Tag Archives: Deborah Van Hoewyk

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.

Goliad, Texas:From “Remember the Alamo” to The Ox Cart Wars

By Deborah Van Hoewyk

Should your travels to Huatulco be by land, and should they take you through east Texas via the tiny town of Goliad, you will find some outsized Mex-Tex-Mex history.

Located a little over a hundred miles southeast of San Antonio on the San Antonio River as it flows to the Gulf of Mexico, Goliad (pop. 1,908 in 2010) is the site of Nuestra Señora de Loreto de la Bahía, a presidio, or fort, built to defend what was then the border between Mexico and the United States. Northerners don’t often think about this, but after the Mexican War of Independence (1810-21), Mexico included much of the southwest – nearly all of California, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, Nevada, and Utah, and parts of Colorado, Wyoming, Oklahoma, and Kansas.

The Texas Revolution

In the governmental chaos that followed independence, Mexico started out with a short-lived empire, followed by a republic that set off a struggle between conservatives (“centralists”) and liberals (“federalists”). The centralist President Antonio López de Santa Anna enacted policies that ticked off the folks living in what is now Texas; the settlers in this area were both Mexican and Americans; the latter had settled there when Mexico opened up land to immigrant settlers shortly after the War of Independence. On October 2, 1835, the settlers declared their independence from Mexico, and the Texas Revolution was on.

The Texas Revolution was only one of several armed insurrections against Santa Anna’s conservative government, but it was the most dramatic, the most deadly, and the only one that worked. Santa Anna – not without evidence – saw a U.S. plot to annex Texas, and decided this was his war. Following several months of skirmishes along the San Antonio River between San Antonio (then called Villa de Béxar) and Goliad, on February 23, 1836, Santa Anna led his troops to rebel headquarters in the Misión San Antonio de Valero, known as “The Alamo.” Thirteen days later, Davy Crockett, James Bowie, and nearly 200 other Texas fighters lay dead.

About a month later, down the river in Goliad, Mexican General José de Urrea and about 1,400 soldiers approached the La Bahía presidio. Although the head of the Texas army, General Sam Houston, had retreated and warned Colonel James W. Fannin to evacuate his forces from Goliad, Fannin failed to do so in time. Despite fighting Urrea’s advanced forces fiercely over a day, and regrouping overnight, Fannin’s men woke up to find that Urrea’s main army had arrived. The Texans surrendered and were marched back to La Bahía, where they expected to be treated as prisoners of war. Santa Anna was having none of that. All the Texans who could walk were marched out in different directions from the presidio, where they were shot or had their throats cut. Wounded Texans were lined up against the wall or left in their beds to be executed. Over 350 Texans were killed in the Goliad Massacre.

Santa Anna was in serious error if he thought the fate of those who died at the Alamo and Goliad would bring the Texas rebellion to an end. Men flocked to sign up with Sam Houston’s army; he led them out of retreat and towards Santa Anna’s army, which had made it to present-day La Porte, on the Gulf southeast of Houston.

This time it was Santa Anna’s forces who weren’t ready. They had backed themselves into a corner to achieve high ground behind Buffalo Bayou on the San Jacinto River. At 3:30 on a clear afternoon on April 21, 1836, Houston massed his forces and gave the order to advance in silence. It’s been suggested that Santa Anna had no lookouts and that many of his soldiers were taking their afternoon siesta. For whatever reason, the 910 Texans who attacked, raging in revenge and screaming “Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad!” met little resistance. They gave no quarter, slaughtering Mexicans who were crying “Me no Alamo, me no Goliad!” The Battle of San Jacinto lasted about 18 minutes. Houston’s army lost 9 men and had about 30 wounded. They killed 630 Mexicans, wounded 208, and took 730 prisoners.

The Mexican-American War

The independent Republic of Texas was born, the United States annexed it in 1845, Mexico declared that an act of war and started skirmishing along the border, and President Polk got the U.S. Congress to declare war on Mexico on May 13, 1846. The mostly volunteer army handily vanquished the Mexicans, and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed on February 2, 1848.

