Tag: deep Mexico

Broccoli Bandits and Just Plain Bandits

Cameras and Broccoli

After exactly one week, one of the local bandits walked through the unfinished building ten feet from us and, as predicted, stepped out onto a ledge and dropped a heavy rock on our neighbor’s replacement security camera—which had been placed by right below it.

I guess you could call it a war over the public space and how it should be used. The alleys are for whom? Arbitrary occupation and use by a few families, or for safe passage for everyone? It’s all more comprehensible if you think of bandit and non-bandit culture, for which there is a long history in Mexico. The bandit culture says, “I will take what I want and you can’t stop me—because I have rights, too.” Except that bandit or tribal rights exclude the rights of others. “There shall be no limits on my behavior,” says bandit culture.

So how do you resolve the issue, if you have to change culture in order to do it?

What about broccoli culture? It is entirely the opposite. We were returning from San Miguel the other afternoon. There was a big truck ahead of us, with high sides and back and an open top. It was loaded with broccoli, with a loose tarp over everything. At the smallest bump, the whole load jiggled like—well, broccoli.

I said to Dianne, “Bump the back of the truck (with our Honda CV-R), maybe some broccoli will fall off.” I was joking, of course. But then the truck came to a tope—a speed bump—a little too quickly. Three heads of broccoli fell off. I said, “Stop!” Dianne stopped, in the middle of traffic. I jumped out in bare feat. I picked up three heads of broccoli. Bandit work. After all, the truck had gone on. I offered one to a motorcyclist behind us. He shook his head grimly, as if the say, “Get out of my way, free the road.”

We drove on a bit. A man was returning to the sidewalk. He had two heads of broccoli. I whistled my loud whistle at him, motioned a throw, he prepared to catch, I tossed, he caught. Big smiles at each other. A moving broccoli pass-off.

Farther ahead, a young woman was picking up broccoli. I called, “Buen provecho!” Bon Appétit. Big conspiratorial smile. We crossed the railroad line. Farther along, a man had gotten out of his car to retrieve fallen broccoli. “That’s private property, you know,” I said. He didn’t know what to think. In a few seconds, he passed us on the inside and waved—smiling.

We stopped one more time. I got out and picked up a broccoli. A nice one. Then I saw that a woman had started across the road from a fruit stand. I walked to meet her. She came forward, we met in the middle of the highway. It was a sweet exchange. After all, we had all the broccoli we needed, and she had hoped for one.

What happened? you ask. I think we were performing bandit culture, but with a difference, in that we were sharing the public space—and the public booty.

Looking for San Marcos

IMG_0491IMG_0481With some trepidation, I left the main highway at Magdalena, part way between Tepic and Guadalajara—in search of the railhead that a hundred years ago was the site of Mexico’s own little Auschwitz.

I tend to think of Mexican cuotas—toll roads—as an additional layer of security for a driver. But I drove south over narrow country roads in bad repair and away from the cuota. Everything said agriculture, and nothing said narco. By that I mean that everything I saw had to do with farming, work, and time moving in sync with the growing seasons. No big pickups that had shiny chrome bumpers and were over-all too clean. No big guys with bellies, dressed casually and wearing gold necklaces. I had my map book Guía Roji, and I had gas. I had money, and I had a cell phone. And I had a goal.

I was looking for San Marcos and a certain building just before it. I had no idea whether I would actually be able to approach the building, or whether it would even still be there. I had looked down on it from Google Earth, but I had no idea how old the satellite photo was. I could tell it was the building, because I could still see traces of the railroad that had run past it. I had also seen the great eucalyptus grove that stood beside it and is said to have grown over mass graves of Yaqui Indians (and others: Mayos, political dissidents) who 1906-1910 were captured—as many as 15,000 of them—in the state of Sonora, brought by train (boxcars) from Hermosillo to Guaymas, put on ships, disembarked in San Blas, then force-marched with little food and water roughly 300 kilometers for 15 to 20 days over the mountains from San Blas at the coast to San Marcos, the closest rail head at that time, 80 kilometers west of Guadalajara.

