Tag Archives: politics

Changes in Immigration at the Mexico/United States Border

By Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken

Our grand-parents were immigrants who fled violence and oppression from Russia in the early 1900s; refuge was provided for them and their cousins in the U.S., Mexico, and Canada. While a significant number of current residents of North America trace their roots back to indigenous residents or people who were forced onto ships and brought here against their will, many of us are descendants of people who bravely traveled to the New World assured that their lives would be better and that their skills and get-up-and-go would be welcomed. Although immigrants have always faced xenophobia and lack of social acceptance, over a period of time, most immigrants integrate into the work-a-day world and achieve upward mobility.

The United States, in particular, has always been considered to be a “melting pot” – a place where diversity was prized and a welcome message was literally inscribed on the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor. The annual number of migrants admitted to the U.S. adjusted up or down periodically. During boom times, immigrants supply much needed labor as the country’s economy grows. During economic downturns, immigrants have been both formally and informally excluded. During the Great Depression, President Hoover specifically restricted immigration from Mexico, and the city of Los Angeles tried to repatriate immigrants who had already settled there from Mexico in order to avoid providing services they needed. Mass deportations of Mexicans were instituted, and the contemptuous term “wetback” became part of the lexicon of the U.S. Government. Willingly or unwillingly, there were more immigrants leaving the U.S. during the Depression than were arriving, counting both legal and undocumented immigrants.

We were fortunate enough to have grown up in the U.S. during the boom times that followed the end of World War II. At that time, the U.S. was flooded with refugees from all over the world. New York City streets rang with a polyglot of languages, as did areas of other large cities. The voracious need for labor at steel mills in South Chicago attracted so many Mexican immigrants that some neighborhoods in the area became like small islands of Mexico surrounded by other ethnic and racial groups. In the following decades, Mexico became the number one source of immigrants to the U.S. For ourselves, as newly-weds in 1963, on a tight graduate student budget, we favored Mexican restaurants for a luxury dinner out.

While raising our children in Los Angeles in the 1970s and early 1980s, our lives were enriched by the local Mexican-American culture. Some families of our kids’ friends were upper-middle class Chicanos whose forebears had lived in the area when it was still Mexico, long before the United States grabbed it. The cafeterias at the local schools served burritos, enchiladas, beans, and rice. Our children spoke Spanglish, and our son, when he worked for the summer on a construction team, brought home choice Spanish words that even now we rarely hear in Mexico. Downtown Los Angeles featured Sundays when girls in their quinceañera gowns were being photographed in Father Serra Park. During school vacations we frequently headed south for carnivals in Tijuana, for whale watching off the Baja Coast, or just to wander around the beautiful Sonoran desert. The border between the U.S. and Mexico was easily navigated in both directions. While camping near California’s Salton Sea, we could decide to drive over the border to Mexicali for dinner and be back in time to bed down in our tents.

Driving through the vast agricultural areas in California, whether at sunrise, during the hot afternoons or toward sunset, we usually sighted Mexican immigrants doing stoop labor in the fields. California was not the only state relying on Mexican immigrants for back-breaking agricultural labor. Name any state producing fruits, vegetables or grains for American consumption or for export, and you will find that the backbone of the industry was primarily provided by Spanish-speaking families from south of the border. The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 – the last major U.S. immigration legislation – in part recognized the contribution made by undocumented immigrants from Mexico by granting the right to apply for legal status to immigrants who had arrived before May 1982 and remained in the U.S. after working in agriculture for 90 days. However, the Act also fined employers who were found to hire undocumented field workers after May 1982.

Even with generally tighter restrictions on hiring undocumented workers, the booming U.S. economy attracted greater numbers of immigrants from Mexico. Between 1990 and 2000, the number grew from over 4 million to over 9 million. This trend ended when the U.S. economy collapsed during the financial recession in 2007. Between 2007 and 2017 the number of undocumented Mexicans living in the U.S. decreased by 2 million people.

The Mexicans who provided Americans with labor that no U.S. citizen would willingly undertake were hardly living the American dream, but their lives were arguably better than they would have been in rural villages or urban ghettos in Mexico. And for the most part, the attitude of Americans in the 20th century was “live and let live.” That is not to say there was no xenophobia; periods of intense xenophobia, overt stereotyping and violence directed against specific ethnic groups of immigrants have occurred regularly. Irish immigrants fleeing the potato famine in the late 19th century were held in contempt and Prohibition was passed in large part as a symbolic means of rejecting their culture. During World War II, Japanese and German descendants of immigrants were vilified, and Japanese families were confined to concentration camps. Even though by 2010 the number of Mexican immigrants had started to decrease, the past decade has seen a period of intensifying xenophobia against them and other immigrant groups.

Two major developments may in part have been responsible for this rise of nationalism and rejection of new immigrants. In Mexico and Central America, drug cartels became increasingly dominant and violent; hundreds and then thousands of people from Mexico and Central America began fleeing for safety to the U.S., flooding the border.

At the same time, the economy in the U.S. dramatically shifted away from manual labor to technology-driven employment. Coal mines closed, ranching and farming became large-scale corporate enterprises, and factories replaced human employees with robots. Large numbers of blue-collar laborers lost their traditional jobs; while many shifted over to the service industry their compensation barely met subsistence requirements. Their American dream had failed and they were angry. Along came Donald Trump who provided them with a scapegoat for their anger.

On the day he announced his run to be President, Trump vilified Mexican immigrants, labelling them criminals and rapists. Candidate Donald Trump proclaimed that, if elected as US President, to keep Mexicans out he would build a big, “beautiful” wall, akin to the Great Wall of China, along the length of the border, and that Mexico would pay for the construction. Leaders in Mexico retorted at times in very colorful language that there was no way Mexico was going to pay for the wall. But blue-collar workers rallied around Trump to the cry, “Build the wall.”

After Trump was elected, he used executive order after executive order in an attempt to put an end to Mexican immigration. The U.S. Congress essentially refused to fund the wall, so Trump ordered the diversion of funds from the Department of Defense, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and other sources to start construction. The wall project continued through his administration, but fell far short of his grandiose plan, mostly replacing sections of the preexisting border wall that had deteriorated in the harsh desert weather.

Trump also ordered the end of the practice of allowing undocumented immigrants who had been arrested by the Border Patrol to remain in the U.S. with relatives or other sponsors until their request for asylum could be adjudicated. Calling this practice by the derogatory term, “catch and release,” the Trump administration ordered that undocumented refugees found on the U.S. side of the border be warehoused in jails and then bussed under guard back to Mexico, where they were unceremoniously dumped in the streets of border cities.

Trump also reduced the annual numbers of people allowed to legally immigrate to the US, reduced the numbers of federal employees processing people applying for visas from Mexico and Central America, and reduced the number of judges to whom refugees could appeal for sanctuary. The whole process that allowed people fleeing from drug wars to legally enter the U.S. was essentially gutted, and those who simply tried to enter the U.S. legally were jailed at the border. When photos of children jailed in cages went viral, Trump had his administration carry out an even more horrendous policy: children were separated from their parents, babies literally ripped from the arms of their mothers, and were taken to remote buildings – essentially warehouses with virtually no one trained in childcare to look after them. The children were later taken to other places in the U.S., and the parents were deported. No system was in place to track the placement of the children, and thousands of them were lost to their families until there was a national outcry. Nonprofit organizations tried to substitute for the government and reunite the children with their parents – but in some cases this was an impossible task.

When COVID became a pandemic, although Trump refused to address COVID as a problem and insisted that the virus would just disappear, he disingenuously used the disease as an excuse to stop virtually any refugee from entering the U.S. while they formally requested visas. Trump struck a bargain with Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) to cooperate in turning back people seeking legal entry into the U.S. and allowing them to stay in Mexico in border cities until the U.S. was ready to process them. Mexican border towns were turned into tent cities – refugee concentration camps – with few if any services. Among those living on the street were thousands of unaccompanied children who had traveled by themselves or small groups together, with telephone numbers or other contact information for relatives or family friends in the U.S.

The only people to benefit from this policy were, first of all, high-level cartel members who were arrested in the U.S. and, instead of standing trial, were returned to Mexico without fear of punishment and, second, “coyotes” – those who for an exorbitant charge guide refugees across the border through tunnels under border walls or by creating breaks in border fences. The horrors experienced by those crossing the border have inspired best-selling novels such as American Dirt, and critically-lauded plays such as Mojada, a Medea in Los Angeles. But real people are still suffering on a daily basis. On Tuesday, March 2, a Ford Explorer with the seats removed carried 25 people through a breach in the border wall in the southeast corner of California. The Explorer headed west and pulled onto CA Route 115 in front of a semi hauling two empty trailers. The crash killed 13 people in the Explorer; one woman, knocked unconscious, woke up to find her dead daughter stretched across her lap.

Trump also reduced the annual numbers of people allowed to legally immigrate to the US, reduced the numbers of federal employees processing people applying for visas from Mexico and Central America, and reduced the number of judges to whom refugees could appeal for sanctuary. The whole process that allowed people fleeing from drug wars to legally enter the U.S. was essentially gutted, and those who simply tried to enter the U.S. legally were jailed at the border. When photos of children jailed in cages went viral, Trump had his administration carry out an even more horrendous policy: children were separated from their parents, babies literally ripped from the arms of their mothers, and were taken to remote buildings – essentially warehouses with virtually no one trained in childcare to look after them. The children were later taken to other places in the U.S., and the parents were deported. No system was in place to track the placement of the children, and thousands of them were lost to their families until there was a national outcry. Nonprofit organizations tried to substitute for the government and reunite the children with their parents – but in some cases this was an impossible task.

When COVID became a pandemic, although Trump refused to address COVID as a problem and insisted that the virus would just disappear, he disingenuously used the disease as an excuse to stop virtually any refugee from entering the U.S. while they formally requested visas. Trump struck a bargain with Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) to cooperate in turning back people seeking legal entry into the U.S. and allowing them to stay in Mexico in border cities until the U.S. was ready to process them. Mexican border towns were turned into tent cities – refugee concentration camps – with few if any services. Among those living on the street were thousands of unaccompanied children who had traveled by themselves or small groups together, with telephone numbers or other contact information for relatives or family friends in the U.S.