When the treaty was ratified on May 26, 1848, Mexico ceded nearly half its territory to America, handing over all the lands that now make up the “lower 48” states. The U.S. compensated Mexico to the tune of a little more than $18 million.

The repercussions of the Texas Revolution did not end with the Mexican-American War, at least not in east Texas. As a tremendous influx of northerners and immigrants arrived, east Texas quickly became majority Anglo and began rapid development – creating complicated social, economic, and racial tensions that frequently ended in murdered Mexicans, a long and tangled tale for some other time.

The Mexican-American War also kick-started the regional transportation system. Because there was neither rail transportation nor navigable water routes, the war effort was a huge headache for the military quartermasters who built military outposts and sent supplies to the troops. What there was, was a wagon “trace” – a vague idea of a road marked out by wagon tracks and word of mouth.

The Chihuahua Road ran about 140 miles from Indianola on the Gulf of Mexico to San Antonio; from there, it ran westward to the rich silver, copper, zinc, and lead mines of Chihuahua; a northern section would soon reach what is now San Diego. Different sections of the 1100-mile road had different names; one of them was the Goliad Cart Road.

Cargo offloaded in Indianola and Lavaca a little up the river included millions of dollars worth of construction materials – lumber, shingles, and rails, ties, and equipment to build railroads. Barrels of retail goods headed for the growing number of stores along the route. There were loads of “mixed freight” – barrels of essential and then luxury goods for retail sale, and German, Swiss and French immigrants, not to mention two shipments of camels ordered up by the U.S. Secretary of War, Jefferson Davis, a mere four years before he became President of the Confederate States of America. Coming back to Indianola from the interior were pecans, cattle, hides and horns, cotton, wool, salt, leather, sugar, molasses, and silver bullion bound for the U.S. Mint in New Orleans.

The Ox Cart Wars

And how did all that stuff get to and from San Antonio and points west? Overland freight drawn by horses, mules, and oxen. There were military wagons, commercial freight wagons, Wells Fargo wagons, stagecoaches, and the classic covered wagons called “prairie schooners,” drawn variously by horses, mules, and oxen. The Chihuahua Road made for a tough and dangerous trek. Wagons had to ford swollen streams and rivers during torrential rains, and were sometimes swept away. There were mountainous hills on the routes; teams and drivers sometimes died when carts slipped, overturned, and crashed over the side.

The star of them all in coping with the trip was the Mexican ox-cart driver, the carretero, whose teams of two, four, six, or eight oxen drew different-sized carretas. The smallest ox-carts were two-wheeled, drawn by a team of two oxen. The largest ox carts were about 6 feet wide and 15 feet long, with thick, 7-foot-high wooden wheels; these carts could carry up to three tons of freight.

Travelers at the time counted anywhere from 160 to 1,000 Mexican-driven ox carts during a day on Goliad Cart Road. The merchants of San Antonio were unsparing in their praise of Mexican carters, preferring them to Anglo teamsters. They were considered efficient, honest, and skilled at handling and caring for their oxen. America’s most famous landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted, traveled widely – and wrote about it. In A Journey through Texas: Or a Saddle-Trip on the Southwestern Frontier (1857), Olmsted’s impression that Mexicans “with oxen and two-wheeled carts” carried “almost all the transportation of the country.” He noted that they cut travel expenses by living off the land, had their families working as assistants, and passed their businesses on to family members, increasing skills and efficiency as time went by, enabling them to charge less than the Anglo teamsters.

Mexican carreteros provided about two-thirds of the cartage services and comprised the largest occupational group in Bexar county, of which San Antonio was the county seat. Most carters lived in San Antonio, where the folks with Spanish surnames made up half the population. Few people of Mexican heritage lived in the towns along the Chihuahua Road between San Antonio and Indianola; for the Anglos who did, the carreteros’ success was galling – they “remembered Goliad” all too well. They went to war again, this time against the Mexican ox-cart drivers. The “cart-cutters” from Goliad betook themselves to ambushing the carreteros, cutting the axles and destroying the wheels of the carts, stealing or destroying the cargo, and escalating into shooting the drivers down.

