Women of the Huasteca | Mexico | Living in Mexico

Women of the Huasteca

Women keep the Huastecan Potosí functioning. Many of the men have gone north of the border seeking employment. Relatively few remain to participate in the day-to-day work of maintaining homes and raising families. So the work and the responsibility falls mainly on the women.

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This woman is one of them. She doesn't look too happy with her difficult lot. Or maybe she's expressing disapproval of an annoying photographer.

Life is hard. Just doing the laundry looks like half a day's work to me.

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Many women have to supplement the family income through small-scale commerce.

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Both mom and the wheelbarrow-shop vendor are trying to get an undecided little girl to settle on one kind of nut or another.

A woman operates the smallest polloría I've ever seen.

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Looks like she's got one chicken left, hanging by a hook through its head with its feet still attached. Yum. That chicken is fresh. (But I'm not sure about buying food from a place where a five-gallon bucket originally used for Bardahl gear oil is part of the essential equipment.)

Women organize most of the community activities, and because they've taken over the social agenda, it has changed. Here, a local women's council has organized a dog training class.

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Why is this unusual? Well, most Mexican men wouldn't even think of training their dogs. Dogs are supposed to be wild, fierce and free. Just like the men. The women, however, want obedient dogs in their villages; ones that don't bite the children. Do you think this says anything about how the women would like to deal with the men?

While walking down a narrow track through coffee and orange groves, I ran into Felipe and Basilio who immediately attached themselves to me.

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They are Tenek children wearing traditional Coca-Cola and Incredible Hulk tee shirts. (Don't judge Felipe's mom by the cleanliness of his shirt—he's a boy, after all.)

They are standing on ground littered with orange blossoms. The scent is thick and sweet. I thought, how lucky they are to live in a place so sunny and warm, and that smells so nice.

The boys appointed themselves my guides, leading me back into the jungle, naming plants as we went. (That's an avocado tree; that's a mujer mala—a bad woman.) They told me they were taking me to see a cave and entrance would cost five pesos.

A sign indicated we were getting somewhere.

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We were approaching an eatery, Las Quilas, operated by Ecotourism Project Women's Group. Many groups of this type have sprung up, women raising money to protect the local environment. Sensitivity to environmental issues isn't strong in Mexico, so it's encouraging to see the women take the lead in doing something about it.

At Las Quilas, I found three little girls and a plastic tub of newly-picked coffee beans, but no food. No problem—I wasn't hungry anyway.

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Eventually a woman emerged and wanted to know if I would like to tour the soltana (cave). I gave her a 20 peso bill, knowing she wouldn't have any change. I told her to keep it. Heck, I would have given her a $100 peso donation if she had asked for it.

She led me to the cave.

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It was definitely a low-voltage attraction. We walked into the darkness about thirty feet and then she told me to stop because shortly ahead, the floor dropped away into a "bottomless pit."

I wasn't disappointed, because for me, meeting the kids was the real treat. Felipe and Basilio escorted me back to their settlement and asked me for a regalo (tip). I felt bad that I only had two one-peso coins, but they seemed satisfied with them. No sooner than I paid than I ceased to exist in their world as they walked off together, happily cracking jokes. (Now, before you condemn me as cheap, consider that two pesos amounted to a 40% tip.)

The women live long lives. If they make it past infectious disease and accidents, their active lifestyles and healthy diets keep them going for a long time.

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This woman has no intention of composting in some retirement home. She's an elder in her community, a source of knowledge and experience for her family, a caretaker of her great-grandchildren. She's got way too much to do to "retire."

When her responsibilities require her to go to town, a grandson escorts her without complaint, with respect. It's the least he can do for a keystone of his community.
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