The only people to benefit from this policy were, first of all, high-level cartel members who were arrested in the U.S. and, instead of standing trial, were returned to Mexico without fear of punishment and, second, “coyotes” – those who for an exorbitant charge guide refugees across the border through tunnels under border walls or by creating breaks in border fences. The horrors experienced by those crossing the border have inspired best-selling novels such as American Dirt, and critically-lauded plays such as Mojada, a Medea in Los Angeles. But real people are still suffering on a daily basis. On Tuesday, March 2, a Ford Explorer with the seats removed carried 25 people through a breach in the border wall in the southeast corner of California. The Explorer headed west and pulled onto CA Route 115 in front of a semi hauling two empty trailers. The crash killed 13 people in the Explorer; one woman, knocked unconscious, woke up to find her dead daughter stretched across her lap.

Trump also reduced the annual numbers of people allowed to legally immigrate to the US, reduced the numbers of federal employees processing people applying for visas from Mexico and Central America, and reduced the number of judges to whom refugees could appeal for sanctuary. The whole process that allowed people fleeing from drug wars to legally enter the U.S. was essentially gutted, and those who simply tried to enter the U.S. legally were jailed at the border. When photos of children jailed in cages went viral, Trump had his administration carry out an even more horrendous policy: children were separated from their parents, babies literally ripped from the arms of their mothers, and were taken to remote buildings – essentially warehouses with virtually no one trained in childcare to look after them. The children were later taken to other places in the U.S., and the parents were deported. No system was in place to track the placement of the children, and thousands of them were lost to their families until there was a national outcry. Nonprofit organizations tried to substitute for the government and reunite the children with their parents – but in some cases this was an impossible task.

When COVID became a pandemic, although Trump refused to address COVID as a problem and insisted that the virus would just disappear, he disingenuously used the disease as an excuse to stop virtually any refugee from entering the U.S. while they formally requested visas. Trump struck a bargain with Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) to cooperate in turning back people seeking legal entry into the U.S. and allowing them to stay in Mexico in border cities until the U.S. was ready to process them. Mexican border towns were turned into tent cities – refugee concentration camps – with few if any services. Among those living on the street were thousands of unaccompanied children who had traveled by themselves or small groups together, with telephone numbers or other contact information for relatives or family friends in the U.S.

The only people to benefit from this policy were, first of all, high-level cartel members who were arrested in the U.S. and, instead of standing trial, were returned to Mexico without fear of punishment and, second, “coyotes” – those who for an exorbitant charge guide refugees across the border through tunnels under border walls or by creating breaks in border fences. The horrors experienced by those crossing the border have inspired best-selling novels such as American Dirt, and critically-lauded plays such as Mojada, a Medea in Los Angeles. But real people are still suffering on a daily basis. On Tuesday, March 2, a Ford Explorer with the seats removed carried 25 people through a breach in the border wall in the southeast corner of California. The Explorer headed west and pulled onto CA Route 115 in front of a semi hauling two empty trailers. The crash killed 13 people in the Explorer; one woman, knocked unconscious, woke up to find her dead daughter stretched across her lap.

Trump also reduced the annual numbers of people allowed to legally immigrate to the US, reduced the numbers of federal employees processing people applying for visas from Mexico and Central America, and reduced the number of judges to whom refugees could appeal for sanctuary. The whole process that allowed people fleeing from drug wars to legally enter the U.S. was essentially gutted, and those who simply tried to enter the U.S. legally were jailed at the border. When photos of children jailed in cages went viral, Trump had his administration carry out an even more horrendous policy: children were separated from their parents, babies literally ripped from the arms of their mothers, and were taken to remote buildings – essentially warehouses with virtually no one trained in childcare to look after them. The children were later taken to other places in the U.S., and the parents were deported. No system was in place to track the placement of the children, and thousands of them were lost to their families until there was a national outcry. Nonprofit organizations tried to substitute for the government and reunite the children with their parents – but in some cases this was an impossible task.

When COVID became a pandemic, although Trump refused to address COVID as a problem and insisted that the virus would just disappear, he disingenuously used the disease as an excuse to stop virtually any refugee from entering the U.S. while they formally requested visas. Trump struck a bargain with Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) to cooperate in turning back people seeking legal entry into the U.S. and allowing them to stay in Mexico in border cities until the U.S. was ready to process them. Mexican border towns were turned into tent cities – refugee concentration camps – with few if any services. Among those living on the street were thousands of unaccompanied children who had traveled by themselves or small groups together, with telephone numbers or other contact information for relatives or family friends in the U.S.

The only people to benefit from this policy were, first of all, high-level cartel members who were arrested in the U.S. and, instead of standing trial, were returned to Mexico without fear of punishment and, second, “coyotes” – those who for an exorbitant charge guide refugees across the border through tunnels under border walls or by creating breaks in border fences. The horrors experienced by those crossing the border have inspired best-selling novels such as American Dirt, and critically-lauded plays such as Mojada, a Medea in Los Angeles. But real people are still suffering on a daily basis. On Tuesday, March 2, a Ford Explorer with the seats removed carried 25 people through a breach in the border wall in the southeast corner of California. The Explorer headed west and pulled onto CA Route 115 in front of a semi hauling two empty trailers. The crash killed 13 people in the Explorer; one woman, knocked unconscious, woke up to find her dead daughter stretched across her lap.

Trump also reduced the annual numbers of people allowed to legally immigrate to the US, reduced the numbers of federal employees processing people applying for visas from Mexico and Central America, and reduced the number of judges to whom refugees could appeal for sanctuary. The whole process that allowed people fleeing from drug wars to legally enter the U.S. was essentially gutted, and those who simply tried to enter the U.S. legally were jailed at the border. When photos of children jailed in cages went viral, Trump had his administration carry out an even more horrendous policy: children were separated from their parents, babies literally ripped from the arms of their mothers, and were taken to remote buildings – essentially warehouses with virtually no one trained in childcare to look after them. The children were later taken to other places in the U.S., and the parents were deported. No system was in place to track the placement of the children, and thousands of them were lost to their families until there was a national outcry. Nonprofit organizations tried to substitute for the government and reunite the children with their parents – but in some cases this was an impossible task.

When COVID became a pandemic, although Trump refused to address COVID as a problem and insisted that the virus would just disappear, he disingenuously used the disease as an excuse to stop virtually any refugee from entering the U.S. while they formally requested visas. Trump struck a bargain with Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) to cooperate in turning back people seeking legal entry into the U.S. and allowing them to stay in Mexico in border cities until the U.S. was ready to process them. Mexican border towns were turned into tent cities – refugee concentration camps – with few if any services. Among those living on the street were thousands of unaccompanied children who had traveled by themselves or small groups together, with telephone numbers or other contact information for relatives or family friends in the U.S.

The only people to benefit from this policy were, first of all, high-level cartel members who were arrested in the U.S. and, instead of standing trial, were returned to Mexico without fear of punishment and, second, “coyotes” – those who for an exorbitant charge guide refugees across the border through tunnels under border walls or by creating breaks in border fences. The horrors experienced by those crossing the border have inspired best-selling novels such as American Dirt, and critically-lauded plays such as Mojada, a Medea in Los Angeles. But real people are still suffering on a daily basis. On Tuesday, March 2, a Ford Explorer with the seats removed carried 25 people through a breach in the border wall in the southeast corner of California. The Explorer headed west and pulled onto CA Route 115 in front of a semi hauling two empty trailers. The crash killed 13 people in the Explorer; one woman, knocked unconscious, woke up to find her dead daughter stretched across her lap.

The only people to benefit from this policy were, first of all, high-level cartel members who were arrested in the U.S. and, instead of standing trial, were returned to Mexico without fear of punishment and, second, “coyotes” – those who for an exorbitant charge guide refugees across the border through tunnels under border walls or by creating breaks in border fences. The horrors experienced by those crossing the border have inspired best-selling novels such as American Dirt, and critically-lauded plays such as Mojada, a Medea in Los Angeles. But real people are still suffering on a daily basis. On Tuesday, March 2, a Ford Explorer with the seats removed carried 25 people through a breach in the border wall in the southeast corner of California. The Explorer headed west and pulled onto CA Route 115 in front of a semi hauling two empty trailers. The crash killed 13 people in the Explorer; one woman, knocked unconscious, woke up to find her dead daughter stretched across her lap.

The only people to benefit from this policy were, first of all, high-level cartel members who were arrested in the U.S. and, instead of standing trial, were returned to Mexico without fear of punishment and, second, “coyotes” – those who for an exorbitant charge guide refugees across the border through tunnels under border walls or by creating breaks in border fences. The horrors experienced by those crossing the border have inspired best-selling novels such as American Dirt, and critically-lauded plays such as Mojada, a Medea in Los Angeles. But real people are still suffering on a daily basis. On Tuesday, March 2, a Ford Explorer with the seats removed carried 25 people through a breach in the border wall in the southeast corner of California. The Explorer headed west and pulled onto CA Route 115 in front of a semi hauling two empty trailers. The crash killed 13 people in the Explorer; one woman, knocked unconscious, woke up to find her dead daughter stretched across her lap.

The only people to benefit from this policy were, first of all, high-level cartel members who were arrested in the U.S. and, instead of standing trial, were returned to Mexico without fear of punishment and, second, “coyotes” – those who for an exorbitant charge guide refugees across the border through tunnels under border walls or by creating breaks in border fences. The horrors experienced by those crossing the border have inspired best-selling novels such as American Dirt, and critically-lauded plays such as Mojada, a Medea in Los Angeles. But real people are still suffering on a daily basis. On Tuesday, March 2, a Ford Explorer with the seats removed carried 25 people through a breach in the border wall in the southeast corner of California. The Explorer headed west and pulled onto CA Route 115 in front of a semi hauling two empty trailers. The crash killed 13 people in the Explorer; one woman, knocked unconscious, woke up to find her dead daughter stretched across her lap.