From July through November of 1857, there were five documented attacks. On July 3, men in disguise attacked a train of six carts, wounding all six drivers. On July 14, about 20 cart-cutters attacked another train, cutting up the wheels of the carts. On July 31, three carreteros were wounded and an Anglo named C.G. Edwards, whose freight was being carried, was shot as he lay sleeping under one of the carts; he later died of his wounds. On September 12, about 40 men, most in masks, opened fire on a cart train carrying military supplies. Antonio Delgado, a prominent Tejano from San Antonio, was shot dead by 14 bullets. Finally, on November 20, cart-cutters opened fire on a cart train as the carreteros were “getting up” their oxen to start the day’s trek, killing either two or five of them.

The documented attacks account for four to seven dead. Several sources, including two letters from Manuel Robles Pezuela, the Mexican Ambassador to the United States, to Lewis Cass, the U.S. Secretary of State, put the number of Mexicans killed in the Ox Cart Wars at 70 to 75.

On the north side of the Goliad County Courthouse stands a huge southern live oak tree called either the “Cart War Oak” or the “Hanging Tree.” The missing Mexicans in the Cart War body count? Apparently, they were lynched on this tree. A Texas Historical Marker for the tree points out that when the court handed out a death sentence, the defendant was marched outside and strung up immediately. However, in a masterpiece of euphemism for “lynching,” the marker also says, “Hangings not called for by regular courts occurred here during the 1857 ‘Cart War.’ … About 70 men were killed, some of them on this tree.”

The Ox Cart Wars came to an end when Secretary of State Cass called on Texas governor Elishu Pease – who had received several letters about the attacks – to take care of business. On November 30, 1857, ten days after the last major attack, Pease said, “It is now very evident that there is no security for the lives of citizens of Mexican origin engaged in the business of transportation along the road from San Antonio to the Gulf, unless they are escorted by a military force. … It will require an appropriation of about fourteen thousand and five hundred dollars.”

The legislature forked over the money, the Texas Rangers took over, and the Ox Cart Wars came to an end. The Cart War Oak wasn’t done with its hanging duties, however; local citizens were suddenly outraged, and turned the cart cutters in. They were speedily tried, condemned to death, and hung from the limbs of the tree.

Remember all that freight with steel and wood to build railroads? The railroad from Indianola to San Antonio did get started, continuing in fits, starts, and foreclosures until it was bought by Charles Morgan, a New York shipping magnate who had been landing his steamships at Indianola since 1848, and railroad entrepreneur Henry S. McComb. They consolidated six rail lines into one company by 1871; in 1875, Indianola was wiped out by a massive hurricane. Morgan and McComb moved their railyards upstream and soldiered on. Other railways connected with San Antonio. The turbulent days of the Chihuahua Road and its Mexican ox carts were over.

The Elections That Trashed America

By Deborah Van Hoewyk

What’s your picture of America, that great expanse between Canada and Mexico? A bastion of freedom to pursue life, liberty, and happiness? Hmmm … Nope! The American dream? Not so much! An idea, an ideal, a world leader? Not no more.

As one of those WASP-y folks with Mayflower and Revolutionary ancestors, I come from the people who have long believed in the American idea, the ideal, and the responsibilities of leadership. But our time is long gone, and it is long gone because America is no longer one country.

America the Schizophrenic

From the very beginning, the 17th-century “errand into the wilderness” that turned Europeans into Americans had schizophrenia. Established with slaughter and supported by slavery on the one hand, but lifted up as “a city on a hill,” a beacon of freedom and “a special kind of courage,” as Reagan put it, on the other hand, America – WASP America – thought it would be a model society built by the pure and chosen. Not surprising that America has suffered schizophrenic breaks time and time again.

