We followed a yoghurt truck from the coast through breathtaking valleys to Guadalajara, a city as large as Toronto, where we both have life-long friends, so our visit there was filled with happy reunions.
We were hosted by Hilda Villaseñor and Fernando Garcia, a dear family friend of John and Elizabeth, who was an intern with organic farmer Diane Kretschmar in the Muskoka region of Ontario a decade ago, where Adam and Anna met. 15 minutes after arriving, we were off to observe a domestic gardening class Fernando was offering to neighbourhood women through his urban agriculture business, Cosecha en Casa.
They are a dynamic and enterprising couple, and we had a lot of fun cooking, eating, and visiting with them.
Devils in the Details of the Devices
As two technopeasant viejitos, we continued to have our own hair-pulling dramas with our many devices: 2 smart phones, 2 small and 2 large cameras, 2 laptops (PC and MAC), 3 external hard drives, and more chargers and cords than we can identify…! They were our companions even on the road, since we plugged in John’s laptop for music over the car’s stereo system, Deb worked on blog photos during long drives, and we regularly stopped to photograph a roadside scene.
But we arrived in Guadalajara with neither laptop working properly. So we spent our first day there in its biggest mall with an Apple Store and Best Buy, and walked out with John’s wifi connection revived, Deb’s computer working again with a new $100 85watt cord, and a Mexican cellphone to boot…!
The never ending tale of tomato workers: Gomez Farias and Sayula
Twenty years ago, I first met Teresa Sintero, who was then a 65-year old campesina picking tomatoes for a tomato agribusiness in Sayula, Jalisco. Teresa was featured in my book Tangled Routes: Women, Work and Globalization on the Tomato Trail, and was the honoured guest at the launch of the Spanish edition in Sayula in 2009; her granddaughter Aleida, now working in a cherry tomato greenhouse, was on the cover of the second edition. I hadn’t visited there in several years, and was afraid that Teresa might not still be alive.
Gomez Farias is small town off the beaten track, and was in the midst of preparations for Carnival. Teresa lives in a colonia (neighbourhood) on the surrounding hillside built by Red Cross money from Canada after the 1985 earthquake.
Finding her home again turned out to be another adventure of circling around our target, a process oft-repeated. I had forgotten the house number so found in my book a photo of her in front of house no. 92. We went up and down streets but no. 92 eluded us. Only after asking around, we found the house of the photo, the number covered up by a saint’s picture, only discover it was her son’s home and she lived at 156. One of her 50 grandchildren (she had 16 children) led us to the right spot, and we had a heart-warming reunion. “I thought you had abandoned us..” she said.
We learned that Pedro, her husband, died three years ago; she is heart-broken but still relatively hearty. As she and another granddaughter fixed us an impromptu lunch, and a great grandchild was rocked in a hammock in the kitchen, we were visited by other members of the extended family. We talked briefly about involving both Teresa and her granddaughter Aleida who continues as a tomato worker (in one of the many greenhouses now covering the countryside), in a film based on the book. Follow this visit with our slide show below. (To see full screen photos in the slide show below, click on FS in lower right corner)
On the way back to Guadalajara, we stopped in to visit Leonardo Lamas, a doctor and environmental activist in Sayula, a town with deep colonial history and tomato plantations, where I had first met Teresa in the tomato fields 20 years ago. Leonardo is part of a local Friends of the Earth group that has built a regional ecological centre, which has benefitted from our book royalties, and remains a core advisor for any film project, particularly because of his links with Indigenous communities.
John’s adventures with friends in the city
John spent a day helping Fernando with some of his urban agricultural projects, visiting a potential job- a hotel with a problem with their living plant wall, driving out to Lake Chapala where he was finishing up a contract installing a raised bed garden overlooking the lake and later picking up worm composter boxes that had been ordered by the government. Dinner was take out tacos and very good Tequila at Fernando’s brothers house and a chance to meet Fernando’s new two month old nephew.
The next day John biked 30k out to Fraccioniemento Loreto via a very complicated route over about 10 different roads determined by Google maps (and got a bit lost on the return trip) to visit old family friends, the Valascos: Leobardo and Concha and two of their offspring-Leticia and Jorge- and a grandchild living with them. Leticia and Jorge spend part of a summer and another daughter, Lupita spent almost a year on learning English staying with John and Elizabeth. A few years later, the whole family was forced to leave Mexico City because of criminal threats and spent almost a year in Toronto. This was a chance to catch up and keep the connection alive. Lupita and brother Leobardo Jr, and family are now landed immigrants living in Alberta.
Deborah’s adventures in Tepic, Nayarit
Two of my long-time research collaborators, Gabriel Torres and Ofelia Perez-Peña, have started a new alternative university, UniMaia (University of Mother Earth) for communities working to create cooperatives of production and consumption around Lake Chapala. They have also co-founded a new NGO, “From Aztlan to Tenochtitlan”, which is reviving a pilgrimage the Aztec-Mexicas took, according to their codices, or records, centuries before the Spaniards arrived, to found what is now Mexico City. The first peregrinaje last October involved 100 people over 10 days, visiting sacred sites, where they were met by different Indigenous groups. The project aims to raise ecological consciousness and to promote a recovery of the Indigenous cosmovisions and origins of Mexican cultural identity.
I had the privilege of accompanying Gabriel and Ofelia to Tepic, in the state of Nayarit, where the pilgrimage starts, as they met with others to organize the 2015 event. It was a fascinating peek at what are inevitable (and recognizable) tensions between mestizo organizers and Indigenous leaders. The meetings were held in what is now my favourite restaurant in Mexico, El Rincon de los Recuerdos (see slide show below), where one of the organizers, Berta, has amassed artifacts of both Indigenous history and features healthy food (watch the blue corn tortillas being made), music, and public dialogue.
(To see full screen photos in the slide show below, click on FS in lower right corner)
Gabriel was also speaking to a graduate seminar on food democracy at the University of Nayarit, which I attended and then escaped to a shrimp lunch with women friends. Both he and Ofelia spoke at the launch of a book on the history of Rio Tepic, sponsored by environmental activists working to clean up the river. A highlight was meeting two women who work closely with women of the Cora peoples in the mountains, both interested in food and Indigenous knowledges.