Tag Archives: women

ELENA AND LEONORA:
Two Mexican Writers with European Roots

By Carole Reedy

Both Elena Poniatowska and Leonora Carrington planted roots in Mexico in 1942, Elena as young girl of ten and Leonora as a well-traveled and rebellious woman of 25. Despite the differences in their ages, both emigrated for reasons sparked by World War II in Europe. In addition, both became Mexican citizens and, ultimately, two of the most influential, powerful, and famous women of Mexico.

Their lives
Young Elena arrived in Mexico from France with her sister and her Mexican mother, whose porfiriana family fled Mexico during the Mexican Revolution of 1910. Elena’s father, of Polish royalty descent, remained in France to fight in the war before joining them.

Being well educated and bien educado led Elena to a career in journalism, writing, and involvement with politics. Her writing often tackles Mexico’s difficult moments in history, such as the 1968 slaughter of protesting students in Tlatelolco and the 1985 Mexico City earthquake. In both cases, she interviewed extensively the people and victims who lived through these tragedies. Biographical sketches, novels, and short story collections are also found among her vast trove of publications.

Poniatowska is one of the founding writers of La Jornada (The Work Day), a major Mexico City newspaper since 1984. Despite not explicitly espousing feminist beliefs, in 1976 she co-founded Fem, the first feminist magazine in Latin America; she was a founding member of Siglo XXI, a prestigious Mexican publishing house, and Mexico’s Cineteca Nacional, the national film archive.

In contrast, Leonora Carrington’s childhood leading to her emigration to Mexico was adventurous, troublesome, and daring. Before she reached the age of 20, she had escaped her prestigious English aristocratic home and her domineering father to be with artist Max Ernst. She and Ernst lived in various parts of France in the early 1940s, but Ernst, being a Jew, was soon detained by the authorities.
Leonora left France for Spain, where she escaped from a mental hospital (an internment that had been orchestrated by her distant father) and fled to Portugal. As an exile, she eventually met and married Renato Leduc, a Mexican poet and writer. The couple, like many others wanting to escape the war, traveled to New York and then Mexico, where Leonora lived for the next 70 years, until her death at 94 in 2011.

The surrealist paintings of Leonora Carrington are found in museums and art exhibits around the world. When she moved to Mexico, knowing no one and not speaking Spanish, she was fortunate to make friends with photographer Kati Horna and painter Remedios Varo, originally from Hungary and Spain respectively. At last, with fellow women artists at her side, she was able to pursue the talent she had demonstrated since a young girl in Great Britain. She rubbed elbows with the likes of Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Joan Miró, and Peggy Guggenheim.

Many people are unaware that Carrington was also an accomplished writer. Like those surreal masterpieces hanging in the world’s museums, her books take on the surreal panache of the author. Drawings, stories, and fantasies all inhabit the long-lived career and life of Leonora Carrington.

Both women led full lives, which they shared with husbands and children.

Their books
The first novel I read cover-to-cover in Spanish was Poniatowska’s Leonora, the fictionalized biography of the famous artist/writer (2011). It’s very accessible, even for those for whom Spanish is a second language, and it is of course a compelling story.

In another fictionalized biography, Tinisima (2006), she tells the story of the short (just 46 years), fascinating, and daring life of Tina Modotti, the famed photographer who kept company with the likes of Edward Weston and Diego Rivera and traveled the world studying spiritual and sexual liberation, militant communism, rigid Stalinism, workers’ revolution in Germany, and the Spanish Civil War, among other causes. A story and life, a book not to be missed.
Poniatowska’s first book, written in 1954, is a collection of short stories called Lilus Kikus. It marks the beginning of her illustrious career.

One of Poniatowska’s most-read and poignant books, La Noche de Tlatelolco: Testiomonios de historia oral (1971), was born out of the police slaughter of university students on October 2, 1968. For this book, she interviewed dozens of observers, parents, and others to give the world an accurate and objective report of the events that left Mexico and the world in shock.

If you’re curious about the details of the 1985 earthquake and its effects on the population, be sure to pick up Nada, nadie: Las voces del temblor (1988) to read first-hand accounts of the tragedy. You will understand the fear earthquakes generate here in the city, especially for those who experienced this tragic event.

Poniatowska’s writing is clear, precise, accurate, and full of poignant imagery. Read one of her books and you will be hooked!

Leonora Carrington’s books will not surprise lovers of her surrealist paintings, as they fall right in step with the style of her art. The Hearing Trumpet (1974) is her most famous work. Read and translated worldwide, it has been called a companion to the beloved Alice in Wonderland.

The Complete Stories of Leonora Carrington issued in 2017 to mark the centennial of Carrington’s birth, is a compilation of her surreal short stories and is filled with magic!

Joanna Moorhead, a cousin of Carrington, recently wrote a very personal biography of the famous artist/writer: The Surreal Life of Leonora Carrington (2017). Having befriended Carrington as an adult, she visited her in Mexico, coming from England several times before Leonora’s death. It’s a good read that admirers of Carrington will enjoy.

