Tag Archives: Deborah Van Hoewyk

Immigration to Mexico – Emigration from Where?

By Deborah Van Hoewyk

According to the 2020 decennial Mexican census, the population of Mexico was 129,932,753 people, of whom 1,212,252, or less than 1%, were officially counted as immigrants. In the United States, which has the highest number of immigrants in the world (nearly 50 million), they comprise about 15% of the population; in Canada, it’s 21.5%. The vast majority of immigrants arrive in Mexico from the United States, mostly in the form of retirees and snowbirds who hold temporary or permanent residency; the next largest groups come from Central and South America.

Although the numbers of immigrants to Mexico may be very small – every year, more Mexicans leave the country than foreigners arrive – immigrants have exerted a fair amount of impact on Mexican life and culture. Immigration to Mexico started, of course, with the conquest; during the colonial period, the Spanish rulers were not eager to have immigration from any place besides Spain. After independence (1821), however, Mexico sought to attract other foreigners, who brought their purchasing power and businesses with them. The General Colonization Law of 1824 allowed foreigners to buy land in Mexico, as long as it was farther than the border than 20 “leagues” (60 miles), and farther from the sea than 10 leagues (30 miles) – the General Colonization Law is the ancestor of the trust system, painfully familiar to home-owning residents from abroad.

The law, with a hostile hiatus for the U.S. Mexican War (1846-48), which finally defined Mexico’s northern border, gave impetus to immigration to Mexico, particularly in the 20th century. People came, and continue to come, for religious freedom, to escape unfavorable political conditions, to improve their economic situation.

German immigrants started coming in the 19th century, and were quick to start mercantile/manufacturing and agricultural businesses, in particular coffee and henequen and sisal plantations. Cubans boosted the performing arts, including film production, in the mid-nineteenth century. Tacos árabes and Carlos Slim Helú? Lebanon. Look elsewhere in this issue for short profiles of immigrant contributions to Mexico.

Cubans in Mexico: How and Why They Got Here

By Deborah Van Hoewyk

In the beginning – that is, when Spain set out to conquer Mexico – the Spaniards used Cuba as a staging base. Seemed logical, as they had already colonized Cuba by 1511; one Hernan Cortés served as clerk to the Spanish treasurer of Cuba, then moved up to be mayor of Santiago de Cuba. Clearly, Cortés needed more fame and fortune, and set off for Mexico with 11 ships and more than 500 sailors and soldiers, a few of them Cubans.

During Spanish rule in Mexico (1521-1821), and through the 19th century, a small but steady flow of Cubans emigrated to Mexico in search of better opportunities in the much larger country. A much bigger wave of Cubans arrived in the 20th century, escaping the results of Castro’s Cuban Revolution; Cubans who do not want to live under Communism have continued to leave Cuba for Mexico.

In the 21st century, younger Cubans have traveled in large numbers to Mexico in an effort to cross the southern U.S. border – up until 2017, if they made it to U.S. dry land, Cubans had a one-year path to legal residency. This is no longer the case, but Cubans keep coming. In five months last fall/winter (October 2021 through February 2022), 47,000 Cubans fleeing crackdowns on dissent, rising prices, shortages of essential supplies, and a general lack of opportunity, ended up trapped on the Mexican side of the U.S. border.

Obviously, those Cubans are not aiming to immigrate to Mexico, although they may well do so; according to the 2020 Mexican census, there were 25,976 immigrants of Cuban origin living in Mexico, a 644% increase over the 4,033 counted in 2010. A quarter of Cuban immigrants live in the state of Quintana Roo in the Yucatán.

Of the 52 notable Cuban immigrants listed in Wikipedia, more than half were or are performing artists: stage and screen actors, dancers, and musicians. Their list includes eight athletes, three noted writers, three director/producers, two each of politicians and fine artists, and 1 architect, 1 chess grand master, 1 archeologist, 1 cardiologist, and 1 chef.

Perhaps the most interesting Cuban contribution to Mexican culture came during the “Golden Age of Mexican Cinema” (c. 1935-55). The rumberas, or dance films based on Afro-Caribbean rhythms – that would be the rumba, and most succeeding Latin dances – were imagined, created, and performed by Cuban émigrés. With roots in both film noir and Hollywood musicals, a typical rumberas film stars a woman who has, though bad choices or fate, fallen into the underworld, where her dancing and singing skills make her into a flawed and on-her-way-to-a-bad-end femme fatale. The rumberas films may sound melodramatic today, but at the time they were thought to provide a realistic social portrait of a significant sector of Mexican urban life.

The Lebanese in Mexico:How and Why They Got Here

By Deborah Van Hoewyk

The Lebanese began arriving in Mexico even before Lebanon existed as its own country. Its official geographic identity started in the late 1400s, as the Emirate of Mount Lebanon, part of the Ottoman Empire. Mount Lebanon was home to multiple religious groups; leaders of the emirate came from different groups over time, but no one seemed to like each other, much less the Ottoman (Turkish) governors, so there were several uprisings. France first (1860) became an interested party in the area when they came to the rescue of Maronite Christians being attacked by Druse Isamites. (Lebanon would become a French protectorate when the West divided up the Ottoman Empire after World War I; it would win its independence in 1943.)

In 1869, the Suez Canal opened, connecting Europe with the Far East and causing the Lebanese silk industry to collapse. Thus it was, in 1892, that the first Lebanese immigrants arrived on a French ship sailing from Beirut. Over 100,000 Arabic speakers – mostly Lebanese – arrived between then and the 1930s; they settled mostly in the Yucatán and along the Gulf of Mexico, with some moving out across northern Mexico. Although the Lebanese made up only 5% of immigration in the 1930s, they were responsible for about 50% of immigrant contributions to Mexico’s economy. If you go to the harbor in Veracruz, you will find the Plaza of the Lebanese immigrant, which contains a statue dressed in 19th-century Lebanese garb. There are copies of this statue elsewhere in Mexico and around the world, but the one in Veracruz is matched by one in Beirut – the starting and ending points of the Lebanese diaspora in Mexico.

Perhaps the most noted Lebanese citizen of Mexico is Carlos Slim Helú, born on January 28, 1940. Multi-billionaire business magnate Slim made his money mostly in telecommunications. In 1989 President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, Mexico’s first economist president, embarked on a program of economic modernization that included privatizing telecommunications. In 1990, Carlos Slim put together a partnership that bought a controlling interest in TelMex. Nowadays, building on his fortune – he was the world’s richest person in the early 2010s – Slim is more known for his philanthropy, if not for the Soumaya Museum in Plaza Corso in Mexico City (there is an earlier one [1994] in Plaza Loreto). Slim built it in 2011 in memory of his wife Soumaya Doumit, who died in 1999.

As Maronite Christians, the Lebanese brought with them a favorite religious figure, the “miracle monk of Lebanon,” Charbel Maklouf (1828-98). Maklouf, a hermit thought to be responsible for miracles of healing; although he was not beatified until 1965 or canonized until 1977, he arrived in Mexico with Lebanese immigrants in the early 1900s. Saint Charbel is fairly popular; people adorn his statues with listones, long ribbons with requests for miracles or intercessions written on them, accompanied by a drawing of a cedar tree. Lebanese Muslims built the first dedicated mosque in Mexico in 1989; the Suraya Mosque is located in the city of Torreón in Coahuila.

Perhaps the most delectable Lebanese contributions to Mexican culture are culinary. While the meat on the spit is more likely to be pork or goat, not lamb, don’t we all crave tacos al pastor (shepherd tacos) or tacos árabes (Arab tacos)? Lebanese culinary influences are probably strongest in the Yucatán, where the Lebanese first arrived. Eggplant and potatoes, legumes such as chickpeas and lentils, lamb, yogurt, onions, and olive oil, not to mention mint, oregano, cinnamon, and cumin, are all used in Mexican adaptations of Lebanese cuisine.

Politics, Petroleum, and the Environment:How to Doom Your Country’s Climate Targets

By Deborah Van Hoewyk

About last month: Did you emerge from the mental fog induced by St. Patrick’s Day on March 17 in time to face the festivities of March 18? Completely missed it? March 18, what’s that?

Mexico’s Oil Belongs to Mexico – via PEMEX

In Mexico, March 18 is “Expropriation Day,” the anniversary of President Lázaro Cárdenas’ 1938 nationalization of the country’s oil fields and production facilities. It seemed like “a good idea at the time,” and many Mexicans think of the expropriación petrolera as a second Mexican Revolution, one that liberated Mexican workers from low wages and oppressive working conditions imposed by the foreign companies that dominated the oil industry in Mexico. It is taught in schools as a story of resistance to American imperialism, a source of great national pride.

