Tag Archives: Deborah Van Hoewyk

Berry, Berry Good!

By Deborah Van Hoewyk

If you’ve ever driven across the high plains of central Mexico, you’ve seen the signs. FRESAS con CREMA, FRESAS con CREMA, until you come to a weather-beaten shack that shades baskets of strawberries and coolers with crema on ice. Those strawberries used to make their way down the mountains to Huatulco, to be sold in the streets from impeccably arranged pyramids on wheelbarrows. Thinking “I’m too old for this,” I once chased one up Carrizal, against the traffic, to get a kilo weighed out on the scale that magically appeared from beneath the wheelbarrow. Well worth it.

Now we go to the Carrizal produce markets to buy Driscoll’s strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries – the “everyday” brand in American groceries. The berries come in vented, hinged, “tamper-evident” plastic containers called “clamshells,” stored in the commercial coolers on the back wall at Fruver or Hermanos Lucas.

What Happened to the Wheelbarrows?

They went big-time. Global big-time.

Mexico is now the world’s fifth-largest producer and the third-largest exporter of frutas rojas – “red fruits,” the category for straw-, rasp-, blue-, and blackberries; sometimes cranberries, sweet cherries, and grapes are included in the group (Mexico has begun to produce and export all three of these, especially and surprisingly cranberries, which boast a 50% return on investment.)

In 2019, the “true” berry exports were valued at US $800 million, employed about 100,000 people in – for the most part – stable, well-paid jobs, many of them year-round. Direct employment and another 100,000 “spillover” jobs (jobs indirectly related to the berry industry) were valued at US $900 million, for a total industry impact of US $1.7 billion. In 2016, more than half (53%) of the fruit in America’s markets was imported, and Mexico supplied 100% of those imported strawberries, 98% of the imported raspberries, 95% of the imported blackberries, and 9% of the imported blueberries.

The berry trade basically did not exist 25 years ago. One winter in 1995, J. Miles Reiter, now CEO/Board Chair of Driscoll’s, came to Mexico to attend the wedding of one of the company’s migrant pickers in California. Reiter looked around and thought strawberries would grow well in that environment. He did some testing and trials; when tensions over labor, immigration, and water supply soon started rising in California, Reiter realized that Jalisco could be the solution.

The growing fields of Jalisco are located above 4,000 feet, as they are in neighboring Colima and Michoacán, thus avoiding the severe heat at sea level; since they border the Pacific Ocean, these three states also have ready access to the “cold chain” (refrigerated storage and transportation) necessary to export fragile berries. The volcanic soil in the “fruit-belt” produces sweeter strawberries from the same varieties grown in California. It wasn’t long before acreage used for lower-profit crops, e.g., sugar cane, was being converted for strawberries, then for blackberries and raspberries, and most recently, blueberries.

Berries are also grown in Baja California, with climatic differences allowing for year-round fruit production, although growers in the two regions tend to use different cultivars. Strawberries are still grown all across the high plains, but production has begun concentrating in the fruit-belt states and Baja.

The Berry Biz

Driscoll’s is a good example of how the U.S. berry industry became Mexico’s most profitable agricultural sector – exports of tomatoes, avocados, and hot peppers may be bigger, in terms money and quantity, but profit-wise, berries are the winners.

Starting with strawberries in the 1880s, J.E. (Ed) Reiter and his brother-in-law R.F. (Dick) Driscoll are credited with starting the “Strawberry Gold Rush” in Shasta County in northern California. Ed and Dick got together with a marketing guy, Thomas (no doubt “Tom”) Loftus and developed a sales strategy that included a paper banner wrapping every last crate they sent to market. Voilà, Banner Berry Farm’s Brand incorporated in 1904.

The California strawberry business imploded in the 1940s when Japanese residents, the primary growers, were forced into internment camps during World War II. Next-generation Ned Driscoll and Joe Reiter kept planting strawberries when no one else did, so when the war was over, they were in a position to hire the released Japanese as sharecroppers. They started calling themselves Driscoll Strawberry Associates; the sharecropping model, along with hiring breeders from the University of California’s about-to-be-dropped strawberry program, represent key pillars of Driscoll’s current business model: contract growing and state-of-the-art research and development.

