Santa Cruz Amilpas, Oaxaca

Posted on December 19, 2013


The old highway, now primarily an alternate route into the city of Oaxaca for truck traffic, divides the older section of this outlying pueblo from a 1980s government-financed residential compound. Residents on both sides of the highway awaken to gradually more persistent brumping and vibrating as two-trailered vehicles lurch across speed bumps and accelerate for the final run past repair shops and roadside stands. Like most of workaday Mexico, laborers and their families rise early and like most of workaday Mexico slide into the routines that define their daily life.
Families are large; houses are small. Every room serves as a bedroom in many: a bedroom that after grown children, or elders, or the ama de casa rises is re-transformed into livingroom, diningroom, hallway or porch. In most kitchens a radio is broadcasting chatter, music, news which is absorbed peripherally—snatches of dialogue, hummed-to melody, weather reports—as coffee boils, tortillas heat, eggs fry. A conflicting banter of orders, complaints, jibes, needs belies an underlying order; even in argument each participant knows his or her place.
Older children take charge of younger children, grandparents of any household chores. No longer is Mexico the traditional wife/mother at home, man in the fields or factory: Most women and many children work, the majority in the so-called “informal” sector setting up stalls to sell used clothing, cups of steaming corn, Chinese-made trinkets, knock-off CDs. Others clean houses, sell Avon, repair electric appliances, deliver pizza fliers. There’s never enough money and prices continue to rise.
Yet there is stability for those who remain in towns like Santa Cruz Amilpas. Store owners leave their shops open while they run errands or race after departing customers who’ve left a peso in change on the counter. Neighbors stop what they’re doing to help repair a carburetor or change a tire. The nearest chain stores are miles away so amas de casa shop daily: While the new cooperative market is being built two dozen or more little kiosks house panaderìas, butcher shops, fruit and vegetable stalls, notions, juices, shoe repair, grain, take-out meals. Customers and shopkeepers chat about children, illnesses, prices, men about home repairs, storms, local politicians.
Little wealth is evident. There are no new cars, no one dressed in suits and neckties. Teenaged pregnancies are common; most young couples live with one parent or another. Stores as well as homes are nurseries, patios are playgrounds, doorways stalls for selling gelatinas, atole, popsickles. In the government-built compound the pegged-together houses face walkways, not streets: Traffic is limited to half-a-dozen roadways around the perimeter. Lime trees, roses, bougainvillea, four o’clocks line the walkways; children run from house to house followed by dogs of various sizes and descriptions. Laughter, squeals, recriminations, slamming doors: a cacophony punctuated by the shouts of vendors on three-wheeled bicycle carts delivering garafones of water, tortillas, ice cream.
Everyone has problems. Personal problems. Financial problems. Problems that seem not to have solutions but that blend into a way of communal survival, of days merging one into another bringing tears, regrets, but also sharing, laughter, acceptance. The flowers blooming in the walkways find reflection in my neighbors’ smiles.

Posted in: Life in Mexico