Tag Archives: mexico

Editor’s Letter

By Jane Bauer

“Live your life, do your work,  then take your hat.”
Henry David Thoreau

What does our collective reaction to COVID-19 say about our values? I am home, of course, with lots of time to ponder this question. I have friends who are reposting conspiracy theory videos and interviews with doctors on how best to proceed. There is a ton of information – much of it scientific and hypotheses abound on where we are going with this.

What are we protecting when we stay home? Is it our intense value for human life? I don’t think so. As I write this there have been 212,000 deaths (www.worldometers.info) related to COVID-19 in total. In contrast, this year there have been 270,923 deaths caused by water-related diseases and there are 802 million people with no access to a safe drinking water source. In this one day – today – 14,789 people will die of hunger.

As a species, we have very little value for human life as a whole. We regularly enter into wars that have mass casualties and the majority of us only ‘help’ others to the point that it will not affect our own quality of life. Staying home protects you from the contagion of the outside world. Nothing illustrates the inequality in our economic system than the ability for some of us to stay home in comfort, while others will be devastated economically by this reaction. Putting the world economy on hold is having a debilitating effect on food supply chains, social services that protect women and children, those who live in some sort of limbo and who may in fact not have even have had a home before all this madness. Time will tell how we look back on this world crisis and the long term effects of our actions.

There are currently 70.8 million people who have been forcibly displaced worldwide, and 37000 people are forced to flee their homes every day due to conflict or persecution (www.reliefweb.int). Due to conflict or persecution – it is helpful to note that this conflict and persecution comes from other humans. How have we responded to this? Visit any chat group and you will feel the hatred people have for other people – immigrants and refugees are turned away at borders, branded freeloaders and lazy. As a collective there is nothing humane about humanity.

As a species our most comfortable members have an overblown sense of importance. We prize our individual existence above all else. We just had a disgusting display of survival mode on a global scale as people rushed to stock up on toilet paper and dry goods. I understand. Death can be terrifying since we do not know what awaits us on the other side. Of course religions offer some solace but most of us view death as something to fight against rather than what it is, which is the inevitable for each of us. You will die. I will die. Is it noble to fight so hard?

Buddhism teaches its followers to accept the inevitability of death: “We fail to see and accept reality as it is- with life in death and death in life. In addition the habits of self-obsession, the attitude of self-importance and the insistence on a distinct self-identity separates us from the whole of which we are an inalienable part.” (Buddhist monk Geshe Dabul Namgyal, quoted in The New York Times, Feb. 26, 2020.)

One of the aspects I love so much about Mexican culture is its attitude towards death. I lived beside a small town cemetery for eight years and I learned how to celebrate life and mourn joyfully for those who have departed. Modern day culture has an unhealthy fear of death.

So why is this happening? Culturally we think we are above the connectivity of ourselves with nature. If you don’t believe me just watch some of the protests resisting climate change. Just look at your own life choices; how often do you fly? How much do you pollute? How much do you waste? Nature is smart. We love to post and share feel-good quotes about our connectivity with the universe, but how many of us really live it? We are intricately connected to the natural world around us and you must know in your heart that we are the parasites. The definition of a parasite is an organism that lives in or on another organism (its host) and benefits by deriving nutrients at the hosts expense. Sound familiar?

More people died today from human related traumas- hunger, displacement, murder – than from COVID-19. And yet we are completely focused on our individual protection. The human population grew from 1 billion in 1800 to 7.774 billion in 2020. Moreover, each person now consumes in a way that couldn’t even have been imagined fifty years ago. Even with the small (compared to other causes) number of deaths related to COVID-19 we are still putting 100,000 new people on the planet every day!

Nature is always finding balance.

See you in July,

Jane

 

Parents Rather Than Traditional Courts: Resolving Spousal Disputes in Oaxaca

By Alvin Starkman, M.A., J.D.

Based on an example from a Oaxacan village within the Zapotec culture, a convincing case can be made for utilizing a couple’s mothers and fathers to resolve spousal disputes, rather than western courts. I’ll draw on the literature of social anthropologist Laura Nader, and my experience as a Canadian family law litigator. I want to confront western world ethnocentrism, which suggests that we know better than what “primitive” societies do to resolve disputes.

Let’s begin with how Ontario has tried to resolve allegations of spousal abuse. We’ll then take a look at an “unsophisticated” Zapotec village system, in order to consider the more appropriate method for advancing social and economic goals and values. While one might disagree with my conclusion given the politically charged nature of the topic, keep the thesis in mind.

