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Mario Fernando







community manager


Yavesía, Oaxaca


September 1999


This is a most interesting and extensive interview. Despite leaving Yavesía to study in Mexico City when he was 13, Mario Fernando returned in 1989 and is now the community manager. He never lost contact with the community and he feels passionately about the need to protect its traditional values and customs, as well as its natural resources. He is a fluent speaker and hardly needs any prompting as he discusses in detail the community's struggle for land recognition, the problems that it has encountered, and the influence exerted by the community’s values and its history of forest conservation.

Fernando mentions the issue of migration and the lure of city life and ideals: “Unfortunately we can’t fight against the mediums of communication or the fashions that come from other places and tell you that you must dress well, wear good shoes and live well, which means that one must have a bathroom with a water heater, central heating, toilet paper, car, television with Sky and I don’t know how many [other] commodities.” He compares such aspirations to those held in the village where “we have a different idea of what living well is: that you can eat, that you can educate your children, the most elementary things.” He makes the point that returning migrants are sometimes reluctant to fulfil the traditional community obligations, and that they have to learn again that in the village, individual good comes after the collective good. While opting out might be tolerated, he says, people’s willingness to serve the community is noted and when one needs a favour or support from the village authorities, a poor record of servicio (cargo position) is likely to count against one.

Out-migration for work has in fact become less easy: “[The cities] are very crowded and one can’t find work so easily now, not even if you have enough education, because one has to have experience and recommendations.” He says there is a certain prejudice against rural migrants too, which can make getting jobs or education in the city even more difficult. Nevertheless, he acknowledges that urban life and experiences will always attract young people, so the community must come up with “alternatives for living well”. One such idea is an ecotourism project, and later he describes trips into the forests with some biologists who suggested setting it up.

Although he had some negative experiences of education (harsh prejudice against Zapoteco speakers, for example) Fernando believes that it has an important role to play in ensuring that the village’s values are preserved and its natural resources protected. “I think that if we start working from now on, it’s possible that the young people will continue with the same ideas and the same principles in the future, and what you asked about the role of education is a little to do with this. I think that it’s important to work with them now because, if not, I don’t know what will happen.” He outlines a proposal for improving education in the village, bringing older members of the community into schools to talk about their life and work “so that the children learn about the village… its history, its struggle and its life”.

Towards the end of the testimony Fernando again emphasises the importance of learning from the wisdom and experience of older people, requesting that the senior members of the community “continue teaching us how to comply and how to defend - not just conserving and protecting our territory and resources, but also our culture, our traditions and our identity.” The interview concludes with Fernando relating how an archaeologist had discovered that Yavesía was a traditional site for the worship of the Zapotec deity Guzio, who looks after the mountain and its resources. The archaeologist described evidence of religious rituals to secure rain, and senior villagers had explained: “If there are trees, well, there are birds and there’s rain, and if there are no trees, there is no rain and the rain is what brings you water so that there’s life; and so water is life, and we must look after the water so that there’s life.” Fernando feels that this long history of belief in the importance of conservation is the reason why Yavesía has been far ahead of its neighbours in fighting to protect its resources.

detailed breakdown

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Section 1-3  Family details: separated from his first wife and lives with a partner with whom he has 2 children. Role in the community: returned 10 years ago after studying in Mexico city and now coordinates the ecotourism project. Also involved in struggle for land recognition which goes back 50 years. Last 25 years there has been problem of division – those who recognise Yavesía as having own land and those who don’t. Feels that now most people are united and fighting for land recognition and conservation of resources – sees this as a big achievement.
Section 3-6  Memories of his childhood: working on the land in Yavesía; the teachings of his grandfather who told him about owner of the mountains (Zapotec deity) and the forest spirits and his memories of his life and the revolution (the Mexican revolution of 1910). Remembers the harsh discipline at school: teachers “used to throw the board rubber and chalk at you, they hit you with a ruler”. Laments that he was not allowed to speak Zapoteco at school: “they punished us and our fathers or our mothers if they heard us speak Zapoteco… I understand Zapoteco very well but I can’t speak it… It’s possibly the most bitter experience I’ve had because now I know the importance of the language.” Feels that official education has been responsible for much loss of culture. Says the strongest education is that of the community and that in Yavesía traditions and values are becoming stronger.
Section 6-8  History of village’s efforts to protect forest: 1980-81 they went to stop chainsaw operators from neighbouring communities from entering their territory: “It was from there that a greater awareness that the forests must be looked after was born.” Unlike these other villages, Yavesía doesn’t live from exploiting the forest: they use only very old trees on the point of falling down to make rustic furniture. Says that when they went to government institutions to demand the forest was protected they were told “The exploitation of the forests will bring the villages out of poverty… Yavesía is against itself, it doesn’t want progress, it doesn’t want development, you want to continue being underdeveloped, you want to continue, sunk in your poverty.” But now some institutions have accepted their ideas. Describes their communication with PROFEPA (Environmental Protection Agency).
Section 8-10  His proposal for schools – once a week one ciudadano (citizen) will go and talk about his experiences and life. Says the teachers are worried about the proposal. Talks about the importance of working with young people: “if we work from now on I’m sure that the young people who come along later will defend the principles and the ideals of the village, but only if we work now.” Story of a teacher in Yavesía in the 30s who taught students “to look after the natural resources, to defend the territory and to maintain a respectful relationship with nature”. Thinks that this influenced his pupils, who now have important positions in the municipal authorities and are promoting the same ideals.
Section 10-14  Discusses migration to the cities – says it won’t stop but may lessen when there are “alternatives for living well”. The lure of urban life – feels the younger generation needs to “change its mentality a little and [say] that yes, they accept living in the same way as its forefathers”. Points out that in cities there is less work available now and there’s discrimination against those from the countryside. Difficulties faced by those who return – professionals must come back and comply with the village customs, participate in tequios (obligatory, unpaid community work) and take on positions. Discusses role of the media and outside influences in promoting other customs - says that in other villages there have been problems when young people return, but there have not been major problems in Yavesía. Talks about the importance of community values and realising community obligations.
Section 14-15  Talks about difficulties he has had – the strain of studying at university and working at the same time, which led him to return to the village early; the time he was punished for a prank played (not by him) on the local teacher; and the loss of his parents.
Section 16-17  Discusses the trips made into the forests with biologists so that they could dedicate a space to ecotourism. The asamblea (community parliamaent) agreed to initiate the ecotourism project. Talks about the importance of shared responsibility: “When you take on and make a decision with everyone, with the asamblea, well, we all assume the responsibility for what may come, whether it’s good or bad… I think that this is the best thing, the most pleasing thing.” Recounts the time that they lost a grant for the ecotourism project because the mancomunados (joint communities sharing land, in this case Lachatao and Amatlán) wouldn’t sign the agreement. Compares the 600,000 pesos the grant was worth with the infinite value of the village’s resources: “this village has much more invested. It has millions of pesos that one can’t see… It has a future here with its resources which can’t be negotiated; it can’t be negotiated.”
Section 17-18  The importance of the older people: requests that they continue to teach them about the life of the village. An explanation for why Yavesía is so concerned with defending its resources: a visiting archaeologist told them that it was an important site for the worship of Guzio, the Zapotec deity which looks after the mountain and its people and resources.