Before expropriation, there were 17 international firms producing oil in Mexico, dominated by the Mexican Eagle Company (a subsidiary of the Royal Dutch/Shell Company, now just “Shell”) and various U.S. firms (Jersey Standard, a branch of Standard Oil, and Standard Oil Company of California, SOCAL, now Chevron); together the Dutch and the Americans (basically, the Rockefellers) controlled 90% of the production of Mexican oil; Gulf Oil added another 5%.

Under Cárdenas’ plan, the Mexican government would control the production and commercialization of all petroleum resources derived from Mexican territory, significantly increasing government income while shoring up public finance and the social benefits it provided. To do this, he created a government corporation, Petróleos Mexicanos – that would be PEMEX, for those of us who drive in Mexico.

PEMEX was designed as a country-wide monopoly, jointly owned by the state and the Sindicato de Trabajadores Petroleros de la República Mexicana (petroleum workers’ union). It was tasked with all phases of oil and gas production in Mexico: exploration, development, transportation, refining, storage, distribution, and sales. It was designed to partner with the Comisión Federal de Electricidad, known far and wide as CFE, which had been set up in 1937.

Mexico as Petrostate

And what has 84 years of government control of the oil and gas industry done for Mexico?

International oil companies had been encouraged to come to Mexico by President José de la Cruz Porfirio Díaz Mori, who ruled Mexico in dictatorial style from 1877 to 1911 (with a four-year hiatus due to term limits, which he canceled after his re-election). Porfirio Díaz was overthrown by the Mexican Revolution (officially fought from 1910-17). In 1917, there were 440 oil production companies working in Mexico, they produced 55 million barrels a day, and Mexico was the world’s second-largest producer of crude oil.

In 1917, Mexico voted in its Constitution, which restored national control of the oil industry. Foreign companies could produce oil from Mexican wells, but needed to obtain official government concessions, which the largest companies refused to do. Both sides succeeded in ignoring the tensions, but oil production began slipping away to Venezuela, where it was cheaper to extract the crude.

Two decades later, the event that brought on expropriation was a labor strike against the international petroleum companies; after a year of negotiating, the petroleum workers’ union walked off the job for 11 days, and the government sent the contract to federal arbitration, which defined a new contract. The international companies refused to accept it, expropriation had been established by law in 1916, and there you go – Mexico took it all.

Over time, that hasn’t worked out all that well. The greatly simplified explanation is that, had the motivations for expropriation, the establishment of PEMEX, and tying it to CFE, been strictly economic, all might have been well. But the public monopoly was also intended to support Mexico’s socioeconomic programs – health, housing, education, recreation, retirement. (PEMEX revenues also funded Mexico’s repayment of loans incurred during the financial crisis of the late 1970s.) Ultimately, PEMEX has been used to pay for everything but financing the company itself: there has been little exploration for new sites, there is no infrastructure to develop them, and lack of maintenance has produced huge oil spills, particularly into the Gulf of Mexico. Moreover, PEMEX has been heavily subsidized by the government to keep retail prices low, thus obscuring real production production costs, so there is no government or public appetite for “remodeling” PEMEX to do a better job.

Back to the Future in the Oil Industry

Every so often, especially when the petroleum industry teetered and later as NAFTA was being negotiated (1994, renewed 2020), figures in the Congreso de la Unión (the federal legislature) or various presidents would make noises about letting international oil companies return. Between 2004 and the beginning of the presidential term of President Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-18), oil production had dropped from 3.4 to 2.5 million barrels a day, and continued to drop, but the nation’s budget depended on PEMEX for a third of its revenues.

If the nation’s oil industry were left to PEMEX on its own, “Much of Mexico’s estimated 30 billion barrels of oil and 500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas” would “simply remain locked in the ground” (Forbes, October 30, 2013). PEMEX was hamstrung, without “sufficient technical expertise” for exploration, and was legally denied the ability to acquire the expertise. Even if PEMEX could have brought in outside expertise, “big oil” wouldn’t come without financial guarantees, which PEMEX of course could not provide.

In 2013, Peña Nieto managed to amend the Mexican constitution to permit private international investment in oil, gas, and electricity production and distribution, including in the retail fuel market. Mexico auctioned off blocks of deep and shallow water exploration concessions, and welcomed international gasolineras – indeed, those of us who drive in Mexico saw BP (née British Petroleum), RepSol (Spain), and Gulf (U.S.) stations on our southbound treks to Oaxaca.

Not So Fast!

Many – notably, future presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) – opposed the constitutional reform on the grounds that oil and gas were a treasure of Mexico’s national heritage. “Treason,” said AMLO. When AMLO won the 2018 election on the basis of his populist nationalism, cloaked in the language of the left, he immediately set out to dismantle Peña Nieto’s energy sector reforms and restore PEMEX and fossil fuels to a position of pride – although not necessarily productivity, and certainly not to the benefit of the environment.

However, AMLO’s approach to Mexican energy – restore PEMEX/CFE and achieve self-sufficiency, the environment be damned – has brought on sharp criticism from analysts concerned with environmental protection. Combined with the environmental impacts of other AMLO strategies in tourism and economic development, Mexican energy policy is raising alarms at home and abroad; the policies are seen as detrimental, if not disastrous, in a country as “mega-biodiverse” as Mexico.

Mexico is party to the 2015 Paris Agreement, a UN-sponsored international treaty that records voluntary “nationally determined contributions,” or NDCs, from its signatory nations to meet targets for (1) reducing greenhouse gas emissions and (2) adapting to climate change through developing sources of alternative energy. Mexico was the first “developing country” to submit a plan for participating in the Paris Agreement, including an NDC of cutting emissions 22% by 2030 and obtaining 35% of its energy from alternative sources by 2024.

Countries are supposed to boost those targets every five years; new targets were announced in October 2021 at COP26, the second UN-sponsored climate change conference (Glasgow, Scotland, October 2021). Despite a visit from U.S. climate envoy John Kerry in advance of COP26, Mexico – along with Russia and Brazil – said it would work on increasing targets, but would not raise them. Mexico is the 14th-largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, and the 2nd-largest in Latin America, bested only by the Brazil of Jair Bolsonaro, who promotes “land use change” in the form of slash-and-burn conversion of jungle to agriculture and industry. Climate Action Tracker, an international research partnership, finds that, given its policies and performance, Mexico’s emissions will rise, not fall, and the Mexico’s targets are “not at all consistent with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5 degrees Celsius temperature limit.”

AMLO and the Environment

It would, of course, be difficult to lower emissions when you are “pouring money into PEMEX, at the environment’s expense” as Bloomberg analysts put it in January 2021. In search of an energy-independent Mexico, AMLO has also made regulatory changes that “cut the knees off a booming renewables market” by ordering regulatory agencies to favor PEMEX/CFE by means of over-regulation of about 200 wind farms, solar arrays, natural gas plants, and other private projects.

AMLO is promoting two major infrastructure projects. First, to shore up oil production, he is building an $8 billion US mega oil refinery at Dos Bocas in his home state of Tabasco, on what was a protected mangrove forest. The refinery has been opposed by both business and environmentalist groups, and has been prejected to fail on financial grounds. In addition, AMLO has asked PEMEX to increase output at the country’s six current refineries, which burn highly polluting fuel oil. CFE is using high-sulfur fuel oil, and has bought tons – 2 million tons – of coal as a further source of fuel.

And then there’s the (in)famous Tren Maya, a tourism initiative that is laying over 1,550 kilometers of rail tracks across Tabasco, Campeche, Yucatán, Quintana Roo, and Chiapas – right through the rainforest that is home to the endangered Mexican jaguar. The price tag is now $200 billion mxn (about $9.8 billion US); in a bid to add utility to the Tren Maya, freight capacity has been added to the original vision. The Tren Maya is opposed by both indigenous and environmentalist groups.

AMLO’s strategies for meeting Mexico’s NDCs are to plant trees and update 60 hydroelectric plants. The Sembrando Vida (Sowing Life) program, funded at $3.4 billion US, pays farmers to plant trees for fruit and timber production. Intended to bring income-producing agriculture to degraded land, the program actually encourages farmers to clear the jungle (that would be slash-and-burn again) to plant the program-provided trees.

Modernizing the hydroelectric plants receives high marks from agencies and experts in general, but in the first quarter of 2019, hydroelectric produced 6.4% of Mexico’s power, other alternatives (wind, nuclear, solar) produced 9.6%, and fossil fuels produced the remaining 84%. Hydroelectric power is much more expensive to produce than wind or solar; all the plants involved are over 50 years old, and modernization will be complicated and expensive. Many areas of Mexico face drought conditions, and dammed water is diverted to agricultural use rather than the hydroelectric plant. Promoting hydroelectric power with these improvements is a policy with only minor benefits.