Down Below is Leonora’s personal memoir, written in 1988, of her descent into madness as a young woman. A short book, not to be missed – republished in 2017 in the Classics series of the New York Review of Books.

Both Leonora Carrington and Elena Poniatowska, each in her own way, have had a tremendous influence on the cultural and political life in Mexico. Tell your sons and daughters about them, read their books, celebrate their lives!

An Eye on the Women of The Eye

By Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken

Kary Vannice
Kary began writing for The Eye a few months after the initial publication. Her deep curiosity about the world around her led her to contribute a wide range of articles, including a series of articles – each on a different topic but all under the title “Rattlesnakes and Scorpions.”

Kary was born in Moscow, Idaho, which frequently led to scrutiny at international borders. She was raised and educated in Grass Range, population 110, located in the geographical center of Montana. After high school, Kary matriculated at a junior college in Wyoming for two years and then went on to the University of Montana, Missoula, graduating with a BS degree in Forestry with a concentration in recreation and resource management. In the following years, Kary was employed by the US Forest Service in a number of national forests including Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument in Washington, Sawtooth National Forest in Idaho, Earthquake Lake, just west of Yellowstone National Park, and Gallatin National Forest, both in Montana. Her roles ranged from resource education, giving tours and talks to visitors, to fire fighting. To supplement her income Kary started a private outdoor educational camp and worked at the Big Sky Ski School.

While fighting a fire in Montana, Kary noticed another fire fighter, a handsome boy from Chile. Naturally, the relationship heated up and Kary moved with him to land that his parents owned in Patagonia. After about 18 months, the couple moved to Seattle where they bought and lived on a sail boat. Kary’s first trip to the Pacific Coast of Mexico was on that boat. While sailing to Chile, the mast on the boat failed, which required
extensive repairs at Easter Island. Once back in Chile and the boat was docked, the five-year relationship cooled and Kary headed back to Montana with a knowledge of Spanish and refined and tested nautical skills.

Kary exercised those skills by teaching English in Mexico in Orizaba, Veracruz, for three years. It was on a school break that she revisited the Oaxacan coast and realized that she would like to live in Puerto Escondido during most of the year. During the summer, Kary headed to Alaska where she worked on fishing boats and was often second in command, gaining the respect of boat captains and seasoned seamen alike.

During a trip to Huatulco to work on a project to create all natural health clinics, Kary participated in a Red Cross fundraiser where she met a resident of Huatulco who had started a business teaching people how to work online while living in other countries. Impressed with how Kary rapidly organized the fundraiser participants, the businessman
hired her. When the business began to increase rapidly, commuting from Puerto Escondido became cumbersome and Kary moved to Huatulco over nine years ago, first living on a boat in the Chahué Marina.

Today Kary has her own company, Rambladera Inc., which teaches people what they need to know to work while living in other countries. She also is a life coach for women and practices emotional vibrational healing. Outside of work, Kary loves to travel and has been throughout the Americas and Europe but not yet Asia, Africa or Antarctica. She also enjoys water sports and, like the other women of The Eye, reading. Kary thinks her Eye article, “Violence Against Women in Mexico” (February 2017) may be the most important she contributed, since she herself was affected by the distressing research results she presented and believes it is vital for other people to have this information.

An Eye on the Women of The Eye

By Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken

Deborah Van Hoewyk

Deborah joined The Eye writers in January 2012 and more recently took on the role of copy editor. Her articles often focus on fund-raising activities of local nonprofit organizations and Mexican culture. Deborah has been actively involved with small community activities since her childhood. Although she was born in Providence, Rhode Island, she was raised and educated in Cumberland, Maine, starting with a one-room schoolhouse. Her first high school years were spent at a local co-ed high school until her parents arranged for her transfer to an all-girls high school. After that, she attended Wellesley College, a prestigious women’s educational institution in Massachusetts, where she first majored in Latin and then English. Having met and married the requisite Harvard man, she left Wellesley after three years and followed her new husband to New York City.

The marriage lasted 10 years, during which Deborah completed a BS degree in English at Columbia University and launched her career in writing and editing, working for a number of organizations including the Foreign Policy Association, Columbia University, New York City agencies, and (Stanley) Kaplan, Inc. After leaving her husband to live on a barge moored in the Bronx, Deborah continued her writing career and earned an MA degree in English from Queens College of the City University of New York. She also met John, her second and current husband, at a cafeteria at CUNY.

After 20 years in New York and a brief hiatus back in Maine, Deborah moved to Detroit and a job writing materials for the auto companies to support their training and development programs. She then enrolled in the urban planning Ph.D. program at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, first concentrating on socio-technology and then switching to the field of microenterprise. To support her studies, she taught technical communication in the UM College of Engineering for 18 years. John followed Deborah to Ann Arbor and found a long-term position as a statistician conducting social survey research at the university. They were married in 1986 and in 1987 bought a 40-acre farm on which they raised sheep, goats, pigs and poultry for over 20 years. They retired to Maine in 2010.