About two decades ago the provincial government directed that once an allegation of spousal abuse had been made, criminal charges could not be withdrawn, and plea bargains based upon what the couple wanted were out of the question. Criminal trials were to run their course, except if a guilty plea was entered, in which case there would be a range of predictable results, including a criminal record. If the verdict was not guilty, the family could re-unite – until the next incident.

Upon receiving a complaint, the police would haul the alleged abuser off to jail pending bail, or require he leave the home while the victim and children were encouraged to remain. A shove or a push within the context of a heated argument and a precipitous 911 call would set in motion an unstoppable freight train. A criminal complaint made by a vindictive spouse, at times egged on by an overly zealous lawyer, provided a fast and inexpensive interim resolution.

Family court proceedings progressed concurrently, with custody and support orders made. The possibility for reconciliation diminished daily; spouses could not communicate with one another except through lawyers. Old school judges believed that their work was not to foster compromise but to decide between diametrically opposed claims. The parents of the litigants would rally around their own children. Conflict escalated with affidavits containing the nastiest allegations often based on hearsay and half-truths. Even court-mandated mediation was positional and contextualized by the goal of “winning.”

The criminal court result became inconsequential within the broader context of the separation, the precipitating event all but forgotten. Back in family court, the literature suggested to judges that joint custody ought not be ordered except in the rarest circumstances, fathers relegated to alternate weekend surrogates and babysitters. Restraining orders gave one spouse power and leverage over the other. And women became permanently impoverished relative to their former spouses, despite equal division of assets and alimony orders

Let us turn to that indigenous Oaxacan village, where material wealth and intra-village availability of sexual partners were conspicuously absent. There was, however, a complex system of intricate social groups. There were two legal systems able to resolve spousal abuse or abandonment, the wife typically being in the more powerful position of being able to choose. She would decide based on specific strategies, that is, which mechanism to initially pursue, without foreclosing her ability to utilize the other.

In the first instance, the wife could convene a meeting of both sets of parents who could both mediate and arbitrate a resolution. She retained the option of staying in the home or moving in with her parents, before or after enlisting the families’ assistance. Both sets of parents, could make decisions regarding all aspects of the relationship, and the precipitating event in particular. If the familial system failed to bring about a resolution with which the wife agreed, she could appeal to the community court, an annually elected president and judge. It could correct the husband’s behaviour by penalizing him. The court was not foreclosed from considering reconciliation. However, the wife typically only sought out the court to affirm severing the relationship.

Though not precluded from doing so, the husband rarely applied to the community court, except if the return of bride-price money was sought. He would usually apply to the wife’s parents (often with input from his parents) for a resolution. Without reconciliation, he would often search for a new partner in the village, in vain, or leave the community. The wife retained the option of forcing him to appear before the court.

Community court officials resolved most cases if the families were unable to do so. The wife, in appealing to this court, perhaps after the parents had failed to facilitate a resolution, kept all her options open: reconciliation, simply severing the relationship, or severing with penalty.

Both Ontario and Zapotec systems empowered the victims and made the perpetrators pay. Beyond this, the similarities end. I suggest that the Oaxacan village mechanisms serve both individual and societal interests. The Ontario courts did everything possible to inhibit reconciliation and non-confrontational issue resolution. Though mediation was mandatory, by the time it arose positions had become entrenched. Family was used to fuel the flames, in stark contrast to its utility in rural Oaxaca. The Ontario process was slow, even if support and division of property were not issues.

Economics is a valid consideration in both systems. But the approach and how financial matters impact on resolution options are strikingly different. In the Zapotec village, relevant factors for third-party decision-makers dealing with the issue of reconciliation include availability of scarce resources such as food and sexual partners, parents as a support system, and family inheritances. While it is hoped that Ontario family law lawyers always consider such factors when negotiating for clients, the courts, at least through the 20th century, typically did not.

While both the Ontario system and the dual Zapotec options appear to acknowledge the same desires and values for the individual and society, our modern sophisticated western world seems to be floundering. In contrast, this one micro-society, at least, continues to resist changing toward a formal state system in favor of staying focused on the particular situation at hand. Now, using a more relativistic cultural lens, consider your preconceived notions of “primitive” cultures and the concept of employing mothers and fathers to resolve marital disputes. Who best to know the spouses and their interests?

Alvin Starkman runs Mezcal Educational Excursions of Oaxaca (www.mezcaleducationaltours.com).
The foregoing should not be relied upon as constituting legal advice or opinion.

The Huatulco Foodbank

By Lenore Harder and Tamara Plugers

Community is an amazing gathering of people who make time for each other to help as needed, accept when needy, and be humbled without recognition. In the tropical paradise of Huatulco, we have just that thing, community!

