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Changes in Immigration at the Mexico/United States Border

By Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken

Our grand-parents were immigrants who fled violence and oppression from Russia in the early 1900s; refuge was provided for them and their cousins in the U.S., Mexico, and Canada. While a significant number of current residents of North America trace their roots back to indigenous residents or people who were forced onto ships and brought here against their will, many of us are descendants of people who bravely traveled to the New World assured that their lives would be better and that their skills and get-up-and-go would be welcomed. Although immigrants have always faced xenophobia and lack of social acceptance, over a period of time, most immigrants integrate into the work-a-day world and achieve upward mobility.

The United States, in particular, has always been considered to be a “melting pot” – a place where diversity was prized and a welcome message was literally inscribed on the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor. The annual number of migrants admitted to the U.S. adjusted up or down periodically. During boom times, immigrants supply much needed labor as the country’s economy grows. During economic downturns, immigrants have been both formally and informally excluded. During the Great Depression, President Hoover specifically restricted immigration from Mexico, and the city of Los Angeles tried to repatriate immigrants who had already settled there from Mexico in order to avoid providing services they needed. Mass deportations of Mexicans were instituted, and the contemptuous term “wetback” became part of the lexicon of the U.S. Government. Willingly or unwillingly, there were more immigrants leaving the U.S. during the Depression than were arriving, counting both legal and undocumented immigrants.

We were fortunate enough to have grown up in the U.S. during the boom times that followed the end of World War II. At that time, the U.S. was flooded with refugees from all over the world. New York City streets rang with a polyglot of languages, as did areas of other large cities. The voracious need for labor at steel mills in South Chicago attracted so many Mexican immigrants that some neighborhoods in the area became like small islands of Mexico surrounded by other ethnic and racial groups. In the following decades, Mexico became the number one source of immigrants to the U.S. For ourselves, as newly-weds in 1963, on a tight graduate student budget, we favored Mexican restaurants for a luxury dinner out.

While raising our children in Los Angeles in the 1970s and early 1980s, our lives were enriched by the local Mexican-American culture. Some families of our kids’ friends were upper-middle class Chicanos whose forebears had lived in the area when it was still Mexico, long before the United States grabbed it. The cafeterias at the local schools served burritos, enchiladas, beans, and rice. Our children spoke Spanglish, and our son, when he worked for the summer on a construction team, brought home choice Spanish words that even now we rarely hear in Mexico. Downtown Los Angeles featured Sundays when girls in their quinceañera gowns were being photographed in Father Serra Park. During school vacations we frequently headed south for carnivals in Tijuana, for whale watching off the Baja Coast, or just to wander around the beautiful Sonoran desert. The border between the U.S. and Mexico was easily navigated in both directions. While camping near California’s Salton Sea, we could decide to drive over the border to Mexicali for dinner and be back in time to bed down in our tents.

Driving through the vast agricultural areas in California, whether at sunrise, during the hot afternoons or toward sunset, we usually sighted Mexican immigrants doing stoop labor in the fields. California was not the only state relying on Mexican immigrants for back-breaking agricultural labor. Name any state producing fruits, vegetables or grains for American consumption or for export, and you will find that the backbone of the industry was primarily provided by Spanish-speaking families from south of the border. The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 – the last major U.S. immigration legislation – in part recognized the contribution made by undocumented immigrants from Mexico by granting the right to apply for legal status to immigrants who had arrived before May 1982 and remained in the U.S. after working in agriculture for 90 days. However, the Act also fined employers who were found to hire undocumented field workers after May 1982.

Even with generally tighter restrictions on hiring undocumented workers, the booming U.S. economy attracted greater numbers of immigrants from Mexico. Between 1990 and 2000, the number grew from over 4 million to over 9 million. This trend ended when the U.S. economy collapsed during the financial recession in 2007. Between 2007 and 2017 the number of undocumented Mexicans living in the U.S. decreased by 2 million people.

The Mexicans who provided Americans with labor that no U.S. citizen would willingly undertake were hardly living the American dream, but their lives were arguably better than they would have been in rural villages or urban ghettos in Mexico. And for the most part, the attitude of Americans in the 20th century was “live and let live.” That is not to say there was no xenophobia; periods of intense xenophobia, overt stereotyping and violence directed against specific ethnic groups of immigrants have occurred regularly. Irish immigrants fleeing the potato famine in the late 19th century were held in contempt and Prohibition was passed in large part as a symbolic means of rejecting their culture. During World War II, Japanese and German descendants of immigrants were vilified, and Japanese families were confined to concentration camps. Even though by 2010 the number of Mexican immigrants had started to decrease, the past decade has seen a period of intensifying xenophobia against them and other immigrant groups.

Two major developments may in part have been responsible for this rise of nationalism and rejection of new immigrants. In Mexico and Central America, drug cartels became increasingly dominant and violent; hundreds and then thousands of people from Mexico and Central America began fleeing for safety to the U.S., flooding the border.

At the same time, the economy in the U.S. dramatically shifted away from manual labor to technology-driven employment. Coal mines closed, ranching and farming became large-scale corporate enterprises, and factories replaced human employees with robots. Large numbers of blue-collar laborers lost their traditional jobs; while many shifted over to the service industry their compensation barely met subsistence requirements. Their American dream had failed and they were angry. Along came Donald Trump who provided them with a scapegoat for their anger.

On the day he announced his run to be President, Trump vilified Mexican immigrants, labelling them criminals and rapists. Candidate Donald Trump proclaimed that, if elected as US President, to keep Mexicans out he would build a big, “beautiful” wall, akin to the Great Wall of China, along the length of the border, and that Mexico would pay for the construction. Leaders in Mexico retorted at times in very colorful language that there was no way Mexico was going to pay for the wall. But blue-collar workers rallied around Trump to the cry, “Build the wall.”

After Trump was elected, he used executive order after executive order in an attempt to put an end to Mexican immigration. The U.S. Congress essentially refused to fund the wall, so Trump ordered the diversion of funds from the Department of Defense, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and other sources to start construction. The wall project continued through his administration, but fell far short of his grandiose plan, mostly replacing sections of the preexisting border wall that had deteriorated in the harsh desert weather.

Trump also ordered the end of the practice of allowing undocumented immigrants who had been arrested by the Border Patrol to remain in the U.S. with relatives or other sponsors until their request for asylum could be adjudicated. Calling this practice by the derogatory term, “catch and release,” the Trump administration ordered that undocumented refugees found on the U.S. side of the border be warehoused in jails and then bussed under guard back to Mexico, where they were unceremoniously dumped in the streets of border cities.

Trump also reduced the annual numbers of people allowed to legally immigrate to the US, reduced the numbers of federal employees processing people applying for visas from Mexico and Central America, and reduced the number of judges to whom refugees could appeal for sanctuary. The whole process that allowed people fleeing from drug wars to legally enter the U.S. was essentially gutted, and those who simply tried to enter the U.S. legally were jailed at the border. When photos of children jailed in cages went viral, Trump had his administration carry out an even more horrendous policy: children were separated from their parents, babies literally ripped from the arms of their mothers, and were taken to remote buildings – essentially warehouses with virtually no one trained in childcare to look after them. The children were later taken to other places in the U.S., and the parents were deported. No system was in place to track the placement of the children, and thousands of them were lost to their families until there was a national outcry. Nonprofit organizations tried to substitute for the government and reunite the children with their parents – but in some cases this was an impossible task.

When COVID became a pandemic, although Trump refused to address COVID as a problem and insisted that the virus would just disappear, he disingenuously used the disease as an excuse to stop virtually any refugee from entering the U.S. while they formally requested visas. Trump struck a bargain with Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) to cooperate in turning back people seeking legal entry into the U.S. and allowing them to stay in Mexico in border cities until the U.S. was ready to process them. Mexican border towns were turned into tent cities – refugee concentration camps – with few if any services. Among those living on the street were thousands of unaccompanied children who had traveled by themselves or small groups together, with telephone numbers or other contact information for relatives or family friends in the U.S.

The only people to benefit from this policy were, first of all, high-level cartel members who were arrested in the U.S. and, instead of standing trial, were returned to Mexico without fear of punishment and, second, “coyotes” – those who for an exorbitant charge guide refugees across the border through tunnels under border walls or by creating breaks in border fences. The horrors experienced by those crossing the border have inspired best-selling novels such as American Dirt, and critically-lauded plays such as Mojada, a Medea in Los Angeles. But real people are still suffering on a daily basis. On Tuesday, March 2, a Ford Explorer with the seats removed carried 25 people through a breach in the border wall in the southeast corner of California. The Explorer headed west and pulled onto CA Route 115 in front of a semi hauling two empty trailers. The crash killed 13 people in the Explorer; one woman, knocked unconscious, woke up to find her dead daughter stretched across her lap.