When they had to fend off takeover assaults in the late 1980s, Driscoll’s decided to go bigger, getting out of production and into organizing the industry. They worked on building their brand, developing the clamshell package largely so they could slap a big label on it. They did the R&D to create new varieties of blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries that suited the Mexican climate. They adopted the eminently suitable name of Driscoll’s, Inc.

Still a private, family-owned business, Driscoll’s has over 400 growers in 21 countries on every continent except Antarctica (their berries are probably served on polar cruise ships); they market their wares in 48 countries. Their major competition is half a dozen or so major berry-producing companies (e.g., NatuRipe, WellPict, Dole, SunnyRidge, Sunbelle), which also practice contract growing.

How It Works in Mexico

The Mexican berry business has been profoundly shaped by Driscoll’s (and their competition) – it is a world removed from what Miles Reiters saw when he went to that wedding in Jalisco. Growers are licensed by Driscoll’s, provided with plants developed by Driscoll’s, and required to return all berries from those plants back to Driscoll’s. Growers must meet federal, state, and local food safety regulations for their country, as well as additional U.S. requirements; performance is monitored.

Berries are handpicked, “decanted” into the clamshells, moved into coolers and chilled to 33°F, palletized, and moved on to the “cold chain” serving that location. According to a case study for the executive agribusiness seminar at the University of California at Davis, payment to the grower is based on a quality evaluation of 4 clamshells from every pallet. Under Driscoll’s Pay for Quality program, growers get paid by the tray (8 one-pound clamshells), according to their average quality score over a week’s worth of evaluation. Let’s say the tray sells for $12, Driscoll’s knocks off $2 for the clamshells and takes 18% as its share – that leaves $8.20 for the grower. But it’s not that easy – in order to make growers in a local area compete for quality, the $8.20 goes into a pool for all the area growers, and growers are then paid based on their evaluation score: $8.20 is for average quality, top quality gets a premium price of $8.50, low quality gets $7.90.

Very American business school, pairing pay with worker-generated quality improvement. And very American ag-tech university, all the innovations in “controlled environment agriculture” (CEA).

Using drip irrigation with filtered water and white plastic protective tunnels, strawberry growers in Zamora, Michoacán, have achieved a remarkable increase in production per acre – going from 60,000 pounds per acre to 160-200,000 pounds per acre, as opposed to 54,000 pounds per acre in California. The tunnels protect from the weather – too hot, too cold, heavy downpours, heavy winds – and most pests. A double layer of plastic mulch around the plants prevents soil-borne pests from damaging the roots.

In the San Quintin Valley of Baja California, growers use raised white plastic troughs lined with coco/coir fiber (the “substrate”) to grow their strawberries hydroponically, under screen houses for insect protection. The substrate reduces water use – always in scant supply in Baja – and lets growers reuse and regenerate the hydroponic solution, and of course eliminates soil-borne pests and pesticides to kill them.

Trough production is often called “table-top,” since it puts the plants at a height that eliminates “stoop work” for pickers. (If Baja berry production is to continue, it needs even more technology – current efforts to support wide-spread desalinization will have to come to “fruition”!).

Small is Still Beautiful

But it’s not all Driscoll’s (or Naturipe or Sunbelle) all the time. Alejandro Olvera manages Productores Qzar, a cooperative that grows certified organic blackberries (zarzamoras) in San Juan del Río in the state of Querétaro. There are four members – families or groups of friends – in the cooperative. Qzar’s website (http://qzar.mx/) emphasizes its outreach to the community through eco-agritourism (including U-pick visits), tours by school groups, and support for entrepreneurs. Olvera, in a 2016 interview with the online trade magazine Fresh Plaza, points out that as long as “more and more people want to eat healthy,” they will want to eat berries, and blackberries are a more economical source of antioxidants than blueberries.

Although Productores Qzar is a very small company, with perhaps more interest in social benefits than commercial success, Olvera is well versed in the industry, noting that Mexico’s status as a major exporter of berries requires “dependency on many foreign companies investing in Mexico.” For smaller producers, however, exporting doesn’t really work as their reason for being. “The exporting culture is not widely spread throughout the Mexican population … it is difficult for Mexicans to see themselves as exporters.”

