Saturday, July 3, 2010

Snapshots from Mexico (part 1)

Snapshots from Mexico (part 1); Drinking songs and bad timing
June 2010

Survival Tips Where the Minimum Wage is Five Bucks (A Day)

Early one May morning I was driving through Sonora, Mexico heading for Nogales, AZ. I picked up a couple of men hitchhiking in the town of Imuris. They hopped in, one carrying a sack of vegetables to sell. They both got out in Nogales, Sonora and I headed for the dreaded line to cross the border.

A few minutes later I happened to glance into the rear view mirror and noticed movement in the camper of the truck. I pulled over and out climbed three more guys from the back, two of them with sacks of vegetables. They had climbed in when I pulled over to pick up the other two men and I never noticed. I just smiled as they got out and one attempted his best English to thank me, “Thank you for the rap.”

One of the first two men hitchhikes from his home every day in Imuris to an OXXO store (like a 7-11) near Nogales to sell burritos his wife makes fresh every day. He told me he makes about 1,800 pesos a week ($150 U.S.)—far better than the 500 pesos a week he could earn in a maquiladora. Plus he’s usually sold out by 1 p.m. and headed home where he tries to pick up odd jobs to further supplement his income.

One man I’ve gotten to know from the long waits crossing the border is an elderly gentleman named Victoriano. He hobbles around on a crutch selling chicles (gum). He told me how years ago a car hit him at a gas station and left him in the shape he’s in. He get's a disability payment of 800 pesos a month of which 600 goes towards rent. He's an inspiring figure, never complaining, radiating kindness---a Buddha like figure to me. The last time I saw him he told me with gladness his son had been able to start college.

One friend of ours, Olga, is from the old Pajarero culture, which is a combination of indigenous and gypsy cultures. She grew up living out of a horse drawn cart, camping in villages with her family throughout northern Sonora. She stills travels constantly with her son in an old truck to collect medicinal plants that she sells at different festivals. They also set up their booth “Tiro Sport” where you pay 10 pesos to shoot at little ceramic figures with a pellet gun.

One bit of recent news which ties in with the centennial anniversary of the Mexican Revolution: the miners of Cananea, Sonora (a site of historical significance to the start of the Revolution) who had been on strike for a couple of years and were occupying the mine, were removed by Mexican security forces using tear gas so now the mine may be reopened without the union.

Tocar y Luchar, and don't forget the marshmellows

In June we had our annual camp-out with about 20 kids at the Casa Elizabeth orphanage in Imuris. The recipe—set up a few tents, start a campfire and roast some marshmallows. The kids provided entertainment through songs and jokes. A ghost story or two and a great time was had by all. Ana Maria through Bridges Across Borders has done volunteer work at Casa Elizabeth for years with a violin and music program. Two of the girls are now pursuing university studies and supplementing their income by giving violin lessons.

In Venezuela a remarkable government sponsored program (started decades ago) teaches classical music to poor kids in communities and orphanages throughout the country. I once saw a documentary about this “Tocar y Luchar” (To Play and to Fight), and it blew my mind. To check out the trailer to this go to: can also watch the entire documentary on youtube.

A few days later we held our annual graduation at the prison for the inmates who had completed workshops in the Alternatives to Violence Project
( ). It was an enjoyable time in the Big House as we took in food and beverages and lined up some cultural activities. The Director of the local Casa de la Cultura had promised to bring in some entertainment but it looked up he wasn’t going to show up.

Then as we about lost all hope we looked around and there he was with a group of youth from Casa Elizabeth! It was their choir group of about eight girls accompanied by a boy on guitar. One of the girls, 15 year-old Alicia, gave an amazing little speech about how she had lost her Mother so she and her four siblings had ended up in the orphanage, but still she had been able to evolve and progress in life. “If I can do it, you can too,” she told the guys.

Another man came along to play traditional Mexican music on his guitar. The first song was about drinking and drunks. The Director asked him to avoid songs about drinking which cracked everyone up (the prison was observing the 75th anniversary of Alcoholics Anonymous with special activities that week). He had to think hard about what song he would be able to play.

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