Now that I am arriving at the end of this book, I find in my notes a number of little things I wanted to tell you about but which did not fit into any of the units I have written. So I believe I’ll just gather up these leftover items in this unit, whose title means mixture.
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Crossing the street: If one wants to cross a busy downtown street here, either at the corner or in the middle of a block, one need only step out to the edge of the traffic lanes. The drivers will stop and patiently wait for one to cross.
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Capuchinas: These are cloistered Franciscan nuns who live in a convent downtown in Nuevo. They are very strict, very disciplined, and among the most cheerful folk you will ever meet. They have a little shop where on sundays one can buy tamales, chili, whatever they have to sell that day. It takes them several minutes to fill an order—I don’t know why—but they always bring out a snack while one is waiting. The snack sometimes includes a sip of rum punch. This order, like most strict, traditional Catholic orders, is attracting young girls in great numbers, especially the most intelligent and educated of today’s youth, to the life of the nunnery. The capuchinas are currently building a huge new convent a couple of miles out in the country to accommodate their ever increasing flow of recruits.
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Protest: This summer’s electric bills were sky high. In protest, a number of farmers hauled old farm equipment into Nuevo and with it built a barricade around the electric commission office. As of this writing the barricade has been in place a couple of months.
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Wages: Delia hired a man named Chava to do some plaster work on the house. He worked a full day on his regular construction job, then would come by for another two or three hours’ work here. One day he showed up sick and she insisted he not work. She asked if he had worked his other job that day. –Yes. –But that is dangerous, if you’re sick. –I know it is, but I have two children and I need the money.
He makes nine dollars a day.
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Birthday party: One of my first social events here was a birthday party for a two year old boy. His folks lived just across the irrigation ditch from the casita which I rented for a while.
The party was an evening event and drew not only children but also their parents, mostly members of the family. These folk lived in a tiny house of three rooms, so the gathering was held outside under the trees. A local beer distributor lent tables and chairs, as they will for most any function. Lights were strung up from tree to tree.
A major feature of a birthday party, as of various other occasions, is the breaking of the piñata, so called because of its resemblance to a piña [pineapple]. The piñata is made of papier-mâché and loaded with candies. It is suspended by a rope several feet off the ground. One by one, children are blindfolded and given a stick with which to try to hit the piñata. When the older children take their turns, an adult will usually yank the rope to raise the piñata, so it doesn’t get hit too soon. But finally it will break, candy will fall everywhere, and children will scramble to get it.
But customs are changing. The piñata at this party was shaped not like a pineapple but a horse. Nor did it contain candy. After the horse was hit a few times, and had lost three legs, the candy was handed out in plastic bags to the kids. Seems to me a shame to abolish the mad scramble. I am told it was because the old way resulted in too many bonked heads, stepped on fingers, skinned knees.
One of the guests at this party was about twelve years old. He was spastic, drooled, and could not speak. Another was about four and was confined to a little wheelchair. These were treated just like all the other kids. Since this event, about a year ago, I don’t recall having seen any other crippled children.
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Friends: Delia and I went to a rodeo. Some preliminary events began at four o’clock on that sunday afternoon. The main show would not begin until six. We went at four. There were no more than a dozen or so folks present. The bleachers faced east and the sun on our backs was just blistering hot.
There was a tubular steel framework over the bleachers which at some time must have supported a canopy. After a few minutes I remembered that I happened to have a tarp in my car. I went and got it, along with some bunji cords, and lo! it fit the framework just fine, and with a few minutes of experimentation we had a nice patch of shade.
In another few minutes we also had a nice patch of friends. Every single person in those bleachers came to crowd into our shade.
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Restaurants: You can read elsewhere about mexican restaurants—the decor, menu, prices, service. I will just tell you what I most like in the local restaurants: You don’t have to sit there starving. When you are seated a waiter will come quickly with a menu—and also a snack for you to eat while deciding on your order.
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Ethnic groups: The mexican people here are ethnically mostly a mixture of spanish and native indian peoples. Additional genetic inputs include chinese and german. The color of the people ranges from very white, with blue eyes and blond hair or red, to quite dark with pure black eyes and black hair.
In the nearby mountains are tarahumara indians, who have held aloof from mixing with the newcomers. Their women come into town to shop and are recognizable through their brightly colored dresses and almost always ample figures.
Mormons in their southward migration from Utah reached here in the early 1880s. They generally live in their own colonies, of which there are two near here: Colonia Juárez, a rural village about eleven miles to the west; and Colonia Dublán, which is on the north end of Nuevo Casas Grandes and contiguous with that city. The mormons mostly marry among themselves and therefore remain ethnically quite american. They are bilingual and maintain the teaching of english as well as spanish in their schools. Many mexicans attend their schools because of the excellence of the english courses. They are cattle ranchers and fruit growers.
And there are mennonites. As best I understand it they migrated from Germany to western Canada in the 1880s. They are pacifist, but in World War I they were subject to the draft in Canada, which did not allow exemption from military service for reason of conscience. For this reason they sought a new home, and found it in Mexico. Mexico requires a year of military service from all boys. However, a special agreement was made with the mennonites: They would come here and take wasteland, desert, and make it productive; in return, among other benefits, they and their descendents would be perpetually exempt from military service. They are farmers and specialize in dairy products. They are readily recognizable in town by their pure german looks and german speech, the overalls and straw hats of the men, and the black dresses and straw hats of the women. Formerly they tended to reject modern technology and to live a life as strict as that of monks. Nowadays they come to town in SUVs and carry cell phones, and dine in restaurants where the men often order beer. But they maintain the essentials of their strictness.
The other day we had a gathering here of several of Delia’s relatives and their spouses. There were mexicans and me, an american, and also a chinaman. And there were Sandra and her children. Sandra, a blond mexican, married an arab whom she met in college in the States and moved to his home in Bahrain, an island in the persian gulf. She has become very arab herself. Even here in Mexico she wears the hijab, a black garment covering the hair and neck. Her children, good arabs all, know very little spanish. They speak arabic and english, british english at that. During this visit we got to counting nationalities and I allowed that if we could just find an indian and a russian we could have a meeting of the United Nations.
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Protest: Farmers and ranchers here, like their counterparts just over the border, are hurting badly due to several years of drought in the southwest american-northern mexican desert. And like americans, some of them receive government relief checks. The checks are delivered to the municipal president, who passes them on to the farmers. For some reason, I don’t know what, the president impounded the last round of checks rather than delivering them.
Whereupon the farmers arrived in town last Monday, went to the presidencia, surrounded it, and announced, –This place is closed.– And they turned all the employees out into the plaza.
But the farmers did not occupy the building. They merely gathered around it, talking, smoking, sharing lunches, over a hundred of them in bib overalls and straw hats. More like a fiesta than a protest.
At three o’clock, when the presidencia normally closes, the farmers left. And those officials who just had to get some work done went in and worked into the night to complete their duties. Next morning at eight the farmers were back. And so on through the week, and so on until one side or the other gives in.
This is a mexican protest. Like the electric protest I mentioned earlier, it is conducted with great decorum and not a little humor.
Some time back the people of Ciudad Juárez, just across from El Paso, grew weary of freight trains coming through town in the daytime and making traffic jams at grade crossings. In negotiations the railroad people agreed to run the trains through town at night. But they did not; they continued to run them in the day.
How did the people protest? They had a massive cleanup, gathering old cars, tires, washing machines, any kind of heavy, bulky junk they could find ... and stacked it all on the tracks.
© 2004 Joseph Mansfield