The only people to benefit from this policy were, first of all, high-level cartel members who were arrested in the U.S. and, instead of standing trial, were returned to Mexico without fear of punishment and, second, “coyotes” – those who for an exorbitant charge guide refugees across the border through tunnels under border walls or by creating breaks in border fences. The horrors experienced by those crossing the border have inspired best-selling novels such as American Dirt, and critically-lauded plays such as Mojada, a Medea in Los Angeles. But real people are still suffering on a daily basis. On Tuesday, March 2, a Ford Explorer with the seats removed carried 25 people through a breach in the border wall in the southeast corner of California. The Explorer headed west and pulled onto CA Route 115 in front of a semi hauling two empty trailers. The crash killed 13 people in the Explorer; one woman, knocked unconscious, woke up to find her dead daughter stretched across her lap.

One of the primary issues raised during the 2020 U.S. Presidential elections concerned the conditions and policies in place at the Mexican-U.S. border. While Trump supporters were still chanting “Build the Wall,” Biden supporters were crying, “No more children in cages.” As a candidate, Biden promised to overturn the executive orders Trump had signed that created egregious conditions at the border and to submit a comprehensive immigration bill for legislation – the first in thirty-five years. That promise was fulfilled on Inauguration Day, as President Biden began signing the promised executive orders returning the U.S. border to a place where refugees can be treated with dignity and just practices. One order specifically stated:

The long tradition of the United States as a leader in refugee resettlement provides a beacon of hope for persecuted people around the world. … Through the United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP), the Federal Government, cooperating with private partners and American citizens in communities across the country, demonstrates the generosity and core values of our Nation, while benefitting from the many contributions that refugees make to our country. Accordingly, it shall be the policy of my Administration that … USRAP should be rebuilt and expanded, commensurate with global need. … Delays in administering USRAP and other humanitarian programs are counter to our national interests, can raise grave humanitarian concerns, and should be minimized.

On his first day in office President Biden also submitted The U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, which “establishes a new system to responsibly manage and secure our border, keep our families and communities safe, and better manage migration across the Hemisphere.” Specific measures delineate staff and resources to ameliorate the humanitarian crisis on the U.S.-Mexican Border, and procedures for encouraging refugees to apply for and receive visas to the enter the U.S. long before they reach the border.

But the job is daunting. Thousands of unaccompanied children are arriving on the border every day. Given that Trump eviscerated the entire system for humanely and rapidly processing people seeking sanctuary on the border, the whole process needs to be built back. While the new administration is working as rapidly as government agencies can, many agencies are heavily involved in addressing the immediate needs of asylum seekers, in particular children living in federal facilities or on the streets in border towns. One measure in place is a promise to the children’s contacts in the U.S. that their own documentation status will not lead to negative consequences if they come to claim the children and care for them. Another telling example of the difference that is currently taking place at the border is the role of FEMA; rather than expropriating FEMA funds for building a largely ineffectual wall, FEMA staff, trained to provide humanitarian aid after natural catastrophes, are now using their resources and skills to alleviate the humanitarian crises caused by human forces on both sides of the border.

One of the primary issues raised during the 2020 U.S. Presidential elections concerned the conditions and policies in place at the Mexican-U.S. border. While Trump supporters were still chanting “Build the Wall,” Biden supporters were crying, “No more children in cages.” As a candidate, Biden promised to overturn the executive orders Trump had signed that created egregious conditions at the border and to submit a comprehensive immigration bill for legislation – the first in thirty-five years. That promise was fulfilled on Inauguration Day, as President Biden began signing the promised executive orders returning the U.S. border to a place where refugees can be treated with dignity and just practices. One order specifically stated:

The long tradition of the United States as a leader in refugee resettlement provides a beacon of hope for persecuted people around the world. … Through the United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP), the Federal Government, cooperating with private partners and American citizens in communities across the country, demonstrates the generosity and core values of our Nation, while benefitting from the many contributions that refugees make to our country. Accordingly, it shall be the policy of my Administration that … USRAP should be rebuilt and expanded, commensurate with global need. … Delays in administering USRAP and other humanitarian programs are counter to our national interests, can raise grave humanitarian concerns, and should be minimized.

On his first day in office President Biden also submitted The U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, which “establishes a new system to responsibly manage and secure our border, keep our families and communities safe, and better manage migration across the Hemisphere.” Specific measures delineate staff and resources to ameliorate the humanitarian crisis on the U.S.-Mexican Border, and procedures for encouraging refugees to apply for and receive visas to the enter the U.S. long before they reach the border.

But the job is daunting. Thousands of unaccompanied children are arriving on the border every day. Given that Trump eviscerated the entire system for humanely and rapidly processing people seeking sanctuary on the border, the whole process needs to be built back. While the new administration is working as rapidly as government agencies can, many agencies are heavily involved in addressing the immediate needs of asylum seekers, in particular children living in federal facilities or on the streets in border towns. One measure in place is a promise to the children’s contacts in the U.S. that their own documentation status will not lead to negative consequences if they come to claim the children and care for them. Another telling example of the difference that is currently taking place at the border is the role of FEMA; rather than expropriating FEMA funds for building a largely ineffectual wall, FEMA staff, trained to provide humanitarian aid after natural catastrophes, are now using their resources and skills to alleviate the humanitarian crises caused by human forces on both sides of the border.

One of the primary issues raised during the 2020 U.S. Presidential elections concerned the conditions and policies in place at the Mexican-U.S. border. While Trump supporters were still chanting “Build the Wall,” Biden supporters were crying, “No more children in cages.” As a candidate, Biden promised to overturn the executive orders Trump had signed that created egregious conditions at the border and to submit a comprehensive immigration bill for legislation – the first in thirty-five years. That promise was fulfilled on Inauguration Day, as President Biden began signing the promised executive orders returning the U.S. border to a place where refugees can be treated with dignity and just practices. One order specifically stated:

The long tradition of the United States as a leader in refugee resettlement provides a beacon of hope for persecuted people around the world. … Through the United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP), the Federal Government, cooperating with private partners and American citizens in communities across the country, demonstrates the generosity and core values of our Nation, while benefitting from the many contributions that refugees make to our country. Accordingly, it shall be the policy of my Administration that … USRAP should be rebuilt and expanded, commensurate with global need. … Delays in administering USRAP and other humanitarian programs are counter to our national interests, can raise grave humanitarian concerns, and should be minimized.

On his first day in office President Biden also submitted The U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, which “establishes a new system to responsibly manage and secure our border, keep our families and communities safe, and better manage migration across the Hemisphere.” Specific measures delineate staff and resources to ameliorate the humanitarian crisis on the U.S.-Mexican Border, and procedures for encouraging refugees to apply for and receive visas to the enter the U.S. long before they reach the border.

But the job is daunting. Thousands of unaccompanied children are arriving on the border every day. Given that Trump eviscerated the entire system for humanely and rapidly processing people seeking sanctuary on the border, the whole process needs to be built back. While the new administration is working as rapidly as government agencies can, many agencies are heavily involved in addressing the immediate needs of asylum seekers, in particular children living in federal facilities or on the streets in border towns. One measure in place is a promise to the children’s contacts in the U.S. that their own documentation status will not lead to negative consequences if they come to claim the children and care for them. Another telling example of the difference that is currently taking place at the border is the role of FEMA; rather than expropriating FEMA funds for building a largely ineffectual wall, FEMA staff, trained to provide humanitarian aid after natural catastrophes, are now using their resources and skills to alleviate the humanitarian crises caused by human forces on both sides of the border.

One of the primary issues raised during the 2020 U.S. Presidential elections concerned the conditions and policies in place at the Mexican-U.S. border. While Trump supporters were still chanting “Build the Wall,” Biden supporters were crying, “No more children in cages.” As a candidate, Biden promised to overturn the executive orders Trump had signed that created egregious conditions at the border and to submit a comprehensive immigration bill for legislation – the first in thirty-five years. That promise was fulfilled on Inauguration Day, as President Biden began signing the promised executive orders returning the U.S. border to a place where refugees can be treated with dignity and just practices. One order specifically stated:

The long tradition of the United States as a leader in refugee resettlement provides a beacon of hope for persecuted people around the world. … Through the United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP), the Federal Government, cooperating with private partners and American citizens in communities across the country, demonstrates the generosity and core values of our Nation, while benefitting from the many contributions that refugees make to our country. Accordingly, it shall be the policy of my Administration that … USRAP should be rebuilt and expanded, commensurate with global need. … Delays in administering USRAP and other humanitarian programs are counter to our national interests, can raise grave humanitarian concerns, and should be minimized.

On his first day in office President Biden also submitted The U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, which “establishes a new system to responsibly manage and secure our border, keep our families and communities safe, and better manage migration across the Hemisphere.” Specific measures delineate staff and resources to ameliorate the humanitarian crisis on the U.S.-Mexican Border, and procedures for encouraging refugees to apply for and receive visas to the enter the U.S. long before they reach the border.

But the job is daunting. Thousands of unaccompanied children are arriving on the border every day. Given that Trump eviscerated the entire system for humanely and rapidly processing people seeking sanctuary on the border, the whole process needs to be built back. While the new administration is working as rapidly as government agencies can, many agencies are heavily involved in addressing the immediate needs of asylum seekers, in particular children living in federal facilities or on the streets in border towns. One measure in place is a promise to the children’s contacts in the U.S. that their own documentation status will not lead to negative consequences if they come to claim the children and care for them. Another telling example of the difference that is currently taking place at the border is the role of FEMA; rather than expropriating FEMA funds for building a largely ineffectual wall, FEMA staff, trained to provide humanitarian aid after natural catastrophes, are now using their resources and skills to alleviate the humanitarian crises caused by human forces on both sides of the border.

But the job is daunting. Thousands of unaccompanied children are arriving on the border every day. Given that Trump eviscerated the entire system for humanely and rapidly processing people seeking sanctuary on the border, the whole process needs to be built back. While the new administration is working as rapidly as government agencies can, many agencies are heavily involved in addressing the immediate needs of asylum seekers, in particular children living in federal facilities or on the streets in border towns. One measure in place is a promise to the children’s contacts in the U.S. that their own documentation status will not lead to negative consequences if they come to claim the children and care for them. Another telling example of the difference that is currently taking place at the border is the role of FEMA; rather than expropriating FEMA funds for building a largely ineffectual wall, FEMA staff, trained to provide humanitarian aid after natural catastrophes, are now using their resources and skills to alleviate the humanitarian crises caused by human forces on both sides of the border.