Nonetheless, Productores Qzar does export its berries, on its own scale. “We are growing for companies that are our size, regardless of which country they are in. We love working with family businesses that don’t need a container, but a pallet.” The Querétaro location puts Qzar close to three airports, so it provides its own cold chain for exports.

When Qzar started growing blackberries, the crop was unknown locally. Their success has started other blackberry operations; their focus on community outreach had already brought 6,000 U-pick visits to the fields, and Olvera was predicting 10,000 visits within two years.

Future plans include setting up a hundred acres for new families to join the cooperative. “Just like we did when we started,” he said. “We don’t want to do it through large companies or for large supermarkets. What we want is for families here to work for families in other countries, … knowing other countries and getting other countries to know us.”

How the Jacaranda and Blue Hanami Came to Mexico – and the Japanese Paisajista Who Made It Happen

By Deborah Van Hoewyk

It was an accident, my obsession with the oh-so-blue jacaranda (pronounced hah-kah-RAHN-dah) tree. In February 1997, on a trip to Oaxaca City to run a session for a university conference, I thought, “I got this far, why don’t I just stay and go to the beach? I see this place called ‘Huatulco’ that’s only half an inch away on the Lonely Planet map.” Fortunately, others offered up Monte Alban as an after-conference activity (little did I know how very l-o-o-o-ng and difficult that half an inch would be – Huatulco had to wait until 2004).

So off we went to Monte Alban, which is probably the last time I climbed to the top of an ancient Mexican pyramid. And from there, I saw them. I saw blue-blossomed trees.

There are a few other trees with blue blossoms, and there are supposed to be about fifty kinds of jacarandas, but there is nothing like Jacaranda mimosifolia. They are native to a belt across South America that includes Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil (jacaranda means “fragrant” in the region’s indigenous guarani­ language).

In Mexico City, the jacarandas transform many streets into allées of soothing lavender-blue. While jacarandas are beloved by aphids, whose sticky poop turns fallen blossoms into a major nuisance, they also give the Easter season bloom time hanami, literally translated from the Japanese as “flower-viewing,” the ephemeral experience of enjoying the clouds of blossoms that cover trees before they get on to the business of being green.

The jacarandas seem other-worldly, reminding me of the cherry blossoms at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden in New York City; at cherry-blossom time, Japanese families picnic on the petal-strewn lawn, transporting the casual observer to a state of hanami in some quiet Tokyo park. Oddly enough, it was the cherry blossoms that led to the installation of huge numbers of jacaranda trees in Mexico City.

Mexico’s president from 1930-32, Pascual Ortiz Rubio, wanted to symbolize the friendship between Mexico and Japan – with thousands of cherry trees. Considering the complex history of Mexico as a conquered, then independent, then revolutionary country, and the history of Japan as an imperial, then military, then functioning imperial country, it’s remarkable that the two countries have a relationship that goes back over four centuries.

Mexico and Japan – Way Back When

In 1598, the usefulness of a relationship between Mexico and Japan occurred to Tokugawa (Minamoto) Iyeyasu, the first shōgun (military dictator) of the Tokugawa Shogunate. In Yedo, now, centuries later, Tokyo, the shogun observed that the Philippines did a brisk trade with Mexico, and sought out a relationship with the Philippines that would allow their trans-Pacific shipping vessels to stop in Japan before reaching their destination in the Philippines.

Establishing said relationship was a rocky affair, since the Philippines were actually a Spanish colony from 1521 to 1898, and – based on experience – Spain didn’t think Japan had good intentions toward its merchant ships. It wasn’t until 1608, when a new Spanish governor, Don Rodrigo de Vivero, arrived in the Philippines, that negotiations got serious – but not for long. Recall that every European country with a navy was trying to get into Japan, and that the customs of courtesy in Japan were opaque to the Spaniards, which seemed to lead to offense at every turn. By 1636, the Spanish were excluded from Japan (as were the Portuguese, the first European country to trade with Japan). The Dutch, although confined to a small area of Japan, locked up trade with Japan until the mid-19th century.

In 1853, the role of the Japanese emperor was restored to primacy – no more military dictatorships with shoguns. Under Emperor Meiji, Japan began re-initiating diplomatic relations with other countries; the United States brought a great deal of pressure to bear, resulting in an 1858 treaty that basically forced Japan to begin trading with the West.