Thanks to several ambitious kind souls and their commitment to help others during difficult times, countless hours have been spent to purchase, assemble, and deliver hundreds of essential food hampers to some of Huatulco’s less fortunate population. As Covid-19 has approached and affected the world, we want to thank these “warriors” for the additional time and energy they have put into this since, almost overnight, the Huatulco tourism economy shut down, leaving thousands without work and the means to support their families.

In 2014 Randy Clearwater partnered with his friend Wilfrido Justiniano and a local church to start the Huatulco Foodbank. The goal was to, in love, meet the physical needs of those in the community who could not support themselves and their families for various reasons. Initially funds came in by means of donations through the local church and the business community, as well as from expats who were made aware of the need.

In time, various fundraisers for the Foodbank started up; now, thankfully, the Foodbank is continuing to receive additional funding to help support some immediate and desperate needs via Facebook. In the past few weeks, hardworking teams have hit the ground running to make sure that as many people as possible could be served with food and basic necessities.

We are blessed to have Wilfri’s wife, Nada who because of her past work experience in the community, is well acquainted with many of the women and families in the area. Both Wilfri and Nada have huge hearts and a gift for comforting and supporting struggling people. One experience stands out in Wilfri’s mind:

One day we organized a trip to El Manantial [a small town on the on the road between Santa María Huatulco and Pluma Hidalgo]. Our friend Pedro, a Cuban volunteer and former Barcelo dancer, and I took around 25 food hampers to deliver to a group of people. When we got there, we realized that about 12 of the people had come from the mountain area called Loma Limón, walking two hours to get food for their families. They explained to us that there was no grocery store available, and because of the blockade [at the airport], there was no way to bring food from Huatulco by car to the community. So we felt so blessed to be able to put some food in their hands.

A hearty thanks to the hands-on team working on purchasing, assembling, and delivering the food hampers. Randy Clearwater, Wilfri Justiniano, Rock Berube, and Manny Novoa have organized and distributed in excess of 640 hampers in Huatulco and the surrounding rural communities. They have been on the front line, recognizing the risks involved in this epidemic. To assist even greater numbers of people, food is also being donated to local community kitchens in the outlying areas.

Let this be an exchange for years to come, no matter the circumstances. People Helping People.

We invite you to contribute however you can. More donations always gratefully accepted. To donate, go to Facebook and search for Huatulco Foodbank:
(www.facebook.com/groups/1574782399424249/).

If you are donating from Canada, you can send an e-transfer; from the United States, use PayPal.
In either case, send your donation to rlclearwater@gmail.com.

Quarantine Reading: Literature’s Famous and Infamous Mothers and Fathers

By Carole Reedy

Each May and June we honor mothers and fathers with a special day. In Mexico, Mother’s Day is always celebrated on May 10 and is, practically speaking, a national holiday. Though group celebrations will be curtailed this year because of the coronavirus, children will thank their parents according to the customs of their individual cultures.

One of the advantages of the isolation dictated by the virus is the time now given us to think, reflect, and remember. The approach of May and June gives me pause to reflect on the mothers and fathers of the literature I have so loved over the years.

Just for fun, I’ve devised some awards for the outstanding literary figures of a few favorite authors.

The Queen of Jewish Mothers:
Sophie Portnoy from Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth (1969)

The Urban Dictionary provides a succinct definition of a Jewish mother:  “an unstoppable force of nature that will feed you, pamper you, and pester you at the slightest provocation, known to spout Yiddish randomly. Be warned: if you come to my house, you WILL leave with a full stomach and a bag of leftovers.”

There is little doubt that Sophie Portnoy maintains the title to this day.  Perhaps Estelle Constanza (of Seinfeld fame) holds second place, but as Lev Grossman reported in Time magazine, “There could be no Estelle Constanza without Sophie Portnoy.”

For those of you who might not be familiar with Sophie Portnoy (really?), she’s Alexander Portnoy’s overbearing mother who dedicates her life to the task of raising her son, going as far as checking his bowel movements on a daily basis. The novel thrust Roth into fame as one of the most accomplished and loved American novelists of the 20th century.

The novel’s platform is the consultation of young Alexander and his psychotherapist.  Publication of such a novel in 1969 sparked two controversies. First, the detailed description of masturbation by young Alexander, as well as obscenities and other sexually explicit adventures that were revolutionary 50 years ago. Second, some members of the Jewish community were offended by what they viewed as an irreverent depiction of the Jewish people.  The book was even banned by some libraries in the US.