But the job is daunting. Thousands of unaccompanied children are arriving on the border every day. Given that Trump eviscerated the entire system for humanely and rapidly processing people seeking sanctuary on the border, the whole process needs to be built back. While the new administration is working as rapidly as government agencies can, many agencies are heavily involved in addressing the immediate needs of asylum seekers, in particular children living in federal facilities or on the streets in border towns. One measure in place is a promise to the children’s contacts in the U.S. that their own documentation status will not lead to negative consequences if they come to claim the children and care for them. Another telling example of the difference that is currently taking place at the border is the role of FEMA; rather than expropriating FEMA funds for building a largely ineffectual wall, FEMA staff, trained to provide humanitarian aid after natural catastrophes, are now using their resources and skills to alleviate the humanitarian crises caused by human forces on both sides of the border.

But the job is daunting. Thousands of unaccompanied children are arriving on the border every day. Given that Trump eviscerated the entire system for humanely and rapidly processing people seeking sanctuary on the border, the whole process needs to be built back. While the new administration is working as rapidly as government agencies can, many agencies are heavily involved in addressing the immediate needs of asylum seekers, in particular children living in federal facilities or on the streets in border towns. One measure in place is a promise to the children’s contacts in the U.S. that their own documentation status will not lead to negative consequences if they come to claim the children and care for them. Another telling example of the difference that is currently taking place at the border is the role of FEMA; rather than expropriating FEMA funds for building a largely ineffectual wall, FEMA staff, trained to provide humanitarian aid after natural catastrophes, are now using their resources and skills to alleviate the humanitarian crises caused by human forces on both sides of the border.

Women and Water

By Brooke Gazer

From the comfort of Huatulco’s first-world development, it is hard to imagine that there are places in the state without access to water. But this is not an uncommon problem – over a third of Mexican households lack potable water, 2 million households have no water at all, and over 10 million receive water only every few days. Often the lack of water has “deep roots,” going back to land disputes that can go back to Spanish rule. For many communities throughout the Oaxacan Sierra, water is an all-consuming daily concern.

One of these communities is San Pedro y San Pablo Ayutla Mixe, a town located about 123 kilometers (75 miles) east of Oaxaca City, with over five thousand residents (2010 census); about 87% of the residents live in poverty.

You might wonder why a town would develop without a viable score of water? The answer is that it did not. Originally the residents drew water from pipes connected to a natural spring, but rural Oaxaca is rife with complicated land and water disputes. The one between Ayutla and Tamazulapám del Espíritu Santo is only one of three hundred in the state. When this dispute reached a violent climax in 2017, Ayutla lost access to the spring they relied on. Hauling water is currently the only alternative the residents have to survive.

For families in the Sierra, roles are clearly defined. Men labor in their fields, or travel away from home to take jobs on construction sites. Providing water for the family is women’s work. To meet the minimum needs of her family, each woman hauls an average of ten buckets per day. Ten buckets. If the bucket held eight liters (a little more than two gallons) it would weigh over 17 pounds. This would mean five grueling trips, carrying two buckets weighing roughly 35 pounds per trip.

The well is located 40 minutes into the forest, but the difficulty is not just the distance. It is downhill to the well. On their return, these women must carry their burden uphill, possibly on their shoulder or with a rope around their forehead. It is likely some can only carry one, which might mean ten trips, or smaller buckets. Half of a women’s day may be consumed just hauling water.

Ten buckets of eight liters would provide her family with 80 liters per day, less if the buckets are smaller. With care, she could boil black beans, prepare dough for corn tortillas, wash dishes and clothing and reuse wash water for bathing. To put this into perspective, in Mexico City, the average daily water consumption per person is 150 liters.

Life has always been hard for rural women in the selva (forest). This backbreaking chore is over and above her normal household duties, which are all performed without electricity or any modern conveniences. But for the past year, the coronavirus pandemic has placed an added burden to her nearly impossible routine. Extra water is required as everyone must wash their hands more frequently and to wipe and disinfect high-touched surfaces. This requires additional arduous trips to the well each day.

It has been over four years since this community was denied access to the spring that brought water into the town. Even understanding that this is a poor community with limited resources, one might still ask – was there no way to install a pump and a pipe from the current water supply? There may be two possible answers to this question. One might revolve around precarious land and water claims, preventing the town from installing any infrastructure surrounding the water source. The other could be that in these communities, men make the decisions regarding how resources are used … and it is women who haul the water.

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

Malinche and the Spanish Conquest of Mexico

By Randy Jackson

Up until 500 years ago, the civilizations of Mesoamerica and Europe had been unknown to each other, completely unconnected since the beginnings of human history. But on November 8, 1519, representatives of these two vastly different civilizations met face to face for the first time. They met on a causeway of the splendorous city of Tenochtitlán (now Mexico City).

There now exist many imagined illustrations of this historical event. Any such illustration is without merit unless it shows one of the most important people at that moment. The one person who could enable the representatives of these two civilizations to communicate. That person was a woman known as Malinche. She was the one person on earth who could speak both the language of the Aztec emperor Moctezuma, and the European language of the upstart conqueror Cortés.

Moctezuma and members of his court would have referred to this woman as Malintzin, as ‘tzin’ in Nahuatl denotes honour to the person. Malintzin / Malinche (Doña María to the Spanish) was more than a mere translator. She was from a family of high social standing. She was educated, she was trained in negotiation, and she had a tremendous ability to speak and learn new languages. And in a stroke of bizarre good luck for the Conquistadors, Malinche was a slave to the Mayan peoples when Cortés landed in what is now Mexico.

As Cortés approached the Caribbean coast of Mexico, he presumed he was arriving at a large island like Cuba. He was expecting the peoples of this land to be similar to those of Cuba and Dominica. He could not have imagined a land with a flourishing civilization, with roads and cities, with markets and armies, with engineers and tax collectors. Cortés, without any information about this society and its structures, might not have succeeded in his base desires for gold, conquest, and adventure. Cortés did not know it upon arrival, but he needed someone versed in the workings of this civilization, someone who understood the different peoples, languages, and societal structures, someone who could negotiate with the different peoples of this land. Malinche was uniquely qualified for this.

Upon their arrival in the Yucatan in 1519, after some initial skirmishes with the Mayans, the Spanish were given twenty women slaves to appease them and to secure an alliance. Among the women slaves, they immediately recognized that Malinche was special. Cortés was told of Malinche’s royal heritage. Bernal Díaz, a conquistador with Cortés, noted in his book The True History of the Conquest of New Spain, that Malinche’s noble heritage was very evident in her appearance and demeanor.

When Cortés arrived in the Yucatán, there were two Spaniards who survived a 1511 shipwreck, one was Gerónimo de Aguilar. He was presented to Cortés by the Mayans. By this time Aguilar had learned to speak the Mayan language. Cortés quickly realized that with Aguilar speaking Mayan, and Malinche’s ability to speak Mayan and other Mexican languages, he could communicate with, and learn about, the different peoples of Mexico, and use that knowledge to his advantage.

Besides Díaz’s book, there are few historical documents that provide the scant history of the person we know as Malinche. She was likely born in the year 1500. Evidence of Malinche’s privileged class rests in part with her ability to speak the royal court language of Tecpillatolli (“lordly speech”) which is significantly different from the common tongue. It was the language spoken by Moctezuma. Before the Spanish conquest, children of elite families of Mexico were educated starting at the age of seven. Girls and boys were taught Tecpillatolli, along with such subjects as geometry and religion. They were also taught negotiation and public speaking, as these skills were central to the functioning of their society. Malinche’s negotiations for Cortés have often been cited as significant in helping him obtain allies to oppose the Aztecs.

Around the age of twelve, Malinche’s father died and her mother remarried. Bernal Díaz wrote that Malinche was sold into slavery to favor the male child of her mother’s new marriage. Díaz reports that Malinche was taken away at night to avoid social censure of her parents. For seven years, until the time of Cortés’s arrival, Malinche was traded or exchanged as a slave. Women were often given as gifts or traded to secure alliances between groups, and Malinche would have been seen as a prize gift. She was 19 years old when she was given to Cortés. By the time Cortés met Moctezuma, 10 months later, Malinche could speak Spanish.

The significance of Malinche’s role in the conquest of Mexico seems indisputable. Various codices (contemporary illustrated manuscripts) depict Malinche being as significant a figure as either Cortés or Moctezuma. In fact, Moctezuma referred to Cortés as Malintzin. The life-story, talents, and courage of this intriguing woman suggests a person with real strength of character. All of Malinche’s strengths worked to Cortés’s advantage. The military advantages of Spanish guns, steel and horses would not have been sufficient to defeat the Aztecs without the help of tens of thousands of warriors from alliances – alliances negotiated by Malinche.

After the conquest and after having a son by Malinche, Cortés “gave” her to one of his officers: Juan de Jaramillo. Jaramillo married Malinche and together they had a daughter. Then in 1528 at the age of 28, Malanche died of a European disease along with tens of millions of her countrymen. There are no records of the words of Malinche, only a few second-hand accounts of her role in the Spanish Conquest.

Through the succeeding centuries the mythic Malinche has been interpreted in various ways. To the Spanish she was portrayed as the Mother of New Spain. To Mexicans, starting around the time of the struggle for independence from Spain, Malinche was seen as a traitor. In fact, the word malinchista, still used today, is an insult, meaning a traitor and a fornicator with foreigners.

Before the Spanish Conquest, the peoples of Mesoamerica did not see themselves as one people commonly opposed to this new European group. They were Tlaxcalans, or Aztecs or Mayans, or one of many very different groups that had distinctly different languages and were often in conflict with each other. In this context how should Malinche be remembered? As a traitor – to whom? She was a woman who was traded (no doubt raped and abused) by different groups until February 1519, when one of these groups gave Malinche to this new group – the Spaniards.