Trump also reduced the annual numbers of people allowed to legally immigrate to the US, reduced the numbers of federal employees processing people applying for visas from Mexico and Central America, and reduced the number of judges to whom refugees could appeal for sanctuary. The whole process that allowed people fleeing from drug wars to legally enter the U.S. was essentially gutted, and those who simply tried to enter the U.S. legally were jailed at the border. When photos of children jailed in cages went viral, Trump had his administration carry out an even more horrendous policy: children were separated from their parents, babies literally ripped from the arms of their mothers, and were taken to remote buildings – essentially warehouses with virtually no one trained in childcare to look after them. The children were later taken to other places in the U.S., and the parents were deported. No system was in place to track the placement of the children, and thousands of them were lost to their families until there was a national outcry. Nonprofit organizations tried to substitute for the government and reunite the children with their parents – but in some cases this was an impossible task.

When COVID became a pandemic, although Trump refused to address COVID as a problem and insisted that the virus would just disappear, he disingenuously used the disease as an excuse to stop virtually any refugee from entering the U.S. while they formally requested visas. Trump struck a bargain with Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) to cooperate in turning back people seeking legal entry into the U.S. and allowing them to stay in Mexico in border cities until the U.S. was ready to process them. Mexican border towns were turned into tent cities – refugee concentration camps – with few if any services. Among those living on the street were thousands of unaccompanied children who had traveled by themselves or small groups together, with telephone numbers or other contact information for relatives or family friends in the U.S.

The only people to benefit from this policy were, first of all, high-level cartel members who were arrested in the U.S. and, instead of standing trial, were returned to Mexico without fear of punishment and, second, “coyotes” – those who for an exorbitant charge guide refugees across the border through tunnels under border walls or by creating breaks in border fences. The horrors experienced by those crossing the border have inspired best-selling novels such as American Dirt, and critically-lauded plays such as Mojada, a Medea in Los Angeles. But real people are still suffering on a daily basis. On Tuesday, March 2, a Ford Explorer with the seats removed carried 25 people through a breach in the border wall in the southeast corner of California. The Explorer headed west and pulled onto CA Route 115 in front of a semi hauling two empty trailers. The crash killed 13 people in the Explorer; one woman, knocked unconscious, woke up to find her dead daughter stretched across her lap.

Trump also reduced the annual numbers of people allowed to legally immigrate to the US, reduced the numbers of federal employees processing people applying for visas from Mexico and Central America, and reduced the number of judges to whom refugees could appeal for sanctuary. The whole process that allowed people fleeing from drug wars to legally enter the U.S. was essentially gutted, and those who simply tried to enter the U.S. legally were jailed at the border. When photos of children jailed in cages went viral, Trump had his administration carry out an even more horrendous policy: children were separated from their parents, babies literally ripped from the arms of their mothers, and were taken to remote buildings – essentially warehouses with virtually no one trained in childcare to look after them. The children were later taken to other places in the U.S., and the parents were deported. No system was in place to track the placement of the children, and thousands of them were lost to their families until there was a national outcry. Nonprofit organizations tried to substitute for the government and reunite the children with their parents – but in some cases this was an impossible task.

When COVID became a pandemic, although Trump refused to address COVID as a problem and insisted that the virus would just disappear, he disingenuously used the disease as an excuse to stop virtually any refugee from entering the U.S. while they formally requested visas. Trump struck a bargain with Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) to cooperate in turning back people seeking legal entry into the U.S. and allowing them to stay in Mexico in border cities until the U.S. was ready to process them. Mexican border towns were turned into tent cities – refugee concentration camps – with few if any services. Among those living on the street were thousands of unaccompanied children who had traveled by themselves or small groups together, with telephone numbers or other contact information for relatives or family friends in the U.S.

The only people to benefit from this policy were, first of all, high-level cartel members who were arrested in the U.S. and, instead of standing trial, were returned to Mexico without fear of punishment and, second, “coyotes” – those who for an exorbitant charge guide refugees across the border through tunnels under border walls or by creating breaks in border fences. The horrors experienced by those crossing the border have inspired best-selling novels such as American Dirt, and critically-lauded plays such as Mojada, a Medea in Los Angeles. But real people are still suffering on a daily basis. On Tuesday, March 2, a Ford Explorer with the seats removed carried 25 people through a breach in the border wall in the southeast corner of California. The Explorer headed west and pulled onto CA Route 115 in front of a semi hauling two empty trailers. The crash killed 13 people in the Explorer; one woman, knocked unconscious, woke up to find her dead daughter stretched across her lap.

Trump also reduced the annual numbers of people allowed to legally immigrate to the US, reduced the numbers of federal employees processing people applying for visas from Mexico and Central America, and reduced the number of judges to whom refugees could appeal for sanctuary. The whole process that allowed people fleeing from drug wars to legally enter the U.S. was essentially gutted, and those who simply tried to enter the U.S. legally were jailed at the border. When photos of children jailed in cages went viral, Trump had his administration carry out an even more horrendous policy: children were separated from their parents, babies literally ripped from the arms of their mothers, and were taken to remote buildings – essentially warehouses with virtually no one trained in childcare to look after them. The children were later taken to other places in the U.S., and the parents were deported. No system was in place to track the placement of the children, and thousands of them were lost to their families until there was a national outcry. Nonprofit organizations tried to substitute for the government and reunite the children with their parents – but in some cases this was an impossible task.

When COVID became a pandemic, although Trump refused to address COVID as a problem and insisted that the virus would just disappear, he disingenuously used the disease as an excuse to stop virtually any refugee from entering the U.S. while they formally requested visas. Trump struck a bargain with Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) to cooperate in turning back people seeking legal entry into the U.S. and allowing them to stay in Mexico in border cities until the U.S. was ready to process them. Mexican border towns were turned into tent cities – refugee concentration camps – with few if any services. Among those living on the street were thousands of unaccompanied children who had traveled by themselves or small groups together, with telephone numbers or other contact information for relatives or family friends in the U.S.

The only people to benefit from this policy were, first of all, high-level cartel members who were arrested in the U.S. and, instead of standing trial, were returned to Mexico without fear of punishment and, second, “coyotes” – those who for an exorbitant charge guide refugees across the border through tunnels under border walls or by creating breaks in border fences. The horrors experienced by those crossing the border have inspired best-selling novels such as American Dirt, and critically-lauded plays such as Mojada, a Medea in Los Angeles. But real people are still suffering on a daily basis. On Tuesday, March 2, a Ford Explorer with the seats removed carried 25 people through a breach in the border wall in the southeast corner of California. The Explorer headed west and pulled onto CA Route 115 in front of a semi hauling two empty trailers. The crash killed 13 people in the Explorer; one woman, knocked unconscious, woke up to find her dead daughter stretched across her lap.

Trump also reduced the annual numbers of people allowed to legally immigrate to the US, reduced the numbers of federal employees processing people applying for visas from Mexico and Central America, and reduced the number of judges to whom refugees could appeal for sanctuary. The whole process that allowed people fleeing from drug wars to legally enter the U.S. was essentially gutted, and those who simply tried to enter the U.S. legally were jailed at the border. When photos of children jailed in cages went viral, Trump had his administration carry out an even more horrendous policy: children were separated from their parents, babies literally ripped from the arms of their mothers, and were taken to remote buildings – essentially warehouses with virtually no one trained in childcare to look after them. The children were later taken to other places in the U.S., and the parents were deported. No system was in place to track the placement of the children, and thousands of them were lost to their families until there was a national outcry. Nonprofit organizations tried to substitute for the government and reunite the children with their parents – but in some cases this was an impossible task.

When COVID became a pandemic, although Trump refused to address COVID as a problem and insisted that the virus would just disappear, he disingenuously used the disease as an excuse to stop virtually any refugee from entering the U.S. while they formally requested visas. Trump struck a bargain with Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) to cooperate in turning back people seeking legal entry into the U.S. and allowing them to stay in Mexico in border cities until the U.S. was ready to process them. Mexican border towns were turned into tent cities – refugee concentration camps – with few if any services. Among those living on the street were thousands of unaccompanied children who had traveled by themselves or small groups together, with telephone numbers or other contact information for relatives or family friends in the U.S.

The only people to benefit from this policy were, first of all, high-level cartel members who were arrested in the U.S. and, instead of standing trial, were returned to Mexico without fear of punishment and, second, “coyotes” – those who for an exorbitant charge guide refugees across the border through tunnels under border walls or by creating breaks in border fences. The horrors experienced by those crossing the border have inspired best-selling novels such as American Dirt, and critically-lauded plays such as Mojada, a Medea in Los Angeles. But real people are still suffering on a daily basis. On Tuesday, March 2, a Ford Explorer with the seats removed carried 25 people through a breach in the border wall in the southeast corner of California. The Explorer headed west and pulled onto CA Route 115 in front of a semi hauling two empty trailers. The crash killed 13 people in the Explorer; one woman, knocked unconscious, woke up to find her dead daughter stretched across her lap.

The only people to benefit from this policy were, first of all, high-level cartel members who were arrested in the U.S. and, instead of standing trial, were returned to Mexico without fear of punishment and, second, “coyotes” – those who for an exorbitant charge guide refugees across the border through tunnels under border walls or by creating breaks in border fences. The horrors experienced by those crossing the border have inspired best-selling novels such as American Dirt, and critically-lauded plays such as Mojada, a Medea in Los Angeles. But real people are still suffering on a daily basis. On Tuesday, March 2, a Ford Explorer with the seats removed carried 25 people through a breach in the border wall in the southeast corner of California. The Explorer headed west and pulled onto CA Route 115 in front of a semi hauling two empty trailers. The crash killed 13 people in the Explorer; one woman, knocked unconscious, woke up to find her dead daughter stretched across her lap.