At this moment, the two “personalities” of America are roughly equated with the Republicans and the Democrats, and each of those parties has its own schizophrenia. The Republican party has almost entirely been remade by Donald Trump into an extremely conservative, personal adoration machine – moderate Republicans are few and far between. The Democrats have had to contend with conflict between centrists like President-elect Joe Biden and a progressive movement revitalized by the two presidential campaigns of Bernie Sanders, a senator from Vermont.

The two sides are badly split on many issues, with Republicans taking individualist positions on gun rights, immigration, race, assistance for the poor, etc., etc. The Democrats offer community-oriented policies on all those issues and more. The Republicans call the Democrats socialists, and the Democrats think Republicans are fearful of demographic change – i.e., the loss of white-dominated America.

It’s been a long time coming – the presidency of Donald Trump just laid it out in the open. Any number of U.S. elections, combined with demographic and socioeconomic change, have trashed the idea and ideals of America; the Trump elections, however, have raised the possibility that the trash can’t be cleaned up.

The split between individual and community

In 1800, President John Adams was challenged by Thomas Jefferson. Adams believed in strong central government, Thomas Jefferson in state’s rights and individual liberty. The difference in ideas led to Jefferson supporters saying Adams had a “hideous hermaphroditical character,” and Adams supporters calling Jefferson “a mean-spirited low-lived fellow.” Having been great and respectful friends (Adams had asked Jefferson to be his Vice-President, in a bipartisan gesture, but Jefferson turned him down), the two did not speak for twelve years. Adams left town before Jefferson’s inauguration.

Here we have not only deplorable rhetoric and bad behavior, but the beginning of the American conflict between the community and individual. Alexis de Tocqueville, a 19th-century French observer, noted in his two-volume Democracy in America (1835-40) that Americans had “habits of the heart” that supported family life, religious conviction, and local participation in community politics – the bedrock institutions of a free society. On the other hand, he saw that the American tendency towards individualism could divide Americans from one another, prevent positive collective action, and threaten the institutions of freedom.

In 1985, sociologist Robert Bellah and four colleagues published Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life. Their conclusion? “We are concerned that this individualism may have grown cancerous – that it may be destroying those social integuments that de Tocqueville saw as moderating its more destructive potentialities, that it may be threatening the survival of freedom itself.”

While the gun rights vs. gun control conflict is a good example of individualism vs. community, the anti-mask movement is a more current example, and comes closer to showing individualism attacking community. The beginnings of the anti-mask movement appeared on that ever-reliable indicator of popular sentiment, Facebook, and featured flocks of sheep with quotes about how people who wore masks lived in fear. By May 6, 2020, when Psychology Today asked why the mask issued triggered such rage, retail employees had been assaulted for asking a customer to wear a mask, and an 80-year-old man in a New York City bar was shot and killed for asking why another patron wasn’t wearing a mask. Three months later, Forbes reported continued physical violence and property damage, and a quick Google of news coverage found at least another three people had been murdered over the issue.

Granted that the anti-mask movement got underway before we knew how much protection masks offered, but it doesn’t seem to have lost any steam. Why not? Psychology Today suggested the conflict and rage are triggered because masks are “visible markers of a political divide.” Being anti-mask is firmly allied with the much bigger, basic political idea that the individual comes first, and any attempt to make an individual do something for the benefit of others is an assault on freedom. From that ever-reliable source of information, Facebook in GIANT ALL CAPS: “The urge to save humanity is always just a method for politicians to grab power. Government has overreached so far, now they are coming into your home. This is training you to comply for total takeover.” Another theme is that the science is wrong, also in BIG letters: “Check the math and the science. Mask mandates do not work on slowing or stopping COVID. The only effect that masks have is spreading unreal fear.”

Pro-mask postings on Facebook are much less colorful, and usually involve scientific information presented as fact, and geared to guiding group behavior – e.g., asserting herd immunity doesn’t work unless 67-70% of the population has been vaccinated, reprinting of New York Times analysis on why states that locked down in the summer are doing better this fall, listings of the federal government’s failure to contain the virus, and love songs to Dr. Anthony Fauci.