All interpretations of Malinche seem self-serving. To those who sought independence from Spain she represented a traitor. To the Catholic Church, Malinche was a temptress like Eve in the Garden of Eden – Diego Rivera portrayed her in an Aztec market, crowned with callas (an erotic symbol) and lifting her skirts, in one of the murals in the National Palace in Mexico City. To the Spanish Malinche represented the romantic notion that she was the mother of New Spain, or romantic partner of Cortés. In fact, Cortés had 4 children (that we know of) with different women of Mexico – two of which were with Moctozuma’s daughters.

None of these interpretations seem to hold any respect for this central person in such a fascinating chapter in the course of human history. Malinche was a woman of her times. Someone who used her unique talents, education and experience. She overcame unimaginable obstacles when discarded by her noble family and traded as a slave. She acted with agency in creating her own mark on the history of the world. Now, 500 years later, the life and experiences of this remarkable woman stands as one of the most enthralling characters in the Spanish Conquest of Mexico.

Women, Females, Chickens, Hens

By Julie Etra

Last February, just as COVID 19 was showing its lumpy, spherical, and toxic configuration in the United States, we left Huatulco for a month on a trip to Africa. One component of the trip was a visit to the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park in Uganda; the park is home to a population of the dwindling mountain gorillas. This park is just a few hours north of Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. Uganda, located on the African equator, is much poorer than neighboring Rwanda, and is currently governed by the apparently self-appointed President for Life Yoweri Museveni.

Geopolitical details aside, we were very anxious and excited to closely observe these special vegetarians in their native habitat, high in the equatorial cloud forest. The tours are extremely well organized, with a maximum of seven visitors, led by a guide and flanked in the front and back with minimally armed guards to scare off the jungle elephants. We were also offered the services of a porter, for an additional price, to help carry our packs, etc., and to hold our gear as we approached the gorillas and avoid making unnecessary noise.

After an arduous four-hour hike deep into the forest, our trackers had indeed located a silverback and two of his offspring, male and female, about two to three years old. We were allowed an hour of wonder, well worth the planning, the expense and the journey. Porters, as it turned out, were indispensable, the least of which was to help us carry our gear. The hike through the cloud forest was difficult, often steep, slippery and muddy. When I saw the guides were all wearing rubber boots, I thought to myself: hmmm I have the wrong boots. My porter helped me negotiate the mud and rocks, pointing out where to place my feet and helping me to maintain my balance.

After our magical hour with the silverback and his kids, we were told by our guides hey, no worries, we will take the short cut back, a less arduous route. NOT, at least not for me! The final river crossing was very difficult, as my sense of balance is not great, but I was additionally assisted by another strong young porter, with whom I became friends, Abaho Jason. After the last haul up a muddy steep slope, we obtained our certificates, and loaded into the Land Cruisers. Abaho approached me through the open window in the back, and asked for my WhatsApp address. Why not? I said to myself. Can’t hurt.

I heard from him in March 2020, and frankly I was confused since I thought he was my original porter, Ngabirano Justus, but sorting through photos and with his clarification, I recognized him as the last porter from the last crossing and again at the Land Cruiser. Of course, we all realized a bit later that COVID19 would have a huge impact on ecotourism, and that these communities depend on tourist dollars for both their own and the gorillas’ survival (other than the gorillas, sounds like Huatulco) and it was obvious that he and his village, Rubuguri, Uganda, would need help. I sent the first wire for the purchase of corn porridge for the village (first connection with Mexico!) and received photos and messages of gratitude. This evolved to the establishment of big cabbage and potato gardens.

I continue to get reliable correspondence, all in English, not in Rukiga, the common language of the region, which comes from Bantu roots. He indicated he needed to do something different and wanted to raise chickens, in addition to the new gardens. So next we helped him with resources to build a hen house, after which he would purchase hens and a rooster. Then the camera on his phone died, oh no! – and I really wanted to see the hens and the rooster, so the new phone was next.

Ten hens, and now we circle back to women, females, hens. I asked Abaho if I could name the hens, and he said, sure! Although there are barriers to women’s participation in Ugandan politics and the situation is culturally complex (as it is everywhere!), there would certainly be enough well-known women to name all the hens. The Right Honorable Rebecca Alitwala Kadaga, for example, is Speaker of the Parliament, the first woman to be elected to the position – the third highest position in Uganda’s national leadership (she was Deputy Speaker for a decade before that).

When Abajo said sure, I could name the hens, he added, “But please – in English,” so I took the opportunity to teach a little US history, and about current and recent very strong and smart women in government. Accomplished, fearless, compelling life stories, and diverse backgrounds. I also had in mind that the US is a nation of immigrants, and my friend lives in a community where his people have lived for thousands of years, and it presented an opportunity for me to learn a little more about women I admire, and to share that admiration, albeit perhaps not resonating with Abaho, with more important things to do. So here they are, in no particular order, and if you are not from the US I have added a few sentences about each “womhen.”

Kamala for Kamala Harris. Current Vice President, former senator and Attorney General for the State of California, graduate of Howard University and the University of California School of Law, and of Asian and African American descent.

Ruth for Ruth Bader Ginsberg, recently deceased Supreme Court Justice, graduate of Cornell and Columbia Law School, brilliant scholar, and pioneer for gender equality and of Jewish descent (Russian and Polish immigrants).

Amy for Amy Klobuchar, senator from the State of Minnesota and ex Presidential candidate. She is an attorney and graduate of Yale University and the University of Chicago and is of Swiss and Slovenian ancestry.

Elizabeth, for Elizabeth Warren. She is a senator from Massachusetts, a graduate of the University of Houston and of Rutgers Law School, and is a well-known progressive with particular focus on consumer protection and equal economic opportunity. Like everyone in the USA she is from immigrant roots, but not recent. Her great, great, great, grandmother was part native American, not unusual for families that have been in the US for generations.

Stacy, for Stacy Abrams. This African American woman, although she narrowly lost the last race for governor of the state of Georgia in 2018, was largely responsible for increasing voter turnout and changing the state from red (Republican) to blue (Democratic) with the election of a Democratic president and two Democratic senators, thus shifting power in the United States Senate. Educated as a lawyer, she is a representative in the Georgia House and holds degrees from Spelman College, University of Texas, and Yale.

Nancy, for Nancy Pelosi. She is currently Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and has represented the state of California since 1987; she is the only woman in U.S. history to serve as Speaker and, until Kamala Harris came along, the highest-ranking female elected official in United States history. She is the daughter of an Italian immigrant mother and Italian American father, and a graduate of Trinity College.

Hillary, for Hillary Clinton. Clinton has long served in public office as the former Secretary of State and the first female senator from the State of New York. Of English, Welsh, Scottish, Dutch, and French descent (we call this Heinz 57), she graduated from Wellesley College and the Yale School of Law. As the former First Lady, she advocated for health care reform and universal coverage.

Elena, for Elena Kagan. She is a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, obviously an attorney by training. Of Russian Jewish ancestry, she holds degrees from Princeton, Oxford, and the Harvard School of Law.

Sonia, for Sonia Sotomayor. She is also a Supreme Court justice, holds degrees from Princeton and Yale School of Law, and is of Puerto Rican descent. She reflected in 1998: “I was going to college and I was going to become an attorney, and I knew that when I was ten.”

Michelle for Michelle Obama, the first African American First Lady and outspoken advocate for poverty awareness, education, nutrition, physical activity, and healthy diets. Trained as an attorney, she graduated from Princeton and Harvard Law School.

We can’t forget the rooster, Barack Obama! No explanation needed here. He will be very busy.

I can’t comment on women and empowerment in government in Uganda, since that is not why I was there, and would not have had an opportunity or reason to broach the subject with the few women I encountered in our brief stay. A revival of US based Evangelical religious activity in the county supports “traditional” women’s roles as homemakers, but existing and changing roles of women in the household and community are undoubtedly more complex than can be adequately discussed here.

As of this writing, Amy had succumbed to a parasite, despite expensive medication, but Ruth and Stacy have laid eggs, and Ruth’s clutch should hatch soon. I am happy that Abaho has found an alternative “career,” that the girls for the most part are doing well and that our friendship continues. There is always more to learn on both sides of the planet, and who knows, maybe I will be there when the hens come home to roost.

Women in Rural Oaxaca Wield the Power

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

When we think of Mexico we often think of machismo. But in many rural parts of the southern state of Oaxaca, it is the women who rule the roost. In fact, there are many tasks that are solely within the purview of the female of the species. And if not 100% women’s work, they stand beside and not behind the men. Women’s equality and, in many instances, dominance is evident in the fields, kitchens, marketplaces, craft workshops, and even in production of Mexico’s iconic spirit, mezcal. Pregnancy, childbirth, weaning the flock, and physical strength, are only minimal barriers and in many cases not at all.

The corn-based food staples of tortillas, tamales and the highly nutritional drink tejate are all made exclusively by women. I’m not referring to machine-made tortillas or commercially produced tamales, but rather what one finds in the villages and urban markets. When have you ever seen a man pressing masa and then gingerly placing it on a wood-fueled clay comal to make a tortilla? Or gone into a villager’s home and witnessed tamal preparation involving men? Or in that same village seen males grinding corn, cacao and the rest on a metate for making tejate? And it is the women in tejate production who are kneading the dough mixture into water and serving it to market passersby. Furthermore, they take the finished foamy mixture into the fields to feed to their male workers (underlings) to keep them going since it’s loaded with carbs and vitamins, as well as protein and fat.

While men typically kill, skin and quarter sheep and goat for making barbacoa, it’s exclusively women who serve it, and in fact most other comidas in the markets. True enough men who have toiled in restaurants in the US then returned home are now receiving some attention based on their American-learned kitchen prowess; being at the helm of meal preparation is becoming more acceptable for them, but it’s certainly not the tradition, and change is slow in coming.

When it comes to turning pottery, while men do participate in the trade, somewhat, look at the predominant names in the Oaxacan ceramics industry – Doña Rosa of the famed black pottery in San Bartolo Coyotepec, and Angélica Vásquez, the late Dolores Porras and a few others from Santa María Atzompa. Visit the weekly markets in the central valleys of Oaxaca such as Ocotlán, Zaachila and Tlacolula, and you’ll see exclusively women sitting on the ground selling yet a different product; that is, their terra cotta pottery. For hundreds of years (in fact, longer based on recent archaeological evidence), women – to the complete exclusion of men – have been the ones excavating the hard clay from the mountainside, working it into buttery consistency at home with the addition of water, and then forming and firing pots, plates, comals and more recently decorative figures for sale.