Mexico, independent from Spain since 1821, sent an expedition to Japan in 1874. The expedition was led by a scientist, Francisco Díaz Covarrubias, ostensibly to see a rare astrological phenomenon, the transit of Venus across the face of the sun. There’s little evidence that the scientific part of the expedition succeeded, but formal relations between the two countries resumed. In 1888, Matías Romero and Munemitsu Mutsu, the foreign ministers of Mexico and Japan, respectively, signed Japan’s first “equal” treaty with another country.

Back to the Cherry Trees . . . Not!

Remember President Ortiz Rubio’s request to the Japanese government to donate the thousands of cherry trees? Japan’s gift to the United States of over 3,000 cherries in 1912 had not been without botanical troubles of its own, so Japan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs contacted a Japanese horticulturalist/ landscape architect, who had been working for “all the right people” in Mexico for decades. Would the cherry trees be right for Mexico City?

Nope, the horticulturalist replied. To flower, the cherry tree would need a much sharper temperature change between winter and spring. The cherries were abandoned. But Tatsugoro Matsumoto (1861-1955) was not without a replacement suggestion – one he had been working on for quite a while.

Tatsugoro had studied to become an ueki-shi, or landscape architect, in Tokyo, and was so good that he never worked anywhere except in the imperial gardens. Japanese gardeners were sought after around the world. In 1888, at the age of 24, he was sent by the Japanese government to Peru to install a garden at a private residence called Quinta Heeren in Lima. Its owner, Óscar Agusto Heeren, the former Peruvian ambassador to Japan, had returned to Lima to work on enhancing relations between Peru and Japan.

En route to Peru, Tatsuguro visited Mexico, and was apparently impressed with the climate, growing conditions, and the national love of flowers and gardening. While working on his commission in Peru, he met José Landero y Coss, a wealthy rancher and mine owner from Mexico. Landero owned a hacienda, San Juan Hueyapan, in Pachuca, Hidalgo, that dated back to 1535 (built by one of the sons of Hernan Cortés); impressed with Tatsugoro’s work, Landero asked him to come to establish gardens at the hacienda.

The story gets a little hazy here, but Landero was influential in seeing to it that Tatsugoro went on to work in Mexico City, mostly for wealthy families. Tatsuguro decided to emigrate permanently to Mexico, although he returned briefly to Japan to say farewell to his family. Sending a shipment of Japanese plant materials from Yokohama to San Francisco to help with establishing himself in the nursery business, Tatsugoro decamped for California. His plants arrived after three months, dead as doornails, but in the meantime, he had received a commission for a Japanese tea garden in Golden Gate Park for a world’s fair in 1894.

The tea garden was so popular, it was almost immediately converted to a permanent garden – but by another Japanese landscape artist, not Tatsugoro, who had moved on in his plan to emigrate to Mexico. His certificate of immigration as a legal resident is a little loose with a few facts and illegible in spots. It is dated August of 1896, and reports that Tatsugoro was a widowed (really?) gardener; the birth date and age suffer from too much ink in the typewriter ribbon, but he would have been about 35. He is described as thin, a little over 5 feet tall, with black hair and eyebrows, brown skin and eyes, and a beard with grande moustache. He was of the “yellow” race and Buddhist religion.

From 1896 on, Tatsugoro worked in the most posh colonias (Roma and Condesa were developed right after the turn of the 20th century). A year after he had arrived in Mexico, Tatsugoro bought a house and set up a flower shop in La Romita, already being gentrified into Colonia Roma. While his immigration papers say Tatsugoro was a viudo (widower), there is other information to indicate that Tatasugoro’s wife had emigrated to join him and was running the flower shop. (Florería Matsumoto is still alive and well at Colima 92 in Col. Roma Norte, and is run by Tatsugoro’s great-granddaughter, Marie Furakaki Matsumoto – arrangements go from $700 to $1,000 mxn.)

The influential Landero may have provided Tatsugoro with a contact to introduce him to President Porfirio Díaz; in any event, by 1900, Díaz and his wife had taken note. Tatsugoro designed and maintained the gardens at the presidential residence, Chapultepec Castle, not to mention all the floral arrangements for inside the castle.

