No Child Labor a Good Thing?


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.

Opening of the Hotel Jonathon

We’ve been watching it being built. Have gone in a couple of times to check out the progress. Was supposed to have opened in time for Carnavál last February.

But, hey, the Jonathan Hotelis now open, it’s been open for five days, and it’s beautiful!

Facing the Angela Peralta Theater, it has a view of our city that we haven’t yet been privy to; unless of course you own a 3-story home right in front of the opera house!

On this Thursday evening during graduation and end-of-the-school-year season, it was quite the exciting place to be!

The Hotel Jonathan, built with Korean-San Diego money from what I hear, is really gorgeous.

Very modern, though they kept the historic façade per Centro Histórico regulations.

We went at sunset this evening, and had a drink up on the rooftop bar as we waited for Danny to finish his painting classes at the Municipal Center for the Arts.

The setting is gorgeous, although you see the reality of our fair city right next door.

The food was good but not outstanding. That may of course improve as staff get accustomed to their roles. We ordered barbecued shrimp and crab-stuffed mushrooms. Danny later had clam chowder.

All our dishes were fine, just not remarkable. Presentation was nice.

The Jonathan Hotel would seem to be a beautiful addition to our local boutique hotel scene: well located, old-world yet modern, romantic yet sleek. The restaurant is on the ground floor and is gorgeous, with some nice Asian ink-brush paintings and floor-to-ceiling-windows onto the central courtyard.

A great place to wait for our kids to finish their classes. A great place for before or after the theater. A wonderful place to hear the Plazuela music without the crowds. Tonight the rooftop bar was ours and ours alone.

Let’s hope this venture endures! Good luck and god speed!

Update in July: The Hotel seems to have liked our photos. Check out the header on their web page. Would have been courteous to acknowledge this post and request use, but, glad it’s of use….

Fishing for Jellyfish


We walk the malecón nearly every morning, and at least 2-3 times a week we stop to buy fresh-caught fish. Most local panga fishermen, as fishermen worldwide, seem to have a very difficult life. They work through the night and make very little profit on their catches. Shrimpers have also had a difficult time in recent years, with fewer shrimp to be found, smaller sizes, and lower prices.

This morning in the paper I read that one new fishing market is to catch jellyfish. There have been three new permits issued in Sinaloa state, each permitting the catching of two tons of jellyfish per day. Now, having lived for so many years in Japan, I love jellyfish, and have eaten a lot of it. But I have never heard of a Mexican eating a jellyfish, so the article caught my eye. Sure enough, local fishermen are harvesting jellyfish in order to sell them to the Asian market.

They are fishing for cannonball jellyfish, the same species that US fishermen harvest off the southern Atlantic coast and the Gulf of Mexico.

Jellyfish have been eaten in Asia for over a thousand years. They are a huge market; Japan alone annually imports over $25 million worth of jellyfish, and that’s in addition to what they harvest locally! Jellyfish have a high nutritional value. They contain lots of collagen and protein and no cholesterol; it’s believed jellyfish rejuvenate cells and restore one’s youthful appearance.

There is a very short (two months or so) fishing season for jellyfish. It seems local shrimpers caught cannonball jellies in their nets, and found out that they could market them to Japan rather than throw them back. While many species of fish and shrimp suffer from overfishing, this same overfishing has caused an overpopulation of jellyfish. For years Japanese have created new ways to use and eat jellyfish, since they were in such over-supply.

What has no heart, bones, eyes or brain, is made up of 95% water, and yet is still a remarkably efficient ocean predator? You guessed it! Eat up now!

Some jellyfish recipes
Jellyfish salad
Stir-fried chicken with jellyfish
Jellyfish silk
From Australia
Jellyfish BURGERS????!!!
Jellyfish ice cream
Jellyfish shooter (not really jellyfish, but looks cool!)

Couldn’t resist concluding this post with a jellyfish photo from this year’s Carnaval parade, lol!


Talk with State Secretary of Tourism, 18 Feb 2011

Since I do not run a business here in Mazatlán, I don’t get out and around to many business or chamber-type meetings. Yet, I am a business person, and this is my community. So occasionally, when I do get a chance to attend such a meeting, I tend to get really jazzed. Such was the case last November with the Sergio Fajardo event that I blogged about, and such was the case last Friday when I had breakfast with Oralia Rice Rodríguez, our Sinaloa State Secretary of Tourism, along with about 65 local business leaders.

It is wonderful to get a glimpse into how business and politics are conducted here. I learn a lot about conversational and discussion styles, meet some cool local movers and shakers, and improve my Spanish. And, at least this week, I got a heads-up on some major news prior to it being released publicly (at least, I hadn’t yet heard about it!). Thank you to all who attended and were gracious enough to help me feel welcome!