The only people to benefit from this policy were, first of all, high-level cartel members who were arrested in the U.S. and, instead of standing trial, were returned to Mexico without fear of punishment and, second, “coyotes” – those who for an exorbitant charge guide refugees across the border through tunnels under border walls or by creating breaks in border fences. The horrors experienced by those crossing the border have inspired best-selling novels such as American Dirt, and critically-lauded plays such as Mojada, a Medea in Los Angeles. But real people are still suffering on a daily basis. On Tuesday, March 2, a Ford Explorer with the seats removed carried 25 people through a breach in the border wall in the southeast corner of California. The Explorer headed west and pulled onto CA Route 115 in front of a semi hauling two empty trailers. The crash killed 13 people in the Explorer; one woman, knocked unconscious, woke up to find her dead daughter stretched across her lap.

The only people to benefit from this policy were, first of all, high-level cartel members who were arrested in the U.S. and, instead of standing trial, were returned to Mexico without fear of punishment and, second, “coyotes” – those who for an exorbitant charge guide refugees across the border through tunnels under border walls or by creating breaks in border fences. The horrors experienced by those crossing the border have inspired best-selling novels such as American Dirt, and critically-lauded plays such as Mojada, a Medea in Los Angeles. But real people are still suffering on a daily basis. On Tuesday, March 2, a Ford Explorer with the seats removed carried 25 people through a breach in the border wall in the southeast corner of California. The Explorer headed west and pulled onto CA Route 115 in front of a semi hauling two empty trailers. The crash killed 13 people in the Explorer; one woman, knocked unconscious, woke up to find her dead daughter stretched across her lap.

The only people to benefit from this policy were, first of all, high-level cartel members who were arrested in the U.S. and, instead of standing trial, were returned to Mexico without fear of punishment and, second, “coyotes” – those who for an exorbitant charge guide refugees across the border through tunnels under border walls or by creating breaks in border fences. The horrors experienced by those crossing the border have inspired best-selling novels such as American Dirt, and critically-lauded plays such as Mojada, a Medea in Los Angeles. But real people are still suffering on a daily basis. On Tuesday, March 2, a Ford Explorer with the seats removed carried 25 people through a breach in the border wall in the southeast corner of California. The Explorer headed west and pulled onto CA Route 115 in front of a semi hauling two empty trailers. The crash killed 13 people in the Explorer; one woman, knocked unconscious, woke up to find her dead daughter stretched across her lap.

One of the primary issues raised during the 2020 U.S. Presidential elections concerned the conditions and policies in place at the Mexican-U.S. border. While Trump supporters were still chanting “Build the Wall,” Biden supporters were crying, “No more children in cages.” As a candidate, Biden promised to overturn the executive orders Trump had signed that created egregious conditions at the border and to submit a comprehensive immigration bill for legislation – the first in thirty-five years. That promise was fulfilled on Inauguration Day, as President Biden began signing the promised executive orders returning the U.S. border to a place where refugees can be treated with dignity and just practices. One order specifically stated:

The long tradition of the United States as a leader in refugee resettlement provides a beacon of hope for persecuted people around the world. … Through the United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP), the Federal Government, cooperating with private partners and American citizens in communities across the country, demonstrates the generosity and core values of our Nation, while benefitting from the many contributions that refugees make to our country. Accordingly, it shall be the policy of my Administration that … USRAP should be rebuilt and expanded, commensurate with global need. … Delays in administering USRAP and other humanitarian programs are counter to our national interests, can raise grave humanitarian concerns, and should be minimized.

On his first day in office President Biden also submitted The U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, which “establishes a new system to responsibly manage and secure our border, keep our families and communities safe, and better manage migration across the Hemisphere.” Specific measures delineate staff and resources to ameliorate the humanitarian crisis on the U.S.-Mexican Border, and procedures for encouraging refugees to apply for and receive visas to the enter the U.S. long before they reach the border.

But the job is daunting. Thousands of unaccompanied children are arriving on the border every day. Given that Trump eviscerated the entire system for humanely and rapidly processing people seeking sanctuary on the border, the whole process needs to be built back. While the new administration is working as rapidly as government agencies can, many agencies are heavily involved in addressing the immediate needs of asylum seekers, in particular children living in federal facilities or on the streets in border towns. One measure in place is a promise to the children’s contacts in the U.S. that their own documentation status will not lead to negative consequences if they come to claim the children and care for them. Another telling example of the difference that is currently taking place at the border is the role of FEMA; rather than expropriating FEMA funds for building a largely ineffectual wall, FEMA staff, trained to provide humanitarian aid after natural catastrophes, are now using their resources and skills to alleviate the humanitarian crises caused by human forces on both sides of the border.

One of the primary issues raised during the 2020 U.S. Presidential elections concerned the conditions and policies in place at the Mexican-U.S. border. While Trump supporters were still chanting “Build the Wall,” Biden supporters were crying, “No more children in cages.” As a candidate, Biden promised to overturn the executive orders Trump had signed that created egregious conditions at the border and to submit a comprehensive immigration bill for legislation – the first in thirty-five years. That promise was fulfilled on Inauguration Day, as President Biden began signing the promised executive orders returning the U.S. border to a place where refugees can be treated with dignity and just practices. One order specifically stated:

The long tradition of the United States as a leader in refugee resettlement provides a beacon of hope for persecuted people around the world. … Through the United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP), the Federal Government, cooperating with private partners and American citizens in communities across the country, demonstrates the generosity and core values of our Nation, while benefitting from the many contributions that refugees make to our country. Accordingly, it shall be the policy of my Administration that … USRAP should be rebuilt and expanded, commensurate with global need. … Delays in administering USRAP and other humanitarian programs are counter to our national interests, can raise grave humanitarian concerns, and should be minimized.

On his first day in office President Biden also submitted The U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, which “establishes a new system to responsibly manage and secure our border, keep our families and communities safe, and better manage migration across the Hemisphere.” Specific measures delineate staff and resources to ameliorate the humanitarian crisis on the U.S.-Mexican Border, and procedures for encouraging refugees to apply for and receive visas to the enter the U.S. long before they reach the border.

But the job is daunting. Thousands of unaccompanied children are arriving on the border every day. Given that Trump eviscerated the entire system for humanely and rapidly processing people seeking sanctuary on the border, the whole process needs to be built back. While the new administration is working as rapidly as government agencies can, many agencies are heavily involved in addressing the immediate needs of asylum seekers, in particular children living in federal facilities or on the streets in border towns. One measure in place is a promise to the children’s contacts in the U.S. that their own documentation status will not lead to negative consequences if they come to claim the children and care for them. Another telling example of the difference that is currently taking place at the border is the role of FEMA; rather than expropriating FEMA funds for building a largely ineffectual wall, FEMA staff, trained to provide humanitarian aid after natural catastrophes, are now using their resources and skills to alleviate the humanitarian crises caused by human forces on both sides of the border.

One of the primary issues raised during the 2020 U.S. Presidential elections concerned the conditions and policies in place at the Mexican-U.S. border. While Trump supporters were still chanting “Build the Wall,” Biden supporters were crying, “No more children in cages.” As a candidate, Biden promised to overturn the executive orders Trump had signed that created egregious conditions at the border and to submit a comprehensive immigration bill for legislation – the first in thirty-five years. That promise was fulfilled on Inauguration Day, as President Biden began signing the promised executive orders returning the U.S. border to a place where refugees can be treated with dignity and just practices. One order specifically stated:

The long tradition of the United States as a leader in refugee resettlement provides a beacon of hope for persecuted people around the world. … Through the United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP), the Federal Government, cooperating with private partners and American citizens in communities across the country, demonstrates the generosity and core values of our Nation, while benefitting from the many contributions that refugees make to our country. Accordingly, it shall be the policy of my Administration that … USRAP should be rebuilt and expanded, commensurate with global need. … Delays in administering USRAP and other humanitarian programs are counter to our national interests, can raise grave humanitarian concerns, and should be minimized.

On his first day in office President Biden also submitted The U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, which “establishes a new system to responsibly manage and secure our border, keep our families and communities safe, and better manage migration across the Hemisphere.” Specific measures delineate staff and resources to ameliorate the humanitarian crisis on the U.S.-Mexican Border, and procedures for encouraging refugees to apply for and receive visas to the enter the U.S. long before they reach the border.

But the job is daunting. Thousands of unaccompanied children are arriving on the border every day. Given that Trump eviscerated the entire system for humanely and rapidly processing people seeking sanctuary on the border, the whole process needs to be built back. While the new administration is working as rapidly as government agencies can, many agencies are heavily involved in addressing the immediate needs of asylum seekers, in particular children living in federal facilities or on the streets in border towns. One measure in place is a promise to the children’s contacts in the U.S. that their own documentation status will not lead to negative consequences if they come to claim the children and care for them. Another telling example of the difference that is currently taking place at the border is the role of FEMA; rather than expropriating FEMA funds for building a largely ineffectual wall, FEMA staff, trained to provide humanitarian aid after natural catastrophes, are now using their resources and skills to alleviate the humanitarian crises caused by human forces on both sides of the border.