Nonetheless, Philip Roth went on to prove himself to be a master of the contemporary American novel. Sadly, he died before receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature, which was surely his due (though that remains a bone of contention).  He did, however, garner countless accolades in his lifetime as one of the great American writers.

The Bravest of Single Mothers:
Hester Prynne from The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1850)

It would take a lot of courage to stand up to the least flexible, most cantankerous of religious fathers as well as an intolerant community. Yet this is precisely the action taken by Hester Prynne, protagonist of The Scarlet Letter. In 1642, the Puritan Massachusetts Bay Colony, Hester becomes pregnant, her husband thought to be lost at sea, and she faces the wrath of her community as an adulteress. She must wear the scarlet A letter as punishment and degradation.

Hester leads a tough short life, her daughter Pearl being rebellious also. All the involved characters suffer from inward guilt that affects them physically. It is a sad tale. Hawthorne didn’t expect the book to be popular with the general public, but he was wrong. The Scarlett Letter was an instant success and has become a worldwide classic.

The Most Naive of Grandfathers:
Daniele Mallarico from Trick by Domenico Starnone (2016)

Highly respected Italian writer Starnone and his equally famous translator, Jhumpa Lahiri, bring us a different twist on the family saga. The main characters here are the grandfather Daniele and his grandson, the four-year-old Mario, who are spending a week together while Mario’s parents leave the city for work-related matters. Although one might think this combination would present a light, humorous, sentimental novel, it’s quite the opposite.

The relationship of these two, along with that of Mario’s parents, is bluntly and honestly frustrating and difficult. While discussing the book with friends, we all wondered how the 70-year-old grandfather ever agreed to spend a week babysitting a four-year-old, which is the reason I name him the most naive of grandfathers.

The Most Successful Yet Heartbroken of Fathers:
Seymour Levov from American Pastoral by Philip Roth (1997)

Seymour Levov (“The Swede” – a nickname since childhood because of his blonde hair and Nordic appearance) had it all: He was a successful Jewish-American businessman with a house in the suburbs, the trophy wife, popularity from an early age on and off the football field, friends, and family. Midway through the novel, Swede’s life begins a slow deterioration after his teenage daughter is involved in a terrorist act.

Roth’s ability to take the reader into the hearts and minds of his characters is exceptionally present in this novel, which deservedly won the Pulitzer Prize in 1998. And while a feeling of unendurable pain permeates the second half of the book, there are many memorable scenes. For me the description of the glove factory that Seymour’s father created is one of the finest in literature.

The Gentlest of Fathers:
Mr. Bennet from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813)

Even though Mr. Bennet’s main concern is securing good marriages for his daughters, it is evident that he also wants their happiness too. While Mrs. Bennet is in a tizzy, he is the calming hand in the family.

Probably the best film portrayal of this gentle father is the 2005 production directed by Joe Wright, who chose an acting master, Donald Sutherland, to play the role in part because Sutherland reminded him of his own father. He also thought Sutherland “showed the strength to be able to handle those six women.” Of all the Mr. Bennets, Sutherland is my favorite, and now it is always he whom I picture in my mind’s eye when re-reading the novel.

The Most Controversial of Fathers:
King Lear from Shakespeare’s play of the same name (c. 1606)

Since the 17th century, surely the most famous of fathers is King Lear. Every distinguished actor has played the role William Shakespeare created for British audiences more than 400 years ago. The play has evolved greatly over the years. Early on, men played women’s roles and then later women played men’s roles. Modern actor Glenda Jackson even played the demanding lead in both 2016 and 2019.

When the Puritans ruled England, theaters were shut down from 1642 until the Restoration (1660) and then again, under the mad rule of George III, from 1811 to 1820, so no King Lear was presented during those crazy eras.

The most ridiculous turn of events was the adaption of the play by Nahum Tate after the Restoration, which survived until the mid-19th century. It was entitled The History of King Lear, and in that version Lear and Cordelia live, and Cordelia marries Edgar. The Fool was eliminated totally in this rewrite. Fortunately, in the mid-19th century, Shakespeare’s original plot returned.

For the next three centuries, we’ve seen productions of Lear in most theater repertoires, movies have been made, three opera companies (Japanese, Finnish, and German) have produced it, and recently in 2018 a novel was published entitled The Queens of Innis Lear by Tessa Gratton. The original play has had a long history, and here’s hoping it will endure long into the future.