Deborah’s first trip to Mexico was in 1979 to visit a friend in Jalapa. After a number of later short visits to various parts of Mexico, in 2004 she and John visited Oaxaca City and decided to also see Huatulco, since it looked “so close” on the map. Even though the road trip was much longer than expected, once here they knew they would return. They bought a house in Huatulco in 2007 where they spent every vacation, renting it out between their stays. Once they retired, their Huatulco time increased until currently they are here about 5.5 months each year. Deborah’s busy life includes belonging to two book clubs but doesn’t allow much time to read other books. She devotes much of her time to writing grant proposals for nonprofit organizations, often gratis, and helping other worthy organizations raise funds. And of course, copy-editing and writing for The Eye is a substantial commitment. Her favorite contribution to the Eye is “The Wisdom of Maíz –Will It Lose Its Voice?” (September 2012).

An Eye on the Women of The Eye

By Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken

Carole Reedy

Carole, one of the founding writers of The Eye, may be best known for her many Eye articles providing reviews of books. Born, raised and educated through high school in the south side of Chicago, Carole attended Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo for two years, majoring in English Literature and Education with a minor in Music. She completed her B.A. degree and certification for teaching at DePaul University in Chicago and then taught high school for three years in Maywood, Illinois. She realized that her true career path was in publications and first became a proof-reader of teaching manuals at the Bell and Howell manufacturing company, then a copy editor at the American Medical Association where she ultimately became the Senior Editor of an AMA publication focused on health for consumers.

While still teaching, Carole met her first long-term partner. They made the mutual decision to move to the Phoenix area of Arizona, where Carole developed a love of the desert, met her husband-to-be and switched careers to the travel industry. She first worked for a friend’s travel agency and then for many years for American Express advising platinum cardholders on their travel plans. Since Carole is passionate about travel and has visited every continent except Antarctica by herself or with small groups of friends, the new career was a perfect match – until she and her husband decided that they wanted to adopt a completely different, less complicated, life style and in 1997, moved to San Miguel Allende and in 1999, to San Augustinillo, a small village on the Oaxaca coast. Unfortunately, her husband died the following year, but Carole remained in the village for nine years and, even after having moved to Mexico City about 15 years ago, still has close friends there and is esteemed by many for having established the San Agustinillo Library.

Living in Mexico City allows Carole to indulge her deep interest in opera and bull-fighting. She also enjoys playing social bridge and, recently, mahjong. She maintains close connections with her three step-children, seven grandkids, and many friends in Mexico and the U.S. But although she encourages visits to see her in Mexico, she is now a Mexican citizen and has no interest in returning to the U.S.

Carole met Jane Bauer many years ago while still living in San Augustinillo. Since Jane knew about Carole’s background, when she decided to publish the Eye, Jane called Carole and asked for her participation. More than ten years later she is still writing. Her favorite Eye contributions are her end-of-the-year book reviews.

An Eye on the Women of The Eye

By Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken

Brooke Gazer
Brooke has also been contributing a diverse spectrum of articles to The Eye since the beginning of the publication. One of the few Mexican citizens on staff, Brooke brings her relatively long-term year-round residence to inform her writing about local organizations and people as well as Mexican history and government.

Brooke was born, raised and educated in Calgary, Alberta; she received a B.Ed. degree, majoring in Fine Arts and Drama, from the University of Calgary. In between high school and college she spent a year traveling and working in Europe, first as an au pair in Munich, Germany, and then selling clothing in a posh ladies’ store in London, England. She returned to Europe, studying art history in Italy as part of her major concentration. After university, she taught arts and drama in junior and senior high school in rural Alberta, managed an art gallery for three years, spent two years selling and creating advertisements for a lifestyle magazine, and then settled down for a relatively long career as a pharmaceutical company representative.

While she was managing the art gallery, she met her husband Rick at a fitness club where both were members and after dating for a number of years, they married. Both enjoyed traveling and visited Asia three times (Hong Kong, Korea, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Burma). Over the years, they also made several trips to Mexico. But it was during their first trip, forty years ago, that Brooke began to think about running a B&B. She was sitting in a garden at a bed and breakfast, owned by an American couple in San Miguel Allende, and she thought, “What a great life this would be.” The idea seemed so farfetched that she never mentioned this to anyone, not even Rick.

When her job as a pharmaceutical rep seemed to pale, however, she raised the idea. They tried out the concept, renting out two rooms in their house in Calgary. Three years later, they packed up all their belonging, sold their house and drove to Mexico. For six months, they explored every beach community on the Pacific Coast, from San Carlos, Sonora, to Huatulco, Oaxaca. When they reached Huatulco, they knew they had found the perfect place. They bought property, designed and built their new B&B and successfully ran the business for 22 years. At the end of 2021, they sold the enterprise and moved to Merida along with their 12-year-old golden retriever, Tango.

Brooke will continue contributing to The Eye from Merida. Her favorite past contribution was the article she wrote on the Mexican Revolution, “Viva la Revolución” (November 2013); she enjoyed the research needed to understand and explain the complexity of this civil war.

