Tag Archives: oaxaca

Editor’s Letter

By Jane Bauer

“Cows are amongst the gentlest of breathing creatures; none show more passionate tenderness to their young when deprived of them; and, in short, I am not ashamed to profess a deep love for these quiet creatures.”
Thomas de Quincey

Hello 2021!

As we have done for the past four years, the theme for our January issue follows the Chinese New Year. We are entering the Year of the Ox, which hopefully will be better for humanity than 2020’s Year of the Rat.

When I was in India last year, cows wandered the streets as stray dogs do in Mexico. They would approach me and nudge my hand with their head to be petted. These encounters filled me with a strange combination of bliss and sadness. When I returned to Mexico, I went to see some land with a man from my village. There were three cows there and, fresh from my India experience, I approached one and placed my hand on its forehead. Our eyes met and the cow responded to my touch by moving its head towards me. The man who had brought me there looked on quizzically; it was clear he thought I was ridiculous.

So often we overlook the charms of animals that have been domesticated for consumption. As we do with humans, there is a definite hierarchy when it comes to how we dole out our concern for animals. Afterall, I have often made the sassy comment that when people come to a Mexican village and ‘rescue’ a dog, why do they leave the chickens behind? I am being facetious, of course, and this is not a plea that everyone should stop eating meat and welcome chickens into their living rooms (don’t- they are very messy!). I just find it interesting to contemplate how we collectively seem to decide on this hierarchy, and also how it differs from culture to culture.

While I was growing up my mother had a painting that hung in the kitchen of a woman with her hand extended to a cow. Perhaps that is where my fascination came from.

I hope you enjoy this issue. Putting out the magazine has been such a gift during this season when we are separated from so many of our loved ones.

Thank you to the amazing writers, contributors, advertisers and readers who make this possible!

See you in February,

Jane

The “Poor Man’s Ox” – The Mexican Burro “¡No seas burro!”

By Julie Etra

Burro, donkey, jackass, mule, hinny.

Starting with nomenclature, burros are the same as donkeys and are related to horses and zebras (the Equidae family). They were bred in Egypt or Mesopotamia around 5,000 years ago, originating from the African continent, where they were used as beasts of burden. A jenny or hinny is the offspring of a male horse and female donkey; they are usually sterile and therefore cannot reproduce. A mule is a cross between a male donkey and a female horse, and is also sterile (sterility also applies to zebra hybrids). A male donkey is also called a “jack” or “ass” (hence the word “jackass”). A young donkey is called a “foal.” In Mexico one often hears the expression “no seas mula” or “no seas burro,” as per the COVID 19 signs posted around Huatulco (also saying ‘with all due respect to the animal), and meaning “Don’t be stubborn,” just as we say, “Don’t be a jackass” (although that implies more than stubbornness).

Although I have read that the current population of burros in Mexico is estimated to be three million, I have also read that they are in danger of extinction with only 300,000 burros left. We do, however, forget about the usefulness of this animal in Mexico, and its historic significance.

Popular belief has it that Bishop Fray Juan de Zumárraga (1468-1548), felt sympathy for the native load carriers or porters (cargadoras, or Tlamemehs or tamemes in Nahuatl), and the strenuous burdens they carried. Part of the lower social class called los macehuales, tamemes were not slaves but were trained from birth for this work, following in their parents’ footsteps. They fulfilled an important role in Aztecan society and were essential, as there were no pack animals in Mexico before the arrival of the Spaniards. They wore a wide leather strap with ixtle (agave fiber) rope that held the load carried on the back. Called a mecapal, the strap was wrapped around the forehead; some of them included wooden structures for additional support. The tamemes could carry up to 60 pounds; although travel routes and distances varied, a common trip averaged 15 miles.

Back to the burros. At the time of their importation to New Spain, burros had been domesticated in Spain for at least 3,000 years. There is evidence that four male and two female burros accompanied Columbus on his 1493 voyage, and that they disembarked either in Cuba or Hispaniola (the island made up of Haiti and the Dominican Republic). On his first voyage (1492), Columbus – with a European eye – noted that crops and domesticated animals were in short supply, and recommended that all subsequent voyages include them. Along with the burros, horses, longhorn cattle, crates of chickens, and seeds and cuttings of about 30 crops, including sugar cane. The cattle lost no time crossing the Gulf to Mexico and quickly became successful, in terms of both production and money-making. So, although oxen (technically speaking, an ox is just a big strong cow, usually male, trained to work – plowing, hauling, milling, etc.), were well-established in New Spain by perhaps 1520, they belonged to the ranchers of New Spain, not the lower classes of the conquered Aztecs.