The Most Confused of Modern Parents:
Toby and Rachel Fleishman from Fleishman Is in Trouble
by Taffy Brodesser-Akner (2019)

Toby and Rachel Fleishman are getting divorced and it isn’t pretty. In fact, it’s outright upsetting for the reader, who hears both sides of the story. Sound familiar? Yes, it’s been done before, but not like this. Brodesser-Akner’s style is compelling and agitating. It presents in a non-analytical way the frustrations of both parties. Reviewers are comparing the author to Philip Roth and Tom Wolfe as someone who brings contemporary society’s problems to the fore with a bang, but in the end does not leave us hopeless.

Katy Walkman, astute reviewer for The New Yorker, sums up the trouble of Fleishman, observing that the title may “refer to our collective exhaustion with a certain type of male protagonist. Brodesser-Akner is not simply knocking her main character off of his throne. She is, perhaps, staging a rescue.”

Saintly Mexican Mothers and Fathers

By Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who’s Your Daddy?

By Julie Etra

There is enormous variation in the animal, and even the plant, kingdom when it comes to reproduction. Parenting and sexual roles are an even more complicated topic, with lots of shades of gray. So, let’s start close to home with the fish of the waters, reefs and bays of Huatulco:

Seahorses
The male seahorse gives birth. These animals are found in shallow tropical waters and occur in the reefs around Huatulco. Seahorses aren’t really good swimmers – they swim upright and typically hide in sheltered coral reefs and rocks. They are closely related to pipefish, which swim horizontally, and both have a bony exoskeleton instead of an internal skeletal system. The male has a pouch; when seahorses mate, the female deposits up to 1,500 eggs in this pouch. Incubation takes up to 45 days, and the very small baby seahorses emerge fully developed. The young are released into the water and the male often mates again within hours or days. They are not hermaphrodites, as the sexes are separate and remain so.

And what is hermaphroditism?

A hermaphrodite is “an organism that has complete or partial reproductive organs and produces gametes normally associated with both male and female sexes. Many taxonomic groups of animals do not have separate sexes.” Male gametes are sperm, female gametes are eggs. In summary, they start with full male and female capabilities, and potentially change from one to the other depending on the circumstances, which can be myriad.

Protogynous hermaphrodites are born female and at some point in their lifespan change their sex to male. As the animal ages, it shifts sex and becomes a male animal due to internal or external triggers. Protogyny is more common than protandry, where the male becomes female.

Hermaphroditism is a fairly common occurrence among coral reefs species, particularly the wrasses, parrotfish, gobies, and some species of eels.

Wrasses
These are very common around the reefs of Huatulco; we have the ubiquitous rainbow wrasse, Mexican hogfish, and the distinctive rockcrawler wrasse. Their reproductive strategies are complicated. The rainbow wrasse has two types of males and two methods of reproduction. The Mexican hogfish starts life as a female, and after having achieved a larger size, becomes a functional male. The males gather in groups to perform competitive displays to attract females and defend their reproductive territories; the groups are known as “leks” and the displays as “lekking.” (Other species, notably the sage grouse, also gather in groups to attract their “harems” for mating.)

Parrot fish
We have these fish in the Bahías, but they are not common. If you are snorkeling or scuba diving, you might a crunching sound – the parrot fish are dining on coral. What makes these fish unique is that they can change their sex throughout their lifetime. Primary males are fish that are born male and stay male, while secondary males are males that are born female and become male when they reach sexual maturity.

Gobies
Gobies are members of a very large fish family; their habitat is the shallow waters around the reefs of Huatulco. They have mommies and daddies. Daddies protect the nest from predators, take care of the eggs by fanning the eggs to increase the availability of oxygen, while mommies keep the house nice and tidy. When the females quit their household duties, the eggs are consumed by the males. Some species of gobies can change their sex, and their genitalia will change to follow suit. Sex change can occur over days or weeks and from female to male if the dominant male has died.

Saltwater Eels
We have morays and zebras in our reefs. Some species are hermaphroditic, starting their mature life as males, changing sex later to females, but some are both female and male at the same time.

Clownfish
These fish don’t occur in our reef systems here but they are too interesting to not mention. Made famous by Nemo (not a gender-accurate portrayal!), they live symbiotically with anemones, each helping the other to survive and thrive. The sea anemone protects the clownfish from predators and provides food. The clownfish in turn defends the anemone from its predators and parasites. Clownfish schools are female dominated; the females carry both female and male reproductive organs.

The large female fish is dominant, but upon her death the dominant male gains weight and changes sex. While she is still in charge, she mates only with the breeding male. The rest of the community comprises sexually immature males, or ‘”bachelors.” Changing sex is determined by hormones that cause the testes to disappear and trigger the development of the ovaries. Parenting? Both the male and the female maintain and guard the eggs once they are laid by the female.