Editor’s Letter

By Jane Bauer

“The story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organization but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights.”
Gloria Steinem

I am grateful to the generation of women that came before me and told me that I could be anything. Yet, for me, this also translated into the idea that I had to do everything. While I wanted a career I also wanted to be the kind of mother who drives the kids to tennis lessons and picks them up from school. The world I was raised in didn’t make it seem very possible to have both, and career was definitely considered better and more respect-worthy than becoming a housewife.

The world today is different. Being able to work remotely and have flexible hours has made it easier than ever for women to have a work/life balance. Reproductive choice – access to birth control and pregnancy termination – has also made it easier for women to choose what their future will look like.

Every International Women’s Day we celebrate the women who are making strides ahead. We raise them up on pedestals as examples of what is possible. We applaud our gender and marvel at how far we have come. Those who have peeked over the glass ceiling give speeches on how they hope to inspire girls to strive to the top of whichever field they choose.

But if the standard we hold for success is that every woman become a doctor, CEO or climate change activist we will always fall short of our goal.

Rather than look at the millions of women who spend their days caring for their family as failed potential, we could elevate our value of the tasks that occupy them. What if we elevated the value we put on what is termed ‘women’s work’?

What if we shifted our expectations of what it means to be a feminist to be more inclusive to those who haven’t had access to academic schooling on gender theory or the chance to get an MBA?

This IWD let us celebrate the women who are doing laundry in rivers, carpooling their kids to hockey, cooking dinner while staying on budget, helping with science class volcanos and mediating tantrums from toddlers.

Because while it is encouraging to be taught you can do anything, being taught that you are enough is true empowerment.

See you next month,

Jane

Fertile Ground for Life-Changing Insights,Self-Forgiveness, and Joy

By Kary Vannice

For our women’s issue several years ago (2017), I wrote an article about the mistreatment of inmates in women’s prisons in Mexico. My research uncovered unspeakable human rights abuses and a judicial system that turned a blind eye to reported sexual assault and torture. Many of the accounts were too stomach-turning to include in the article, and I felt deeply for these women. Their stories stuck with me because even law-breaking inmates deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.

There are 102 women’s jails and prisons in Mexico, one of the toughest of which is in Ecatepec de Morelos, in the state of Mexico on the outskirts of Mexico City. This penitentiary houses several hundred women and many report living conditions that are borderline inhumane. Some have reported having to sleep standing up because there is no room for them to sit or lie down at night. Any possession, even a toothbrush, must be carried on one’s person at all times, or it will be immediately stolen.

It is a harsh environment filled with hardened criminals with hardened attitudes toward life and everyone around them. Forced to live in survival mode 24/7, there is no time to contemplate or create community, and vulnerability could mean death.

This is not the kind of environment that seems ripe for spiritual transformation work, unless you’re two Mexican women with a shared dream of helping this largely forgotten and underserved population.

Enter the Give to Give Foundation, a not-for-profit organization headquartered in New York that supports an organizational change technique called neuro-change solutions, based on the work of Dr. Joe Dispenza, a neuroscientist, researcher, teacher, and best-selling author. As the pandemic closed organizations down, Dispenza became interested in using his approach in prisons. Rose Caiola, Chair of the Board of Directors of Give to Give was more interested in working with women in prison. Through a series of coincidental meetings, Give to Give began a pilot project with at the penitentiary in Ecatepec – a simple three-day workshop to help rehabilitate and bring positive change to the lives of female convicts living in some of the worst conditions imaginable. The project was headed up by Verónica Ontiveros, who is with Give to Give in Mexico, and Sonia Peña García, a certified NCS consultant based in Monterrey.

It may seem that three days would not be nearly enough to change the mindset of someone who had been incarcerated for decades, attempted suicide multiple times, or sold their own child for grocery money, but, in fact, the opposite was true. The depraved conditions offered the perfect fertile ground for life-changing insights, self-forgiveness, and joy to bloom once more.

Twenty-eight women participated in the pilot project. Over the three days, they learned how to shift out of survival mode by releasing emotions like shame, blame, selfishness, anger, hatred, and resentment, and take 100% responsibility for their lives and their circumstances.

Slowly, the women began to laugh, trust, and smile again. One woman said, “I haven’t laughed in years. I didn’t even remember what it felt like to smile.” She was moved to tears just by seeing her own smiling face in the mirror again. Something had awakened in her, an inner knowing, an inner light.

At the end of the training, another woman raised her hand and exclaimed. “I finally got it! It’s not about having freedom outside. Freedom is a feeling. It’s a state of mind. So, if I think and feel that I am free, then I’m free here, even in prison.”

Each day, the women were also taught how to quiet their minds and meditate on the feelings of freedom, joy, and inner peace so that they could feel more in control of their lives again.

Twenty days after the three-day workshop, organizers returned to the prison for a surprise visit to see if the participants had integrated what they had learned into their daily lives. Upon arrival, they discovered that two of the participants had been released for good behavior and that every other woman that remained had been completely transformed. Their faces were brighter, they looked happier, they were more open and accepting of others around them. They were genuinely living examples of what they had learned. So much so that other inmates were requesting to take part in the next workshop.