Please know that any errors in my reporting below are due to inadequate notes or my lack of comprehension. I continue learning about my new home and its people. I post to this blog with the intent to share information in English, not as an expert, but as a resident. I welcome your (helpful  :)) corrections.

So, what happened that was of interest? The big stuff has since the meeting been reported in the press:

  1. Our beloved Las Labradas archeological zone (petroglyphs) will be named a UNESCO World Heritage site. WONDERFUL to hear about that in a venue such as this! I was amazed there was not an outpouring of enthusiasm when Secretary Rice said it; perhaps the others present already knew? The official naming will take place next November.
  2. They are trying to organize a major concert to commemorate the above event, and have invited Andrea Bocelli. This, again, was terrific news, and came out in response to a comment from one of the participants, who suggested that Mazatlán should start hosting world-class, big-name stars on a more regular basis, to resurrect our “golden age.”

In addition to the big news, a couple of trivia pieces that I found of interest: Sec. Rice told us that “Escuinapa” means “Queen of Love” in the Chametla language, and “Teacapán” means “Where love grows.” I did not know Chametla was a language. I googled both of these, but I couldn’t find the details; eager to hear my readers’ insights!

Humberto Rice kicked off the morning by introducing his sister, and then Oralia talked for 15 minutes or so. She seemed to know the majority of the people in the room, and appeared to be very comfortable speaking informally and conversationally to us. She told us:

  • Despite the travails our port and state have been through the past couple of years, hotel room occupancy is actually up about 4%.
  • Mazatlán is in sixth place in Mexico as a tourist destination.
  • The story about the cruise ship tourist who reported her purse stolen, and the homeless man who returned it to the port when he found it sitting beside a bench in the plaza (ALL its contents including ID papers, credit cards and cash intact). We do have terrific people who live in this town! (She did not mention the collection our local foreign residents took up to help and thank the homeless man.)
  • This administration wants a very inclusive and open government; that the shield of Sinaloa belongs “to everyone.”
  • When Malova called her and asked her to be Secretary of Tourism, she asked him why. He told her, “because I want to make Sinaloa the best place in which to live.”
  • She has an open office and any of us are welcome to come to visit her without an appointment. Very surprising to me, she even gave out her cell phone number!
  • At some length about the damage that has been done to our local economy by the US travel warning issued last year that includes Sinaloa and Mazatlán. She said Governor Malova has met with the US State Department, and many state officials have had meetings at the US Embassy in Mexico City, to push for the repeal of this bulletin.
  • She would like to hear how we would like Sinaloa to be six years from now, when the governor finishes his term. That they would like the public and private sectors to work together, to be congruent. That they have or can find the resources, but what they desire are proposals from the local community about how to develop our city going forward.
  • That we have a whole lot of room for development, saying there are 44,000 hotel rooms in Cancún and only 10,000 in Mazatlán, and that she’d be meeting that afternoon at 4:00 to discuss the strategic plan.
  • About the big project in the Historic Center, a pedestrian street along Constitución leading from the cruise ship dock to the Plazuela Machado, into which 6 million pesos will be invested this year.
  • She shared a vision for Mazatlán: To make our Pearl of the Pacific the number one destination for beach and culture in Mexico. I heard several people in the audience murmur that it already is.
  • She encouraged investment into textile plants, including tablecloths and uniforms. Maybe my Spanish comprehension fell apart here, but I wasn’t quite sure how this point fit into the overall theme.
  • The affluence of Sinaloa had risen 8.8% over prior year, despite the economic crisis, and that the numbers of tourists in various categories (cruise ship, national, international) were up 20-30%. This data sure hit me by surprise; I will say that living here, I do not feel an increase in tourism or affluence around me.
  • That TV Azteca would be broadcasting the Carnavál de Mazatlán events live, and that some local hotels are already reporting 100% booking for that period.
  • She shared another vision for Mazatlán: To make our city the “Barcelona of Mexico” and the Angela Peralta “La Scala of Mexico.”
  • Though there was a lot of talk about cruise ships, she also twice to my memory mentioned the importance (very happily to me) of ecologically sound development, and mentioned the upcoming (April 7-10) Congreso de Turismo de Naturaleza (Sustainable Nature Tourism Symposium).
After Secretary Rice finished speaking, the floor was opened to proposals and recommendations, with a format in which three people would each speak, Secretary Rice would respond, and then there would be another two rounds of three in the same manner. We ran out of time before getting to round 3, so only six proposals were offered. They were:
  1. Every tourist destination seems to have a lifecycle. We in Mazatlán do not want to be like Acapulco. We had a golden age, when the world’s best entertainers came here on vacation (rather than Hawaii, Cancun or Arruba). We need to do a big event, invite someone like Placido Domingo, to put us back on the world stage. We should also do surveys of the tourists in the airport.
  2. We need to clean our city: the roads from the airport into town, the malecón, which in the morning smells like a bathroom. This will benefit everyone, visitors and residents. Let’s not take the tourists around the dirty parts, avoiding them; let’s clean them up.
  3. Leticia Alvarado from Recrea read a proposal that was by far my sentimental favorite. She said that tourists come back to visit places where they meet people and can share emotional connections with them. She said we need to work to integrate locals and visitors, by filling our parks, our plazas and our public spaces with life, by cleaning them up, making them beautiful, and holding regular public events (VERY congruent with what Sergio Fajardo told us). She told us about a program in Culiacán where they have walking tours of the city at night, designed to increase safety/decrease fear. She said we need to make people proud to play futbol at the fields in Urías.
  4. There was a question about what COPARMEX can do to support tourist development. Apparently there has been talk for quite some time about making a Tourism Commission within the group, and that will finally be happening soon.
  5. Munir Aún said that we should not limit our dreams, that we should aim high. He suggested we move parallel with FONATUR’s plan for a Teacapan-Stone Island-Mazatlán corridor. It is obviously of utmost importance for Mazatlán to be an integral part of that corridor.
  6. The final question was asked by a developer who said that cruise ship passengers are in town for only a few hours, but part-time residents, whether national or international, spend on average 15 thousand pesos per month that they are in town, and most of them come on average for four months. He encouraged the Secretary to be sure to include this type of tourist in her planning.
Secretary Rice concluded the approximately two-hour meeting by asking those business leaders in the room, “Are we ready for the highway from Durango to open?” She talked about what an incredible opportunity the highway will open for Mazatlán, how much work it’s been. If people come and are disappointed, they won’t come back. We need to be ready, to capitalize on the opportunity. She talked about a “pueblo digno,” a proud city of Mazatlecans who love our heritage and our port. She reminded us that as seafarers and mariners we know how to survive a storm. And, again, she urged everyone to submit their ideas and proposals to the Secretary of Tourism; if they don’t have the resources, they will work with the other departments to get them.