When his policies and programs are criticized on environmental grounds, AMLO is dismissive, conspiracy oriented, and attacks the opposition: “There’s a lot of deception. I would tell you that they have grabbed the flag of clean energy in the same way they grab the flag of feminism or human rights. Since when are conservatives concerned about the environment?”

When he was elected, AMLO said he would have a mid-term review of his presidency. On April 11, 2022, he is holding a consulta de Revocación de Mandato, a consultation with voters on whether to “revoke his mandate.” The ballot question is carefully awkward, if not confusing, in its wording; it conflates the issues of whether or not a voter approves of AMLO’s policies with whether AMLO should stay in office. Given a general social bias towards continuity, AMLO is likely to win in a landslide.

International Women’s Day, Mexican Style

By Deborah Van Hoewyk

Over the years, the March issue of the The Eye has observed International Women’s Day (March 8) with articles on the famous, the fierce, the creative, the entrepreneurial – and the murdered – women of Mexico.

Mexican women have been world-class artists, actors, writers and photographers; they fought in their two national revolutions and have played key roles in the Zapatista movement. They are businesswomen and entrepreneurs; they occasionally give men a run for their money in corruption.

Politically speaking, Mexico has just become a leader in gender equity: by law, half the Congress must be women (The U.S. Senate is 24% women, and the House of Representatives is about 28%; in Canada, the Senate recently reached 50% women, but only briefly, while the House of Commons is 34% women.)

International Women’s Day is a worldwide celebration of what has been achieved in terms of women’s social, economic, cultural, and political equity; IWD works to raise awareness of what remains to be done. It emerged early in the 20th century – from labor struggles in the U.S. and Europe, from suffrage struggles in Russia, and in Mexico, from the Revolution of 1910-20. Although the U.S. labor movement celebrated National Women’s Day in 1909, the first International Women’s Day was observed in Europe in 1911. With the second-wave women’s movement of the 1960s, recognition by the U.N. in 1975, and official U.N. designation of March 8 as the date in 1977, IWD became a mainstream, but largely unofficial, holiday throughout the world.

International Women’s Day in Mexico

In Mexico, IWD was first celebrated in the 1930s in Mexico City. Mexican feminism began to emerge in the late 19th century, aimed mostly at achieving education for women; these efforts bore fruit before, during, and after the Revolution, as schoolteachers started entering the workforce. (The right to divorce came during the Revolution, in 1914.) Feminist magazines began appearing in the decades surrounding the Revolution as well, but they did not focus on broad social, economic, and political rights of full citizenship; rather, they promoted the emancipación of women within traditional social structures – they should broaden their intellectual and cultural horizons, and the importance their roles as wife and mother should be recognized.

With the support of progressive forces, including the Communist Party of Mexico, the Frente Único pro Derechos de la Mujer (The United Front for the Rights of Women – Frida Kahlo was one of the leaders), focused directly on national suffrage (there had been local progress on voting rights in the Yucatán and San Luis Potosí). Although the United Front was very active in the late 1930s, women did not win the national right to vote until 1953.

Until recently, there has been little research on mid-century Mexican feminism, but if we look carefully at a 1960 Mexican poster commemorating International Women’s Day and the 50th anniversary of the Mexican Revolution, we can get a picture of just what the emancipation of women meant Mexico.

First, the poster shows the involvement of women in larger revolutionary struggles. The central figure, bearing a torch, is backed by the Cuban flag and has the number 26 emblazoned on her shirt – “26” was the symbol of Castro’s campaign to overthrow the Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista (the effort began July 26, 1953). On the right of the poster appear Asian women – the Chinese Revolution that brought that Communist Party and Mao Zedong to power concluded on October 1, 1949. To the left appear three Mexican women, who arguably represent, from front to back, women of direct Spanish descent, mestizos (Spanish and indigenous descent), and indigenous. A Mexican girl releases a dove, symbol of peace, to the flock in the sky. Nonetheless, the idea that women have participated in national revolutions is not the same as promoting a major revolution for the rights of women.

Second, and what is perhaps most interesting – and complicated – is the slogan across the bottom of the poster: LA EMANCIPACION DE LA MUJER ES LA OBRA DE LA MUJER MISMA (The emancipation of women is the work of the woman herself). “Emancipation” is a fraught word, saying more about the condition women want to escape – it reeks of restraint and control, if not slavery. And to say it is women themselves who must do the work of emancipation passes the buck on the long history of Church-influenced social structures and laws, much less the culture of machismo (literally, maleness) that have led to the need for emancipation.

International Women’s Day 2020

The Mexican feminist movement grew, as it did all around the world, during the 1960s through the 1980s. In the 1990s, however, the phenomenon of femicide in Mexico surfaced in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, where hundreds of women went missing, only to be found dead. Evaluations of interventions to quell the violence have shown they have had little effect, due to lackluster implementation or the country’s culture of impunity that favors men.

Thirty years later, with femicide and violence against women only growing, the slogans of the International Women’s Day marches of 2020 and 2021 said nothing about “emancipation.” Nor were the marches merely demonstrations, but serious, and violent, protests about femicide and gender-based violence.

On Saturday, February 8, 2020, Érick Francisco murdered his partner Ingrid Escamilla by stabbing her to death with a kitchen knife, then proceeding to skin and dismember her. This is femicide, which is far more prevalent in Mexico than the official statistics allow. For the murder of a woman to be considered a femicide, the woman must have experienced ongoing domestic, particularly sexual, abuse, and she must have been tortured or mutilated as part of the murder.

In 2018, Mexico registered 3,752 femicides, over 10 a day; in 2019, it was 3,825. Femicides surged 7.7% in the opening months of the pandemic. Feminists have called Mexico the “Femicide State” (Mexico Feminicidio) and cite a “culture of impunity” coming straight from the top.

In March 2020, there were over 26,000 calls to domestic violence hotlines. Mexico’s president, Andrés Manual López Obrador (AMLO) said 90% of them were fake. AMLO has also expressed impatience with feminist protests – they were just a distraction to make sure his airplane raffle failed; the March 8 demonstrations were the work of neoliberal opponents from the last regime “who want to see this government fail,” and “suddenly conservatives are dressing up as feminists” to attack him (reporting from The New York Times, May 31, 2020).

On International Women’s Day, Sunday, March 8, 2020, about 80,000 women took to the streets in Mexico City alone. Femicide and gender-based violence were the major themes: “Fight today so we don’t die tomorrow,” was accompanied by hundreds of posters of murdered women.

On Monday, March 9, the movement sponsored “A Day without Women,” a universal strike by women who stayed home from work (4o%, or 21 million, of Mexico’s women are in the formal workforce, countless more comprise the informal workforce) or did not leave their houses, in particular, they spent nothing to contribute to the economy. Major corporations (Walmart employs 108,000 women) gave women a paid day off to demonstrate.

International Women’s Day 2021

The National Palace – the seat of Mexico’s government and the home of the president – prepared for last year’s march with a barricade running all around the building. AMLO said it was to prevent “damage to historic buildings” (another barrier was erected around the national art museum, the Palacio de Bellas Artes), and to eliminate “provocations” that might be “infiltrated” by people seeking to use the women’s movement. AMLO himself, he said, is not a “male chauvinist” (reporting from BBC News, March 8, 2021).

On Monday, March 8, International Women’s Day saw a smaller number of protestors than in 2020, perhaps due to the pandemic, perhaps because there had been no ghastly femicides recently. Women, however, remained equally outraged. They were outraged by the barricade, which on Saturday night they had painted with a seemingly endless list – actually, 939 – of the names of murdered women.

They were also outraged by AMLO’s insensitivity to women’s issues, expressed this year in his steadfast support for Félix Salgado Macedonia, a candidate for governor of the state of Guerrero accused of rape by multiple women. According to AMLO, the accusations are “politically motivated,” and news-conference questions about Salgado brought a sharp “That’s enough!” (¡Ya Chole!). (Salgado’s daughter, Evelyn Salgado Pineda, is now governor of Guerrero.)

Protestors attacked the barricade with hammers, blowtorches, and their hands. Police threw flash-bang grenades and sprayed protestors with fire retardant; protestors sprayed well-shielded police with fire extinguishers. Injuries were reported by 62 police and 19 protestors.

While not all women in these protests agree that violence should be the tactic of choice, they also recognize that it seems to be the only way to focus attention on the issue of violence against themselves. Violence against women is the most basic way to keep women from achieving equality, and Mexico’s police have been “heavily implicated” in the crisis of violence against women. It should not be surprising that the “new” feminists of Mexico are younger women dedicated to supporting each other in the face of violence, using violent protest themselves when they consider it necessary.