Many of the women also reported improved relationships with their families on the outside and had eagerly shared what they had learned with their children, parents, husbands, and extended family.

Because of the success of the pilot project, Give to Give is now planning to expand the project to other women’s prisons in several other states in Mexico; they have the support of prison officials, who also noticed the change in the participants immediately, even though the conditions around them had not changed.

These 28 women, who were living in the very worst of conditions, now understand that it’s not the world around you that has to change for you to feel free and happy; it’s your inner world that must change first. That is where the true power lies to control your environment.

An Eye on the Women of The Eye

By Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken

Inspired by International Women’s Day, which falls on March 8th, which in turn inspires much of the content of the March issue of The Eye, Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken have profiled the women writers of The Eye. We’ll be reprinting those profiles month by month, in alphabetical order, starting with founder and Editor-in-Chief Jane Bauer. As the months go by, we’ll sneak in the men, too!

Jane Bauer

Jane is the Editor-in-Chief, Art Director, Publisher, Marketing Director, and originator of The Eye magazine. She began the publication in January 2011 as a means of building a bridge between visitors and English-speaking residents in Mexico and the many small businesses available to provide them with goods and services. She realized that some tourists and foreign residents held distorted perspectives based on misinformation about Mexico and its people, the “nationals” with whom they were interacting. Jane brought together a small group of writers who previously had extensive literary experience and a deep interest in Mexico, and encouraged us to research and write articles about diverse topics to address these misconceptions. She also saw The Eye as a vehicle for small businesses to reach out to visitors and foreign residents with the goal of promoting and growing many “mom and pop” business enterprises. Many local businesses were receptive to this concept and provided support; for example Johnny Gonzales, of Lorama Grafi, did the layouts for the first six issues of the magazine, and he trained Jane to take over the activity.

Jane’s establishment of The Eye might possibly have been predicted from her early years. She was born and raised in Montreal, attending French-speaking schools, including a high school semester in Brittany, France, and went on to earn a BA at McGill University in Cultural Studies with a minor in Women’s Studies. Before graduation, she traveled to Mexico and once she saw Mazunte in Oaxaca she vowed to return, and she did. She worked at small family-run inn in Puerto Ángel and it was there she met her husband. Once their baby daughter Frances was born, Jane became a stay-at-home mom until, in 2005, Frances was ready for first grade. Jane moved to Huatulco where there was a better offering of schools for her daughter and began teaching yoga.

In 2008, she started Café Juanita, which recently moved to Tangolunda. Beginning in 2009, Jane and her boyfriend opened Hemingway’s Cantina, and many of us fondly remember the events she organized there, such as Oscar Night, until 2013. In addition to yoga and Café Juanita, Jane coordinated weddings starting in 2010, established the Huatulco Salt Company in 2016, and started giving cooking lessons. Later she designed and built the Chiles&Chocolate Cooking School in Zimatán, a rural village 25 minutes outside Huatulco, where she also hosts weekly farm-to-table dinners. In the hours when she is not teaching, managing her numerous projects and bringing out the latest issue of The Eye, Jane is a voracious reader, totaling 53 books last year, mostly fiction.

In her role as Editor-in-Chief, Jane publishes an editorial each month. Although she is hard-pressed to select a favorite, she really likes her editorial from the September/October 2013 issue on “What I Learned in Mexico.” Jane is justifiably proud of the way the English-speaking community continues to clamor for hard copies of The Eye and equally proud of the ability of the online Eye to keep people living in other countries interested in Mexico and wanting to return. As Jane hoped, The Eye has become a bridge among foreign visitors and residents and many small businesses. Businesses that advertise in or are written about in The Eye report significant increases in patronage.

For more about Jane: Instagram @livingfoodmexico

Editor’s Letter

By Jane Bauer

When I was growing up, gym class was treated as a less important subject than math or English. It was grouped in with art and woodworking (which I wish I had taken). It was a class you would skip without being worried about falling behind and many girls I know routinely came up with reasons for being excused from it. However, in the real world, skills learned in gym class are incredibly useful: it forces people to get out of their physical comfort zones, and it teaches teamwork, discipline, and communication.

On a larger scale, sports unites or separates groups, depending on whether you are a glass half-full or half-empty kind of person. The swell of stadium calls and passionate allegiances to teams have led to violent riots but also to emotional triumphs that have lifted people up and improved their lives.

One such moment is happening as I write this. With the Taliban in Afghanistan returning to power, the world watches helplessly to see how this will play out. Women will most likely be prevented from working (except as teachers and nurses), they will be restricted to women-only spaces at university and I assume limited in the subjects they are allowed to learn. You can bet they won’t be allowed to play sports where any aggressiveness might be displayed, a challenge to the meek silent demeanor the Taliban wants to force upon women. In the face of this, members of the Afghanistan women’s junior football (soccer) team and their families have fled to neighbouring Pakistan.

