Pretty much every church in the city will have Stations of the Cross on Good Friday, and a vigil with foot washing Thursday evening. Plus, of course, Easter mass. Some congregations reenact the Vía Crucis as well; check with your local parish. Mouseover a photo above to view the caption, or click on one to view the slideshow.

Cosalá (172 km from MZT)
MARCH 29, Good Friday, 11:00 am
Traditional Stations of the Cross, in the church

MARCH 29, Good Friday, 7:00 pm
Procession of Silence

Mouseover a photo below to view the caption, or click on one to view the slideshow.

 

Malpica (Concordia; 38 km from MZT)
MARCH 29, Good Friday, 11:00 am
Reenactment of the crucifixion of Christ, starting from the moment Judas Iscariot kisses him and Jesus is apprehended into custody in the Garden of Gesthemane.

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Viacrucis escénica en Malpica. Photo courtesy Mazatlán Interactivo

Matatán (Rosario; 82 km from MZT)
MARCH 29, Good Friday, 11:00 am
Reenactment of the crucifixion of Christ as he made his way to Golgotha.

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Viacrucis representativa en San Ignacio. Photo courtesy Mazatlán Interactivo

San Ignacio (111 km from MZT)
Our good friends, the reason we ended up loving and living in Mazatlán in the first place, are originally from San Ignacio. It is a gorgeous small town with a huge image of Christ on the hill.

MARCH 29, Good Friday, 11:00 am
Reenactment of the crucifixion of Christ, the Via Dolorosa or Way of the Cross.

MARCH 29, Good Friday, 7:00 pm
Procession of Silence (with music)

Mouseover a photo below to view the caption, or click on one to view the slideshow.

Teacapán (Escuinapa; 130 km from MZT)
MARCH 29, Good Friday, 10:00 am
Reenactment of the crucifixion of Christ and his walk to Calvary.