One of the primary issues raised during the 2020 U.S. Presidential elections concerned the conditions and policies in place at the Mexican-U.S. border. While Trump supporters were still chanting “Build the Wall,” Biden supporters were crying, “No more children in cages.” As a candidate, Biden promised to overturn the executive orders Trump had signed that created egregious conditions at the border and to submit a comprehensive immigration bill for legislation – the first in thirty-five years. That promise was fulfilled on Inauguration Day, as President Biden began signing the promised executive orders returning the U.S. border to a place where refugees can be treated with dignity and just practices. One order specifically stated:

The long tradition of the United States as a leader in refugee resettlement provides a beacon of hope for persecuted people around the world. … Through the United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP), the Federal Government, cooperating with private partners and American citizens in communities across the country, demonstrates the generosity and core values of our Nation, while benefitting from the many contributions that refugees make to our country. Accordingly, it shall be the policy of my Administration that … USRAP should be rebuilt and expanded, commensurate with global need. … Delays in administering USRAP and other humanitarian programs are counter to our national interests, can raise grave humanitarian concerns, and should be minimized.

On his first day in office President Biden also submitted The U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, which “establishes a new system to responsibly manage and secure our border, keep our families and communities safe, and better manage migration across the Hemisphere.” Specific measures delineate staff and resources to ameliorate the humanitarian crisis on the U.S.-Mexican Border, and procedures for encouraging refugees to apply for and receive visas to the enter the U.S. long before they reach the border.

But the job is daunting. Thousands of unaccompanied children are arriving on the border every day. Given that Trump eviscerated the entire system for humanely and rapidly processing people seeking sanctuary on the border, the whole process needs to be built back. While the new administration is working as rapidly as government agencies can, many agencies are heavily involved in addressing the immediate needs of asylum seekers, in particular children living in federal facilities or on the streets in border towns. One measure in place is a promise to the children’s contacts in the U.S. that their own documentation status will not lead to negative consequences if they come to claim the children and care for them. Another telling example of the difference that is currently taking place at the border is the role of FEMA; rather than expropriating FEMA funds for building a largely ineffectual wall, FEMA staff, trained to provide humanitarian aid after natural catastrophes, are now using their resources and skills to alleviate the humanitarian crises caused by human forces on both sides of the border.

But the job is daunting. Thousands of unaccompanied children are arriving on the border every day. Given that Trump eviscerated the entire system for humanely and rapidly processing people seeking sanctuary on the border, the whole process needs to be built back. While the new administration is working as rapidly as government agencies can, many agencies are heavily involved in addressing the immediate needs of asylum seekers, in particular children living in federal facilities or on the streets in border towns. One measure in place is a promise to the children’s contacts in the U.S. that their own documentation status will not lead to negative consequences if they come to claim the children and care for them. Another telling example of the difference that is currently taking place at the border is the role of FEMA; rather than expropriating FEMA funds for building a largely ineffectual wall, FEMA staff, trained to provide humanitarian aid after natural catastrophes, are now using their resources and skills to alleviate the humanitarian crises caused by human forces on both sides of the border.

But the job is daunting. Thousands of unaccompanied children are arriving on the border every day. Given that Trump eviscerated the entire system for humanely and rapidly processing people seeking sanctuary on the border, the whole process needs to be built back. While the new administration is working as rapidly as government agencies can, many agencies are heavily involved in addressing the immediate needs of asylum seekers, in particular children living in federal facilities or on the streets in border towns. One measure in place is a promise to the children’s contacts in the U.S. that their own documentation status will not lead to negative consequences if they come to claim the children and care for them. Another telling example of the difference that is currently taking place at the border is the role of FEMA; rather than expropriating FEMA funds for building a largely ineffectual wall, FEMA staff, trained to provide humanitarian aid after natural catastrophes, are now using their resources and skills to alleviate the humanitarian crises caused by human forces on both sides of the border.

But the job is daunting. Thousands of unaccompanied children are arriving on the border every day. Given that Trump eviscerated the entire system for humanely and rapidly processing people seeking sanctuary on the border, the whole process needs to be built back. While the new administration is working as rapidly as government agencies can, many agencies are heavily involved in addressing the immediate needs of asylum seekers, in particular children living in federal facilities or on the streets in border towns. One measure in place is a promise to the children’s contacts in the U.S. that their own documentation status will not lead to negative consequences if they come to claim the children and care for them. Another telling example of the difference that is currently taking place at the border is the role of FEMA; rather than expropriating FEMA funds for building a largely ineffectual wall, FEMA staff, trained to provide humanitarian aid after natural catastrophes, are now using their resources and skills to alleviate the humanitarian crises caused by human forces on both sides of the border.

Concrete Ceilings: The 21st Century Status of Women Politicians in North America

By Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken

The 20th century was a golden age for enfranchising women in many countries around the globe. Between 1900 and 1920, women in about 20 countries joined their New Zealand sisters, who won their right to vote in 1893; these included Canada, but with exceptions (First Nation women were excluded until 1960). In 1920, women in the United States were enfranchised, slowly followed over the decades by other countries around the world. In Mexico, although women were allowed to vote in some state elections, it wasn’t until 1953 that women were allowed to vote in federal elections. By 1999 all countries except three Muslim nations had granted the right to vote to women; the last country that recognized the partial right of women to vote was Saudi Arabia, where in 2011 women were allowed to vote in municipal elections; it is the only country in the world where some people are still ineligible to vote solely on the basis of gender. The right to vote and the right to stand for office were initiated simultaneously in almost all countries; but in Canada, for example, women were not eligible to run for office until 2 years after the first year when women could vote.

It’s been more than a century since women in Canada and U.S. were enfranchised, and almost 70 years in Mexico. One might think that given this long stretch of time, and the many movements for women’s rights around the world, the third decade of the twenty-first century should see women having equal representation in all branches of Federal government and holding major executive positions at the state/provincial levels. But reality is short of that ideal.

The progress of North American women in being elected to the legislative branch of government has been mixed. As of 2021, only 27% of the members of the U.S. Congress are women; 120 women out of 439 representatives in the House and 24 of 100 members of the Senate. While this is a 50% increase in women in the U.S. Congress over 10 years ago, it is far from equal representation. Canadian women are doing slightly better in elective legislative positions: as of the 2020 elections, 100 women out of 338 members of Parliament were serving in the House of Commons; Canadian Senate seats, which are appointed rather than elected, have a far more equitable gender distribution, with 48 women out of 100 members.

In Mexico, women have actually reached an equitable representation in Congress. Due to systemic changes and a mandate that political parties achieve gender-parity in candidates for Congress, women were elected to 49% of the lower house and 51% of the Senate in the 2018 elections. This ranked Mexico in fourth place for women’s representation in countries around the world.

Women still are under-represented in the judicial branches of federal government in North America. In both Canada and the United States only 3 of the 9 Supreme Court Justices are women, and in the US only 5 women have ever served as a Supreme Court Justice. In Mexico, with the resignation of one woman from the Supreme Court, only one woman serves on an 11-member Court.

The status of the election of women in North America to head the Executive Branch of the federal government is even worse. As of the end of 2019, close to 90 countries around the world have had an elected or appointed woman as head of State. Canada can barely be included in that category, by virtue of a 4-month period in 1993 when Kim Campbell served as Prime Minister after the Conservative Party PM resigned toward the end of his term and Campbell won the Party leadership. The United States and Mexico have never had a woman head of state, although Hillary Clinton won the popular vote in the U.S. 2016 Presidential Election but lost the Electoral College vote. Recently, in November 2020, Kamala Harris bored a hole through the concrete ceiling that has blocked North American women from the highest offices, and was elected as Vice President. She is a heartbeat away from the Presidency, but so were the majority of U.S. vice presidents who never became president.

State and provincial/territorial elections also have produced relatively few women heads of government. Currently, out of the 13 provinces and territories in Canada, only one, the Northwest Territories, has a woman First Minister, Caroline Cochrane. In Mexico, only one of the 31 States, Sonora, has a woman governor, Claudia Pavlovitch. In the United States, 9 out of 50 States (18%) currently have women serving as governors.

One elected position that might seem to be emerging as a power base for women is the office of the mayor in large cities. This perception is probably due to the high visibility of several women mayors but is not borne out by overall data. In Canada, Sandra Master, the mayor of Regina, Saskatchewan, and Valérie Plante, the mayor of Montreal, Québec, are relatively well-known, but only four other women are currently mayors of Canadian cities with populations of over 100,000. Among the 100 largest cities in the United States, only 27% are headed by women mayors; those with mayors often in the news are Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot; San Francisco, Mayor London Breed; Seattle, Mayor Jenny Durkin; Washington, DC, Mayor Muriel Bowser; and Atlanta, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. In Mexico, only two women are mayors (municipal presidents) of the 10 largest municipalities. But since they head the two largest cities in Mexico (Tijuana with Presidente Karla Ruiz MacFarland and Mexico City with Presidente Claudia Sheinbaum), they have altered the perception of the power of women in Mexico’s government. Claudia Sheinbaum in particular has been newsworthy as the first woman (and the first Jew) ever elected to head the government in Mexico City, and she was elected hot on the heels of the former mayor of Mexico City, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, or AMLO, who is now president of Mexico.