The international organization Football for Peace worked out the arrangements; Fawad Chaudry, Pakistan’s information minister, tweeted that the team had entered Pakistan at the Torkham border crossing and were met by a representative of the Pakistan Football Federation. The news service Reuters later published a photo taken at the PFF headquarters in Lahore of the 81 people involved – the team, their families, and their coaches; another 34 people are expected shortly.

When it comes to communities where girls and women are restricted in public life, sports can have an effective social impact. Girls who play sports tend to have higher self-esteem, continue further in education, and I would also posit that they learn to value their bodies as action-based, rather than through the sexualized lens of the media and social media.

My philosophy has always been “If you want to help a community support the education of its women.” I think I can take that one step further and include supporting its sports teams.

See you next month,

Jane

Brideprice in a Zapotec Village: Evolving Economic Theory?

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

Twenty-six turkeys on the ground, their feet tied. Cases of beer and soda stacked behind along with the rest of the brideprice for Paola and Javier’s wedding. Everything is arranged in an orderly fashion, easy to count, then loaded onto a pick-up at the modest homestead of Javier’s family, just hours after the wedding ceremony. It’s all waiting to be driven to Paola’s parents’ expansive home located on a hill overlooking a cluster of residences, a church, and municipal offices in San Bartolomé Quialana, an ethnically Zapotec village of roughly 2,500 inhabitants, under an hour from the city of Oaxaca.

While the tradition of paying brideprice is waning in parts of Mexico, it continues in Quialana. Brideprice is the transfer of currency or non-monetary equivalent from the groom or his family to the bride’s family. However, the circumstances of the courtship and marriage of Paola and Javier challenge traditional theory concerning the relationship of brideprice to the bride’s service to the groom’s family, to reproduction, and to the economic marketplace – unless one considers that the bride is an American citizen, and a minor.

Virtually all family members in the agricultural community of Quialana are involved to some extent in growing crops. Animal husbandry consists of raising mainly poultry for personal consumption, as well as turkeys, goats, and sheep for a small local commercial market. Underpinning the foregoing are well-entrenched traditions of making terra cotta pottery, the pre-Hispanic drink tejate, and hand-made tortillas, all sold in nearby Tlacolula de Matamoros, noted for its vibrant Sunday market.

Quialana is a matrifocal village, with a conspicuous absence of males except for youth and the elderly. Because of an essentially subsistence economy, and the allure of the United States, emigration is common, especially for males in their teens and twenties.

Mainly men tend the goats and sheep, as well as do most heavy agricultural work such as plowing. But women keep the economy alive: planting, weeding, and harvesting; making tortillas and tejate; producing pottery including excavating the hard clay from the base of nearby foothills; and selling in marketplaces.

Women cook, clean, and wash. At a very young age they are taught to become efficient at household chores, being groomed for marriage in their teens. A young woman who has been taught well by her mother is highly marketable. Arranged marriages are still commonplace.

Marriage is extremely important. At a minimum, state sanctioned nuptials legitimize what would otherwise simply be child-bearing out of wedlock, accepted but not rejoiced. At times, a couple will marry with a small civic ceremony, deferring the Catholic mass followed by multi-day festivities until their families can afford the latter. If under 18 years old, the couple must submit parental consent to marry.

Monogamy is valued and practiced. While extra-marital liaisons are much more commonplace throughout Mexico than in the United States and Canada, and in fact wives often accept a husband’s infidelity, it is likely that in Quialana men remain more or less faithful. Separation and divorce are uncommon.
Paola is 17, born and raised in Texas. Her parents are from Quialana, although they moved to the United States 28 years ago, shortly after marrying. They have four children; married sons aged 29 and 23, and daughters 21 and 17.

Both parents completed public school in their village, with no further education. After leaving school they became campesinos (agricultural workers) until moving to the US, although the mother became a housewife prior to giving birth to her first child. They own both their Texas and their village homes.
The father is a construction worker in the United States, while the mother has been a homemaker throughout virtually all of the marriage. Depending on the length of the family’s visits to Oaxaca, the father may work in the fields.

Roughly every two years Paola had been traveling to Quialana with her parents to visit family. By the time she moved to Oaxaca she was close to completing grade 12, with teaching her career goal.

Javier is 20. Quialana is his life. He only infrequently travels to Oaxaca, and has never left the state. He dropped out of high school. He’s a campesino. He lives with his sister, who is 16 and in high school, and his mother and aunt who both work in the fields and make pottery and tejate which they sell in Tlacolula.

When Paola’s oldest brother married, her parents paid a brideprice. When her second brother married, they did not, because it was only a civil ceremony. Her brothers and sister live in Texas.

Paola and Javier became acquainted via the internet, then met face-to-face when she turned 15 and was visiting Quialana. They began dating. When she was visiting over Christmas, 2014, just after she had turned 17, they decided to marry the following autumn.

The courtship and marriage was not arranged. In fact, Paola’s parents were upset with the couple’s decision to marry because of Paola’s age. Initially they did not want to consent. Although the intricacies of how the ultimate brideprice was determined is uncertain because of different perceptions and versions of the two sides, the threat of withholding consent and returning Paola to Texas played a role – as did Paola’s status as an American citizen.