The geographical mismatch

In 1860, the year before America’s Civil War broke out, moderate Republican Abraham Lincoln campaigned not on eliminating slavery, but on preserving the Union by prohibiting the expansion of slavery in new territories. The Democratic platform, represented by candidate Stephen Douglas, ignored the issue of expanding slavery. The question of slavery vs. abolition was tied to the issues of states’ rights, including the right to secede. Lincoln won the election largely because there were two splinter parties that took more extreme positions pro and con slavery and states’ rights/secession.

The upshot of the November 6 election was secession (South Carolina on December 20, six more states by February 1, 1861, 4 more in April and May); Lincoln tried hard to reverse the secessions, but finally on August 16, he declared those states to be in “a state of insurrection” against the Union, and America’s Civil War began. Like all civil wars, it was an unspeakable horror; it also marked geography – the South vs. the North – as representing fundamental social and cultural differences.

In 1981, four years before Habits of the Heart laid out the split between individualism and collective interests, journalist-scholar Joel Garreau published The Nine Nations of North America, which argued that the economic and cultural characteristics of America divided it into nine different geographic regions; within each region, largely driven by the area’s economy, people shared cultural values that conflicted with those of other regions. According to Garreau, “The layers of unifying flavor and substance that define [each of] these nations still explain the major storms through which our public affairs pass. And ‘Nine Nations’ is also a map of power, money and influence, the patterns of which have only deepened.” More recently, journalist Colin Woodard has published two books that, read together, integrate the issues of incompatible regions and individual vs. community: American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America (2011) and American Character: A History of the Epic Struggle Between Individual Liberty and the Common Good (2016). Needless to say, Woodard’s position is that we need to balance protection of individual liberty and nurturing community.

Woodard, the state and national affairs writer for my hometown papers (Portland Press Herald, Maine Sunday Telegram), recently used his 11 regions to show that politics, too, are regional, with the strongest support for Republicans in “Greater Appalachia” and for Democrats in New York City and the surrounding area, plus the upper West Coast. Working on a county-by-county basis (which can look quite different from a state-level tabulation), Woodard finds little change in regional voting behavior – except some increase in urban vs. rural outcomes – since 2000.

This is surprising, since all 21st-century elections have been marked by tension and some outright controversy. In 2000, the Supreme Court ended vote recounts in Florida, effectively handing the election to Republican George W. Bush, who was re-elected in 2004 because America was embroiled in a war Bush started under intelligence that proved to be false. In 2008, we elected our first black president, which according to Democrat Barack Obama’s just-released memoir, set America’s racism simmering, if not seething. The whole point of the 2010 midterm elections, according to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, was to see that Obama was a “one-term president.” It didn’t work out that way, but there was no way the 2016 election was going to follow a president of color with a female president, even without her considerable baggage.

These elections laid the groundwork for where we are when this was written: the incumbent president, even though he lost both the popular vote by over 6 million votes and counting, and the electoral college by 74 votes, is still claiming, that if Biden won, it was because the election was fraudulent. Trump said he will leave the White House if the Electoral College certifies Biden as the winner.

Alternative facts

On January 22, 2017, two days after Donald Trump’s inauguration and in the midst of a photographic brouhaha about whether or not Trump’s inaugural audience was the “largest audience to ever witness an inauguration – period – both in person and around the globe,” Kellyanne Conway, special assistant to the President, described the difference between the audience claimed by Trump and the observed attendance to be “alternative facts.”