How can we explain these data that show a far lower proportion of women than men in these elected or appointed government positions? The example of women reaching parity in Congress in Mexico suggests that systemic change is needed for women to successfully compete. One reason offered by men for explaining the relative lack of women in high government office is that women are more interested in very local matters than serving as the heads of large cities, states/provinces of their county; they cite statistics showing fewer women running for such offices. But a report by the Canadian Inter-Parliamentary Union has identified the reason for fewer women entering political spheres: it is not a lack of interest but the reality of violence against women.

Women who, in the face of violence against their gender, have chosen to run for high office or stand for appointments to powerful positions, have been brutalized both physically and psychologically. Gisela Raquel Mota Ocampo, the Mayor of Temixco, Mexico, was assassinated the day after her inauguration on January 16, 2016; she was just one of numerous women politicians who have been murdered in Mexico. Kim Campbell, the only Canadian women Prime Minister, was vilified during her campaign for a second term. Hillary Clinton, the only woman who was a major candidate for the U.S. presidency was not only slandered with grotesque stories about pedophilia but actually stalked on stage by her opponent, Donald Trump, a self-confessed sexual predator. And most recently, the world was riveted by a mob instigated by Trump, breaking into the U.S. Capitol and screaming for the assassination of the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi.

In some ways it is miraculous that women in North America persevere in seeking high political office. They are truly the inheritors of the suffragettes and women in the Mexican Revolution who preceded them more than a century ago – risking life and limb and reputation to win the right to vote and to stand for office. We can only hope that in less than a century from now, the concrete ceiling keeping women down will be obliterated by systemic changes in government and the eradication of violence against women.

Love in the Time of Covid: Remembrance of Times Past

By Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken

We have been sheltering in place since March 15, 2020. Just the two of us. Fortunately, fifty-seven years of marriage have allowed us to stockpile decades of memories of times when we sought opportunities to flee our busy lives in the U.S. and find solitary romance – often in Mexico.

Our earliest romantic moments in Mexico took place in the 1970s in archeological sites in eastern Mexico. Chichen Itza, Uxmal, and Palenque were relatively inaccessible at that time and were visited by very few tourists traveling independently. There were only one or two places to stay in each area, and we tried to choose one adjacent to the ruins, a new or newly renovated hotel that was large, luxurious and, for the most part, empty. We usually breakfasted by ourselves at dining room tables covered with pristine white tablecloths.

We spent the early, coolest part of the day wandering over the ruins of temples, climbing reconstructed pyramids, and reading to each other from papers published by archeologists with detailed descriptions of the digs. We filled in the gaps in knowledge by amusing each other with made-up stories of our interpretations of the glyphs – the ancient Mayan pictographs adorning the buildings and stelae, which at that time were still undeciphered.

When the sun became piercing and the busloads of tourists arrived, we cooled off in the hotel swimming pool or, at Palenque, in a memorable artificial stream that fed the pool. Then we ate lunch and retired to our freshly cleaned room. In the cool of the evening, when the grounds were nearly deserted and moonlit, we wandered hand in hand listening to the unidentifiable sounds in the surrounding jungle and watching the shadows play over the remains of the Mayan civilization, while imagining other couples from that civilization also strolling in the moonlight.

A decade later, in the 1980s, after having exhausted exploring many of the Mayan architectural sites, we romanced in Mexico in mainly uninhabited areas with fish-filled lagoons prime for snorkeling. Isla Mujeres was a memorable boat trip from Cancun; our hotel was noteworthy for a spectacular view, lack of hot water, and proximity to a good place to snorkel, but not much else.

Akumal became our favorite place to stay; all we really needed was a studio apartment with a kitchenette, a view of the water, and the sound of the waves pounding on the beach. After packing a lunch, we spent the days swimming side-by-side in waters that were natural aquariums, pointing out spectacular specimens of fish and other forms of marine life. The Xel Ha lagoon, not yet developed for tourists and accessible only by a narrow path through the jungle, became our private pool.

Xcaret was a bit more luxurious, having a changing room, a bathroom facility and chairs for lounging – but at that time not much more. The area was generally less private, but we could always find a place away from other people where we could commune with the fish, large iguanas, and each other. And the ocean in front of our Akumal digs abounded with interesting aquatic phenomena – sponges building their habitat, octopi lurking under rocks and snatching unsuspecting passing fish, and schools of fish, forming and reforming. Deserted cenotes around the area provided a place where we would float on our backs side-by-side and watch the birds and clouds overhead.

The following decade for the most part had rare times for romance. We were both working over 70 hours a week, flying all over the U.S. and almost never to the same destination. We became notorious for planning our flights so we could spend an hour or two together in an airline club in Chicago or elsewhere. We were fortunate enough to have a month’s vacation every year. Then we travelled as far from the U.S. as possible and chose places where it was really difficult for our employers and employees to reach us – mountains in New Zealand; islands on the Great Barrier Reef; rural villages in Italy, Spain and France; rivers in China; archeological sites in Malaysia. Mexico was too close and too accessible to prevent someone from contacting us about a statistical error or an ungrammatical sentence in a report to be published. So, although our stockpile of romantic times continued to grow, Mexico was not part of the pile.

That changed on Inauguration Day in 2001. Jan, who held a presidential appointment in the Clinton administration, was suddenly freed from his pager, cell phone, and government responsibilities. Marcia had developed internet communication between members of her research teams and could work from anywhere as long as she had her computer.

We immediately packed the computer, clothes and other essential items in our car and headed south and into Mexico. We spent the better part of that year driving around the country, staying in memorably romantic beach casitas or apartments with incredible city vistas. We wandered together through art museums discovering new artists. We enjoyed wonderful concerts. And we had numerous adventures, sometimes totally lost, sometimes totally terrified, but always together. And then we discovered Huatulco!

Although we settled down at the end of 2001 in Ashland, Oregon, one of the best tourist destinations in the U.S., we returned again and again to Huatulco, finally buying a condo and spending about six months a year here. For many years we drove our car, loaded with books and supplies, from Oregon to our condo, over varying routes and stopping to see friends or interesting locations on the way. Romantic times abounded – many over meals in fabulous restaurants in Oaxaca, San Cristóbal, Mexico City, and of course Huatulco. When Cafe Juanita was located in Santa Cruz, we had a standing reservation for New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day at our “own” table overlooking the plaza. After the move to the Chahue Marina, Juanita’s continued to be our place for romantic dinners – even planning our 50th wedding celebration there while having a Valentine’s dinner. We also have had a very favorite place in Huatulco for romantic breakfasts – but since we enjoy frequently being the only people there, you’re not going to find out where it is.

Finally, for the past 10 years, we’ve found many romantic moments, exploring together and writing articles for The Eye about our adventures. You can read about many of these in the Eye archives. So, thanks to you, readers, to our fellow Eye writers, and most of all to our Eye editor Jane for the many opportunities you have provided for building memories of romance in times past and hopes for more romance in Mexico, post-pandemic.

Sacred Cows

By Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken

The term “sacred cow” and the related expression “holy cow!” probably derive from the reverence Hindus pay to these ubiquitous bovines in India. One lasting memory shared by almost all travelers to India is the sight of cows placidly winding their way through dense vehicular traffic. And most also can easily recall the omnipresent smell of cow dung being burned for cooking and warmth by people living on city streets throughout India.

The cow was also considered holy in ancient Egypt and in other religions that emerged in the Middle East. “New world” religious beliefs, including those of the indigenous peoples of pre-Hispanic Mexico, were for the most part pantheistic and designated specific animals as possessing supernatural powers. However, in those days, cows were unheard of in Mexico.

Many of the indigenous residents of the western hemisphere shared a reverence for the serpent, as can be seen when exploring archeological digs throughout Mexico and Central America. The Mayans also attributed divine powers to creatures that bridged the heavens and the earth – bats, owls, hummingbirds and eagles. Anyone who has risked claustrophobia and climbed up into the inner recess of the temple of Kukulcán in Chichen Itza has also come face to face with another Mayan sacred animal – the red jaguar.

The introduction of Christianity into the western world essentially attempted to wipe out indigenous civilizations’ pantheistic beliefs and their sacred views of animals. Although Christianity refers to Jesus as the lamb of God and represents the Holy Spirit as a dove, the Christian view of the nature of animals is firmly planted in the monotheistic doctrine of Judaism.

The Hebrew scriptures, also called the Bible or the Old Testament, were explicitly written in opposition to the doctrines and beliefs of surrounding religions. The opening chapters of Genesis depict humans as far superior to animals. While oxen are mentioned at least fifty times in the Bible, they are always described as a possession of men. The Bible includes commandments to be kind to oxen – for example, not to muzzle them when they are used for threshing, never to use them for plowing in tandem with a less strong animal, and to allow them to rest on the Sabbath. But humans are viewed as responsible for the actions of oxen, and no doubt is left that humans are in charge of all animals.

