Mexico Life
Guadalupe Nundaca Guadalupe Nundaca, in the Mixteca. daniel mendoza

An annual trip to Baja puts food on the table

Working in the fields of Baja California feeds his family in the Mixteca

On good days, ground beans and tortillas are the staples in the home of Daniel Lázaro Álvarez Pérez. On other days, he doesn’t know what he and his family will eat, for those are the days when there is no food in their adobe home.

That’s the motivation for Alvarez Pérez to make the annual trek to Baja California, where he can work in the fields and put food on his family’s table.

“That’s why I go to Baja, to pick fruit and vegetables in the fields,” says the senior official in Guadalupe Nundaca, a community of 800 inhabitants in the municipality of San Sebastián Tecomaxtlahuaca in the state of Oaxaca. In Guadalupe Nundaca the only employment option, if it goes well, pays 500 pesos a month.

“Well, I have no money, I have a wife, six children who go to school . . . . If you stay here you barely work, you only plant corn, take care of your crops and pull the weeds,” he says, a concerned look on his face.

Alvarez Pérez is the municipal agent in a community of empty streets and few inhabitants.

He happily holds office, although he is obligated to do so. In this deeply traditional community, being the municipal agent is unpaid work required of the residents, and this year it was his turn.

The community has many needs, he says, “but when we ask the authorities in San Sebastián for money they always say there is none. If I have corn and beans now it’s because last year I worked the fields and saved a little.”

Guadalupe Nundaca is located in the Sierra Mixteca, among some of the poorest villages on the border with the state of Guerrero. The dirt road in is the only access route and is marked by dry riverbeds and portraits of poverty and resignation. Officials say the town has a very high degree of marginalization and 48% of its inhabitants are illiterate.

The one school serves both primary and secondary students. It has a health center without a doctor, a church without a priest and tiny Diconsa store. There is electricity, there are some sidewalks, houses of brick and adobe. But there are no sewers, and the main fuel is wood.

Sitting in her kitchen, Apolinaria Torrealba, Alvarez Pérez’ wife, says her husband has been going to Baja for almost all the 27 years they’ve been married.

“It’s because there is no money! There is none! That’s why he has to leave.”

For the first two years she went with him and left the children in the care of her mother-in-law. Since then she preferred to stay home, waiting from March to October for him to return.

Although his land grows the same crops and supports the same livestock as the fields in the north, he prefers to plant and harvest in Baja because he earns more and the harvest is stable, whereas in Oaxaca it is not.

“Sometimes it yields well, sometimes the harvest rots, sometimes it just doesn’t grow at all.”

So he takes work in surrounding communities when he can find it — as a plumber’s assistant, or gathering or selling coconuts. Yet he earns just 100 pesos working five days a month on average, while the rest of the days bring no such fortune.

This year, Alvarez Pérez Is patiently waiting for the conclusion of his term as municipal agent.

Then he can go back to Baja California, and put more food on the table.

Source: Erika Flores/Milenio (sp)

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