Paola initially objected to her parents receiving brideprice, and felt she was being purchased like chattel. She eventually realized that it’s tradition. She now understands that if the groom’s family does not pay a mutually agreed amount, Javier would not be perceived as a quality husband. Both families earn the respect of other villagers if an accord is reached.

According to Paola, Javier’s mother initially offered 15 turkeys. It is customary to also pay an equal number of cases of beer, plus corn and sometimes other foodstuffs of lesser value. Elder church members became involved in the negotiations, one representing each family. Paola believes that her parents initially rejected accepting anything, because of her wishes. Javier’s mother claims that the number of turkeys grew to 26, and that the number of cases of beer reduced to 10, plus 10 cases of soda. If the number of turkeys is too large, then the quantity of beer should be reduced. The final brideprice was 26 turkeys, 10 cases of beer, 10 cases of soda, a fixed number of sacks of corn kernels, and perishables including aromatic herbs.

If Paola’s parents were initially predisposed to not accept anything, how did matters progress to the point wherein they demanded at least 26 turkeys and the rest? According to Paola that was what her parents needed to fulfill their gifting obligations to members of their extended families. On the other hand, Paola states that it was her parents who gave the couple large appliances, a wardrobe and other valuable gifts, whereas friends and family gave only relatively inexpensive household items such as pots, pans, dishes and blenders.

Brideprice-paying societies have been associated with a strong female role in agriculture. Because at marriage a bride generally moves into the household of her groom, brideprice is typically considered the payment a husband (and his family) owes to a bride’s parents for the right to her labor and reproductive capabilities. Brideprice has usually been a rather uniform amount throughout a society, linked directly to the number of rights which are transferred and not to the wealth level of families. It has also tended to correlate with polygyny and with the possibility of divorce. However, Paola and Javier’s situation poses a problem within the context of this explanation.

Javier had many prospective brides from whom to choose, given a plethora of young women in Quialana and nearby villages who had been readied for marriage by their mothers, and the effective absence of competition for him given the paucity of eligible males. “Marriage squeeze” refers to an imbalance between the numbers of marriageable men and women. With such a pool of young women, why in this case do we not see no marriage payment at all, or the beginning of a change from brideprice to dowry?

Where there is greater competition by men for wives, a “marriage matching framework” may explain a transition from brideprice to dowry as societies grow more complex. The frequency and magnitude of brideprice should be greater when wives’ input into production (like agriculture) is high and in societies with a significant incidence of polygyny. On its face, the case of Paola, Javier and their families does not accord with this approach.

Quialana is monogamous, and even within the context of widespread adultery in Mexico, this village does not appear to fit the mold. Furthermore, Paola had not been groomed for the rural Oaxaca marriage marketplace. It was only after wedding and moving into Javier’s family’s home that she truly began to learn household chores, from Javier’s mother and aunt. Months after the move she had still not gone into the fields to assist in farming. Her value as a housewife and agricultural worker had been unknown and untested prior to marriage, as compared with other village teens. Townspeople talk, and they know. Paola’s value cannot be understood as commensurate with the household labor she would contribute to Javier’s household. And while a bride’s value is often tied to her capacity to bear children, in this case there had been no prior suggestion that the couple would try to start a family immediately after the wedding, nor any discussion in regard to the couple’s ultimate family size. On the contrary, Paola’s childhood in the United States suggests, despite class considerations, the likelihood of a small family.

The most dramatic changes to marriage payments within societies are the times when payments have increased substantially, particularly in the value of a dowry. As compared to dowry transfers, little evidence exists of brideprice escalation in historical or contemporary societies. If we accept academic conjecture that modernization plays a role in decline and disappearance of marriage payments, then what specifically about modernization does this?

In this case the relatively exorbitant brideprice ultimately received provides a glimpse into the importance of age and citizenship as determinants of quantum of marriage payments. Furthermore, if this theory is correct, one might witness dramatic cultural change in which these two factors, US citizenship in particular, have the potential to govern payments – not only the amount, but also to and from which family the funds flow. In Quialana, the possibility thus exists for the tables to turn, with young, rural Zapotec men who are American citizens returning home and their families demanding dowry payments from the bride’s family.

Within this context, the amount of brideprice is consistent with at least some aspects of contemporary economic theory. While dowries seem to comprise a substantially larger portion of household income than brideprice, the latter are nevertheless significant. They can represent a large financial burden for poorer households, having implications for the distribution of wealth across families and generations.
There appears to be a correlation between marriage payments and the ability of prospective immigrants to move legally to the United States. Assuming that inter-country migration is one concomitant of modernization, we may find that modern arrangements actually see an increase in marriage payments as opposed to their disappearance.

Paola and Javier’s case may also provide an answer to whether brideprice influences the welfare of women. Both sexually and in terms of labor, brideprice has long been linked to domestic violence, owing to women’s fear of returning to their natal home without being able to repay the brideprice. If Javier uses his marriage to Paola to migrate legally to the United States, and thereafter embarks upon a “path to citizenship,” Paola retains the upper hand, insofar as Javier would, pending citizenship, have to be on his best behavior for fear of being deported in the face of any alleged domestic abuse.