Play Ball! Play Mesoamerican Ball! Play Ulama!

By Deborah Van Hoewyk

It’s Mexico’s oldest sport, played formally with rules, courts, and rituals for at least 3,000 years, and informally for a millennium or more before that – it’s also the world’s oldest team sport. While the folks of the “Initial” and “Early Formative” periods in Mesoamerican culture (1900-1000 BCE) played all kinds of ballgames, with all kinds of balls, when we say “Mesoamerican Ball,” we’re talking about a sport that is thought to have originated in the lowlands of Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador, probably because that’s where the rubber for the rubber ball was most common.

Mesoamerican ball (ōllamalīztli, ōllama in Nahuatl, pitz in Classic period Maya) is a fundamental feature of pre-Columbian culture in the region – archaeologists have identified nearly 2,500 ball courts (tlachti in Nahuatl), with the oldest known court (originally thought to be from about 1400 BCE, but recently redated to 1650 BCE) in Paso de la Amada in the coastal lowlands of Chiapas.

The oldest court in the Mesoamerican highlands dates from 1374 BCE, and was just found in 2020, under another ballcourt in San Mateo Etlatongo by Jeffrey P. Blomster and Victor E. Salazar Chávez, archaeologists from George Washington University. (Etlatongo is 90 km (54 miles) northwest of Oaxaca City, off Routes 190 and 135D.)

Of course, discovering the second oldest Mexican ball court in the Oaxacan highlands has upended the idea that the game came from the lowlands, so the academics are in a bit of a tizzy right now. We, however, are happy that the discovery tells us more about the sport itself.

How to Play (Really Ancient) Ball!

That ballgame was there at the creation, so to speak, as part of the origin myths of the Mayan people recorded in the Popol Vuh, an ancient sacred text of the Maya. The version we have was prepared from oral recitations of the story, first (most probably) as a phonetic rendition by a Spanish scribe in Santa Cruz del Quiché, Guatemala, sometime after 1524, when the area was conquered Pedro de Alvarado. No one’s ever found any such manuscript, but we do know that the priest Francisco Ximénez, who served in Santo Tomás Chichicastenango (or Chullá or Chilá), prepared a manuscript of “the histories of the origin of the Indians of this province of Guatemala.” It was “translated from the Quiché language into Castilian for the convenience of the ministers of the holy gospel.” The Ximénez document, produced between 1701 and 1703, put the phonetic version on the left and Spanish on the right. Given the Spanish penchant for destroying indigenous documents and artifacts, it is a remarkable contribution to what we know of ancient Mayan thought.

And what does the Popol Vuh have to say about the ballgame? Not all that much about the rules, although it implies sacred, political, and ritual components of the game.

Hun Hunahpu and his brother Vucub Hunahpu are playing ball on a court set up by the lords of the underworld, Xibalba. The noise of the brothers’ game annoys the lords; when the brothers fall asleep, the Xibalba lords capture them, kill them, and bury them in the ball court. All except Hun Hunahpu’s head, which they hang in a fruit tree. Along comes a goddess, and Hun’s head spits into her hands; she becomes pregnant and bears his sons, the Hero Twins, who through a series of adventures, end up in a ballgame with the lords of Xibalba; the Twins win.

The myth links the ballgame with overcoming death, with heroic mortals overcoming underworld deities on a field that links death with life, thus creating the universe in which we mortals live in.

As for how the game was, is, and would be played in our time, the Popol Vuh doesn’t really tell us. What we do know is that it was played in different ways in different places; our information comes from the balls themselves, of various sizes; excavated ball courts, with bouncing walls (rather like handball) or rings mounted high on the wall (rather like basketball); paintings of ball games, even in places where no ball courts have been found; remnants of pottery figurines of ballplayers showing the player wearing a protective yoke, with a loincloth below (confirmation that the hip-ball version, rather than hand- or foot- or stick-ball, was predominant); human vertebrae (confirmation of the notion that losing a ball game could be fatal).

The games were played sometimes one on one, or in teams of up to four players. In places with no upper goal rings, the point is to keep the ball in play. Scoring is very complicated – when one team allowed the ball to go out of bounds, the other team scored. If a player let the ball bounce twice before returning it to the other team, a penalty. With goal rings, some think a failed attempt penalized the team that tried, when the ball actually went through the ring, the game was over. Others think the goal ring, which was a difficult target for a hip-shot ball, was just for bonus points.

As for the human sacrifices, certainly foreshadowed in the Popol Vuh, sometimes yes, mostly no. There’s evidence that the upper classes played the game, so sacrifice was out. As the ballgame moved from the Maya to the Aztecs, however, issues of war and prisoners of war became more prominent, and sacrifice was in. There is evidence of human sacrifice at the huge Zapotec ballcourt at Monte Albán, but doubt as to whether it was the winners or losers who were sacrificed. At Chichen Itza, home to skull racks and unconfirmed rumors that the game was played with severed heads, it’s definitely the winning team that gets done in.

About That Ball …

We don’t know much about the size or weight of the balls used in play, although the ball is responsible for the “lowland paradigm” among archeologists, i.e., that because the Panama rubber tree (Castilla elastica) grows along the coast, the game developed there. And wrapping around the rubber tree was the white moonflower (Ipomea alba), a night-blooming morning glory. Combining the sap of these two plants created a particularly bouncy rubber, which fascinated the Spanish conquistadors – rubber was virtually unknown in Europe at the time.

It may have been the ball more than the game that led Hernan Cortés to take a team of indigenous players back to Spain in 1528, seven years after the Conquest, when he went to plead his case for continuing to rule Mexico (even some of the Spanish found the destruction of the Aztec Empire unnecessarily brutal). While Cortés brought many “wonders” back to the Spanish court, the ballgame – especially the bouncing rubber ball – was apparently a big hit. Columbus might also have brought rubber balls back to the Spanish court, but not accompanied by teams of barely clad but completely literate, extremely athletic players – we even have a 1528 drawing of them at play!

Although the clergy present supposedly muttered about human skulls in the core of the ball, two representatives from the Nahua teams (we know one was Benyto Maçatlaquemi – the scanty records do not name the second) went off to visit Pope Clement VII. They had learned both Spanish and Latin, as well as Court and Vatican etiquette – Cortés presented them as gentlemen scholar athletes, in their finest indigenous clothing, dyed scarlet with cochineal, iridescent with quetzal feathers. Clement bounced the ball, and cardinals laughed. Clement bestowed on the Nahuas the usual Vatican gifts, e.g., Italian clothing, but he also gave each of them a gold chain, a mark of rank and status, made by the most noted goldsmith in 16th-century Rome, Pompeo de’ Capitaneis. Clement prepared four papal bulls in the wake of the ballplayers’ visit: he established churches for indigenous peoples in Mexico City, in Culhuacán and Tlatelolco, now parts of Mexico City, and in the neighboring state of Tlaxcala.

The Vatican’s goals were to teach indigenous peoples how to read and write Spanish, to preserve indigenous languages in the Roman alphabet, and to encourage indigenous peoples to write their own histories. These goals were undertaken by the Jesuit priests of New Spain; their efforts are generally credited with the creation of Latin American humanities. It should be noted that the influence went both ways – crimson-dyed clothing and featherwork became very popular across Europe.

Play Ulama!

Mesoamerican ball is still played in a number of Latin American countries, both at home and against each other. An exhibition game was played at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City (see article elsewhere in this issue).

Now called “pok ta pok,” after a 1932 adaptation by a Danish archaeologist from a Yucatecan word, as often as “ulama,” the sport’s last World Cup (the third) was won by the Black Jaguars of Belize, beating out El Salvador, Mexico, Panama, Guatemala, and Honduras. The Mayan Ball Game World Cup is held every two years – if COVID allows, the fourth World Cup is coming right up in Mérida, in the Yucatán, December 2-6, 2021.

At the Xcaret eco-archaeological park, there’s an ulama court where exhibition games are played. Mexico City has an ulama court where amateurs form up teams to play matches. And Mexico’s Secretariat of Culture has been urged by other government agencies to “formulate, establish, or evaluate the candidacy of the ulama tradition that comes down from the pre-Hispanic Mesoamerican ball game, practiced in some Sinaloa communities,” to be considered for UNESCO’s designation as an intangible cultural heritage.