Conway kicked off what is probably the most divisive aspect of electing Donald John Trump to be President of the United States. Alternative facts establish a different reality, and one Trump has exploited. As of July 9, 2020, he ticked past 20,055 confirmed “false or misleading statements,” firmly believed by his base. Add to that uncounted statements designed to provoke that base to action – statements supporting white supremacist and racist positions, statements encouraging violence, conspiracy theories. On Wednesday, August 11 and Thursday, August 12, 2017 (Trump had been in office seven months), far right groups staged a march in Charlottesville, Virginia, to protest the removal of Confederate monuments and “unite the White nationalist movement.” On Thursday morning, Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe declared an emergency, and the Virginia State Police declared the march an unlawful assembly.

At about quarter of two, in broad daylight, self-declared white supremacist James Alex Fields, Jr., drove his 2010 Dodge Challenger into the counter-protestors. He was going about 25 miles an hour, and killed 32-year-old Heather Heyer. He was charged with first-degree murder, malicious and aggravated malicious wounding (6 counts), felonious assault (2 counts), and federal hate crimes (30 counts). He is serving two life sentences plus 419 years in the federal penitentiary in Allenwood, Pennsylvania.

Nonetheless, since that incident, “vehicle ramming attacks” are on the rise. Worldwide, terrorists executed 17 vehicle ramming attacks between 2014 and 2017; between May 26 and September 5, 2020, there were at least 104 vehicle ramming attacks carried out on groups protesting the death of George Floyd under the knee of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. Most (but not all) were executed by members of what the Department of Homeland Security calls WRM (white racially motivated) groups. Democrats put the blame for this squarely on Trump’s statement that there were “very fine people” on both sides of the Charlottesville incident.

Beyond generating the anti-mask movement and eliminating strong federal leadership on the coronavirus pandemic, “alternative facts” have embraced conspiracy theories of every stripe – former Congressman and current MSNBC host Joe Scarborough killed Lori Klausutis, one of his Congressional aides? Phony science makes climate change a “total, and very expensive hoax” perpetrated by China? Joe Biden is out sniffing kids’ panties? The election was rigged and Trump really won?

The Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School puts out the Mis/Information Review; this past June, it published a pair of articles investigating how conspiracy theories about the coronavirus shape how people behave about the pandemic. Conspiracy theories have ranged from accusing China, Democrats, the Deep State, big pharma, Bill Gates and George Soros of unleashing the pandemic to promoting the medicinal properties of disinfectants, ultraviolet light, and hydroxychloroquine.

Guess what? People are more prone to believing conspiracy theories “promoted by visible partisan figures” than they are to believing medical information that was wrong. In other words, people are more ready to believe that bad actors are harming them, than they are to believe health-related misinformation. The conspiracy theories were more readily believed by people with conservative ideology who supported Trump; those who did not believe the health information expressed a general mistrust of science and scientists; a general mistrust of science and scientists; about two weeks before the election, Trump said “Fauci is a disaster” and that “People are tired of hearing Fauci and all these idiots.”

This is a mess. Can it be cleaned up? At the moment, 73,799,431 Americans like things the way they are – but there are 79,853,547 Americans who may never forgive them. A good percentage of them don’t believe they should expend the effort to meet Trumpers halfway. Go halfway to make nice with Nazis? People who don’t respect women? People who think kids in cages are a good idea? People who don’t respect science and fact? Doesn’t look good.

And by the way, the role of Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador in handling the pandemic shows similarities to Trump’s approach – downplaying the seriousness, dissing preventive behaviors, etc. AMLO’s approval ratings are dropping across the board – not for his personal handling of the pandemic, but an August poll showed 66% of Mexicans surveyed thought the “government” did not have the pandemic “under control”; by November, 75% thought the country’s coronavirus strategy should be modified or completely changes. In the midst of all this, 63% thought the country’s problems (poverty, public safety, organized crime, violence) “had overtaken” AMLO’s ability to control them. Another one-term president?

Deborah Sampson Van Hoewyk is named for her great, great, great, great, etc., grandmother or aunt, whatever, from Sharon, Massachusetts, who got dressed up as a boy named Robert Shurtliff and fought in the Revolutionary War.