Anglerfish
Here is another super odd one, a species that does not occur on our beautiful coast, but is just too interesting not to mention – the anglerfish. To get a look at them in action, go to http://www.livescience.com/48885-rare-anglerfish-video-footage.html.

These fish dwell at great depths, below 984 feet, in Monterey Canyon off the central coast of California. The male is tiny compared to the female. Once he finds a willing female the male bites and latches on to her belly. Their tissues fuse, the male wastes away, and all systems become one. The male’s only purpose is to provide sperm, while the host female becomes a bizarre self-fertilizing hermaphrodite.

For plants, the phenomenon of no mommies or daddies needed is perhaps more common than you might realize.

Succulents
These include Hens and Chicks and Mothers of Thousands. These easy to grow succulents are very common in gardens and nurseries around Huatulco, as well as higher up in temperate climates, including San José del Pacifico, well above Pochutla on the route up the mountains to Oaxaca. Although they flower and can produce seed, they more commonly produce new plants with their own root systems, e.g. vegetative reproduction. Thanks to some local friends, I have a lovely Mother of Thousands in our Huatulco garden. It is also known as the “devil’s backbone,” “alligator plant,” or “Mexican hat plant,” and is native to Madagascar. Each plantlet has its own root system, ready to drop off from the momma/poppa plant and establish a new plant.

Cactus
We all know the Nopal plant, of which there are many types in Mexico and the southwest United States. Also known as prickly pears, these cacti prefer warm, dry or seasonally wet climates like our own selva seca (seasonally dry tropical forest). They also produce a fruit, known as a “tuna” (one of the delicious flavors of the shaved-ice nieves available in the Huatulco Organic Market). The tuna contains seeds which readily geminate. But the big pads, called pencas, that are sliced and diced and commonly cooked in Mexican cuisine, can become detached and roll downhill, or attach to and detach from cattle and wildlife, and establish new roots at the base of the penca – hence new plants, no seeds. Voila.

Papayas
Ah papayas, that yummy tropical fruit, whose origin is the southern coast of Mexico, have male and female flowers on separate plants, but also both on the same plant. The male plant actually possesses female parts but they are not fully developed or functioning. However, with rising temperatures the plant can generate a fruit-producing female. Female plants can produce fruit, with seed if pollinated, or without seed if not pollinated (think unfertilized chicken eggs).

Hermaphroditic papaya flowers have both functional male and female flowers. They are capable of producing fruit and don’t require pollination. However, like male papayas, they can change gender. They may switch to being male during hot weather, or to female after being topped.

Despite our expectations of neat and not-so-neat nests filled with eggs, and mommies and daddies hatching the eggs and feeding the squawking hatchlings, there are species that do not really share parenting, and there might even be a few instances of hermaphroditic reproduction.

Cassowaries
These large, colorful, flightless birds are native to Australia and are related to emus and ostriches. The cassowary breeding season occurs in May and June when the male prepares the nest, which consists of a pile of leaves and other debris, and the females lay three to eight large eggs. The male then sits on the nest for 50-52 days, adding or deleting litter in order to regulate the nests’ temperature. After the chicks emerge, they remain in the nest for about nine months while daddy protects them. The female is not involved in raising the chicks, rather going off to lay more eggs in the nests of several other males.

Chickens
And last, hens turning into roosters? Is this possible? Even in Huatulco? Apparently very rare, but it has been documented. Consider the case of Gertie the hen, who hailed from England. In 2011 she suddenly stopped laying eggs, grew a characteristic rooster comb, and began acting like a rooster. This is due to the unique physiology of chickens. They have one ovary and an undeveloped sex organ that can become a testicle or an ovary but remains dormant unless environmental triggers and subsequent male hormone production result in its morphing into a rooster appearance. Although it cannot reproduce, it develops behavior characteristic of roosters, including aggressive territorial behavior and crowing at dawn. (Of course, if you’ve ever raised chickens, you know they crow at dawn, midnight, lunchtime, whenever they damn well feel like it!)

“Variety is the spice of life,” ain’t it grand?!

The Gift of Travel

By Susan Birkenshaw

Every year as Mother’s Day and Father’s Day come up and the stores are full of cards to honour mom and pop, I find myself looking back at the many things that my parents taught me as I grew up! Besides fierce independence from my Mom, my Dad would not let me get my driver’s license without knowing how to change my tire, check my oil/fluid levels and in a horrid emergency, how to change my fan belt with my panty hose. Yes, this was a very long and distant time ago!