Many of the prisoners were women and children. Men of fighting age were either still in the mountains east of Guaymas, the Bacatete, killed in battle, or executed as enemies of the state. For hundreds of years they had been defending their rich tribal lands and water against first the Spanish, then against Mexican hacendados with enormous, ever-increasing land holdings—while American money owned the mines, built the railroad right into the Yaqui lands, and needed cheap labor in the henequen fields of the Yucatan—where many of the Yaquis were sent to work and perish quickly as forced labor.

Already in the 1870s, henequen growers in the Yucatan were in debt to North American rope manufacturers who needed the henequen fiber called sisal and whose backers (Hearst, Guggenheim Rockefeller, I have read) provided the finances to keep the farms operating. (http://www.saudicaves.com/mx/yaquis/). The cheap labor that they got included Mayans from the Yucatan, Korean indentured workers, Chinese, Mexican political dissidents, Yaqui deportees, and many other groups. By the 1870s, Mexico was supplying 90% of the world’s sisal, mainly for rope and burlap—the time of capitalism and empire, when the dominant nations had to have massive hawsers for their merchant- and warship fleets.

Everyone got a cut from the sale of Yaquis—the Governor of the State, the “labor agents,” anyone with immediate control over the prisoners. I have read conflicting figures: 2.50 pesos at San Marcos, per head; or, 25 centavos, per head. Families were split up and sold (women and girls sold separately) in different directions at San Marcos.

There is a long history of Indian children being given to white families around Hermosillo and Guaymas (before deporting their parents) so that they could grow up to be “civilized,” as opposed to “barbarian,” terms used freely in the times.

There are few if any records. There is some recorded oral history: I highly recommend Raquel Padilla Ramos’s “Los partes fragmentados narrativos de la guerra y la deportación Yaquis” and John Kenneth Turner’s book “Barbarous Mexico” (1910), which exposed the genocide against the Yaquis. You can download it from Amazon.

I could see the eucalyptus grove first. It towered over the rest of landscape. Then I saw the building. I wondered about access. I passed up the first left, barely a track. Then I saw a well-used second left, a dirt road leading into the north end of the station. I was able to drive right up to the station on my left and the grove on my right.

As soon as I stepped out of my car, a small black dog began to hector me, begging to be fed and cared for—a more contemporary example of abandonment. I entered the building, with the dog on my heels. It was exactly the way I had seen it in photos: dirt floor, fairly intact corrugated roof and, everywhere, graffiti. There was no plaque, no sign, no reference anywhere to state or local protection, nothing of the history of the place. I wondered why it was still standing, still there. A hundred years had passed. Who owned the land, the building, and the grove? Why wasn’t the old station either torn down or used for something else?

I walked into a few side rooms. Living in a country with so many buildings still carrying signs of history, I looked for clues. On the outside wall, where the trains would have stood, there are bullet holes in the wall. I found about fifty of them, some very low, meaning that the shots had been directed at people sitting or lying. At Buchenwald, out side of Weimar, there are bullet holes in the floor of a fairly small room with a drain in the middle. A sign said that Russian prisoners of war were executed in that room. They had been sitting or lying when they were shot. Two hundred feet to the west, there was a ruin of a few standing walls. The back wall had a great many bullet holes in it at various heights. That place seemed as if it was a more intentional execution site. For a while I had thought the impact patterns were also evidence of automatic fire that pointed to a later time; but now I am not so sure.

Some of the train rails are still embedded in concrete near the station. There is a ramp up to the train level. The roof overhangs the platform on both sides of the station. There had been another two people taking dirt from a pile near the grove. They departed. That left me and the little black dog, that continued to whimper—placing me in the curious and ironic dilemma of offering my empathy to those who had suffered in this place a hundred years ago, while denying it to a creature who needed immediate help and might or might not ever receive it.