Life was definitely good – according to Tatsugoro’s grandson Ernesto, Díaz paid his grandfather 12 pesos a day, 240 times the minimum wage of 5 centavos. Ernesto says Díaz told Tatsugoro the salary was to enable him “to have a nursery to plant seeds and plants because in Mexico City there are prickly pear cactus and there are no trees.”

Jacarandas Needed

Trees there would be – blue-blossomed jacaranda trees. Tatsugoro certainly had obtained seeds and cuttings from South America well before the cherry-blossom consultation, but his role in introducing new species of flowering trees and shrubs got a big boost when his son showed up in 1910. Although Sanshiro Matsumoto, only about 15 or 16 when he reached Mexico, may never have actually seen his father, and no one has anything to say about why, if she actually did, his mother would hie off to Mexico leaving him behind, son and dad combined forces in the business.

Together, the Matsumotos enlarged the business from flower-shop to nursery, and undertook to import the plant materials needed to establish not just the jacaranda trees, but bougainvillea, camelias, hydrangeas, roses, and azaleas, along with bulbs (narcissus, tulips, gladioli) and chrysanthemums. Not to mention that they hybridized the poinsettia (noche buena) to the short, bushy Christmas-season form and installed the palm trees (not native to Mexico) that line Avenida Paseo de las Palmas in Lomas de Chapultepec. Sanshiro undertook to organize the business administratively, apparently not Tatsugoro’s strong suit, and they were able to buy fields and ranches for nursery properties. They grew on their trees, shrubs, bulbs, and flowers at Rancho El Batán, Hacienda de Temixco, and greenhouses in Tacubaya and San Pedro de Los Pinos.

Not only did Senshiro Matsumoto arrive in 1910, the centennial of the Mexican War of Independence, but Díaz decided to celebrate the centennial by inviting other countries to participate. Japan’s delegation, led by Baron Yasuya Uchida and his wife, coordinated their visit with a major exhibition of Japanese Arte Industrial at the Crystal Palace; beside the Palace (now the Museo Universitario del Chopo), Díaz had Tatsugoro create a small lake surrounded by a Japanese garden, which he himself, along with the Japanese delegation, inaugurated.

For the Matsumotos, 1910 was a good year; not so for Porfirio Díaz. The Porfiriato, while it modernized Mexico, was dictatorially oppressive and had lasted, with one interruption, since 1877. Having declared at one point that he would not run for President again, he reneged. Thus began the Mexican Revolution, which would last eleven years. The Matsumotos, however, were very astute at maintaining their connections with high society and ruling powers, and rode out the Revolution quite handily.

By the end of the conflict, and now amply supplied with jacarandas, Tatsugoro approached President Álvaro Obregón (term 1920-24) about the possiblity of lining important avenues and boulevards with the trees. The idea didn’t really take hold until President Rubio wanted the cherry trees, so the spring hanami in Mexico City and Oaxaca de Juárez turned out to be blue, not pink!

Beyond the Jacarandas

Later in the 20th century, the Matsumoto family, through their connections with Mexican presidents, along with their land holdings, would provide an important, unrelated service to Japanese immigrants during World War II. The United States pressured Mexico to follow its lead in creating concentration centers; Mexico decided that Japanese residents of Mexico City and Guadalajara should be interned. The Matsumotos served as go-betweens between the Mutual Aid Committee of the Japanese and the government of President Manuel Ávila Camacho. They offered up both the Rancho El Batán and Hacienda de Temixco as places for Japanese to live and grow their own food until the end of the war. One presumes the Matsumotos themselves stayed home in Colonia Roma.

Later on, Senshiro was approached by President Adolfo López Mateos (term 1958-64), who was looking for space for a housing complex. Where Rancho El Batán once grew jacarandas, now sits Unidad Independencia with 65 single-family residences, 35 multi-family buildings with 1500 apartments, three towers with 100 luxury apartments, social and educational services, a sports center, a supermarket, a medical clinic, an open air theater, and more. Senshiro’s only request was that no trees be cut down.

 

Mamas and Papas – On the Road

By Deborah Van Hoewyk

One afternoon I was in a joyería in Santa Cruz, choosing earrings for my sisters. Of course, I was being helped with my selection by an English-speaking guy. The patter always begins with “Where are you from?”