Visit the cotton textile village of Santo Tomás Jalieza and you’ll see only women weaving table runners, placemats, purses and more on the pre-Hispanic backstrap loom, as tradition has dictated over a multitude of generations. It was only with the arrival of the Spanish that the modern pine loom arrived on the scene, and indigenous men began working them because of physical strength limitations of some women. In the rug village of Teotitlán del Valle, one sees mainly men working the larger looms (but still women and even children on the smaller ones), but in Santo Tomás Jalieza it’s still exclusively women who do the weaving.

The one craft item for which Oaxaca is almost universally famous and which brings significant revenue into the state, is the brilliantly painted hand-whittled wooden figure known as the alebrije. While alebrijes are normally carved by men, it is mainly the women (and again children) who are entrusted with the extremely detailed painting.

And even in production of the agave-based distillate, mezcal, women are equal to their male counterparts, and in some cases once again, the queens. Some women even defy apparent limitations of strength by harvesting the succulent out in the fields. And once back at the distillery they take no back seat to their husbands, brothers, fathers or grandfathers. They empty the oven of rocks, then load it with firewood, the rocks once again, the agave hearts and the rest; then after about five days empty everything from the in-ground depression. They work the horse crushing, pitch the mashed sweet baked bagazo into, and then out of vats once fermented, then fill the copper alembics. In at least one part of Oaxaca where crushed tree bark is added to the fermentation vats, it is exclusively the women who do the mashing with heavy wooden mallets.

In contemporary Oaxacan towns, villages, and even some suburbs of Oaxaca City, tequio, or the work of community service, is mandated. Each household is required to participate in administrative and cleaning tasks at churches, keep streets clear of encroaching grasses, mix cement for building community halls, and the list goes on. If a woman is head of a household during such a project, she attends to drop off sandwiches and/or soda, maintain a record of who is participating, etc.

Concrete Ceilings: The 21st Century Status of Women Politicians in North America

By Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken

The 20th century was a golden age for enfranchising women in many countries around the globe. Between 1900 and 1920, women in about 20 countries joined their New Zealand sisters, who won their right to vote in 1893; these included Canada, but with exceptions (First Nation women were excluded until 1960). In 1920, women in the United States were enfranchised, slowly followed over the decades by other countries around the world. In Mexico, although women were allowed to vote in some state elections, it wasn’t until 1953 that women were allowed to vote in federal elections. By 1999 all countries except three Muslim nations had granted the right to vote to women; the last country that recognized the partial right of women to vote was Saudi Arabia, where in 2011 women were allowed to vote in municipal elections; it is the only country in the world where some people are still ineligible to vote solely on the basis of gender. The right to vote and the right to stand for office were initiated simultaneously in almost all countries; but in Canada, for example, women were not eligible to run for office until 2 years after the first year when women could vote.

It’s been more than a century since women in Canada and U.S. were enfranchised, and almost 70 years in Mexico. One might think that given this long stretch of time, and the many movements for women’s rights around the world, the third decade of the twenty-first century should see women having equal representation in all branches of Federal government and holding major executive positions at the state/provincial levels. But reality is short of that ideal.

The progress of North American women in being elected to the legislative branch of government has been mixed. As of 2021, only 27% of the members of the U.S. Congress are women; 120 women out of 439 representatives in the House and 24 of 100 members of the Senate. While this is a 50% increase in women in the U.S. Congress over 10 years ago, it is far from equal representation. Canadian women are doing slightly better in elective legislative positions: as of the 2020 elections, 100 women out of 338 members of Parliament were serving in the House of Commons; Canadian Senate seats, which are appointed rather than elected, have a far more equitable gender distribution, with 48 women out of 100 members.

In Mexico, women have actually reached an equitable representation in Congress. Due to systemic changes and a mandate that political parties achieve gender-parity in candidates for Congress, women were elected to 49% of the lower house and 51% of the Senate in the 2018 elections. This ranked Mexico in fourth place for women’s representation in countries around the world.

Women still are under-represented in the judicial branches of federal government in North America. In both Canada and the United States only 3 of the 9 Supreme Court Justices are women, and in the US only 5 women have ever served as a Supreme Court Justice. In Mexico, with the resignation of one woman from the Supreme Court, only one woman serves on an 11-member Court.

The status of the election of women in North America to head the Executive Branch of the federal government is even worse. As of the end of 2019, close to 90 countries around the world have had an elected or appointed woman as head of State. Canada can barely be included in that category, by virtue of a 4-month period in 1993 when Kim Campbell served as Prime Minister after the Conservative Party PM resigned toward the end of his term and Campbell won the Party leadership. The United States and Mexico have never had a woman head of state, although Hillary Clinton won the popular vote in the U.S. 2016 Presidential Election but lost the Electoral College vote. Recently, in November 2020, Kamala Harris bored a hole through the concrete ceiling that has blocked North American women from the highest offices, and was elected as Vice President. She is a heartbeat away from the Presidency, but so were the majority of U.S. vice presidents who never became president.

State and provincial/territorial elections also have produced relatively few women heads of government. Currently, out of the 13 provinces and territories in Canada, only one, the Northwest Territories, has a woman First Minister, Caroline Cochrane. In Mexico, only one of the 31 States, Sonora, has a woman governor, Claudia Pavlovitch. In the United States, 9 out of 50 States (18%) currently have women serving as governors.

One elected position that might seem to be emerging as a power base for women is the office of the mayor in large cities. This perception is probably due to the high visibility of several women mayors but is not borne out by overall data. In Canada, Sandra Master, the mayor of Regina, Saskatchewan, and Valérie Plante, the mayor of Montreal, Québec, are relatively well-known, but only four other women are currently mayors of Canadian cities with populations of over 100,000. Among the 100 largest cities in the United States, only 27% are headed by women mayors; those with mayors often in the news are Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot; San Francisco, Mayor London Breed; Seattle, Mayor Jenny Durkin; Washington, DC, Mayor Muriel Bowser; and Atlanta, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. In Mexico, only two women are mayors (municipal presidents) of the 10 largest municipalities. But since they head the two largest cities in Mexico (Tijuana with Presidente Karla Ruiz MacFarland and Mexico City with Presidente Claudia Sheinbaum), they have altered the perception of the power of women in Mexico’s government. Claudia Sheinbaum in particular has been newsworthy as the first woman (and the first Jew) ever elected to head the government in Mexico City, and she was elected hot on the heels of the former mayor of Mexico City, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, or AMLO, who is now president of Mexico.

How can we explain these data that show a far lower proportion of women than men in these elected or appointed government positions? The example of women reaching parity in Congress in Mexico suggests that systemic change is needed for women to successfully compete. One reason offered by men for explaining the relative lack of women in high government office is that women are more interested in very local matters than serving as the heads of large cities, states/provinces of their county; they cite statistics showing fewer women running for such offices. But a report by the Canadian Inter-Parliamentary Union has identified the reason for fewer women entering political spheres: it is not a lack of interest but the reality of violence against women.

Women who, in the face of violence against their gender, have chosen to run for high office or stand for appointments to powerful positions, have been brutalized both physically and psychologically. Gisela Raquel Mota Ocampo, the Mayor of Temixco, Mexico, was assassinated the day after her inauguration on January 16, 2016; she was just one of numerous women politicians who have been murdered in Mexico. Kim Campbell, the only Canadian women Prime Minister, was vilified during her campaign for a second term. Hillary Clinton, the only woman who was a major candidate for the U.S. presidency was not only slandered with grotesque stories about pedophilia but actually stalked on stage by her opponent, Donald Trump, a self-confessed sexual predator. And most recently, the world was riveted by a mob instigated by Trump, breaking into the U.S. Capitol and screaming for the assassination of the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi.

In some ways it is miraculous that women in North America persevere in seeking high political office. They are truly the inheritors of the suffragettes and women in the Mexican Revolution who preceded them more than a century ago – risking life and limb and reputation to win the right to vote and to stand for office. We can only hope that in less than a century from now, the concrete ceiling keeping women down will be obliterated by systemic changes in government and the eradication of violence against women.

The Elections That Trashed America

By Deborah Van Hoewyk

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

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

America the Schizophrenic

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

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

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

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

The split between individual and community

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

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

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

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

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

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

The geographical mismatch

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alternative facts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Coral Reefs of Huatulco: Unnatural Changes

By Julie Etra

I have been scuba diving and snorkeling here since our first trip in 2007, but I am no expert and certainly don’t have the decades of history and knowledge possessed by the locals regarding pre-Huatulco-resort (1985) conditions. What I can contribute are my observations from repeated trips to several reefs over the years, as well as some review of reef studies and possible preservative actions.

Huatulco’s nine bays and 35 beaches host18 coral reefs. For snorkeling I typically go to Entrega, San Augustín, and more recently, Riscalillo. Tejoncito is a sweet little cove within Bahia Conejos, but it is pretty rocky, with some coral but typically not great visibility. Arrocito is another popular spot for some of our good friends, but it does not have the fabulous reefs that support aquatic diversity. Maguey has a great reef for scuba diving, accessible by boat. All lie within the Parque Nacional de Huatulco, and all are managed under its jurisdiction. (The Park was established in 1998 through a presidential decree.)

Entrega. Huatulco’s reefs and beaches are gems, and like so many beautiful natural resources everywhere, they are being loved to death. Entrega is a bay within the larger bay of Santa Cruz, both protected and at the same time somewhat contained due to its configuration; it is the most popular and accessible reef of the nine major bays of Huatulco. Entrega has its own sewage treatment plant behind the restaurants.

We always make it a point to go early to Entrega as even during the week this beach is frequently packed. There are just too many people, too many boats, and, despite the treatment plant, perhaps inadequate sanitation.