Glocal Gastronomy: Growing Tourism in Mexico

By Deborah Van Hoewyk

The Stealth Food Tour

Almost 20 years ago, my husband and I left Orizaba, Veracruz, after visiting a friend, and set off down the Sierra Madre del Sur to see the Pacific Ocean. We stopped over in Tehuacán, where we wandered around the zócalo (main square) that evening, eyeing the brightly-lit taco carts with trepidation. We were intimidated by the rapid-fire system for ordering, paying, and getting plates of three tacos with bewilderingly different fillings. But the local eaters, perched on the plastic stools circling each cart, didn’t let us go hungry. They gestured, they pointed, they chattered in Spanish we didn’t yet understand – and we had a delicious dinner!

Further down the road was the state capital, Oaxaca de Juárez, where we ate more tacos, crunched on grasshoppers, and tried to figure out why the sauce on the chicken was redolent of chocolate. The food highlight, however, was the La Noche de los Rábanos (The Night of the Radishes), which takes place on December 23.

The zócalo was turned over to an elaborate network of boardwalks past tables displaying scenes largely made up of intricately carved radishes. These are not your namby-pamby Cherry Belles or French Breakfast radishes. They put Japanese daikon to shame, reaching a weight of up to 10 pounds and a length of up to 2 feet. Complemented with separate competitions in scenes made of cornhusk (totomoxtle) and dried flowers (flores inmortales), the radish displays compete for a large prize ($21,000 pesos in 2018) in the traditional and free (libre) categories. Traditional includes religious and cultural scenes, while there’s no limit to the imagination in free scenes. Unfortunately, the radishes wilt, so the whole thing – including the actual carving and competition – is over in one day.

Back on the road, at the end of the road, we discovered La Bocana, then a quiet paradise of palm trees and the Pacific Ocean (not so much, not no more). As it still is, however, Los Güeros was very much a family restaurant, and there we learned to love camarones al mojo de ajo.

While we were completely unaware that we had taken a food tour, we had. We had walked through a century-plus-old cultural event with the radishes, eaten traditional foods (those grasshoppers and that mole), and talked to (sort of) local people eating local street food. It was a harbinger of things to come.

Tourism Trend Alert – It’s All about the Experience!

Although we see a lot of old-style tourism in Huatulco, aimed at relaxation and consumption – all-inclusive hotels with endless buffets, massages, and multiple pools, cruise ships with guided tours and careful activities – we also see that newer trends in tourism have arrived in Huatulco.

Sometime around 2015, tourism associations and researchers started commenting on “experience tourism.” Travel now offered the chance of “having a once-in-a-lifetime experience or gaining an emotional connection with cultures and nature.” By 2016, the Harris poll reported that 72% of millennials (25- to 40-year-olds) preferred spending their travel dollars on unique experiences than on souvenirs, embroidered blouses, or standardized hotels. The poll doesn’t mention that experiences take a lot more travel dollars than, say, an alebrije carving that fits in your carry-on.

Journey Mexico (www.journeymexico.com), a guide-owned and -operated agency located in Mexico City, Puerto Vallarta, and Cancun, “specializes in crafting unique, authentic and unexpected travel experiences for the discerning and sophisticated traveler.” The words “luxury,” “adventure,” “culture,” “nature,” and “villas” appear on the photos scrolling across the home page.

According to Stephanie Schneiderman, of Tia Stephanie Tours in Ann Arbor, Michigan (www.tiastephanietours.com), “People are turning away from mindless consumerism and are realizing that what really fills the mind and soul are experiences, not things.”

Experiencing Food

And, of course, what better way to experience a culture than with food? In 2010, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), designated traditional Mexican cuisine an “intangible cultural heritage of humanity” because it is “a comprehensive cultural model comprising farming, ritual practices, age-old skills, culinary techniques and ancestral community customs and manners. It is made possible by collective participation in the entire traditional food chain: from planting and harvesting to cooking and eating.”

There are many ways to experience food in Mexico – sampling the range of regional cuisines, learning to cook popular and/or specialized Mexican dishes, visiting the makers of tequila or mezcal – and the Mexican government has jumped on the food-culture bandwagon. Impelled by the UNESCO Patrimonia Mundial de Humanidad designation and building on the already established Rutas Turisticas de México (e.g., the Missions Route through Baja California, the Route of Silver in Aguascalientes, the Mezcal Route in Oaxaca), the Secretariat of Tourism has organized 18 Rutas Gastronómicas de México. The routes involve 155 destinations in 32 locations, more than 1,500 dishes and beverages, and over 500 chefs who have “created dishes that merge tradition and modernity.” There are routes about particular foods – cacao in Chiapas and Tabasco, coffee and vanilla in Veracruz, the “thousand flavors of mole” in Oaxaca. In Querétaro and Guanajuato you can order “dishes with history”; in Jalisco your experience is accompanied by the “sound of the mariachis.”

Like the Rutas Turisticas, the food routes are self-guided tours. The Secretariat of Tourism has put together a 96 page booklet that covers all the tours – download it from https://cedocvirtual.sectur.gob.mx/janium/Documentos/12282.pdf.

Both Journey Mexico and Tia Stephanie offer experiences in Mexican cuisine, for example, an 8-day tour of “Food, Wine and Tequila in Colonial Mexico” and another 8-day tour, “Maíz, Mole & Mezcal: Traditions and Flavors of Oaxaca,” respectively. Eat Mexico Culinary Tours (www.eatmexico.com) will take you on a street food and market tour in Puebla; see “¡Salud! A Toast to the Vinyards of Mexico” in the May-June 2021 issue of The Eye to put together your own wine-tasting tour in Guanajuato, Querétaro, Baja California, or Coahuila. Intrepid Travel (www.intrepidtravel.com) provides a mega itinerary from Mexico City through Puebla and Oaxaca City right on down to Huatulco, where tour participants experience a Pacific Ocean boating expedition followed by a coastal cuisine masterclass on one of the area’s “stunning beaches.”

Not that the Huatulqueños don’t have their own culinary experiences to offer – most take a half or whole day. Wahaca Cooking School in La Bocana offers a tour to the Monday market in San Pedro Pochutla (https://wahacacooking.mx/). Maxi Travel will take you to the Pochutla market en route to the El Pacifico Coffee Plantation high in the mountains of Sierra Madre del Sur (https://www.maxitravel.mx/). A number of local guides will take you to agave fields to explore the making of tequila and mezcal, or to coffee plantations.

Hagia Sofia is a fascinating place on the Magadalena River in the mountains between Santa María Huatulco and Pluma Hidalgo; proprietor Armando Canavati has created an eco-park with adventure activities and the largest collection of exotic heliconia flowers in the western hemisphere. Armando’s underlying goal, however, is to cultivate exotic fruits from around the world that will grow in the lower Sierra Madre, with an eye to creating agricultural employment. Have you ever eaten the fruit that surrounds a single cashew? How about mangosteen? You can on a trip to Hagia Sofia! (https://hagiasofia.mx/hagia-sofia-eco-park/).

And we don’t just write about the foods of Mexico at The Eye. Multi-entrepreneur Jane Bauer offers cooking classes at her Chiles&Chocolate school in the village of Zimatán, where she also hosts “Village to Table” dinners of 8 courses with wine pairings (http://www.huatulcocookingclasses.com/). The dean of mezcal education is Eye writer Alvin Starkman, who runs Mezcal Educational Tours in the rural areas around Oaxaca City. Alvin offers day tours to local palenques (mezcal-making operations), and multi-day tours (up to a week long), “Comprehensive Mezcal/Culinary/Cultural Expeditions.” Were it nor for the pandemic, I would have been on one of Alvin’s tours in March 2020 … sigh. Tours have resumed, however: https://www.mezcaleducationaltours.com/.

Mexico’s Natural Wonders

By Deborah Van Hoewyk

Ten major-to-middling mountain ranges, replete with volcanoes and caves. Two oceans, the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean Sea, and the Sea of Cortez. Mega-biodiverse, with over 200,000 known species of flora and fauna. A plethora of online lists of 7, 10, 25 “natural wonders you must see in this lifetime!!!”

There are many must-see natural destinations spread across Mexico – Copper Canyon in Chihuahua, the Rosario sanctuary for Monarch butterflies reserve in Michoacán, Lake Chapala in Jalisco, or Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl volcanoes covered in fourth-grade geography. You could even argue that the ghastly mummies of Guanajuato are a natural wonder, created by the arid soil in which they were hastily buried (apparently too hastily in multiple cases) during a cholera outbreak in 1833.

But if you’re already ensconced in Huatulco, there’s no need to wander afar – southeastern Mexico has plenty of natural wonders at hand.

Oaxaca: Hierve el Agua (“the water boils”) is located high in the mountains about an hour from Mitla, the archeological site to the east of Oaxaca City. Hierve el Agua offers a stunning pair of petrified travertine waterfalls, cascada chica and cascada grande, “falling” from high cliffs to the valley below. The falls themselves are twelve and thirty meters (about 40 and 100 feet) respectively. (The only other petrified waterfalls in the world are at Pamukkale in Turkey, so ¡Aprovechar!)