And I reply in Spanish “Estados Unidos, estado de Maine,” and then assure him it’s right next to Canada, trying to ward off the complex issues involved in Mexican perceptions of the U.S.

“Oh, I have been to Maine, I liked it.”

“Wow, why did you go all the way to Maine?”

“Blueberries, I picked blueberries.”

This is not a fun thing to do in Maine. This is long days, bent over the low-bush berries swinging a blueberry rake, which is pretty much a giant (8-pound) aluminum comb. You have to swing the rake through the tops of the plants and then arc it sharply back to drag the berries into the comb. By the end of that long day, it’s really hard to stand up straight.

Ángel (according to his card) fulfilled my cliché idea of a migrant agricultural worker. Young, male, clearly up for a trip to the far reaches of crops to be harvested. The rest of the cliché is that there are huge numbers of Mexican workers in the U.S. – legal and illegal – who contribute massive sums to Mexico’s economy in remesas, the remittances they send back home; in 2019, it was about $35.5 billion in U.S. dollars, and it’s predicted to exceed $37 billion U.S. in 2020. Work hard, help your family, help your village.

Who Is Off to Work Somewhere Else in the World?

Turns out, while yes, Mexicans go to work in the U.S. and Canada and send a lot of money home, guys like Ángel aren’t really a norm after all. All kinds of Mexicans emigrate, mamis and papis among them.

In 2016, 16,348,000 Mexicans were working – legally or illegally – in the U.S., a little over 10% of the U.S. workforce. Although the current U.S. government seems to see immigration from Mexico as a major threat to the American economy and society, the number of Mexicans trying to enter the U.S. has dropped by more than half since the end of 2007, when America’s Great Recession began. And even when the economy began to improve in 2013, Mexican immigration to the U.S. continued to decline. Between 2010 and 2018, the number of undocumented Mexican immigrants in the U.S. dropped by 23%, not so much because deportation was pushing them out, but because the improving Mexican economy has been pulling them home.

In 2018, somewhat more Mexican men (53.4%) than women (46.6%) went north for work, because many jobs available to Mexicans in the U.S. are traditionally done by men. For example, the biggest U.S. employment sector for Mexicans is construction, which provides one-fifth of all their jobs – 97.4% of those jobs are held by men. Men are in the majority when Mexicans head to places where tough work is necessary, Central and South America and the developing countries of East Asia and the Pacific. On the other hand, when you look at Mexican emigration to countries with higher-wage, higher-skilled jobs available to immigrants, women are in the majority heading to Europe, Eastern Europe, the North Africa and the Middle East, Africa, Central Asia, and the developed countries of East Asia and the Pacific.

Are the Kids All Right?

In and of itself, emigration of one or the other parent changes a Mexican child’s family structure, although it’s only recently that researchers have begun looking at what happens to those left behind. In her book, Divided by Borders: Mexican Migrants and Their Children (University of California Press, 2010), sociologist Joanna Dreby describes a parent’s decision to migrate as “a gamble; by leaving their children, migrant parents hope to better provide for them. Their migration and hard work represent a sacrifice of everyday comforts for the sake of their children and their children’s future.”

And what are the odds of winning this gamble?  Only so-so.  Using children’s education to measure the success of the migration sacrifice, Dreby finds that when a father migrates, there is little effect on children’s education, as the mother left behind ensures that it will continue as before.  If a single mother migrates, her children, especially girls, tend to do better in school because they are motivated by her courage and sacrifice in migrating.  If both parents migrate, and children are left behind with relatives or friends, their commitment to education suffers significantly.

One measure of educational aspiration – the desire to complete your education because you believe it will bring a better future – is, interestingly, the time kids spend on homework. Not whether they get it right, but whether they make the time to finish it.  A study done in Puebla suggests that it depends not just on whether the student’s mother, father, or both parents migrated, but on whether the student was a boy or a girl.

When both parents had left the household, nearly 90% of girls wanted to continue their schooling, while only 33% of the boys did.  If only the father had migrated, 76% of the girls aspired to further schooling, but, again, only a third of the boys.  If only their mother had migrated, 100% of girls wanted to finish school, but only 30% of the boys.  It’s been suggested that boys whose parents, especially the fathers, have migrated, the expectation is that they, too, will migrate lessens commitment to more schooling.