Fray Juan apparently accomplished the Mexican importation of burros in 1533, with animals from Castile (Castilla), in northwestern Spain. The burros evidently found conditions in New Spain to be ideal, and so the donkeys went forth and multiplied throughout areas of the Spanish conquest, but particularly in Mexico and Central America, where llamas, endemic to areas of South America, were already in use as pack animals.

What makes a burro a burro? We know they have long ears and colors vary. They are usually calm and astute but can also become stubborn; they are known to be playful and affectionate. They emit a long “bray” (rebuzno in Spanish). Lifespan averages 15 to 30 years, depending on the care they receive. They are vegetarians, with a diet based on grasses, alfalfa, shrubs, vegetables and, especially hay (which can include multiple baled species including alfalfa), but are very tough and can find forage even in deserts. Reproduction varies according to sex: the male reaches sexual maturity at about three years and the female at about four years. Pregnancy varies from 11 to 14 months, typically with just one offspring. In the wild, they are solitary and don’t form groups or harems of females as do wild horses. They have a well-developed olfactory system, detecting smells up to six miles away. And unlike a llama, they can carry up to four times their own weight. Hooves help.

So, “¡No seas burro!” Wear your cubreboca, maintain social distancing, be respectful, and listen to what the experts and authorities tell you. We’ll get through this pandemic eventually.

Resourcefulness and Ingenuity in Clay Pot Mezcal Distillation

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

When I read about the Year of the Ox, it reminded me of the resourcefulness and ingenuity of the hardworking Oaxacans who make mezcal. Why? Because not only is a team of oxen used to plow the earth, but the team is sometimes employed to transport agave hearts (piñas) from field to traditional family-operated distillery (palenque), or to crush them after baking. There’s no need to buy a horse or mule when you already have animals capable of doing multiple tasks. And their waste makes excellent fertilizer.

The start-up costs of building a clay pot (olla de barro) palenque in Oaxaca involve relatively little monetary outlay. However, the ongoing upkeep expenses have the potential to be out of reach for many distillers (palenqueros) of modest means … but for their ingenuity, resourcefulness, and sustainable practices.

Most clay pots used in Oaxacan mezcal production are produced in the town of Santa María Atzompa. They are made with locally sourced clay, water, and fire, and thus their cost is relatively modest, perhaps 800 pesos for the two receptacles required to make one still.

The housing that encases the bottom clay pot is made from clay and/or adobe bricks and mud, and nothing more. The adobe is made by mixing sand, mud, bovine and/or equine manure, and waste agave fiber (bagazo) discarded after distillation. Bagazo is often also used as compost or mulch, and when dampened, is typically employed in the baking process to insulate the piñas from the hot rocks.

Firewood goes at the bottom of the baking pit. Not straight logs the lumberjack sells at a premium to lumber yards, but rather seconds that the distillery is happy to acquire at a discount. Once the bake has been completed, where there once was firewood there is now charcoal. It is used a fertilizer to grow more agave (or other crops), or by the family for cooking and for sale.

Even the discarded agave leaves (pencas), once dried, have an important use as fuel. Entire Oaxacan communities live off them to cook tortillas, grill meats, make hot chocolate, and more.

Clay distillation pots last from roughly a couple of weeks to a year and a half, after which time they must be replaced. The bottom pot, as opposed to the upper clay cylinder, presents the more significant problem.

Once it cracks, the housing must be disassembled, the pot removed, a new one inserted, and the encasement re-built. The life of that bottom olla is extended by using a wooden tree branch shaped like a fork, its prongs joined with rope or wire, and not a metal pitch fork, to remove the bagazo.

Still, through cracking, clay pots are inevitably rendered unusable for their primary purpose. When that happens the fermented liquid or the subsequent single distillate can seep out and be lost. The damaged and discarded pots are frequently used as planters, but that bottom pot can still be used in the fermentation process. Most baked crushed agave is fermented in wood slat vats, but some palenqueros ferment in clay pots partially embedded in the ground. After a damaged pot has been removed from the still, it can be repaired with cement and used for fermenting; a broken olla de barro gets new life.

For clay-pot distillation to work, a continuous flow of cold water is required. It often arrives along a makeshift wooden trough, falling into the small conical condenser through a length of giant river reed (carrizo). Carrizo is an invasive wild plant, but it has multiple uses, including in the olla de barro distillation process. Carrizo is also sometimes employed to guide the water out of the condenser, and the distillate out of the still into a holding receptacle. Yet another use for the reed is as a bellows to stoke the flame under the clay pot during distillation. Some palenqueros purchase waste from a lumberyard de-barking process as fuel for their stills. The bark always includes some attached wood.