Quialana is monogamous, and even within the context of widespread adultery in Mexico, this village does not appear to fit the mold. Furthermore, Paola had not been groomed for the rural Oaxaca marriage marketplace. It was only after wedding and moving into Javier’s family’s home that she truly began to learn household chores, from Javier’s mother and aunt. Months after the move she had still not gone into the fields to assist in farming. Her value as a housewife and agricultural worker had been unknown and untested prior to marriage, as compared with other village teens. Townspeople talk, and they know. Paola’s value cannot be understood as commensurate with the household labor she would contribute to Javier’s household. And while a bride’s value is often tied to her capacity to bear children, in this case there had been no prior suggestion that the couple would try to start a family immediately after the wedding, nor any discussion in regard to the couple’s ultimate family size. On the contrary, Paola’s childhood in the United States suggests, despite class considerations, the likelihood of a small family.

The most dramatic changes to marriage payments within societies are the times when payments have increased substantially, particularly in the value of a dowry. As compared to dowry transfers, little evidence exists of brideprice escalation in historical or contemporary societies. If we accept academic conjecture that modernization plays a role in decline and disappearance of marriage payments, then what specifically about modernization does this?

In this case the relatively exorbitant brideprice ultimately received provides a glimpse into the importance of age and citizenship as determinants of quantum of marriage payments. Furthermore, if this theory is correct, one might witness dramatic cultural change in which these two factors, US citizenship in particular, have the potential to govern payments – not only the amount, but also to and from which family the funds flow. In Quialana, the possibility thus exists for the tables to turn, with young, rural Zapotec men who are American citizens returning home and their families demanding dowry payments from the bride’s family.

Within this context, the amount of brideprice is consistent with at least some aspects of contemporary economic theory. While dowries seem to comprise a substantially larger portion of household income than brideprice, the latter are nevertheless significant. They can represent a large financial burden for poorer households, having implications for the distribution of wealth across families and generations.
There appears to be a correlation between marriage payments and the ability of prospective immigrants to move legally to the United States. Assuming that inter-country migration is one concomitant of modernization, we may find that modern arrangements actually see an increase in marriage payments as opposed to their disappearance.

Paola and Javier’s case may also provide an answer to whether brideprice influences the welfare of women. Both sexually and in terms of labor, brideprice has long been linked to domestic violence, owing to women’s fear of returning to their natal home without being able to repay the brideprice. If Javier uses his marriage to Paola to migrate legally to the United States, and thereafter embarks upon a “path to citizenship,” Paola retains the upper hand, insofar as Javier would, pending citizenship, have to be on his best behavior for fear of being deported in the face of any alleged domestic abuse.

If we consider that legal residency in the United States would provide Javier with an enhanced opportunity to repay the brideprice to his family in Quialana, we can work towards determining the value the brideprice has represented. Otherwise, there is an extremely tenuous connection between the cost of the brideprice and the ability of Paola’s services to provide a net gain to Javier’s family over the ensuing years. However, one must also recognize that one theory links marriage payments to the rights of inheritance held by women, and to this extent the payment by Javier’s family might make economic sense, arguably at a more indirect level.

The suggestion that marriage payments are correlated to the number of rights, should perhaps be adjusted to the value of one or more rights. On the other hand, this case does support the contention that the wealth of families involved has little to do with the amount of the payment. Take the example of Mexicans intent upon migrating to the United States without papers. A coyote (human trafficker of sorts) charges his clients based on the value he attributes to that service. Charging brideprice, or dowry for that matter, in certain contexts is valued in a similar fashion. That is, these individuals charge a fixed fee to assist Mexicans to illegally cross the border without regard to their financial circumstances, just as parents of brides may attribute a value to the permission to marry their daughters without regard to the ability of the groom or his family to pay.

Most economic explanations for brideprice are based on notions of supply and demand in the marriage market. But many such elucidations are weakly convincing, and puzzles remain. Indian research has focused mainly on dowry and brideprice separately, ignoring the possibility of a “joint determination.” However one academic study analyzed dowry and brideprice as “interdependent institutions,” taking into consideration factors such as education, age, and distance of marriage migration.

The case of Paola and Javier illustrates the potential for developing a broader model for determining and evaluating similar factors at play regarding marriage payments in contemporary society where migration exists. This is not to totally discount Paola’s explanation that the lofty payment her parents received indicates that they respect and value Javier as a son-in-law.

The general application may be limited to contexts of high emigration, especially involving countries where citizens are able to sponsor a spouse for legal immigration. Age and other factors must also be considered. This approach leads us away from the static traditional notion of there being either brideprice or dowry. Driven by more modern considerations, payments might increase, decrease, or dissipate completely. In any event, thinking about Paola and Javier expands our understanding of the legal issue of “quantum meruit,” or the determination of how much something is worth.

This article has been adapted from an earlier academic paper by the author. Alvin Starkman operates Mezcal Educational Excursions of Oaxaca (www.mezcaleducationaltours.com).