In contrast, in households that had not experienced migration, girls were less committed to continuing their education, but boys were more committed.

In two-parent non-migrant households, 73% of girls and 51% of boys wanted to continue their schooling; in non-migrant households headed by a single mother, 67% of girls and 56% of boys wanted to do so.

Having a parent leave the household has another effect on the children left behind – someone has to pick up the responsibilities for the absent parent. The Puebla research asked children about cooking and feeding the family, cleaning the house, babysitting, helping siblings with homework, and feeding livestock. Obviously, more of the burden falls on girls than on boys, so their academic commitment is all the more impressive.

And the Future of Economic Migration?
If migrating mamas and papas work hard in unforgiving jobs under difficult conditions, if the parental gamble that more money buys a better future is showing only mixed results for the kids they left behind (especially for the boys), will Mexican economic migration continue to decline right out of existence? If blunt-force immigration enforcement at the U.S. border but an improving Mexican economy continue, will this be an issue of the past?

Back in the blueberry fields of Maine, according to the Bangor Daily News, the hard work took place in a festive atmosphere, “Mariachi music booms from loudspeakers, a roving lunch truck hawks authentic Mexican fare and workers jibe one another in their native Spanish.” But that was the summer of 2013, and as the number of migrant workers decreases, blueberry companies are investing in machinery to do the work – which, in turn, means even fewer workers. In the midst of a pandemic that has taught Americans that their food depends not on the supermarket but Mexican agricultural labor, “Quien sabe?”

Women’s Rights in North America: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

By Deborah Van Hoewyk

While this issue covers several high-achieving Mexican women, that might create a somewhat misleading portrait about how all women in Mexico are doing. But is the picture of Mexican women that includes femicide, rampant domestic violence, and lives of crushing poverty any more accurate?

Where IS the world on women’s rights?
Women’s rights are human rights – or so say most organizations working on gender equality. Mao ZeDong famously said that women “hold up half the sky,” as he maneuvered his political agenda to maximize their potential in modernizing China. On average, women in Mexico, the United States, and Canada hold up 51% of the sky, but North American women certainly have not achieved anything like an equal share of life’s benefits. We have a long way to go before North American women are working for human, rather than women’s, rights.

Political Rights
The Right to Vote. Without political power, women will still have to petition for rights as if they were privileges to be granted by men. Perhaps the most fundamental political right is the right to vote. Although the Mexican Constitution of 1917, created about two-thirds of the way through the Mexican Revolution, recognized the equality of men and women, women were not granted “full citizenship” until 1937, and the right to vote was not granted until 1953. Canada, due to its relationship with the British Commonwealth, did not have its own constitution until 1982, but most women over 21 who were citizens (i.e., not aboriginal women or women of color) received the right to vote in 1919; most Québécois women achieved the right to vote in 1940, and aboriginal women got the vote in 1960. In 1920, the U.S. granted women the right to vote with the 19th Amendment to its Constitution.

The Right to Hold Office. Perhaps the most important place to achieve equal representation is in a country’s legislature – the place where laws are repealed or enacted. In 2014, after several failed attempts to increase the representation of women, Mexico amended its Constitution to require equal representation in both the Senate and Chamber of Deputies, making it fourth in the world for women’s legislative power – women hold 51% of the seats in the Senate and 49% of the seats in the Chamber of Deputies (numbers 1 – 3 are Rwanda, Cuba, and Bolivia). Without such laws, Canada ranks 61st in the world with women holding about 47% of its Senate seats and about 27% of the seats in the House of Commons. The United States has no quotas either, and is in a three-way tie for 76th place, with women elected to 25% of the Senate seats and about 24% of the seats in the House of Representatives.

Personal Rights
Since its founding in 1945, the United Nations has stood for “equal rights for men and women,” but official language was not enough. In 1981, after thirty years of work on the status of women around the world, the UN’s Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) took effect. Mexico and Canada signed the Convention immediately (July 17, 1980); the United States, however, joined Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Palau, and Tonga, plus the non-state entity of the Vatican, in NOT signing the Convention. (The United States has also failed to amend its Constitution to acknowledge equal rights for women, despite nearly a hundred years of trying.)