Long ago palenqeros used clay condensers in the distillation process. When metal became available, they switched. Originally, they used simple laminated metal, and some still do, although more recently stainless steel or copper have appeared. Some palenqueros have even adapted old aluminum construction worker hardhats. The shape is about the same, and with a little work they are almost as efficient as the others. When I visited a distillery in the town of Sola de Vega in 2012, the palenquero was still using hard hats as condensers!

Steam rises, hits the condenser, then the drops of liquid must fall onto something which then guides the liquid to the exterior of the cylinder, through the carrizo, down into the container. That something is typically a hand-hewn wooden spoon, or a small length of penca. The condenser is sealed to the upper cylinder, which is sealed in turn to the lower olla de barro, not with glue, but rather a paste that forms naturally on top of the fermentation vessel.

When the still is not in use, many palenqueros prefer keeping the opening underneath, into which firewood is placed to produce flame, closed off. Some state they don’t want young children playing hide-and-seek in the sooty and sometimes still hot orifice. Others don’t want their chickens laying eggs inside. A palenquero friend in Santa Catarina Minas keeps the opening closed using old metal discs from a plow.

I noted earlier the modest start-up costs for establishing a palenque for olla de barro distillation, and touched on the cost of the clay pots. The additional installations in clay (as well as copper) operations are almost free of out-of-pocket costs aside from labor: the baking pit in the ground, the ability to crush by hand using a wooden mallet and nothing more, and fermenting in an animal hide, a wood-lined hole in the ground or directly in a bedrock cavity.

The innate creativity of the palenquero distilling in clay is remarkable. And while we must admire his resourcefulness, it’s crucial that we not begrudge him for making technological advancements with a view to making life just a little easier, as his economic lot in life improves. Should not the romanticism we seek in rural Oaxaca sometimes take a back seat? The palenquero will retain most of his sustainable practices and continue to be resourceful, but surely deserves a break.

Alvin Starkman operates Mezcal Educational Excursions of Oaxaca (www.mezcaleducationaltours.com).

Grasshoppers and Ants: Diligence in the Year of the Ox

By Randy Jackson

After that major bummer of a year – 2020 – we now have the Chinese Zodiac Year of the Ox for 2021. Not wanting to cast aspersions on the Zodiac animal of last year (the Rat), I think it’s time we moved on. But not so fast: Just what are we supposed to be getting into in this Year of the Ox? The ox is supposed to represent the characteristic of diligence. That makes sense, I guess, from what I imagine of an ox-like character. But is diligence a good thing?

The origin of the word “diligence” was the Latin word diligere, which meant to “value highly” and “take delight in.” Over centuries the English meaning of the word morphed into “careful” and “hardworking.” The word diligence was held in high enough regard in western Europe that it become one of the heavenly virtues of Christianity, along with chastity, temperance, patience, humility, kindness and charity. The seven heavenly virtues were clarified as a balance to the seven deadly sins set out by Pope Gregory I in CE 590 – diligence counterbalanced the sin of “sloth.”

Diligence seems to be the one Christian virtue that isn’t passive. To be diligent implies overtly doing something rather than embodying any (or all) the other virtues in one’s actions. Diligence as a virtue cannot stand by itself as a “good thing” without the other virtues. Otherwise, being diligent while committing a crime would be virtuous. The ambivalence of diligence as a Christian virtue has provided fodder for stories and even paintings over the centuries.

There are a surprising number of fables and fairy tales that deal with diligence. “The Three Little Pigs” is an obvious one. As we know, the third little pig worked diligently on his house of bricks while the other two little pigs spent more time playing, singing, and dancing. We all know how that turns out. The third little pig saves the day, as his house is too strong for the wolf to blow down. The moral of the story: hard work (diligence) wins the day.

“The Ant and the Grasshopper” is another fable dealing with diligence. However, this fable has inspired different interpretations on how diligence can be viewed. Originally, the hard-working ant who saved up for the winter was seen as cruel and miserly when he refused the more whimsical grasshopper’s (usually depicted as a musician) request for food in the winter. The diligent ant was seen as lacking in Christian charity.

In the Victorian era, French artist Gustave Doré produced a painting titled “The Ant and the Grasshopper.” The painting depicts a young woman musician with head bowed at the door of a house.

Two children from the house are looking up with sympathy at the young woman. There is a lack of pity shown by the lady of the house as portrayed by her knitting. This is a reference to the French tricoteuses – women who knitted and jeered as the guillotine lopped off the heads of the French aristocrats during the French Revolution.