In reminiscing now, I know without a doubt that the most important gift my parents gave me was a series of lessons about how important it is to be a traveller. I realized from a time very early on that I never would be a tourist in the classic definition. My family always took the local route through the places we travelled: local hostels, local food markets and even local fairs. I look back now and realize that my mom always chose routes and locations to travel that had something local going on and something to teach us, everything from music festivals, farm fairs and even a full-moon in Stonehenge.

I am not sure where my mother’s curiosity came from except to say that her parents were voracious readers and had the most fascinating friends and peers – worldwide travel was not really a thing in the days of my grandparents. I do have a series of postcards that catalogue a ’round the world’ trip that a spinster great-aunt took in 1960. My mother protected those bits of history and exotic travel for her entire life and my sense is that’s where her absolute need to travel was born. Aunt Annie was always a most welcome guest in our home as we were growing up and we spent many hours listening to her adventures that couldn’t be described on the backs of postcards.

This is where my story truly begins. In late 1961, when my Aunt had finally returned from her magical trip, my Mom and Dad started talking about travel. Where should we go first, what would we like to see and who might we know who might know someone who could help us? All questions that kept coming up at the dinner table. Finally, all this wishful thinking and dreaming led my mom to set a variety of plans into place.

First, she began saving in a number of ways that would include each of her kids (three in total). For example, she created a 25-cent box that lurked in the front hall closet. The function of this box was simple – anything she picked up that was not in place hit the box. To get it out: “25 cents, please.” and 50 cents for a pair, all from your pocket or your allowance. There was an accounting at the end of each month. Every now and then, she would announce, “We have enough for 5 tickets to enter the Louvre.”

So, our instructions were to “go off and find out what you can find about that museum.” The result? The kids did the research about a specific place, gallery, castle, war field or king – so as the trip in Mom’s mind started to gel, our interests guided her planning for the route. Little did we know that we also learned how to use a library, how to read the Encyclopedia Britannica, sift through the old dusty National Geographics that were hoarded all through the house and to even ask the elders who hung around our house.

Around that time, the time frame was established simply because in 1962, Max Ward of Wardair established the trans-Atlantic charter market. “Four charter tickets to London, please!” The trip summer would be 1966 – it had to be before the Centennial in 1967 (obviously, we had to travel Canada that year).

Starting in 1962, my mother wrote over 100 air mail letters, on flimsy Aerogrammes, to various pensions, hotels, hotels, ferries, car rentals, euro-rail outlets and restaurants that might be part of our itinerary. At that time, it took at least four weeks for a response – if the letter was responded to immediately. Mom resorted to overseas phone calls only for the very big stuff – a hotel in Paris, a hotel in Venice and a hotel in London. The rest was all done by post! It still stuns me! Our bookings were all made at least a year out with no way to confirm closer to our travel date. I can’t begin to imagine what a leap of faith this process took.

When I think back on that planning time, I realize it actually took a couple of years to research and to plot the hoped-for itinerary, and another year to get most of the reservations and then to finally consider the massive undertaking of packing five people – what on earth did we need for two months of travel?

On July 3, 1996, after almost five years of dreaming, researching, saving and planning and changing plans, the Birkenshaw family took off! After arrival at Gatwick Airport, we met Dad in Hyde Park. He only had one month of vacation, so Mom was going to drive around England with three almost-teens for the second month. At the time, it made sense, and I am sure during the second month it was mostly nuts. Many years later, as we’ve became adults, we all understand just how much this was an act of both craziness and love from Mom and Dad, and we often talk about just how much guts Mom had to survive month two.

Our tour’s first month took us from London and its tower, to Dover and its White Cliffs, across the Channel by ferry, to Paris and to the top of the Eiffel Tower, to Versailles and its Room of Mirrors, through many French wine valleys, Austria, Switzerland and to the top of the Matterhorn, on to Milan and to attend mass being held in the Duomo, to Venice and a ride in the iconic gondolas, to Vienna and through its Opera House, finally through Germany and on to the Netherlands with its dikes, tulips, windmills and fabulous people!

When we arrived in England after a very rough ferry crossing, we were able to relax a bit, say goodbye to Dad and get a different car for our whistle-stop tour throughout England.

Castles, royal jewels, battlefields, bookstalls, theatres and opera houses, formal gardens and not so formal fields, churches and cathedrals – the history throughout Europe and England cannot be easily described in a few words. Each time I return to Europe, the things and places I see for a second time, make me realize how much the ’66 trip meant to my Mom. It was a gift and a university degree all rolled into one!

