Saturday, June 10, 2023

Indigenous city in Mexico survives on remittances from America

COMACHUEN, Mexico ( Associated Press) — In Comachuan, a pure-bred indigenous community of about 10,000 residents perched high in the pine-covered mountains of the western state of Michoacan, the entire city survives because of money sent home by immigrants working in the United States. Is. ,

That money, known as remittances, fed families following a decline in local lumber sales a decade ago when pine wood began to become scarce. The money has allowed their families to stay in Comachuan instead of moving to other parts of Mexico for work. That – and the fact that the children spend most of the year with their mothers and grandparents – have helped to preserve the Purepecha language among almost everyone in the city.

Traditional textiles, woodworking and construction mainly survive, as such enterprises are funded by migrants who send money to build houses here. Many things here – churches, bull rings, charity donations – are paid for by expatriates.

The Mexican government believes remittances will exceed $50 billion for the first time last year. But whether remittance allows families to simply survive or progress enough so that their children do not have to emigrate, it reflects an individual’s plans and vision.

The chilly winter mornings in Comachuen are the return of another era. Men are back in the city due to the seasonal lull in agricultural work in the United States.

Many workers in Comachuan get H2A temporary US work visas, while others leave without documents. Hundreds of men here work on the same vegetable farm in New York every year, planting onions, harvesting squash, cabbage and beans. Porfirio Gabriel, an organizer who recruits workers to go north, estimates that one farm alone has brought in $5 million to the city in three years, the biggest single source of income ever.

People exchange greetings as they pass each other along the narrow streets in Purepecha. At one end of town, three drivers lead their teams of oxen to haul freshly cut pine trunks on narrow carts into the streets and surrounding hills. Tree trunks are laid out in the street in front of the homes of those who buy them, which are seen in backyard workshops.

The sound of logs mixed with the shouts of men carrying bricks and gravel and gravel carts in half-timbered houses. Comachuan comes alive in winter.

Tranquillino Gabriel—that’s a common last name here—is turning a decorative wooden spindle on a primitive lathe. The 59-year-old does so on his downtime from working in America, to keep his decades-old family business alive. The 5 pesos (25 cents) he gets for each is just supplemental income.

They say there is a shortage of wood and it is not clear how long they will be able to do so. “More people are clearing the land and planting avocado trees,” says Gabriel.

Gabriel is resigned to work in the United States for as long as he can. He sends home about $7,500 a year from his farm work. That money is largely used for the education of her children, to pay private college fees, so that her eldest son can become a registered nurse.

They hope that their children will get university degrees and will not have to migrate. “I’m paying for their studies so they don’t have to do what we had to do,” Gabriel says.

In addition to spindles, which are shipped to a nearby town to be collected in bookcases and shelves, the economy here largely consists of migrants selling to other goods.

Jose Gonzalez, 55, works in the corner shop that he remodeled, stocked, and grew with the money he earned over a decade while working in the United States.

Gonzalez, who has the stern, thoughtful face of an indigenous drill sergeant, says he used to do woodwork, “but it wasn’t enough to meet our basic needs.” After working in the fields for some time in Mexico, he had to migrate. Now their warehouse sells packaged goods and food to the families of migrants.

Omar Gabriel, 28, sells sand, gravel, cement and rebar to migrants who are building or expanding their homes in Comachuen with money earned in the US Gabriel, one of the younger and better educated migrant workers , who has studied accounting in a university. nearby. He has plans that don’t involve moving north forever to plant onions every spring.

His money from American agricultural work goes to expand the family firm, Don Beto Materials, and pay for his younger brother’s university education as an architect. The family bought an old bulldozer with the money earned in the north. Earlier he had bought a dump truck.

“My goal is to work (in the United States) for five more years to get enough capital to run the company properly,” he says, from blueprints to quarrying to buildings, as a full-service construction firm. In, they say.

But even if Gabriel won’t have to migrate someday now, it appears his business will always depend on a steady stream of expatriate customers with dollars in their pockets.

The next generation is key: will an influx of remittances allow young adults from Comachuan to make a living in Mexico rather than labor in American territories?

Andres Reyes, 20, is studying business administration at a public university in Baltazar’s state capital, Morelia. On winter break, he was helping his 41-year-old father, Ascension Reyes Julian, at the family’s furniture workshop, where they are building a massive wooden wardrobe about six feet wide and eight feet long. (Many Mexican homes do not have cupboards.)

The father has been moving north to work since 2011 because, he says, in the furniture business “sometimes there are customers, and sometimes there are not.” Reyes Julian spends a lot of money in New York to spend on his son’s education.

Andres dreams of using his education to build a business, perhaps by buying trucks to reach wider markets and getting better prices for his furniture. Creating finished pieces offers a better profit margin than replacing furniture parts, and the Reyes family is one of the few people here who still do this.

But when asked if he too would someday go north to work in the United States, Andrés balked. “Maybe, maybe. But first I’m going to finish my studies.”

Andrea Sanchez, 21, speaks fluent English. She moved with her family to California without documents as a young child in 2002 and attended American schools through sixth grade.

When her family returned to Comachuen, she said, “It was a huge shock … it was really different.” In the decade since, she’s learned to love her hometown, even though she doesn’t have the big houses and well-kept yards she saw in her childhood. “This is home. This is what the culture calls me.”

Even though she is studying here to be a teacher, and helping her mother with the family’s traditional embroidered textile business, she still dreams of returning to the United States someday.

“If there is such a possibility, I will,” she said, “I would prefer to do things legally. That would be the goal.”


Nation World News Desk
Nation World News Desk
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