martes, 31 de enero de 2012

Family and Work: An Immigrant Woman's Dilemma

By: Zaira Cortés
Global Connect! Blogger
Thursday, January 26, 2012
Midnight passes and it is intensely cold on Roosevelt Avenue. On the corner of 82 Street, Maria Gomez, a-39-year-old Mexican, carefully cleans the space occupied by her food cart.
With water and "jabón Roma," she brushes the fat off the stove that comes from the meat she cooks to prepare tacos.
Mexican immigrants like previous immigrants are a positive vehicle contributing to this country's economic recovery. However, this contribution comes at great personal sacrifice.
Maria's customers are workers who return home to the neighborhood after a tough day.
Maria starts preparing the food she sells before dawn. She slices the fruit sold in small plastic packages; grinds the green tomatoes, jalapenos and spices to prepare the sauce that accompanies traditional Mexican dishes. She cooks the tortillas made with fresh corn dough.
"This work is not easy. I have nowhere to go to the bathroom and I cannot rest during the holidays. I do it all for my family, "said Maria.
Because she does not understand English and she must put food on the table daily. Maria rarely gets the opportunity to help with her children's homework "In this city there is barely time for the important things in life," she said with resignation.
"Sales are not as good as in previous years, but the money allows me to survive with dignity," Maria says, explaining her commitment to her work.
Many Latinas are economically independent and contribute to the economic recovery. In its latest report, the Department of Labor states that at present, 41 percent of Latino workers who are the main household wage earners are women, like Maria Gomez.
Elizabeth Garcia, 52, who three months ago got a job selling chorros (fritters) for a commission of half of her daily sales.
On the corner of Castle Hill and Westchester Avenue in the Bronx, Elizabeth spends most of her day offering bags of two churros for a dollar. She has a daughter in Mexico and each week sends her money.
"I live in a house with 20 people and I pay very little rent. In this country I deprive myself of material things to help my family live better in the town I left years ago, "she says.
Elizabeth is part of the Department of Labor's estimated eight million Latinas working in the United States.
"I am proud of myself because I am both a mother and father. With my own hands I have built assets for my family."
Many Latina immigrant workers have become entrepreneurs and employers. Martha Román, 43, owns a grocery store in Washington Heights, a neighborhood in Northern Manhattan where many native Spanish-speakers live. She employs six immigrant workers, who, like her, could become future business owners.
"I always looked toward being my own boss. For many years I work hard and made very little money," she says.
The businesswoman described that her greatest challenge is the "machismo" of some employees.
"Some men think that a woman should not give orders. It's hard being an independent woman," she says. In addition, to maintaining her small business successfully, Román is a mother of three daughters. She adds, "It's difficult to be a small business owner and a good mother."
Martha recalls her childhood in Guerrero, Mexico as a difficult period, where poverty and neglect continues. She slept on the floor and food was always scarce. "I am proud of working to improve the economy of this great country. This is my home now and I want to be part of its development. "
Among all the success stories there are the ones of those still struggling. Clara Jimenez, a 20-year-old Mexican-American, resident of Brooklyn, is one of thousands of unemployed young people. She completed high school and is bilingual, but she states that her skills are not sufficient in a competitive city.
"I am enrolled at the University, but I do not know what will happen when the time comes to join the real world," she says.
On weekends, she sells food with her parents in the city parks. Months ago she worked as waitress, but she left the job because of low pay.
"I see unemployed graduates and I think college may not be good enough. The future it scares me, "she says.
It is my opinion that Mexican immigrants whether undocumented or legal face more exclusion and barriers than other new comers to United States.

                               Elizabeth García.
                               Credit: Zaira Cortés.