Entrega, which means ‘delivery’ or ‘surrender’ in Spanish, is named for the unfortunate fate of Vincente Guerrero, the Mexican Republic’s second President. The liberal Guerrero was deposed by his conservative vice president, Anastasio Bustamante; in the ensuing conflict, Guerrero was lured onto a French ship in Acapulco, carried to Huatulco, and surrendered on the beach at Entrega. Thence he was transported to Oaxaca City, tried and convicted, and executed by firing squad.

San Augustín has a large accessible reef, both by car and boat, and no engineered waste treatment systems. There are baños/sanitarios but their design and effectiveness appears questionable. Sweet Riscalillo, recently accessible by car, has a gorgeous reef but absolutely no sanitation facilities. I have only been there a few times so can’t comment on its change, if any, but it is on my radar.

Studying the Reefs – about a Decade Ago

From 1998-2012 the Federal Government of Mexico monitored the health of various reef ecosystems in the Mexican Pacific, including reefs in Bahías de Huatulco. It used the Coral Health Index (CHI) to look at fish populations and the bottom layers of the ocean (an “ichthyic” and “benthic” survey). According to a 2013 master’s thesis on the survey, prepared by Montserrat Molina Luna, the CHI values for Huatulco were at an “optimal health state” after the initiation of protection measures through the creation of the Parque Nacional in 1998. The fish populations of all the evaluated reef ecosystems were herbivorous, which promotes a balanced ecosystem by controlling the proliferation of algae.

So as of 2012, the reefs of Huatulco, according to this report, were in good shape. But were they? In 2011, the independent news and analysis agency Quadratin published an article on studies conducted by the Parque Nacional, which found that the reefs of Entrega had diminished by 80%, due to such factors as climate change, pollution and poor tourism practices. Natalia Parra del Ángel, at the time coordinator of CostaSalvaje, an international eco-organization focused on preserving coastal and marine ecosystems, warned that these factors could lead to the extinction of Huatulco’s coral reefs.

At that time, the Parque Nacional suggested to the local CostaSalvaje team some actions that swimmers, boaters, and tourist guides could take to help preserve Huatulco’s 12 types of coral reefs. Boats should not drive over the reefs, much less anchor on them or drop oil or gasoline. The most important was that divers and snorkelers should make sure they did not damage the coral – preferably, they should be accompanied by certified, trained guides. Swimmers should not wear sunscreen, because it creates a floating grease stain that prevents light from reaching the live microalgae inside the coral. Divers, snorkelers, and swimmers should not stand on the reefs.

Protective Practices a Decade Later

And did these practices take hold? Not really – and this is far from a comprehensive list of examples.

2013: Scientists like Carlos Candelaria Silva, a research professor at UNAM, began pointing out that the deterioration of the coral reefs at Entrega and San Augustín was very “worrying.” Sediments carried down in the rainy season, rubbish left behind by beach-goers and swimmers, added to boat traffic and large numbers of snorkelers, were damaging the reefs. By 2015, Candelaria was saying that measures to “protect and heal” the coral were urgent.

2016: Fisherman and oyster and octopus divers complained that the construction of Barlovento, a 15-condo development above a little beach next to Entrega, was dumping tons of construction debris – dirt, stone, and mud – right onto the coral reef. If the coral reef were to die, the divers and fishermen would lose their livelihood. While the divers and fishermen were not opposed to development per se, the fact that the Barlovento was taking no measures to protect the reef was unacceptable. Meanwhile, the presale materials for the Barlovento touted how ideal “the quiet bays of Huatulco” were for a “wide range of water sports. If you practice diving or snorkeling, you will be amazed at the purity of the waters. The rugged coast of Huatulco and its unrivaled coral reefs will surprise you with their extensive underwater biodiversity, waiting to be exploited.” While they might have meant “explored,” yes, they said “exploited.”

2018: This was a mostly bad news/some good news year. The Chiapas-based news service Noticias: Voz y Imagen reported that snorkelers and divers who rented equipment and set off to view the living coral reef were being allowed to snap off chunks of live coral as souvenirs. No one, “not the restaurant owner, not the waiter, much less the maritime business that rented the equipment and sent them off into the sea,” told them breaking off the coral would “significantly alter one of the most valuable ecosystems” for thousands of marine organisms and hundreds of species.

The problem was most out of control at San Agustín; the coordinator of Nature Tourism for the Municipio of Santa María Huatulco, Pedro Gasca, said that with 44 restaurants and 20 places that rented snorkel gear in the low-season, many more in the high season, it was difficult to counteract the business practice of “the customer can do whatever the customer wants.” He suggested that education was the key, and prepared a workshop for the snorkel outfits; the content focused on educating the customers how to view the reef without destroying it.

At this point, the three major threats to coral reefs were identified as climate change, ocean acidification, and the usual biggie, mismanaged tourism practices. Climate change and ocean acidification combine to make it very difficult for coral to create and deposit the calcium carbonate that extends the “skeleton” of the reef. This is most obvious as bleaching; when corals are stressed by changes in temperature, light, or nutrients, the symbiotic algae living in their tissues die, causing them to turn completely white.

Between 1998 and 2018, Pacific corals thinned out, i.e., they were 20% less dense and grew more slowly (they were only making a centimeter – just over ⅜ of an inch – of skeleton a year as it was!). Some corals (the slowest-growing ones) adapt, others bleach out and die.

Given that mismanaged tourism is a more immediate problem to address, CONAMP started supporting CostaSalvaje in projects to protect the reefs. CostaSalvaje used CONAMP resources to string buoys to keep tourist boats from driving over and dropping anchor on the reefs. CONAMP developed educational programming for tourism providers and guidelines for tourists, although it appears the latter must be accessed on their website,

2020: In January of this year, CostaSalvaje and CONAMP were among multiple government, educational, and organizational sponsors of the first annual Festival Coralinos de Huatulco: Tesoro del Pacifico Mexicano (The Coral Reef Festival of Huatulco: Treasure of the Mexican Pacific). With scientific poster sessions, workshops, and meetings on the marine environment, the goal of the Festival Coralinos was to inform the public about the importance of the reefs to the region and to promote better tourism and environmental practices. Informational installations were set up in the central park in La Crucecita, in Rufino Tamayo Park, and in the Sports Plaza.

What It Really Looks Like Right Now

When I first arrived in November 2019, Entrega beckoned. I went out there with my good buddy PauI Biernacki and was appalled to observe what appeared to be an obvious decline in reef health since my last visit in April 2019. Huge algal blooms floated over and coated the reef, especially close to shore, where the sea seemed unusually murky and almost oily.

Algal blooms are described by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as “overgrowths of algae in the water, which can be caused when nutrient pollution (nitrogen and phosphorus) in the water fuels algal growth. Note the murkiness of the surface water due to overgrowth of algae.”

Local guides I have spoken with have also noted the decline in reef health at Entrega. Basically, the blooms suffocate the reefs. Guides continue to see other sources of reef damage that have been discussed over the last decade (bleaching, sedimentation, physical damage, and chemicals such as sunscreen). Although the sedimentation can be natural, it is undoubtedly exacerbated by the turbidity caused by boat propellers.

Where do the nitrogen and phosphorus that kick off the algae blooms come from? Obviously not agriculture. Sewage? Currents bringing in contaminants from other sources? During multiple trips to Entrega over the winter, I noticed the currents had pushed the algae and deposited it on the northern part of the reef. I am happy to report that on an early morning swim on March 16, most of the algae was gone and the huge schools of green jacks (jurel bonito) were back.

I have not noticed algal blooms at either Riscalillo or San Augustín, locations that don’t get the same constant traffic as Entrega; however, like Entrega, San Augustín appears to be suffering from bleaching. We have seen the algal bloom called “red tide” from time to time in Huatulco, but red tide occurs naturally. And that sargassum we hear about over on the Mayan Riviera? It’s a type of kelp that isn’t often found in this area of the Pacific.

Of course, reef deterioration can be cyclical and caused by multiple factors, including seasonality and temperature associated with prevailing and changing currents. But human impact – those poor tourism practices – cannot be underestimated. Unfortunately, restricted use or quotas imposed by the government are unlikely to occur in a beach destination like Huatulco, whose economy depends on that tourism. It would be nice to at least see a monitoring program designed and implemented, and good science conducted with data made available to the public. Certainly, the universities on the coast, especially those that participated in the Festival Coralinos, can help.

What Change This Plague Might Bring . . .

By Deborah Van Hoewyk

On February 28, 2020, Mexico confirmed its first case of COVID-19, the infection caused by the latest coronavirus (there are many, and there will be more). On March 21, 2020, as this issue of The Eye closed, Mexico had confirmed 164 cases, and 2 deaths. The state of Oaxaca had 2 cases, both in the capital city Oaxaca de Juárez. Although it’s been suggested that the relatively low rate of confirmed cases is due to sluggish testing, and that in fact there may have been many more by mid-March, the government – including and especially President Lopez Obrador – has been reluctant to require, or even recommend, preventive measures as of March 21. No changes necessary.

From High to Low – Overnight

Not so here in Huatulco. The foreign tourists who populate Huatulco’s high season are taking the corona virus seriously as their governments started “calling them home,” Canada on Saturday, March 14, and the U.S. on Thursday, March 19.

Both countries issued a travel advisory, Canada putting out a “Level 3” and the United States a “Level 4,” the difference being that Canadians were told to “Avoid non-essential travel” and Americans were told “Do not travel.” In remarkably similar language, both countries urged their citizens to return home as soon as possible.

If you were already abroad “in countries where commercial departure options remain available,” you were to “arrange for immediate return.” If you did not do that, you had to be “prepared to remain abroad for an indefinite period.” The advisories noted that countries with COVID-19 outbreaks were “closing borders,” mandating quarantines, and prohibiting non-citizens from entry “with little advance notice.” Moreover, it warned that airlines had canceled many international flights: “Your travel plans may be severely disrupted, and you may be forced to remain outside [the country] for an indefinite timeframe.”

Notice that the presumption of the travel advisories is that people had traveled by air. Neither government said a word about driving across the border. Neither government explicitly defined “essential.” Neither government explained that “closing borders” did NOT mean the border was actually closed – it was closed to everything but that undefined “essential” travel.