The small falls are more accessible and actually offer a better understanding of how the cascades were formed. At the top of the falls is a 60-meter-wide (about 200 feet) platform with four springs that bubble up (“boil”) and flow to small natural pools and two large man-made pools where you can swim – the high mineral content of the water, is supposed to have healing qualities. One of the springs spills over the edge, depositing minerals that extend the falls bit by bit, year over year.

There are visitor accommodations for changing clothes, getting a bite to eat, and souvenir shopping; there’s a basic hotel for an overnight. As is common in Oaxaca, you may also experience a bloqueo, a protest blockade, closing the road to Hierve del Agua. You can arrange a tour in Oaxaca City, or take a bus to Mitla and arrange a local tour or just transportation via a colectivo.

Chiapas: Sumidero Canyon is near the Chiapan capital, Tuxtla Gutiérrez (the cañon is the defining feature on the state’s coat of arms). Just north of the town of Chiapa de Corzo, about 35 million years ago, the earth cracked and the Rio Grijalva emerged to start carving out the eight-plus miles of canyon. In places, the walls are now a thousand meters (about 3,300 feet) high; the canyon ends with the Chicoasén Dam, which has created an artificial lake and raised the water level in the canyon – the gorge used to be higher. Should you be a geologist, the walls diagram the history of the earth’s crust in this area, with layers of limestone boasting marine fossils.

The canyon is located in the Sumidero Canyon National Park, designated a RAMSAR wetland. (RAMSAR is the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, Ramsar, Iran, being where the Convention was signed in 1971 – Mexico has 142 RAMSAR sites.)

You can view the canyon from any one of six miradores (overlooks), but the best way to “do” the canyon is via boat. (There was an EcoPark within the national park, to which the boat would take you, but at last word it had closed for financial reasons.)

Most boat trips leave from Chiapa de Corzo. The round-trip boat ride takes about 2-3 hours, because it takes a while to get from Chiapa de Corzo to the actual canyon. You might see wildlife – the park is home to several endangered species (spider monkeys, jaguarundis, ocelots, anteaters). The vegetation in the park is mostly deciduous rainforest (Chiapas is much higher than Huatulco, which has mostly selva seca, dry deciduous jungle.) You can see the entrances to a couple of cave systems in the walls.

You can arrange a tour in Tuxtla Gutiérrez or San Cristobal de las Casas (apparently the best prices are in San Cristobal, and you should make sure your tour includes at least some of the miradors and the town itself). You can also just get yourself to Chiapa de Corzo (less than 20 pesos in a colectivo) – if you can get one to drop you off at the embarcadero (boat landing) in Cahuares, great, otherwise find a colectivo in the square going to Cahuares. If you get to Chiapa de Corzo, you will have no trouble getting to the canyon boats.

The Yucatán, ah the Yucatán! The Yucatán peninsula is all nature, all the time – and archaeology, and beaches, and swimming with sharks, and shopping – but mostly nature. You could go to the flamingo reserve, visit a biosphere, or canoe through the mangroves in Celestún, in the state of Yucatán. You can swim in the hundreds of cenotes, or sinkholes formed when underground rivers caused the limestone above them to collapse (some say Cenote Ik Kil, near Chichen Itza, also in Yucatán state, is the most beautiful). You could visit the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, Mexico’s largest – it also contains the Calakmul archeological site – located in Campeche state. Or the colored lakes at the Las Coloradas salt flats, back in Yucatán. Or go kayaking on the brilliant, multicolored blue waters of Lake Bacalar in Quintana Roo.

But the Yucatán peninsula is home to the 700-mile-long Great Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the world’s second largest, which runs along the Caribbean coast from the tip of the peninsula down through the shores of Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras. Sometimes called the Great Mayan Reef, it’s been described as an “underwater wilderness,” with, at last count, over 100 species of coral, over 500 species of fish, not to mention multiple species of sharks, sea turtles, and dolphins – and a few sunken ships serving as artificial extensions of the barrier reef.

You can book dive trips all along the Caribbean coast of the peninsula. SCUBA divers might have the most fun, especially for the wrecks and the Museo Subaquático de Arte (Cancún Underwater Museum). Never fear, though, there are two galleries in MUSA, and both snorkelers and riders on glass-bottom boats can visit the shallower one to see the sculptures of pH-neutral concrete that explore the human-reef relationship.

Manchones Reef, off Isla Mujeres (Quintana Roo), is considered a “true paradise” for snorkeling and SCUBA diving. The waters of Parque Nacional Arrecifes de Cozumel have great visibility; SCUBA divers can visit the Felipe Xicoténcatl, a C-53 gunboat sunk by the Mexican Navy to start an artificial reef. Ideal for snorkeling is the section of reef in the Biosphere Reserve of Banco Chinchorro – only 5 feet deep and partly comprised of wrecked pirate ships. Banco Chinchorro is off the coast at Chetumal, Quintana Roo. At the Parque Nacional de Arrecifes de Xcalak, also in Quintana Roo near Tulum, the “coral heads” of the reef start only a few meters off the beach and are only 2-3 meters below the surface. The main reef is 400 meters out – if you swam the 440 in high school, and can still do it, you’re good). Xcalak is perhaps the least crowded dive site for the Mesoamerican Reef, and arguably the least spoiled by tourism.

The impact of tourism is perhaps the greatest threat to all of Mexico’s natural wonders, but this is particularly true for coral reefs. You can catch a boat out from the beach at Puerto Morelos in Quintana Roo to see or snorkel Kan Kanán, a huge snake-like construction of hollow pyramids made of cement and micro silica. (Kan Kanán is a guardian serpent in Mayan mythology.) Over a mile long, Kan Kanán lies between the beach and the Mesoamerican Reef; it is the longest artificial reef in the world, intended to protect the coastline from erosion, kickstart the formation of new natural reefs, and regenerate the marine ecosystem. Hope for the future.

Mexican Beer: Born, Bred, and Bought Back by Europe

By Deborah Van Hoewyk

Just waiting for a chance to sink your beach chair into the hot sand, peer out at the blue, blue ocean, and admire the green of the lime in the neck of your Corona Extra? And, at the holidays, don’t forget Modelo’s great bock beer Noche Buena, the label adorned by another Mexican native, the poinsettia.

Oh, oops, Mexican beer hasn’t been native for quite a while. The commercial beer brands we think of as Mexican are all produced by two major corporations – Grupo Modelo and Cervecería Cuauhtémoc Moctezuma. They effectively divide up Mexico’s beer market, 60% Modelo, 40% Cuauhtémoc; Cuauhtémoc is closing the gap. Together, they control 90% of the domestic market. Mexico is the largest beer exporter, and the fifth-largest beer producer, in the world. After gobbling up any number of other Mexican breweries to achieve their status, however, the two in turn have been consumed by European-owned Anheuser-Busch and Heineken, respectively.

Anheuser-Busch, St. Louis, Missouri? Teams of Clydesdales rescuing puppies in Super Bowl commercials? Not really, since 2008, Anheuser-Busch has been a division of AB InBev, or Anheuser-Busch InBev SA/NV, headquartered in Leuven, Belgium. It is the largest beer brewer in the world, with a “product portfolio” of over 500 brands. When Anheuser-Busch became part of AB InBev, it already owned 50% of Grupo Modelo, and bought the rest in 2012. In 2020, AB InBev sales were valued at $52.3 billion USD.

Headquartered in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, Heineken was founded in 1864. After acquiring smaller breweries around the world (it owns 164 in 70 countries), Heineken is the second-largest beer brewer in the world and the largest in Europe. It acquired Cervecería Cuauhtémoc Moctezuma, by then known as FEMSA (Fomento Económico Mexicano, SA), in 2010. In 2020, Heineken sales were valued at $26.8 billion USD.

The Beginning of Beer in Mexico

As noted elsewhere in this issue, fermented, i.e., alcoholic, beverages were around long before the Spanish took over. Tesgüino, or izquiate, was beer made from sprouted corn, in the eastern Sierra Madre; you can still find it in rural north and west Mexico. Some think it is the origin recipe for tepache, a lightly fermented pineapple beer (see “Pulque: Another Ancient Mexican Beverage” elsewhere in this issue for where to get tepache in Huatulco). Pozol, originally called pochotl in Nahuatl, was made from fermented corn mash rolled up into a dough and then dissolved in water along with unsweetened cacao beans; nowadays, it is made throughout Tabasco, Chiapas, and eastward into Belize, although it is sweetened with honey or sugar.