jueves, 12 de enero de 2012

Poverty Is not Folklore for Indigenous Mexican Women

                                                                                         Credit: Zaira Cortés

Poverty Is not Folklore for Indigenous Mexican Women
By Zaira Cortés
Wednesday, November 2, 2011
A close link between poverty and migration exists. Without employment, education, adequate food plus a machista culture, indigenous women face a challenge. Crossing the border may be the only way to get a better life.
NEW YORK. - In 2007, the Zapotitlan Salinas Valley, which forms part of Puebla's southern Sierra Mixteca, was the main stage for a movie (Todos Hemos Pecado) that suited the fantasies of Mexico's filmmakers.
Far from the glamour, bright lights and imaginary conceptions of the Mexican film industry, the indigenous women survive in a world that is not fiction, even though their circumstances seem to derive from the film-makers imagination.
This zone, heavily promoted by the state government, offers the international tourist, endemic cacti, ancient fossils, salt beds, exotic gastronomy and palm crafts. But in marginalized areas, the tourist economy does not seem to fill empty stomachs. Families live without basic services, such as potable water and medical care.
In San Pablo Netitlan, medicinal herbs are the only recourse for treating illness. From a high temperature to giving birth, treatment depends on the wisdom of local healers.
Women, who earn their living from selling hats made from palm leafs, survive on less than three dollars a day. To obtain the services of a medical doctor means that people must sacrifice much more than their weekly earnings.
This rural town of 450 inhabitants is 40 minutes from a major city (Zapotitlan Salinas Valley). Those that do not have a car or donkey must walk to the city. Broken bones are not treated by physicians. The "Hueseros" or bonesetters set broken bones and treat the fracture with ointments, prayers and the Popote herb.
Money is not the only thing lacking but so is food. The women anxiously wait for the singing of the Cheche bird because according to the ancestors their song brings rain. If there is no rain there will not be any crops and all hope is lost.
The rural women dig small holes in the dirt with their bare feet in which they plant corn. Between May and June, the indigenous people are constantly looking for signs of rain. A chicken wallowing in the dirt may be a good indication of the rain to come.
If clouds do not appear and rain does not come, mothers search for food in inhospitable terrain, full of rocks, thorns and eroded land. There they find herbs such as Chichipe or Chendes which they make into soup or roast with lime juice and salt.
There is no medical care, not even antibiotics, for those women who give birth. Herbs are the only solution. Herbs such as higuerilla, huele de noche and zumiate are used to heal both body wounds and those of the soul.
The midwives help birth babies that when grown will abandon their mothers to immigrate to New York. The majority of the young people from the Zapotitlan Salinas Valley reside in the Big Apple, far from their small world that refuses to accept its poverty as if it were folklore.
Estanzuela, Guadalupe La Meza, Agua Mezquite and El Manantial, are towns in which life is a daily struggle. Being born a female in these towns is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, they must carry on their shoulders the burden of taking care of the family. Their daily activities are divided between seeking food in the mountains, planting crops, selling hats made from palm leafs and rearing their children. And then there is the constant oppressive machismo.
Alcoholic husbands, domestic violence, lack of birth control and poor nutrition define their daily life.
In the Sierra Mixteca of the Zapotitlan Salinas Valley, women are not concerned about looks; there is no time for vanity. The deep wrinkles on the women's bronze faces are scares of battles won.
It is much easier for the young men to say goodbye and cross the border in search of the American dream, than for young women to do so. The vast majority of young women can only accept the inevitable, the typical woman's role. For instance, teenage pregnancy is common in these communities and is seen as a natural process.
The lack of employment and education results in the annual migration of young people to New York. Only senior citizens, children and women remain in these towns.
The tourist propaganda attracts many international visitors to the cacti forest of the Zapotitlan Valley, but leaves the marginalized towns out, lost in an almost perfect paradise.
How ethical is the exploitation of the arts and heritage of communities that do not benefit from the tourist economy? The photograph of a woman weaving palm leafs may be beautiful for tourism propaganda, but what happens to her circumstances and poverty. Why the silence on Mexico's poverty?
Zapotitlan Salinas, an internationally known town for its artesian work of clay and stone, must confront its poverty and the resulting migration to the United States and its consequences of divided families, empty houses and abandoned wives and children.
In 1999, Bertha Barragan crossed the Arizona border with her three children. She had been abandoned by her husband when he immigrated to the United States. When Bertha arrived in New York she confronted her husband.
"My family was divided. In my home town I had to fight our poverty. In New York I have to fight my loneliness," stated Barragan.
In the Bronx, Barragan sells food to pay her rent. She misses her native foods but prefers to live in New York because of a better quality life. "Zapotitlan is beautiful for visitors, but for those of us that live there life is different. Without work in machista culture, women have few opportunities," said Barragan.
For Barragan, being indigenous should not be synonymous with poverty. "Treating illnesses with herbs is not traditional; it simply means that the indigenous communities do not receive the proper services. Living without basic services is not strength, it is an embarrassment," stated Bertha.
Poverty is not folklore but a reality.