Why did I seek this place out, and why am I writing about it now? Because I think it is important not to forget what we are capable of—murdering each other, enslaving each other for whatever purpose. That is why the Germans and Poles have preserved the concentration camps in those countries.

Somebody appears to be protecting the San Marcos site, but also not wanting to advertise that fact—perhaps because the State or the Republic will not permit it. It is some kind of informal arrangement—and a mystery I cannot explain. I am not sure what percentage of its visitors have any idea what happened there. They come as picnickers or graffiti artists. But I suspect that some of them are also the descendants of the people who perished there or farther down the line—and I suspect some of them are Yaquis.

The Resistance of Chiles

I bring you good news. Essential, deep Mexico is alive and well—I will get to that in a moment—even though the country has once again certified a new president who did not win on a level or even honest playing field.

The opposition, the Movimiento Progresivo (the Progressive Movement), calls it an imposition. Enrique Peña Nieto is now new President of México. But this is the Mexico known by some as méxico imaginario. That is a reference to Bonfil’s book México Profundo, where he contrasts the two Mexicos: the first, méxico profundo (Deep Mexico); the second, méxico imaginario (Imaginary Mexico).

What is the difference between these two Mexicos?

In Imaginary Mexico, modern freeways connect major cities, with their Costcos and Radio Shacks. But beside the highways–beyond the shopping centers, the advanced health centers, the international banks, the tourist hotels and the beaches–across the mountains, covering the entire country there is a parallel world (méxico profundo) of human, horse and burro paths, still used, which connect villages, milpas (corn patches), memory, hunger, love, loss, and war.

This is the deep indigenous landscape of the Mexican psyche from which comes the vocabulary of poetry, song, food, folk medicine, and art. It is a landscape as essential to Mexicans as the forests of New England were to the Transcendentalists. It is a landscape that is in danger of becoming extinct because of modern institutions both legal and illegal.

Big media, government, business monopolies, the Church, and the government institutions that serve these (in this case, the Federal Election Institute and the Federal Electoral Court) point away from deep landscape, while using its customs and images for their own narratives.

The state does not invest in its human capital. The “elected” leaders pass laws that allow the wealthy to offshore their capital gains and practice tax avoidance. Trade agreements like NAFTA allow lucrative grain dumping on the Mexican market. Corn farmers give up and move to urban poverty. Rural and urban youth turn to glue sniffing or to the drug cartels, or cross the border at great risk, because here there are few jobs and severely limited openings in publicly financed education.

When election time comes, huge amounts of laundered money finance the ruling elite–to keep the chusma aturdida (the unruly mob) at bay. The poor and uninformed sell their votes for food or household items and follow the misinformation disseminated by the two big television monopolies.
These two Mexicos–deep culture and modernizing culture–and the tensions that build between them form the background tectonic rumble behind everything that happens in Mexico.

But Deep Mexico carries on, as if invulnerable to the machinations of dictatorship, autocracy, and monopoly. How do I know this? Because I walked to the Mercado Hidalgo today to buy chiles. I stood before piles of chiles –fragrant pequín, de árbol, guajillo, habanero, mulato, ancho, cascabel, pasilla, tepín, puya, chipotle, mulato, and manzana (fresh cascabel). All these weren’t there, but they looked like the ones I saw. A handsome stout woman with only one front tooth explained the names of the ones she had (I did not retain the names, some were not familiar) and what they were used for, how hot, how to prepare them, their flavors, and the ones she preferred for the blond easy-to-cook Peruviano bean and the black slow-cooking black bean, for this rich mole and that. I was looking for chile de árbol but ended up buying five different kinds. She made little packages of the different types, then put those in a large plastic bag. I paid her 38 pesos ($2.50). I put the chiles in my small LLBean backpack, beside my three packs of Radio Shack AAA batteries. And then I walked back to the center and climbed the 203 steps to my house.