There was wine made from prickly pear, mesquite, or cornstalks in the altiplano and eastward towards Veracruz; pulque in south-central Mexico (see the “Pulque” article); bakbé, or fermented honey, favored by the Maya in the Yucatán and southeastern Mexico; and various other fermented fruit drinks, serveral made from the small native plums you can find in season at Huatulco’s fruit and vegetable stores.

With the Spanish arrival, however, beer became grain-based, using barley in the beginning. Barley was pretty scarce in Mexico at that point, although a man named Alfonso de Herrero received the first official concession to make European beer and started fields of wheat and barley somewhere south or east of Mexico City. The Spanish placed severe restrictions and taxes on anything involved with beer production, hoping on the one hand to keep what little there was for themselves, and on the other hand to restrict the privilege – and resulting inebriation – from the natives. They also wanted to make colonial beer so expensive it would not be exported to Europe, requiring the Spanish colonists to import their beer from the homeland.

The European Redesign of Mexican Beer

When the War of Independence (1810-21) freed Mexico from Spain, Mexico got rid of the regulations and “let beer be beer.” Herrero’s brewery had struggled and eventually collapsed, but at the beginning of the 19th century, European-style beer had gained a foothold. There are records of disputes over the rights to brew beer among an English firm (Gillons and Mairet) and two Mexican outfits run by Miguel Ramos Arizpe and Justino Tuallion. During the War of Independence, Tuallion’s beer brand Hospice of the Poor, named for the homeless shelter down the street from his brewery, was the most popular.

After the war, in 1845, Bernhard Bolgard from Switzerland set up the first Mexican lager brewery, La Pila Seca, in Mexico City. He also made a dark beer that included piloncillo (those brown-sugar cones you see in the market).

The real growth in Mexican brewing was actually kicked off by another effort at conquest. In the 1860s, while America was busy with its civil war, European powers (France, Spain, and Britain), to whom Mexico owed beaucoup bucks, invaded. Spain and England quickly realized that France actually wanted to reconquer and colonialize Mexico, so they dropped out; France established the short-lived (three years, 1864-67) Second Mexican Empire, putting Austrian arch-duke Maximilian in charge as Emperor.

Bad for Max, who was executed as Benito Juárez re-assumed leadership of the Republic of Mexico, but good for beer, as apparently Max never went anywhere without his two German brewmasters, who were particularly good at darker beers. And more Austrians and Germans who followed Maximilian brought their brewing skills – particularly in brewery construction – with them, and they stayed. In 1865, Agustín Marendaz, also from Switzerland, opened Cervecería Toluca y México; in 1869 (Emperor Max was dead and gone), Emil Dercher, from the Alsace region in France, set up Cervecería La Cruz Blanca and made lagers.

Juárez’s successor, Porfirio Díaz, infatuated with all things European, encouraged more German immigration. Under Díaz, the railroads came to Mexico, which was a mixed bag for Mexican brewing. Brewers could import heavy machinery and large supplies of malt, but on the same trains came cases full of competition – U.S. beer seeking to break into the Mexican market. Competition breeds competence, though, and the railroad may well be a key factor in the industrialization of beer-making in Mexico.

In Mérida, José Ponce Solis opened the Cervecería Yucateca in 1869, and José María Ponce opened the Gran Cervecería Yucateca in 1886; the latter eventually made Carta Clara, León, Cruz Roja, Estrella, and Mestiza beers. José M. Otahegui and Juan Fouillox opened the Gran Cervecería de San Luis in 1882; Fouilloux was a French brewer who had his equipment sent over from Paris. The first two large-scale, commercial/industrial breweries were Cervecería Cuauhtémoc (Monterrey, 1890) and Cervecería Moctezuma (Orizaba, 1891). Cervecería del Pacifico opened in Mazatlán in 1901, launching with the still-popular Pacifico pilsener.

At the close of the Mexican Revolution (1910-20), Mexico had 36 breweries of substantial size, and the number continued to grow. In 1922, Braulio Iriarte Goyeneche came over from Spain and started Cervecería Modelo; by 1925, the brewery was making Modelo, Negra Modelo, and Corona. New breweries opened at the Baja border, e.g., Cervecería de Ensenada (1915), Cervecería Azteca (1921) and Mexícali (1923) as the U.S. imposed prohibition (1920-33), causing Americans to flock to the border to buy beer. The government started providing incentives and investments to the brewing industry, resulting in production of almost 50,000 liters (over 13,000 gallons, or 140,896 12-oz bottles) in 1925.

Still, the Mexicans themselves seemed to prefer pulque. Back in the old country, the techniques of immigrant German brewers had been governed by Reinheitsgebot, or beer purity regulations, since the 16th century, so they launched a propaganda campaign. Using the “purity card” and the idea of modern, sanitary breweries, they claimed beer was “rigorously hygienic and modern,” while pulque was made using poop to kick off fermentation. The reputation of pulque plummeted, and beer emerged triumphant.

Consolidating the Beer Industry

With breweries popping up right and left, the industry started slip-sliding towards the two giants left today. In 1954, Cuauhtémoc bought Tecate, founded in 1944 in Baja California, and turned it into a national brand. Cuauhtémoc also innovated by making Tecate the first beer to come in cans in Mexico (Tecate is now the #1 canned brand imported to the U.S.)

In 1985, the Cuauhtémoc and Moctezuma breweries merged, becoming Cervecería Cuauhtémoc Moctezuma, then FEMSA, by 1988. Their combined national brands were Tecate, Sol, Dos Equis, Carta Blanca, Superior, Indio, and Bohemia.

The Cervecería Cuauhtémoc had always had interests besides beer. They were the first to integrate vertically, i.e., to start other divisions that supplied the glass bottles, the packaging, etc.; in 1943, the three wealthy families behind Cuauhtémoc founded Monterrey Tec, “Mexico’s MIT” (Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey) and in 1973 opened the Mexican Professional Baseball Hall of Fame on the grounds of company headquarters. Thus the story of Grupo Modelo gives a better picture of what happened to Mexico’s cervecerías on their path to becoming two huge multinational corporations.

In 1928, six years after the Cervecería Modelo broke ground and three years after it opened, it sold 8 million bottles of beer. In 1933, as prohibition ended, the cervecería sent off the first exports of Mexican beer. When it hit the ten-year mark, it bought Cervecería de Toluca y México, acquiring the brands Victoria and Pilsener. During World War II, Modelo concentrated its efforts on strengthening its national sales, following up with building new factories.

In 1954, Modelo bought Cervecería del Pacífico (Mazatlán) and Cervecería La Estrella (Guadalajara). In 1967, it liquidated Compañía Cervecera de la Laguna to form Cervecería Modelo de Torreón; in 1979, it bought Cervecería Yucateca in Mérida.

Using its own engineering designs, it opened new plants in Sonora (1961), Jalisco (1964), Oaxaca (1984), Zacatecas (1997). In 1982, Cervecería Modelo became Grupo Modelo, with the Corona, Negra Modelo, Modelo Especial, and Pacifico as export beers, and Victoria, Leon, and Montejo for the national market.

Becoming as large and as successful at exporting beer as they did, made FEMSA and Grupo Modelo very attractive targets for first cooperative partnerships, then stock exchanges and purchases, and eventually takeovers by the European beer giants. The two companies still make their beer in Mexico, they still exert major influence on Mexico’s economy, they are (despite some labor frictions) major employers, and their brands are essential to Mexico’s commercial identity, easily understood and much appreciated by foreigners. Nonetheless, Mexico’s commercial beers are a bit routinized for both locals and visitors who have developed “beer palates” that weary of the light lagers and pilseners, and don’t find the ambars and oscuros quite dark enough.

Microbreweries to the Rescue

While microbreweries and craft beers are not common in Mexico, they are starting to sprout up. Some recall the first microbrewery being Pepe’s y Joe’s in Mazatlán in the 1990s, but it seems long gone. Of perhaps more interest to beer aficionados are artisanal craft beers.

Let’s start with Minerva, because their products can even be bought at Super Che, at least before the pandemic. Headquartered in Zapopan, Jalisco, Minerva offers a variety of lagers, ales, and a stout. Colonial is a smooth, golden, wheat-malted beer with citrus notes and 5% alcohol. Viena is a red/ambar, with clean notes of nuts and caramel, low fermentation and a malty taste, again 5% alcohol. They also put out some seasonal brands. Founded in 2003, they have a 30% market share.