“The Ant and the Grasshopper” poses two important philosophical questions: should hard work be valued over the enjoyment of life? And, what responsibility do the “haves” bear for the “have nots”? In the United States, Walt Disney’s original cartoon portrayal of ‘The Ant and Grasshopper” (1934) was a political statement against the New Deal as proposed by Franklin D. Roosevelt. In the cartoon the impertinent grasshopper sang the song “Oh the World Owes Me a Living,” expressing a sentiment that many Americans held at the time – they saw the New Deal as giving something to people who did nothing to deserve it.

In literature and film, “The Ant and the Grasshopper” fable has inspired a large number of stories exploring differences between the life of someone who is diligent and hardworking, and someone who mostly seeks the enjoyments of life. In Somerset Maugham’s story “The Ant and the Grasshopper,” there are two brothers, one diligent and hard-working, the other carefree yet likeable. In this story, the carefree brother lucks out in the end (much to the chagrin of the diligent brother) by marrying a rich widow (who then dies and leaves him a fortune). For those familiar with Maugham’s most famous work, On Human Bondage (thought to be largely autobiographical), the main character, Philip Carey, is grasshopper-like, living a bohemian lifestyle against the wishes of his strict and diligent guardian uncle.

John Updike’s short story “Brother Grasshopper,” which specifically references the original fable, contrasts the characters of two brothers-in-law. One is diligent, hard-working and socially awkward. The other is charming, carefree and extravagant, but struggles with money. In the end the diligent man comes to realize the carefree man had enriched his otherwise restricted life of diligence.

Another, and different, angle on the concept of diligence, ironically, is the Japanese concept of inemuri – referring to sleeping on the job. This cultural phenomenon is more nuanced than just having a nap at work. A better translation would be “sleeping while being present.” It refers to diligent hard-working employees that are so busy and working such long hours they need a little inemuri to keep going: inemuri is thus seen as an indicator of diligence. In the west we might refer to this as a “power nap,” but without any notion that diligence is involved.

As for diligence as a characteristic of the Year of the Ox, there is no ambivalence, it’s only a good thing. The Zodiac predictions are for a year of advancement and success in 2021. After 2020, we can all use some of that. Happy New Year.

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.

Editor’s Letter

By Jane Bauer

“It is preoccupation with possession, more than anything else, that prevents men from living freely and nobly.”

Bertrand Russell

The Christmas/Holiday season always presents us with an interesting dichotomy. It is the time that we are encouraged to be generous and think of others, especially those whose needs are not being met, yet it is also the time of the greatest and most decadent consumerism and gluttonous excess.

While this year may be different, with Covid lockdowns restricting mall visits, I am sure online shopping will be there to pick up the slack. If you are anything like me then you have a roof over your head, food at the ready and plenty of things to entertain you. What more could any of us possibly need?

The key to happiness is to stop wanting and finding the balance between what we need more of and what we need less of. It is simple. Stop wanting a new car, more vacation days, your political party to win, your leaders to provide you with more, your neighbor’s dog to stop barking, your kids to get jobs, and whatever else it is you find yourself complaining about or ranting at. There is nothing you can buy that will take away your frustration.

Just stop wanting and instead focus on having less; a smaller house, less responsibility, less clothes, less screen time, less information. I am guessing that you are free – that you are not reading this from prison or a refugee camp. What do you want your life to look life? You have the power to make it happen.

Let this be the season of getting rid of stuff and simplifying. Let us be prepared to face 2021 with a clear head and not the rose-tinted glasses of the past. Let us appreciate the time we have and not waste it on the accumulation of more stuff.

In this issue, our writers explore trash and the obvious conclusion is that we are creating too much of it. Even though we have given up using straws and plastic bags it has barely scratched the surface of how much waste we create.

I know it has been a challenging year for everyone – health concerns, economic restraints and political worry. I am not sure that 2021 will be much better but we can prevail freely and nobly.

See you in 2021!

Jane

Oaxaca and Air Quality: Protocols, Accords and Agreements

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

The state of Oaxaca has traditionally been one of Mexico’s top ranked in terms of air quality. That’s because we have virtually no industry except for tourism and agriculture. However, that’s no excuse for our government’s doing relatively little to combat climate change. This is particularly problematic given that, first, the country as a whole has been priding itself on its efforts since 2005, if not earlier, to combat climate change, and second, Oaxaca is being increasingly subjected to the negative impact of environmental change every year.

In early 2005, the Latin American & Iberian Institute at the University of New Mexico published an article entitled “Mexico Strongly Endorses Kyoto Environmental Accord.” Vicente Fox, president at the time, was quoted as saying that Mexico was among the early signatories of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on climate change, contrasting his country with the US, which did not endorse the accord.