The online universe of English-language travel advice for Huatulco – and Mexico as a whole – went wild. Snowbirds, expats, and tourists, anxiously working on exit plans, tried to remedy the information deficits in the travel advisories. (Postings are from “On the Road in Mexico” and “Huatulco – What’s Up … Happening,” and have been edited for clarity.)

Asking for suggestions for friends en route to British Columbia but still in Mexico: “The room they booked in Tucson for tomorrow night has just closed. Now they are worried the rest of their trip [will be] CLOSED CLOSED CLOSED. Anything they should know that I can pass on to them?”
Reply: They are screwed.

Report from someone who crossed at Nogales: I heard the Mx. Border is closed today … Does this mean that Canadian gringos will have to ship their vehicles around the USA?
Query: Does anyone know if a Canadian would be allowed to travel through to reach Canada? Tried to call every number I can find and can’t get through.

Report: Tomorrow night. Land border shutdown begins. US/CDN.
Reply: Stop repeating this sh*t, you idiot.
Administrator (“On the Road in Mexico”): Name calling will not be tolerated … PLEASE and THANK YOU.

Report: Bill Gates told us about the Coronavirus in 2015.

Comment on a report of border crossing: Thanks so much for posting. The huge mass of mis-information has been frustrating and of no possible help.
Reply to comment: I don’t think any country will close a border to its own citizens! You are essential.
Another reply: Did you have to show your passports?

Query: Am I officially screwed if my return flight to states is on Wednesday (3/24)? I’ve been trying to contact my airline, but they’re busy and never answer.
Report: Sounds like people trying to get home from Mexico with West Jet are getting screwed. Westjet is trying to charge them anywhere from $500 to $1000 per person to change their flights … sad really.

As for Westjet, on Monday, March 16, the airline announced that, based on the Canadian government’s call to Canadians to return and its recommendations to control the coronavirus, it was suspending all flights as of 11:59 PM, Sunday, March 22.  On March 18, Westjet posted a list of 21 flights between February 12 and March 12 that had carried “guests who have tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19).”  On Saturday, March 21, Westjet posted that, “During this continued time of uncertainty, we’re continuing to bring Canadians home from around the world. Between March 23 and March 25, 2020 we will operate 34 repatriation flights from international destinations to ensure the safe return of WestJet guests and Canadians who remain abroad.”

On March 15, the administrator of “On the Road in Mexico” posted “New Rules, please limit posts on Corona virus, to verified information, no conspiracy theories, guesses, or race blaming, people are worried enough without adding to it with rumors and opinions laying blame.”

On March 20, a member of Huatulco – What’s Up … Happening, created a new Facebook site, “Repatriating Canadians and Americans in Huatulco,” intended to provide updated information.  “As we receive many comments and not always correct information, this site might help alleviate your concerns. We urge you to start referring to the information being posted here.”

With so few cases in Mexico, and none in Huatulco, people also contemplated staying in Mexico; on March 18, according to a post citing “the Mexican news,” Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador announced that “Any foreigners stranded in Mexico needn’t worry about coronavirus treatment should they contract it. President López Obrador said today Mexico will treat and care for any foreign patients with Covid-19 because medical attention is ‘a basic right.’ ”  Foreigners would receive “full protection and attention. If they are infected, we will take care of them here regardless of their country of origin because that’s universal brotherhood.”

Recall that just the day before (March 17), NBC News had reported that AMLO had been “ripped” and “slammed” for “disregarding his own government’s social distancing guidelines,” trusting to “luck” and his “moral strength” to combat the virus.  The post about healthcare for foreigners elicited strongly divided comments.

Comment:  Universal brotherhood and universal medicare.  Now that’s a powerful combination!  Way to go Mexico.
Comment:  Geez, guys, careful, saying it and doing it are two different things.

Comment:  Wonderful news!  What a Great Leader!!
Comment:  Wow!  That is impressive!  This is how it should be done right now everywhere.  People need to unite.
Comment:  They SAY what you want to hear. However, they are not staffed or stocked to help the masses of poor.
Comment:  Fantastic … GOD bless President Lopez Obrador!

Repost (March 20): “Mexico City Nurses hold a demonstration outside a Major Hospital to protest lack of supplies, training and support to battle Coronavirus.”

Query: How many ventilators in Huatulco?
Reply: I’m sure you’re going to get a ventilator inMexico.
Reply: I heard only 2 in the area from a friend whose husband has COPD. They have checked it out already and are on their way home.
Reply: Some say Mexico could become the next Italy, for lack of awareness. So be prepared!

And on March 20, right in the middle of it all:

Question: I was at Secrets in February and they had the best frozen margaritas! I think the bar tender was only using ice, tequila and Gran Marnier but was wondering if maybe he used bar lime or something else, because I can’t replicate it. It was the same recipe when we went into town and stopped for a drink. Anyone know the recipe?
Replies: So far, there have been 21.

And How Is Huatulco Responding?

Quick to appear was an online campaign on the theme, “Don’t cancel, change the date – Save Mexican Tourism.” In Huatulco, online advice from two residents was more on the theme of “Just go home.”

My heart is sad, better return everyone to Canada. I know what will happen, we will be too difficult. Huatulco lives on tourism; unfortunately, Huatulco does not have a hospital. This disease will come here … restaurants, hotels are thinking of closing. I think it [leaving] will be the best.

Please go home with your fear, do what is good for you, stop spreading fear … we live in paradise, find a physician to cure your mental illness, we don’t believe in fake news. Thank you, but no thank you.

And gone they are, the snowbirds and short-term tourists.

Several restaurants have closed, others have limited hours, and many are now offering takeout and delivery. Amigos de la Música canceled its March concert. The Mercado Organica de Huatulco has been suspended. The municipio of San Miguel del Puerto has closed access to all three major waterfalls, the zipline, and the cooperative eco-adventure business El Remolino. Service providers were requesting cancellation of events for the Fourth Friday of Lent (Samaritan Day, March 20); some events were held, including the traditional dances in Santa María Huatulco, but the municipio president, Giovanne Gonzales Garcia, reported that activities were curtailed, and no foreigners attended. There were fireworks, including the traditional “Burning the Castle.” That day, Huatulco hotels reported a 35-40% occupancy rate.

Schools were closed two weeks early, from March 20 – April 20, for the Santa Semana break. Santa Semana, the period between Palm Sunday (April 5) and Easter (April 12), is a major tourism event in all of Mexico. Apparently Cancun has upped its advertising and hotel discounts to try to entice national visitors to fill the emptied rooms, but Huatulqueño hoteliers predict a complete collapse of Santa Semana tourism. In Oaxaca, they have begun to worry about whether the 2020 Guelaguetza (July 20 – July 27) will take place.

And the Future?

One of the big changes in Huatulco lately – construction. Hotels, retail, and condos are popping up here, there, and everywhere. As can be seen in the number of abandoned, half-finished structures, though, construction depends in large measure on cash flow.

More serious is the possibility the pandemic will cause widespread health impacts; without sufficient preventive measures, which seem slow in coming in March, will Mexico’s generally solid health system be overwhelmed? While the health system for foreigners is woefully lacking, for Mexicans there’s a basic public healthcare system for low-income residents, a plethora of pharmacies, and a good number of hospitals and clinics.

Mexico’s health system does have some infrastructure issues, and the AMLO government has changed some fundamental processes. The hospital coverage is concentrated in urban/urbanized areas, so the size and quality of facilities in remote places isn’t great – these are precisely the places that will be wiped out if a single case appears. Since more than half of Mexican workers are self-employed in informal activities, they can’t readily stay home and self-isolate – basically another cash flow issue.

Implementation of AMLO’s changes to the public health system has been rocky, and whether the new insurance coverage for IMSS-Bienestar, called Instituto de Salud de Bienestar (INSABI), will work is debatable. Worst of all, analysts say INSABI will need a major cash infusion if COVID-19 services are to be covered. AMLO’s approach to spending money is not to spend it, in the name of “republican austerity.” The international Organization for Economic and Community Development (OECD) recommends that a country spend 9% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on health care. Mexico is one of only five countries that spends less – in 2018, Mexico spent only 5% of GDP on health care.

What will Huatulco be like when we come back? Will we all come back? ¿Quien sabe?

Editorial March 2020

By Jane Bauer

“I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”
Audre Lorde

I was just finishing up this issue of the magazine, the editorial hanging over me as I pondered what I would write about. My mind drifted over the injustices I have faced or my friends have faced; sexual harassment and assaults, underestimation in the workplace, a culture that uses our form to sell everything from soda to cars, a culture that sexualizes us in almost every context.

I got home, poured myself a well-earned glass of wine and was feeling a little self-pity over my femininity when there was a knock on my front door. With a heavy sigh of annoyance I opened up to find a girl I know from the village where I live. M. is my daughter’s age and when they were little she would often come knocking to see if she could come in to play. My daughter was not very interested in this friendship, but I would make her acquiesce and they would visit for awhile, the other girl seeming to marvel at my daughter’s toys, dresses and pretty room. Eventually, to my daughter’s relief, I would send the girl away saying that it was time for homework.

The girls grew up and my daughter is just finishing up her second year at university in CDMX. She lives with four other girls in a modern highrise. Her social media is a frenzy of art galleries and trendy restaurants.

In contrast, M. has two young children and a young baby clutches to her chest as I open the door. Despite the hardships life has dealt her she always wears a pearly white smile and bright eyes. She asks me if I have any work. I don’t have any work at the moment and even if I did, she is the primary care giver for her kids and does not have a strong support network that would permit her to take on a job. Her mother is gone, her father was sexually abusive, her two younger sisters also now have children and there is no beacon of light or event that is looming in the future to change or improve her circumstances.

The world is full of young women like M. The numbers of women on this planet who do not have access to education is astounding. The numbers of women who live in situations in which they do not decide their fate is intolerable. The numbers of women who live in fear of sexual abuse is shameful. Gender inequality is a cancer on our humanity.

March 8th is International Women’s Day, a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. But it is not enough to celebrate the achievements of women who have exceeded what was expected of them. We must acknowledge all the women whose potential is suffocated by economic disparity, lack of access to healthcare and education and by abuse. Those of us who are drowning in privilege must find the way to help all women rise.

See you next month,

Jane