Not only is there no holy cow in the Bible, but on the contrary any animals considered sacred by foreign religions are expressly depicted unfavorably. Consider the serpent in the Garden of Eden, a memorably evil fellow if there ever was one. And remember that worship of a golden calf is described as one of the most grievous actions committed by the ancient Israelites.

Admittedly some animals are featured in the Bible in a more or less positive light. A storied talking donkey could see an angel while his master Balaam was blind to the angelic presence. A yearly practice to alleviate Israelites from their sins involved placing the sins on a goat and exiling it off to the desert – the original scapegoat. And some bovines were designated to serve as sacrifices to expiate for sins.

For Jews who eat only kosher food, cattle are favored animals, as long as they are certified as slaughtered humanly and handled properly in food preparation. Remarkably, since Mesoamerica was unknown to those who wrote these dietary rules, the eagle, the owl, the bat, the serpent and the jaguar are not kosher and are never eaten. Of course, the prohibition against consuming them is unrelated to their sacred status in this formerly unknown world.

Christianity in general, and particularly the Catholic religion imported to Mexico, avoids any prescriptions about edible and inedible animals, or of sacred animals. So when you are driving in Mexico and see an ox or a cow or a herd of cattle blocking the road, you can say “Holy cow!” (¡Santo Dios!) simply as an expression of annoyance without any genuine religious overtones.

Body Art: Mexican Tattoos

By Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken

Many tourists in Mexico shop for art in tattoo parlors rather than in galleries. Instead of buying a Frida Kahlo poster, or a painting of the Virgin of Guadalupe, or a clay reproduction of an Aztec or Mayan museum piece, they have sketches of these art works indelibly inked into their skin on various parts of their anatomy. Flowers, fish and aphorisms in Spanish are etched into shoulders, backs, hands, breasts and derrieres. Those with a penchant for the Gothic, after more than a few margaritas, may opt for an inking that turns their face into a permanent day-of-the-dead mask. Given the ubiquitous tattoo artists in Mexico and their creativity, the possibilities for transforming human hide into artistic canvasses are virtually endless.

Some Mexican tattoo artists proclaim that they are carrying forward the traditional forms of art practiced by their Aztec, Mayan or other indigenous ancestors. To incise the skin and insert dyes, they use natural materials such as sharpened bones or plant spines. Many of their designs are images of artifacts readily visible in the National Museum of Anthropology. The assertion that there has been an unbroken chain of generations of indigenous tattoo artists seems to be as much a romantic story as an archeological fact.

The study of tattoos by archeologists has long been a rather neglected and, at times, disparaged approach. Recently however, as the art of tattooing has become more accepted, the study of tattoos has gained wider respectability. The firmest archeological evidence of the use of tattoos is the appearance of colored incisions on the skin of mummies. The earliest tattooed mummy found so far dates back over 5000 years and was unearthed, or perhaps the better term is un-iced, from under a glacier in the Italian-Austrian Alps. This “iceman” had over 60 tattoos colored with charcoal. However, based on the positions of the incisions, archeologists hypothesize that the tattoos were applied to alleviate pain, much as acupuncture is used, rather than for artistic reasons.

Mummified bodies bearing tattoos have been discovered on virtually every continent, with the exception of Antarctica. In Mexico, a mummy bearing tattoos on her arms was discovered in the state of Oaxaca in 1889, and scientific analysis has found that she lived sometime around 250 AD. Although the tattoos on the earliest dated mummies can be quite complex, anthropologists have postulated that the primary purposes of the tattoos were other than simply artistic decorations. Some appear to denote tribal affiliation, others were used to ward off demonic or other evil powers, and many appear to be symbols of owners who claimed slaves as their property. Seagoing communities seem to have used tattoos, much as relatively more modern sailors, as individually distinctive marks that could be used to identify bodies lost overboard that washed up on near or distant shores.

Another method of studying the use of and regional differences in tattooing is based on the examination of prehistoric or pre-Columbian figurines painted with tattoo-like marks. Anthropomorphic statutes or pots bearing such designs are considered to provide representations of similar designs incised into the skin of people who lived in the communities where the artifacts were produced. Hollow ceramic figurines with extensive tattoo designs have been found in tombs in Mexico that date from 100 BC to 400 AD; the figurines are hypothesized to represent the people with tattoos who were buried in the tombs. These tattoos are thought to be marks portraying status and ideology rather than simply artistic decorations.

During the period of the early European geographic expeditions and colonization, the writings of the explorers paid detailed attention to the tattoos of the indigenous people they encountered. The English word “tattoo” and the Spanish word “tatuaje” are derived from Cook’s descriptions of patterns borne by the South Pacific Islanders he encountered and the Samoan term for how the patterns were created: “tatau,” or “hit” or “strike.” Europeans who first explored Mexico were quite taken by the tattoos used by different cultures and communities. Some were literally impressed with the designs and returned home with tattoos. But indigenous tattooing was almost obliterated in Mexico and around the world by the European usurpers who repressed all native forms of customs and practices as being barbaric and heathen. The repression of tattoos lasted for centuries.

When we were children, tattoos were still rare and exotic. Circus sideshows sometimes had a “tattooed lady” on display; and for 25 cents we could gawk at her inked designs until it was time to move on to the “bearded lady.” Sailors started to return after War World II with anchors or stars tattooed on their biceps. But whether Christian, Muslim or Jew, we were told that tattoos were body mutilation, and therefore, forbidden. It took courage or imprisonment to reject this strong norm and become inked.

Today, tattooing has once again become ubiquitous. There are virtually countless places in Mexico to be tattooed. In the large cities of Mexico there are tattoo conventions and tattoo competitions. But once again the use of tattoos is not always merely decorative. Among drug cartels and other organized criminal subcultures, tattoos are often used to display group affiliation – and the wrong tattoo in the wrong setting can be fatal.

Many people who have opened parlors with the latest technology for producing tattoos consider themselves artists with the creative license to provide a wide spectrum of designs. And their clients are delighted to work with them to find the perfect design for almost every part of their anatomy. But before you head out to find your perfect design you might consider the following.

Tattooing is painful … think about a paper cut and then multiply that sensation for every incision. Tattoos are permanent – the cute little rosebud on a perky young butt often turns into a wilted, wrinkled flower in middle age. In the wrong hands, tattoos can be dangerous; our granddaughter’s unauthorized butterfly tattoo turned into a staph infection. There is still a prejudice against tattoos in some circles and that may be a circle possibly important to you in future years.

If you want to try a tattoo on for size, you might consider the temporary type – also widely available in Mexico. Henna tattoos are offered on many beaches in Mexico and gradually fade away; just be sure you don’t have a henna allergy. And inked paper in many designs can be safely applied and easily washed away. They look so real that we suspected our daughter was having some form of crisis after seeing multicolored flowers circling her wrist, until we realized that, rather than a crisis, she had had an interesting vacation.

Enlarging Your Scope in the Time of COVID

By Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken

We are inveterate and indepen-dent travelers. We’ve touched down in every continent except Antarctica (too cold) and love immersing ourselves for weeks or sometimes months at a time in different communities and cultures. We’ve kidnapped our grandkids to live with us in Rome, Paris, Geneva, London, Jerusalem, Mexico City, and safari camps in sub-Saharan Africa.

So when we flew back to our home in California from our home away from home, Huatulco, on March 15 and immediately went into quarantine, followed by shelter in place, there was every reason to expect to feel trapped – that our world would shrink to our two-bedroom cottage. It hasn’t. In fact, we are bouncing around the world on a daily basis, meeting new people and as ever, immersing ourselves in communities and cultural events.

This of course has been made possible by incredible new technology including Zoom, WhatsApp, and AirPlay. We’ve also been supported by the unbelievable generosity of major music and arts institutions. And there is such ingenuity at universities and schools with a passion for providing opportunities for learning even in the most trying times.

During the first couple of months of shelter-in-place we binged on virtual trips to New York and London. Although we had frequently traveled from Huatulco to the Auditorio Nacional in Mexico City or the Teatro Macedonio Alcalá in Oaxaca, where we saw operas in HD streaming live from the Met in New York, during some months we were just too busy to leave Huatulco. And of course, we later heard about the superb performances we missed. We were very gratified to learn in March that the Met would be streaming recordings of a different opera every night gratis into our homes. And so, many nights in the first few months of confinement were spent captivated in a good way, watching the operas we had initially missed.

When the Met ultimately depleted its stock of recent recordings of live streaming performances, they began to present relatively old videos of past performances. We were reminded of why we used to travel to Europe for opera. Unlike European opera performances (and today’s in the US) that emphasize the story and character development, the Met formerly concentrated on each aria as an individual performance, and great applause – even curtain calls or encore performances – were encouraged in the middle of scenes. We didn’t appreciate the interruptions then, and even less did we enjoy them in old recordings. So, with nearly the totality of recent HD live operas happily part of our repertoire, we bade farewell to the Met.

Our virtual trips to London were weekly and specifically to visit the National Theatre Live. Although we have more than excellent theater in the U.S. and Mexico, and have seen memorable performances in the Teatro Telcel in Mexico City, there is nothing quite like a London performance. The brilliant performance of Jane Eyre was worth the cost and time for flying across the pond, but this year of course we only had to hit a button or two to attain first row seats. One Man, Two Guvnors was such a comical romp that we completely forgot we weren’t actually in pre-COVID-19 London.