My brothers and I have talked about this trip many times over the years and I know that none of us would have missed it for anything and that the next generation already knows well the gift of travel. know that my answer to the question … are you a Tourist or a Traveller? … will always be a Traveller! Tourist is the first step to be sure, but if we can turn ourselves towards more, a Traveller will always learn and thrive!

Thanks, Mom and Pop, for the gift of travel!

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?”

To Be or Not to Be … Parents

By Brooke Gazer

Several years ago, a young Mexican couple staying at our B&B asked us a lot of questions about our life and our decision not to have children. We aren’t shy about talking about ourselves, so at the time, I didn’t think much about it.

As they were leaving, she hugged me, saying, “Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us because you helped us come to an important decision. Our parents have been pressuring us for grandchildren and we’ve been pondering about this over the past year. When we get home, we’ve decided to tell them not to expect grandchildren. Meeting the two of you, and seeing you’re content, has given us the courage to make this decision and to tell our parents about it.”

With this, they climbed into their taxi and drove away. Shaking my head, I said jokingly, “I hope they don’t mention us to their family when they drop that bombshell. Her mother’s likely to contract a hit on us if she discovers we’re responsible.”

There has been a growing trend in Mexico, among young, urban, well-educated couples to choose not to have children. This is still a rare phenomenon, but according to INEGI (Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geographía, which conducts the Mexican census), the number of families without children grew by 10.4% from 2014 to 2016. The director of the Municipal Women’s Institute of Xalapa (Instituto Municipal de Las Mujeres de Xalapa, or IMMX), points out that “It is increasingly common to observe couples without children or women who decide from an early age not to reproduce.”

In Veracruz, one clinic reported that doing 134 vasectomies over a ten-day period was normal, but what was unusual was that four patients were between 20-30. These men were accompanied by their wives and had not had children.

Over the past five years, realtors are seeing more couples buying homes and apartments suitable for only two people. When asked how much space may be needed for future children, a growing number reply that there may be a dog but not a child.

In the 1970’s, Mexico’s National Council on Population (Consejo Nacional de Población, or CONAPO) began promoting smaller families in Mexico. Since then, the average number of children per female has dropped from 6.1 to 2.15. But there is still social and family pressure for couples to reproduce. Perhaps thinking their smaller-family campaign was a little too successful, CONAPO subtly fosters this pressure by issuing predictions like this one: “If a couple has a child, they would live five years longer than previous generations and their quality of life would increase.”

It seems that some couples just aren’t buying into this; there are a number of reasons couples make the decision not to have children, which don’t seem to differ that much from reasons north of the border.
· Many young women have devoted years to their education and climbing the corporate or institutional ladder. In 1960, less than 1% of Mexican women held a university degree. Fifty years later (2010), it was almost 16 percent – just a fraction behind their male peers. By this point, they are reluctant to jeopardize what they have accomplished.
· A few people feel they are unable to cope with the rigors of parenting, or fear that their relationship cannot withstand the pressure a child would introduce.
· Some believe it unwise to procreate with today’s environmental, political, economic, and social problems. They are not optimistic about the future and fear for the next generation.
· In Mexico, the cost of bearing and raising a child to the age of 18 ranges from $2.7 to $8 million pesos, with about 25% of this eaten up by education. This figure does not include a university education, which better educated couples would also be expected to provide.
· A growing number of Mexican couples prefer to enjoy life and spend their income on themselves. In the 1980s Canadian advertising agencies coined the term DINKS (double income, no kids) to apply to this important market segment.

Whatever their reason, this is something Mexico may need to contend with in the future. Today in Canada, there are more seniors than children under 14, and immigration was responsible for two-thirds of the population growth from 2011 to 2016. Mexico’s birthrate has been decreasing steadily, with over 400,000 fewer births in the last decade than the decade before. Most of this is a result of the government promoting smaller families, but the trend not to have families is also a contributing factor. It is unlikely the trend in Mexico would continue towards a negative growth rate, but nothing is impossible.

Prior to reliable birth control, couples may have postponed adding to their families, but eventually babies appeared. Everyone rejoiced when they did, – regardless of the economic or emotional strain that may or may not have ensued. I’ve known people who should never have had children, as well as older women who admitted that if they had it to do again, they would not.

Today, couples who are choosing not to be parents are still swimming against the current, but most tend to be educated and are making a conscious, well thought out decision. I’m not recommending this for everyone, but I think it is easier today, even in Mexico, for couples who do not feel a strong parental pull to make this decision.

Brooke Gazer operates Agua Azul la Villa,
an ocean-view B&B in Huatulco (www.bbaguaazul.com).