Baja California hosts half a dozen microbreweries. Baja Brewing, started by a young expat named Jordan Gardenhire, sells its beer in stores and in brew pubs (three in Los Cabos). Gardenhire left Colorado for Baja when he hadn’t decided what to do with his life. His dad came to visit. Ever since, they’ve been brewing craft beers. They offer Cabotella, a blonde ale; Peyote Pale Ale (called IPA Por Favor in the U.S.); Escorpion Negro, a black ale, and an oatmeal stout, among others. Founded in 2007, Baja Brewing has begun exporting to the U.S. You can watch Jordan explain how to start a craft brewery on YouTube
(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gqwcPG6xLtY).

Also in Baja, in Ensenada, Agua Mala Cerveza Artesanal started up in 2009, and makes eco-environmental practices an essential part of the way it does business, always working on making each step in the process more sustainable, building their tasting room out of repurposed cargo containers, and serving fresh, local ingredients on the tasting room menu. Their brands include Sirena (a Pilsener), Vieja (amber lager), Mantis (a wheat beer), Mako (pale ale), Marea Roja (red IPA), Mantarraya (oatmeal stout), and Astillero (an imperial IPA). AguaMala has sent a few of its entries across the border to Arizona.

There are other craft breweries in Baja, Monterrey, Colima, Querétaro, México state, Mexico City, and Puebla – it won’t be long before you’ll have no trouble getting a handcrafted beer, ale, porter, or stout to suit your taste wherever you are in Mexico.

Microenterprise in Mexico: Building Women’s Businesses

By Deborah Van Hoewyk

In 1976, amidst crushing poverty on the other side of the world, an idea popped up. Muhammad Yunus, born into the British Raj in 1940 in what is now Bangladesh, was an economist with a crazy-quilt professional background. An academic, a social activist, a banker, and more, Yunus went out one day to visit the poorest households in rural Bangladesh. He found women making bamboo furniture; to buy the bamboo, they took out money-lender loans, but the interest rates were so high, the women earned practically nothing, despite all their work.

Lending to the “Unbanked” – and to Women

As a banker, Yunus knew that conventional banks would not make tiny loans at reasonable interest rates to the bamboo workers – the banks did not believe these people capable of paying back a loan.

Enter the idea, and what an idea it was! Microcredit – tiny loans for tiny businesses started by people so poor they’d never even been inside a bank. Yunus adapted the idea of lending circles – groups of women were issued the loan, picked the recipient out of the group, and members supported her in making sure her business did well enough to pay it back. Then it was someone else’s turn.

Over the next six years, Yunus would reach 28,000 microenterprise borrowers; the program became the Grameen Bank (“village bank”). Together, Yunus and the Grameen Bank were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006. The idea swept the social and academic world of poverty alleviation – microenterprise development was an innovative, sustainable path out of poverty. Today, 97% of Grameen borrowers are women; the repayment rate is 99.6%.

Why women? To Yunus, it was obvious that poverty inflicts greater stress on women, and when women make money they spend it first on their business, then on their families, and finally on their future. Pro Mujer is a U.S.-based women’s development organization that works throughout Latin America; in Mexico, it operates from Mexico City east to the state of Veracruz. Their research shows that Mexican women reinvest 90% of their income in their families and communities. Men? A measly 40%.

Born in the U.S.A., Bred in Latin America

Back on this side of the world, an organization called ACCIÓN International took shape fifteen years before Yunus came upon the bamboo furniture makers of Bangladesh. In the late 1950s, jumping the gun a bit on President Kennedy’s Peace Corps, a Berkeley law student named Joseph Blatchford undertook a thirty-stop goodwill tour involving tennis (he was an ace) and jazz, meeting with youth across South America in an effort to create cross-cultural understanding. He set up a volunteer “Youth Force” dedicated to international service in 1961, establishing ACCIÓN International in 22 barrios across Venezuela.

With the philosophy of listening to what local communities wanted to do, Acción volunteers helped build schools and water systems and health centers, giving people the tools they needed to help themselves. The United States Peace Corps started doing the same thing by the end of 1961; after eight years of expanding ACCIÓN International beyond Venezuela to Peru and Brazil, Blatchford went home and became Director of the Peace Corps. ACCIÓN International became just Accion and started focusing on microlending. In less than five years, Accion’s program in Recife, Brazil, made 885 small loans; those businesses employed 1,386 people.

Based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Accion began to build a network of financial institutions willing to lend to the poor. The great majority of microlending is conducted through the lending-circle model (now also called a “communal bank”). The networking strategy allowed Accion to expand its microfinance programs to 14 Latin American countries – Mexico among them.

In Mexico, Banco Compartamos (the “We Share” bank) opened its doors in 1990, and Accion invested. Accion also partners with CrediConfia in east central Mexico (Mexico City and the states of Mexico, Hidalgo, Puebla, and Michoacán), as well as the online microfinance platform Konfio, which started up in 2016. There are branches of Banco Compartamos in the Huatulco area in Chahue, Santa María, and Pochutla. Moreover, Oaxaca is almost unique among Mexican states in having a growing universe of credit unions (casas de ahorro, caja popular), often located in remote locations and quite willing to set up lending-circle-type financing. The biggest credit union, Caja Popular Mexicana, has branches in La Crucecita and Santa María.

The Microfinance – Microenterprise Development Connection

Mexican statistics indicate that very large businesses (over 250 employees) make up less than 1% of all Mexican businesses. The remaining 99% comprises medium (51-250 employees), small (11-50), and micro (1-10) businesses. The microenterprises are about 94% of all businesses and provide half of all the jobs in Mexico.

What does it take for a woman to get started on her own business? Here we should note that microfinance and microenterprise development are not the same. Microfinance provides a key tool for business expansion – without money, even if a business owner only needs enough money to stock 20 more scarves in her shop, there is no growth. Starting up a microenterprise is something else entirely. Like poor women everywhere, Mexican women face institutional barriers to getting financing, and the pathways to education and training are often blocked. But they also face cultural barriers.

Gender discrimination in Mexico is far more explicit (and can be extreme, see the article “Hits, Blows and Coffins,” on page 18 in this issue) than in other countries. Sociologist Gina Zabludovsky Kuper, from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), researches gender and power, and has written extensively about women as entrepreneurs and executives. In terms of microbusinesses, Zabludovsky Kuper points out that there’s a cultural perception about “women who start microbusiness in order to contribute to the family economy or get out of poverty” – they have to stay at the micro level because “their work is only viewed as auxiliary”; the women themselves often buy into the notion that just being a sideline business “is what is reasonable for them.”

Microenterprise – Making It Work

Nonetheless, in some places in Mexico, the programs to train and encourage women do come together with microfinance institutions, and women-owned microenterprises do start up and succeed.
The Mexico City nonprofit Crea Communidades de Emprendadores Sociales is typical of a microenterprise development organization. It offers programs to empower women entrepreneurs with training in business skills, technical assistance, and business support; it also brings participants into a support network for each other. It serves central Mexico (CDMX, and the states of Mexico, Aquascalientes, Guanajuato, and Querétaro), offering online services across the country as well.

From 2002 to 2006, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in Michigan funded a program in Oaxaca called Yo Quiero, Yo Puedo … Empezar Mi Propio Negocio (I Want to, I Can … Start My Own Business). Yo Quiero arose out of a women’s health initiative founded in 1985, added life-skills training in 1990, and started Yo Quiero, Yo Puedo as a school-based self-efficacy intervention in 1996. With Kellogg Funding, the microenterprise program served 600 rural women, started 17 bancos communal and 300 women-owned businesses, and had a 100% loan repayment rate. It included training 25 “social promoters,” who continue to run the program in Oaxaca, and have added a youth microentprise program that serves Oaxaca, Puebla, and Michoacán.

South of Oaxaca City, Villa de Zaachila is the site of the largest landfill in the state. A project named Mujeres A.V.E. supports solidarity networks for women to help them start and grow microenterprises that support their families and contribute to the community. Organized by the SiKanda Foundation (Oaxaca) and supported by the British Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, among others, Mujeres A.V.E. helped 45 women build the skills to strengthen their businesses and access new markets in its first year of operation (2018).

See for Yourself in Oaxaca!

There’s a new way to learn about Mexican microenterprise – visit one. Independent women micro-entrepreneurs, along with long-standing family businesses, abound in the craft towns around the state capital, Oaxaca de Juárez, and at least a couple of travel companies will arrange a tour for you.

The online Spanish travel company Authenticities (www.authenticitys.com) has a tour specifically focused on the entrepreurial women artisans – weavers, chicken-raisers, flower-growers, tamale-makers, potters – who participate in a micro-finance program to which Authenticities contributes.

Fundación en Via, which itself runs microfinance and microenterprise developments programs (https://www.envia.org/microfinance-tours), takes you to visit microenterprises where the owner is ready for her next En Via loan. The tour takes nearly all day, visits two communities, and gives the owners the chance to show you what they do and explain how previous and upcoming loans have helped build their businesses.