Although we enjoyed other weekly offerings, we were pleased with the National Theatre’s fresh take on some of the Bard’s finest. We had completed our Shakespeare folio several years ago with a superb Pericles at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and were even thinking of skipping the NT Shakespearean offerings. We’re so glad we didn’t. Twelfth Night, which we have seen at least five times, was stunning! Malvolia (yes, Malvolia) emerged as the main character in an unforgettable and deeply emotional performance. And we certainly weren’t sorry we didn’t have to navigate the tube stations and “mind the gap” to get to and from the theater.

By summer, we were ready for a virtual trip to Israel. We signed up for a three-week program of study at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. There were so many classes offered that we were like kids in a candy store trying to decide which to attend. Classes on art, on poetry, on philosophy, and current events, all tied to two predominant themes – social justice and living through plagues. We decided to view classes separately and then compare notes during meals. Our classes took place on Sundays to Thursdays from 9 am PDT to evening seminars. It was definitely like being back in college – but now we had a better appreciation for the professors than we did in college days.

Our studies at Hartman were followed by a week-long virtual tour of Israel – a different community every night. The most interesting community by far was an Ethiopian neighborhood in Ashdod, south of Tel Aviv. Our tour guide that evening was a young woman who was very open about the discrimination she had experienced as an Israeli of color and her life with one foot in the modern Israeli world and the other in the culture of her immigrant parents. We also met with a very gracious rabbi who described his passage from Ethiopia to Israel, including his shock at learning that Israel was full of white Jews. He knew no English and spoke to us in Hebrew with a translator. His final wish was that we all would learn enough Hebrew so the next time we met, we wouldn’t need a translator. We are trying to make his wish come true.

We are now zooming to an Ulpan (intensive Hebrew language program) on a kibbutz in the Negev south of Beer Sheva. We join fifteen other students who are located in France, Germany, Switzerland, and Argentina for two-and-a-half to three hours every Wednesday. During the other days we have plenty of homework. And we practice our lessons with the other students on WhatsApp.

When we’re not bouncing around the world for incredible learning experiences, we’re widening our horizons right here in our own community with book clubs, play readings, and classes in our congregation, and dinners with fascinating people – all these also safely on Zoom. Sometimes, admittedly, in the middle of the night, the walls do seem to being closing in, especially with windows all closed to keep out wildfire smoke. But, for the most part, our world is growing larger, not smaller, and including a greater variety of people. So, if you’re finding yourself feeling confined to wherever you’re now located, Mexico or the U.S. or Canada, open your mind and your computer, and join us in our explorations or your own.

The Cheeses of Mexico

By Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken

The United States in the mid-20th century was not a place where children developed a palate for cheese. Our families’ forays into cheese-tasting extended not much further than Philadelphia cream cheese, which was liberally smeared on bagels, and some soft substance called American cheese that was grilled between two slices of white bread. When well-travelled cousins introduced us to exotic cheeses imported from France, or even just purchased in Wisconsin, we quickly created the name “stinky cheese” for them.

Although in the following decades small US dairies began experimenting with and producing some wonderful cheeses, by savoring them, or visiting France and Italy, we still weren’t fully prepared for the varieties and differences of the cheeses we learned to love while living in Mexico. Even the mass-produced cheeses that one finds in the supermercados are wonderful for snacking or cooking. Our weekly supermarket shopping in Mexico is never complete until we toss into our basket a block of manchego, a ball of Oaxaca cheese, and a round package of panela. And, in the enormous Chedraui near our favorite condo in the Polanco neighborhood of Mexico City, the huge cheese department tempts us with varieties from virtually every state in Mexico and beyond.

But in our opinion the very best cheeses are found in small specialty stores or from sellers in outdoor markets. One such store was in La Crucecita in Huatulco, Oaxaca, and offered a wide selection of cheeses: La Cremería Costa del Pacifico. Unfortunately, the shop recently closed due, in part, to the economic effects of the pandemic. Last March, the owner, Rebeca Barboza, was gracious enough to discuss their cheeses with us.

Most of the cheeses available at such specialty cheese stores are made from cow’s milk, but each type has a distinctive taste and properties. Fresh, crumbly Ranchero, made in the State of Mexico, is a great addition to salads. Panela, also fresh from the State of Mexico, is the delight of nutritionists since it contains no fat or salt. We sometimes grill panela, and since it has no fat, it softens into a spreadable consistency but doesn’t melt.

Quesillo, the pride of Oaxaca, is also a fresh cheese made without salt. But because of its fat content quesillo can melt. If we don’t immediately snarf it down, we use it in omelets or other dishes calling for a taste of melted cheese. An alternative to quesillo for cooking is Mexican mozzarella made using the same process as mozzarella in Italy – but the Italian process uses buffalo milk while mozzarella in Mexico is made from cow’s milk. While mozzarella is traditional on pizza, quesillo is everyone’s favorite on the Oaxacan alternative to pizza, the delicious tlayuda.

The manchego that was available in La Cremería Costa del Pacifico came from Guadalajara after being aged two or three months. Originally made in Spain from sheep milk, it is perhaps the most versatile of cheeses. Whether from specialty stores or supermarkets, we grate manchego for a variety of dishes, melt it for others including queso fundido which sometimes is served with tortillas or vegetables for dipping, or sometimes we simply cut up the manchego into cubes for a snack. The best cheddar (yes Mexican not Wisconsin cheddar) is aged 12 months and comes from the mountains of Jalisco where, according to Senora Barboza, “milk is cheaper than water.”

Both specialty stores and supermarkets also carry goat cheeses. One of the best is the crumbly feta that is made in Guanajuato. And our favorite queso de cabra is spreadable and is sold in many stores in small logs, often covered with black ash which gives the cheese a delicious smoky flavor.

For the very freshest of cheeses we head to the organic market which is held outdoors on selected Saturdays in Santa Cruz Huatulco. According to the cheese seller, Isabel Ramos, all their cheeses are made from cow’s milk the day before the market on a ranch located twenty minutes north of Puerto Escondido. The organic designation requires that no chemicals be used in the cheese preparation, just milk from free-range cows.

We can heartfully recommend all their cheeses. The queso de prensa is firm enough to slice. Chiles and epazote are integral to the queso botanero and different batches range from mildly tasty to moderately picante. The queso ranchero and quesillo are on a par with the same types of cheeses found in specialty cheese shops – but we like buying local and knowing that the cows producing the milk were free to wander around pastures. The requesón is sold under the name of ricotta since foreign frequenters of the organic market are more familiar with that term. But whether one calls the cheese ricotta or requesón, it is great heaped on toasted bagels with tomato slices – much better than cream cheese.

While at the organic market, it is worthwhile searching for the vendor who sells Gouda cheese from Quesería La Pradera in Tilzapotla, Morelos. The cheese maker is originally from Holland. More information about the production of this Gouda can be found at
https://www.facebook.com/queseria.la.pradera/.

During these weeks of sheltering in place to avoid COVID19, we miss our friends and our wonderful view of the ocean in Huatulco. We also miss the cheeses. We will miss La Cremería and hope that the owners and staff of the other little shops and market tables that sell our favorites are safely weathering the earthquakes and the virus. Provecho!

New Year of the Trees

By Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken

A deep appreciation for trees is integral to Judaism.  Trees are mentioned over a hundred times in the Hebrew Scriptures, and the Hebrew generic word for fruit also appears over a hundred times. In addition, specific trees and fruits that grew in ancient Israel, including the date, fig, olive, and persimmon, are described and praised throughout the Bible.

Two trees, the tree of life and the tree of knowledge, are central to the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis, as is a fruit that they were not supposed to eat but did. The tree of life later came to be metaphorically associated with the entirety of Judaic knowledge or with the totality of human generations, and representations of the tree of life are commonly found in synagogues, works of art, and the titles of books or movies. Traditional sayings about the tree of life are commonly inscribed in Hebrew on the walls or doors of Jewish schools and places of worship.

When the State of Israel was reestablished in 1948, much of the land had been stripped bare of trees during the centuries when most Jews had been in exile. A major effort was launched to turn Israel’s desert land into fertile areas of orchards and forests. Trees were planted that were the same species that Jews had nurtured 3,000 years earlier at the time of King David.  Children around the world collected coins to support that effort, and each was rewarded with a certificate stating that a tree had been planted in Israel with the funds they provided.  The beautiful lush forests and orchards in modern Israel are testimony to the success of that effort. In those early years, many people during their first trip to Israel would ask to see “their tree” – but it was impossible to identify individual trees that had been established with particular donations.

Many Jewish holidays incorporate fruit and nuts into festival meals and traditions.  On Passover, a sweet mixture of chopped fruits and nuts, called “charoset,” offsets the taste of horseradish, eaten to remember the bitterness of slavery.  On the spiritual New Year, Rosh HaShanah, apples dipped in honey are served to wish the family and guests a sweet year the year round. In the fall at the festival of Sukkot (tabernacles), branches of the myrtle, willow and date palm are bundled together and, along with the fruit of the citron tree. are used in a celebratory ritual.