CEDAW explicitly identifies a wide range of women’s rights, from bodily integrity to property rights. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an international body that tracks how the world is doing on issues of international concern, has identified the three issues most critical to achieving gender equity. The first two involve a woman’s ability to create a sustainable life: inequality of education and employment, and of wages and salaries once she has entered the labor market. The third issue is violence against women.

Education, Employment, and Pay
Perhaps the most telling indicator of gender equality is paid employment in a good quality job that offers the possibility of increasing income and responsibility. Conversely, when a country’s economy depends on low wages, iffy jobs, and unpaid labor in the home to prop itself up, women – and their children – are usually trapped in dead-end, often abusive, situations with little or no hope of escape. The OECD ranks Mexico as having the lowest productivity level in the world, in large part because of the low skill levels of its people (the high school graduation rate is 67%; in Canada, it’s 77%; in the U.S. it’s 85%).

In Mexico, women lag behind men in paid employment – over 80% of Mexican men have paid work, while less than half of women do. The U.S. is about average in terms of women’s paid work, while Canada is above average.

Women’s pay lags 17% behind men’s in Mexico, higher than the international average; both the U.S. and Canada lag further behind (women make 20% less than men).

Unfortunately, over half of the Mexican women who work for pay are working in the informal economy – i.e., off the books, self-employed, or in jobs that probably come and go, so no secure source of income. Although more than half of Mexican men and women work in the informal economy, the negative aspects of insecure employment – unreliable income, hours too short or too long, no social benefits – affect women more than men.

The future does not look rosy for young women – the great majority of whom are single teen mothers; 35% of women aged 15 to 24 are “NEET” (Neither Employed nor participating in any
Education or Training that could lead to paid work). This is nearly double the international average. The chances of lowering the NEET rate for young women is limited by Mexico’s teen pregnancy rate, which is the highest in the world.

Violence Against Women
Violence against Women includes all forms of violence and abuse – physical, psychological, sexual, economic, harassment, trafficking, child marriage, genital mutilation – directed at women because they are women. Obviously, such violence severely constrains a woman’s opportunities for a decent life for herself and her children.

Unfortunately, collecting data on gender-based violence has not yet been standardized, especially in Canada, so we can’t make all comparisons and all numbers are estimates. According to MacLean’s online magazine, Canadian women suffer from domestic violence and femicide, and the rate is going up, but because Canada does not have specific criminal laws separating crimes against women, statistics on violence against women are not collected systematically. Moreover, domestic violence, up to and including rape, is seriously underreported, most sharply so in Canada – data from domestic violence hotlines indicate that only 1 in 5 victims made any kind of police report.

In 2017, almost half (47%) of ALL Mexican women suffered some sort of domestic violence from an intimate partner or family member. Another 39% of ALL Mexican women suffer violence at the hands of strangers. In the United States, over a third of ALL women (36%) experienced domestic violence. OECD estimates that non-indigenous Canadian Police reporting for Canada indicates that indigenous women suffer domestic violence at three times the rate of non-indigenous women. Given the problems in tracking violence against women, the takeaway here is that violence against women is far more prevalent in Mexico than in the countries to the north.

Femicide. The most extreme form of violence against women – femicide, or “mysogynistic murder” – occurs when women are killed because they are women. Various explanations have been offered for femicide in Mexico – the drug cartels don’t want women to resist their inroads, NAFTA changed the relationships between men and women when more women were hired in the maquiladores (factories) built on the Mexican side of the border, men’s attitudes towards women in Mexico make murder all too easy.

In all countries, determining whether the murder of a woman is “femicide” – she was killed because she was a woman – is problematic. Of the 3,142 women murdered in Mexico in 2019, only 795 are being investigated as femicides – activists believe this is way too low. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, in its study on gender-related homicides (2019) classified 75% of the murders as femicide.

Starting in 2007, Mexico has had a system of alerts about gender-specific violence; since 2015, alerts have been issued for 18 of Mexico’s 32 states (an area equal to 56% of Mexico). However, there seems to be no common reason for the violence, which makes it seem as if the explanation for femicide is complex and deeply rooted in Mexican culture. Unfortunately, issuing such an alert has not reduced violence against women in general or femicide in particular in the states of Veracruz, Morelos, Mexico, Puebla, Guerrero, or Colima.