Tag Archives: migrants

LOS ANGELES: Oaxacan Indians, the bonds & binds of tradition

In the background to the lives of many Oaxacan Indian migrants is the system of usos y costumbres, a system of Indian local governance in Mexico which requires them to fulfill unpaid service jobs in their village.

This story ran in the LA Times and was fascinating to do. I went to Santa Ana del Valle, a village where migrants had been trying to change the centuries-old system. (Many thanks to the French-American Foundation for its grant funding.)

The system of unpaid municipal service jobs goes back, in some form, for centuries. But it was a system that functioned because everyone lived in town, and it helped the town remain unified, if also poor.

Now, with so many migrants in LA, the system doesn’t work as it did. It fractures towns often, rather than unifying them. It continues to create poverty by both forcing government to be done by people who don’t really know how to run a modern city government and by not paying workers, forcing those who take on these jobs to go into debt or sell land or animals.

There was a lot more to the system that wasn’t possible to include — such as its role in religious persecution. Some villages have used UyC to run out Protestants who’ve decided they don’t want to participate in the annual religious rites and festivals that are also part of the system.

Isaias Garcia (photos above, with wife Angelica Morales), by the way, was, in his day, one of the great Oaxacan Indian basketball players — basketball being a kind of second religion for Oaxacan Indians.

I wrote about his brother, Zeus, and his attempt to restore the purity of amateur basketball to the sport in America in my first book, True Tales from Another Mexico: The Lynch Mob, the Popsicle Kings, Chalino and the Bronx.






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Filed under Los Angeles, Mexico, Migrants, Religion, Southern California

MEXICO: Our Lady of the Miscelanea

Santa Ana del Valle, Oaxaca


Filed under Culture, Mexico, Migrants

MIGRANTS: Sicilia, Libya and other desperate straits

Time Magazine has a great post about illegal migration from Africa — northern and southern — into Europe.

Libya under Gaddahfi apparently controlled smuggling squads, using migrants, usually from sub-Saharan Africa, as a way of prying what he wanted out of Italy.

Now that’s changed, as has the pull of jobs in Europe, which is suffering from its own economic crisis.

Also on the same post is a link to photographs by Mexico City photographer Keith Dannemiller of Mexico’s patron saint of lost causes. His photos (one of which is above) are always worth checking out.

It appears the website, Roads and Kingdoms is well worth favoriting. Great idea for a site! I’ll be following….


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Filed under Global Economy, Migrants

MIGRANTS: Remittances worldwide increasing

Migrant remittances to their native countries worldwide are on the upswing, with $399 billion expected to be sent home this year, up from $372 billion last year.



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MIGRANTS: Remittances to Mexico rise

If, as I’ve long thought, Mexican immigrants are terrific economic barometers, it seems the economy is recovering.

Banco de Mexico reports that remittances sent home from the U.S. were higher in May than they’ve been in 43 months: rising to $2.336 billion, according to Reforma newspaper.

Economists should use Mexican immigrants as economic barometers. They are virtually nationwide, and they go where the jobs are. Plus, they’ve shown themselves remarkably reflective of good and bad economic times. There was a reason pre-Katrina New Orleans had few Mexicans: the economy was on its back and there were no jobs. Few Mexicans in Detroit, too. But Charlotte? Nashville? Minneapolis? They all have large populations.




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Filed under Mexico, Migrants

PODCAST: Juan Gutierrez, Oaxacan baker in Santa Monica

Juan Gutierrez, Oaxacan baker in Santa Monica

Welcome to a new feature of my blog — podcast interviews — which I hope to do more of.

The first one is a conversation with Juan Gutierrez, a Zapotec Indian from Oaxaca. His Panaderia Antequera in Santa Monica is believed to be the first Oaxacan-owned business in the L.A. area, opening in the late 1980s.

The conversation is about his arrival here, working at Shakey’s, and opening his bakery — a piece of oral history of a people’s move north.

These last few years a mini-boom in Oaxacan owned businesses has been underway in L.A., spurred by several factors: the idea many have now that they’re not going to be returning home; the size of the Oaxacan immigrant consumer market in L.A.; and a general dispelling of the fear and intimidation with which many Oaxacans, formerly campesinos, viewed business.

The interview is in Spanish and runs about 24 minutes.

I’m hoping to talk to more folks like Mr. Gutierrez, pioneers, people with interesting stories — as well as authors of books that are relevant to the themes of this blog.

Feel free to suggest some.

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Filed under Los Angeles, Mexico, Migrants, Podcast, Southern California

MIGRANTS: Hernan Hernandez, Los Tigres del Norte

Today is the birthday of Hernan Hernandez, bass player and singer for Los Tigres del Norte.

I toured several times with the band to shows around Mexico, seeing parts of the country that I’d never have seen had it not been for their great generosity. I was already a huge fan by the time I met them, and knew the words to many of their songs.

They remain, I think, the best band out of Mexico — The  Only Band That Matters, isn’t that what they used to say about The Clash. Same with Los Tigres. Great chroniclers, amazing reps of migrant Mexico, too. Here’s a story I did from those years on Los Tigres for LA Times Magazine. Always wanted to write a book about the band….

Anyway, one night, Hernan was sick from, I think, food poisoning. They took him to a doctor.I think he got some intravenous fluids, but was still sick.

They went to the show, in a town in Puebla. Got there late. The crowd was rowdy, throwing rocks. But then the band went on and played for four hours or so. Just an amazing show.

Hernan played the whole show, sweating, sick, faint, barely hanging on. Reminded me of Michael Jordan during that playoff game years ago. Never forget that night. A real pro….Happy Birthday, Hernan!


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Filed under Culture, Mexico, Migrants

VIRGIN: The Virgin of Nadeau Street

Much of the sweetness of the Virgin of Guadalupe, I believe, lies in her eyes, which are cast down, and the humility that implies.

Always an oasis in LA, whenever I see her.


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MIGRANTS: Carmen of Honduras

I was at a ceremony inaugurating the corner of Pico and Vermont as Monsenor Oscar Romero Square, and I met Carmen, who asked if I had any work for a housekeeper.

I said I didn’t, but she seemed nice, with good references, she assured me, so if you have any work for a housekeeper, let me know.



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Filed under Los Angeles, Migrants