Not only do trees and fruit play an important role in Jewish holidays, but they have been awarded a holiday of their own – the New Year of the Trees. The holiday is commonly called Tu B’Shevat, which means the fifteenth day of the month of Shevat, the date of the holiday on the Hebrew lunar calendar. On the secular calendar, Tu B’Shevat falls in January or February. While in some places, such as Mexico City, the temperature on Tu B’Shevat can be bitter cold and the trees still dormant, and in other places such as coastal Oaxaca the weather can be witheringly hot and dry, in Israel or Guadalajara Tu B’Shevat is a time when trees begin to flower.

Tu B’Shevat is celebrated in different ways depending on the community. Many communities essentially celebrate an Earth Day, providing information about sustainable growing methods.

Others hold seders, which are meals incorporating seven species of fruits and grains mentioned in the Hebrew scriptures. Some communities in temperate climates plant trees, while other communities raise funds for planting trees in Israel. Almost everyone celebrating Tu B’Shevat eats fruit.

One of our favorite Tu B’Shevat celebrations took place in Huatulco with The Eye staff and their partners. Everyone brought a dish made with fruit for brunch – a delicious variety of salads, frittatas, salsas, cakes and cookies. We talked about and sampled four kinds of fruit and compared them to human personalities – hard on the outside but soft inside; soft on the outside but hard on the inside; soft on the outside and inside; and hard on the outside and inside. And then everyone told a story about a favorite tree they remembered from a period in their life.

Tu B’Shevat is a relatively minor holiday. It is not mentioned in the Scriptures but rather was discussed by rabbis in the Talmud – Jewish oral tradition written down around the year 500. But for those of us who love trees, it is a wonderful time to appreciate their diversity and the bounty they provide and to commit ourselves to their protection.

Saintly Mexican Mothers and Fathers

By Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken

Some of the most famous Mothers and Fathers in Mexico are truly saints. Mexico has more saints than any other country in this hemisphere, and many of them began their road to canonization as priestly fathers or mothers in convents. The very first father who became a Mexican saint was Saint Philip of Jesus, the patron saint of Mexico City, a Franciscan friar who died in 1597; he was canonized by the pope 265 years later, in 1862. This is an example of how the posthumous path for mothers and fathers to become saints in the Catholic Church can be lengthy and requires many steps.

The first step in becoming a saint is to submit an application to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints (CCS, formerly called the Congregation of Rites), one of the nine congregations in the Roman Curia in the Vatican. The application is submitted by the person’s diosecan Bishop, who, after waiting usually five years or more after the death of the potential applicant, investigates his or her life to determine whether he or she appears to have the holy attributes of a saint. The investigation entails examining witnesses and exploring written works. The findings can either be used to end the path to sainthood or passed on to the authorities in the Vatican.

One of the first Mexican applicants for a potential path to sainthood was Juan de Zumárraga, the first bishop of Mexico City, who died around age 80 in 1548. Although he was known for his cogent doctrinal writing and praised as the protector of the indigenous population, the application submitted in his behalf was never acted on by the Vatican organization that preceded the CSS.

One of the most recent applicants is the Reverend Mother María Concepción Zúñiga López, who died in 1979. Raised during the post-revolutionary period in Mexico when Catholicism was brutally suppressed, young María nevertheless sought out clerics and nuns in hiding who could be her mentors. At age 28 she founded an order of nuns devoted both to contemplation and acts of kindness. Her writings were sufficiently influential to be deemed noteworthy by the Pope. Given the glacial pace on the road to becoming a saint, it would be surprising if the Reverend Mother had already reached the next level.

The second step to sainthood is to become a Servant of God. Once a bishop submits an application to the Vatican, the CCS, consisting of 34 cardinals, archbishops and bishops, reviews the application and the supporting documentation. If the application is accepted, the applicant is designated a Servant of God and the CCS takes on the mission of further investigation.

Numerous Mexican applicants were accepted for further investigation as early as the 16th century and were designated Servants of God, but stalled in the process of being recognized as a Saint. María Regina Sánchez Muñoz was one of the several Servants of God recognized for founding religious organizations. Also known as María Amada del Niño Jesus, she did not found an order for women seeking an exclusive religious life, but rather organized lay people seeking a way to contribute to the church and betterment of their community – Missionaries of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Saint Mary of Guadalupe. First founded in Guadalajara in 1926 during the period of Catholic suppression, the organization currently operates in many Mexican states and in Belize. While Mother María Amada has not yet reached the stage of recognized sainthood, her enthusiastic and committed followers appear to have recognized her as an unofficial saint.

The third step is to become a Venerable. The CCS examines the life of the Servant of God to determine and document whether there is sufficient evidence of living a life of holiness which drew others to prayer and participation in the church, including whether miracles have been attributed to the Servant before or after their death. Once the CCS completes their investigation, the documents are sent to the Pope. The Pope decides whether the Servant has led a life of “heroic virtue” and, if yes, a mass is held in which the Pope raises the Servant to the status of Venerable.

The majority of Mexico’s Venerable mothers and fathers were early Bishops or founders of religious orders. One of the newest additions to the Mexican Venerable list is Father José Antonio Plancarte y Labastida, founder of the Sisters of Mary Immaculate of Guadalupe. He was born in Mexico City in 1840, and died there in 1898. His heroic virtues were recognized by Pope Frances in January of this year

The fourth step is to become a “Blessed” which entails examining witnesses who attest to miracles having been performed for them after praying to a Venerable. The intent of the examination is to rule out cases in which, rather than miraculous events having occurred, natural causes can be demonstrated. Once one miracle has been attributed to a Venerable, the miracle is believed to be evidence that the Venerable is in heaven and capable of interceding with God for the sake of living human beings. The Pope then designates the Venerable as a “Blessed.”

Since Martyrs just need to have one miracle attributed to them to be canonized as a saint, they can be designated as a Blessed without miraculous intervention. A large majority of Mexican Blesseds are Martyrs from across decades of persecution and slaughter of Catholic fathers and mothers.

One of the most recent papal elevations of a Venerable took place in a Mass on June 8, 2018, by Pope Francis, who formalized the attribution of a miracle to María Concepción Cabrera de Armida and recognized her as a Blessed. Born in 1862 in San Luis Potosí, and known as La Conchita, she was known for her piety, visions and self-mortification from a very early age.  Rather than becoming a nun, Maria decided to marry and have many children, which she did.  In addition to raising her brood with the goal of teaching them to love God, she was a prolific writer, and described her life succinctly:

I carry within me three lives, all very strong: family life with its multiple sorrows of a thousand kinds, that is, the life of a mother; the life of the Works of the Cross with all its sorrows and weight, which at times crushes me until I have no strength left; and the life of the spirit or interior life, which is the heaviest of all, with its highs and lows, its tempests and struggles, its light and darkness. Blessed be God for everything!

She suffered many deaths in her family before she herself died at age 74 in Mexico City in 1937.

Finally, sainthood is confirmed upon the Blessed, if and when other miracles are testified to and found not to be based on natural causes.  Basically, Catholic doctrine holds that a person who is a saint has been recognized by God as holding that attribute and canonization by the Pope is confirmation of that status.

Mexico currently has over 30 Saints.  About one-third of them were Martyrs, primarily Fathers who were killed during the Mexican Revolution.  Between 1926 and 1934, about 40 priests died violently for carrying out the government-banned Church sacraments and refusing to renounce their faith.  They are all celebrated in masses on May 21.

The most recent Mother to be canonized, by Pope Francis in 2013, is María Guadalupe García Zavala, better known as Mother Lupita.  She devoted her life in Guadalajara to caring for the poor and the ill and founded the Handmaids of Saint Margaret Mary and the Poor.  During the period of extreme anticlerical suppression, she risked her own life hiding priests in her hospital.  And during periods when the hospital ran low on funds, she begged in the streets until she had sufficient funds to continue her efforts.

The newest Father to be recognized as a saint, by Pope Benedict XVI in 2006, is Rafael Guízar y Valencia.  Originally from Michoacán he became the Bishop of Xalapa. Rather than hiding, he openly provided comfort to the wounded and dying during the Revolution.  He died in 1938, and when his body was exhumed in 1950, it was said to be virtually intact.

The most famous of all saints in Mexico, the Virgin of Guadalupe, was not recognized by the Catholic Church for centuries.  First appearing in a vision in 1531 to Juan Diego (who himself became a Saint), the reported appearance of Saint Mary mother of Jesus as a dark-skinned Mexican native, speaking the indigenous tongue Nahuatl, was decidedly rejected by Church officials. Nevertheless, Mexicans en masse prayed for her intervention with God, and so many miracles were attributed to her that the Church could hardly ignore the phenomenon.  Beginning in the 1700s, Church officials began to bow to the grassroots movement and started to accord respect and recognition to her followers’ belief. Ultimately, Pope John Paul II canonized Juan Diego and, in 1997 during his first foreign trip, proclaimed the Virgin of Guadalupe to be Mother of the Americas as he prayed to her in her basilica near Mexico City. This basilica is reportedly the most visited Catholic pilgrimage site in the world. Obviously Mary, mother of Jesus envisioned as the Virgin of Guadalupe, holds the title of the most saintly Mother in Mexico.