In conclusion, I was left with several things in my mind. So hear goes my personal opinion:
  1. Couldn’t we put together an online “sign this petition,” asking for people’s support to have Mazatlán removed from the US State Department’s travel advisory? I receive several such online petitions every week; they can’t be that hard to do, right? And it couldn’t hurt?
  2. I realize the cruise ships are big money. They are said to build tourism because cruise ship visitors come back for longer stays later. And, we all know how ecologically unsound these ships are. I also very much worry about the impact they have on a local community. During certain hours of the day certain places are crowded and overloaded, while others remain empty. It’s a dynamic that does not seem to me either sustainable or sound for a community. But, yes, the money and exposure are good; many local families survive on that business. So, I would LOVE to see that the Secretary of Tourism keeps the cruise ship business in perspective. I invite her to look at the two vision statements she shared with us on Friday: Mazatlán as THE beach AND culture destination of Mexico, the Barcelona of our country, with El Teatro Angela Peralta being La Scala of the new world. We can all support these visions. Overly focusing on cruise ship tourism could very easily sidetrack us away from that vision, rather than helping to fund and maintain it.
  3. Mazatlán and its environs are absolutely gorgeous. Yet, when I look at photos from decades ago, I realize how much of that beauty we have lost. The gorgeous estuaries along the coast that we used to have! The mangrove forests! The clear blue skies! Any sustainable tourism development plan, it seems to me, MUST include a plan for preserving our natural environment. Ecologically sound development must guide us. The scrubbers on the power plants will be a good start, but we need to convert our buses for clean-air energy. Neither tourists nor locals want to wake up to black clouds of inverted air pollution! There are grants available internationally for this sort of thing. Let’s go, Mazatlán! We can clean and beautify our environment while we create a better style of life for our people! Cleaner air (and water) means healthier people and fewer medical bills.
  4. I’d like to echo what Leticia Alvarado Fuentes said. By bringing life to our public spaces, and encouraging year-round cultural activities, we will overcome violence, build community, and attract tourism. Year-round cultural activities, for everyone. Let us not get stuck in an us vs them, tourist vs local, mindset of hosting cultural activities in the tourist season with nothing for the locals the rest of the year. Mazatlán has an incredibly rich cultural life, and showing it off all year long can do nothing but extend our tourist season!