Jump to the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change Mitigation, supported by upwards of 200 countries, including (at the time) the US. Mexico was one of the first nations to ratify the agreement. Despite the US having begun formal withdrawal proceedings late last year, Mexico has remained steadfast. In fact, shortly after the US announced its intention to leave, Mexico issued a press release on June 1, 2017, reaffirming its support for and commitment to the agreement. Mexico had been one of the main leaders in the negotiation process, which had taken five years to conclude.

Mexico then went even further. In April 2018, the senate approved harmonizing the agreement’s global goals with the country’s own national legal framework (General Law on Climate Change); 84 votes in favor, 0 against, with one abstention.

That was at the federal level. Turning to Oaxaca, the state is one of the most vulnerable in all of Mexico due to its complex orography, or mountainous topography, having the greatest diversity of climatic zones in the country. Perhaps most importantly, its geographical location is in the narrowest part of the nation; it’s heavily influenced by both the Pacific ocean and the Gulf of Mexico as well as two cyclone forming areas, the Gulf of Tehuantepec and the Caribbean Sea.

Residents of Oaxaca have been experiencing the effects of climate change continuously over the past three decades, at a minimum. Some of the impacts I have been witnessing include:

· Our hot season begins earlier than traditionally has been the case.
· Our rainy season is much less predictable than before, with farmers never knowing when to plant and if their crops will grow to their potential, the result being lost revenue. When the rains do arrive, they can be monsoon-like, destroying those very crops, and wreaking havoc in the state capital. Our antiquated drainage system was not built to withstand the new flow pattern.
· Our municipal water delivery system is much less predictable than before, residents never knowing when the water will arrive and to what level their home and business cisterns will be filled. Much more often than even a decade ago, we see water trucks wending the streets delivering up to 20,000 liters at a time to hotels, restaurants, other retainers, and homes.
· Wells run dry, necessitating excavating deeper or people scrambling to find alternative sources of water.

Academia has recognized the gravity of the situation. The state funded university, Universidad Autónoma Benito Juárez de Oaxaca (UABJO), has instituted a Master’s program in climate change. In 2017, Environmental Science: An Indian Journal, published an article on using Oaxaca’s State Program for Climate Change (Programa Estatal de Cambio Climática) as a planning tool, defining policies to mitigate emissions of greenhouse gases and suggesting adaptations for those in high risk areas.

But throwing pesos at the problem and instituting policies at the federal level, self-lauding all the while, means nothing without enforcement at the local level. True enough, some Oaxacan city residents actively participate in recycling programs, most no longer burn their garbage, and there are nearby villages in which green trash bins are strategically placed no more than 20 yards apart. However, all the protocols, accords and agreements do little without enforcement, except perhaps enabling the government to boast about being a world leader in the fight.

Here in Oaxaca, our verificación program dictates that one must have vehicle emissions tested twice yearly. In some first world jurisdictions, you cannot renew your license plate without proof that your car has passed. In these countries, without a new plate or renewal sticker, the police pull you over. In Oaxaca, on the other hand, you renew your plate (if so inclined), and part of the fee covers the emissions test. Once your car passes, you get a sticker. But only late-model vehicles seem to appear at the testing facilities, given that owners of older cars know they won’t pas, and that state enforcement is effectively non-existent.

Rent a car. Tell the rental agent you will be driving out of Oaxaca state. Then, and only then, will you get a vehicle that has been tested and has the sticker. While other states do enforce, everyone knows that Oaxaca does not, though there is a law on the books. With my own car I have been stopped outside of Oaxaca when I have not had the sticker, but never in my home state.

Just look at the black smoke spewing out of some city of Oaxaca transit buses. Does government really care, or does it all simply enable Oaxaca to appear in the federal government’s good books?

There are issues with emissions control programs. They have been scrapped in some first world jurisdictions due to equity concerns, test accuracy and their questionable impact on air quality. Regardless, the point is that without enforcement, rules and regulations mean nothing, and are just window dressing.

Let’s assume there was enforcement. Yes, it would be unfair to car owners of modest means to be compelled to pay the same amount as the wealthy for emissions testing. However, banning their clunkers from the road would likely result in greater use of public transit, meaning bus companies would have more revenue to upgrade vehicles and it would be easier for government to enforce laws against public transit culprits. Commuter parking lots and mass transit are still rare in Oaxaca, though dedicated bus lanes have arrived. With a bit of enforcement, the city would be a better place in which to live, and to visit.

Alvin Starkman operates Mezcal Educational Excursions of Oaxaca (www.mezcaleducationaltours.com).