An Extraordinary Collection: The Pre-Raphaelite Paintingsof Mexican Billionaire Juan Antonio Pérez Simón

By Deborah Van Hoewyk

In 1946, a five-year-old Spanish kid moved to Mexico. He didn’t come from money, but Juan Antonio Pérez Simón would end up with quite a lot of it. His dad had a middle-class job in the beverage business, and Juan Antonio taught himself finance, starting his career in accounting. As a young man, his path crossed that of Carlos Slim Helú, whose business talents eventually made him the richest man in Mexico, and at times, the richest man in the world.

When they were both 25, Pérez Simón joined Slim as a partner in starting the investment banking company Inversora Bursátil. By the time they were 35, Slim had started the Carso group (“Car” for “Carlos,” “So” for his wife “Soumaya”); Pérez Simón held a 30% minority stake, but through Carso, he would become head of the interests and entities we foreigners call “Telmex” (Teléfonos de México), thus joining the global business class of Mexico and getting really, really rich.

And what did he do with his money? He bought art. He was a collector from his early teens; he and his wife, according to one assessment of the collection, could only afford reproductions and “cheap Mexican landscape paintings” when they started out. Current assessments reveal that Pérez Simón owns important, some very well-known, paintings from the 14th century on, although he finds “modern” (i.e., past maybe 1970) art of little interest – too devoid of emotions, too intellectual.

His collection contains any number of notable paintings, including paintings we might consider classically modern (e.g., American Abstract Expressionism). Among the works that arrived in New York City for a 2018 exhibition at Di Donna Galleries, “A Passion for Collecting: Modern Works from the Pérez Simón Collection,” were two he purchased from Christie’s in New York at the equivalent of a fire sale during the 2008 financial meltdown. Of course, for Pérez Simón, “fire sale” means $1,142,500 for Magritte’s Exercices Spirituels and $962,500 for Joan Miro’s Femmes devant la lune.

Less attention is usually paid to Pérez Simón’s collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings, except when, in 2014, he sent 52 Victorian-era paintings to Europe. The exhibition started in Paris, went to Rome, then Madrid, and finally England to be exhibited in the London house of Frederic, Lord Leighton, now the Leighton House Museum.

A Victorian Obsession: The Pérez Simón Collection,included five of Leighton’s own works, four of them painted at the Leighton House studio. Named head of the Royal Academy in 1878, Leighton was a social and political success; he was the only artist ever elevated to the House of Lords – unfortunately, he died at home the afternoon of the next day.

Lord Leighton knew and entertained most of the Pre-Raphaelites and the closely allied Victorian classicist painters; his own work falls more on the classicist side. The exhibit was most lauded for its unique combination of Leighton House – a monument to the wealth, status, and eccentric tastes of a successful Victorian artist – with the sensuous, romanticized paintings, which on closer examination, often showed a dark underbelly. One of the most famous paintings of the era, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadena’s The Roses of Heliogabulus, was painted in 1888, when Victorians saw themselves as heirs to the Roman Empire (remember “The sun never sets on the British Empire”?). The painting shows Emperor Heliogabulus (218-22 CE) indulging in his usual debauchery, amidst a deliciously pink shower of rose petals (history says Heliogabulus used cherry blossoms). Only thing is, the rose petals are smothering the guests, every last one of them, to death. Word has it that the painting, the last as you wended your way through Leighton House, was surrounded by the “scent of seven of the world’s most exquisite roses.”

That was enough to set off reviewer Waldemar Januszczak, who blogged that “Droopy damsels in distress take centre stage in A Victorian Expression.” Pointing out that Leighton was only a year older than Manet, who was busy founding French impressionism, Januszczak condemns Leighton and his contemporaries for engaging in “demented escapism.”

While he makes fun of the Mexican billionaire for collecting this particular movement in art, Januszczak makes no mention of the extraordinary breadth of the Pérez Simón collection as a whole.

We all know Carlos Slim is just as dedicated as his longtime friend Pérez Simón in collecting art – don’t worry, they apparently confer in advance so they avoid bidding against each other.

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.