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Tiltepec, Oaxaca


27 April 1999


This is the first of two testimonies by Mario, who is also interviewed in Testimony 13b.

Born in Teococuilco in 1935, Mario has lived in many places during his life, including the USA and Mexico City, where he did a variety of jobs. He moved to Tiltepec approximately 27 years ago, and currently dedicates himself to coffee production. He has a son and grandchildren living in Mexico City and two daughters in Tiltepec.

Much of the interview is spent discussing Mario’s life, in particular his experiences of trading in the village – he used to bring goods such as chorizo (spicy sausage) and sweet breads from Oaxaca City to exchange for coffee in the village – and his experience of coffee production. He describes how he arrived in Tiltepec and was given a plot of land by the authorities. He found that “the land was excellent” and so he set about building himself a house and planting coffee. From an initial harvest of 6 arrobas (12kg each) of coffee his yield has grown significantly and he explains that it is now possible to live from coffee production alone: “I live off the coffee plantation… not even one maize plant”. He mentions that due to a shortage of labour and his own ill health, much of his current crop remains unharvested. He also describes how his business has changed over the years; for example he no longer has to make the journey to Guelatao with his pack animals to sell the coffee. He expands upon his experience of growing coffee, and his dealings with coffee collection organisations in testimony 13b.

Towards the end of the interview Mario mentions briefly his time spent in the mines and how dangerous it was: “I didn’t want to be there, the way they were having accidents, they seemed to leave dead before (as soon as) they went in.” He blames the bad air in the mines for the illness he suffers from now: “if you go with the contractor, in the work, well the air is pure oil, just smoke from the machine, that’s what you take in, [my illness] is probably a consequence of [that] work.” The interview ends with Mario explaining that his daughters and sons-in-law now take coffee to market to sell for him.

detailed breakdown

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Section 1-2  Short life history: grew up in Teococuilco, married then separated in 1954. In 1955 went to the USA for the first time. “I used to go to the USA every year for seven years; I wasn’t there long, just two or three months.” Continued living with parents – worked with them on the land, also went to work in the mine. In 1957 met current partner. Discusses school – only studied up to fifth grade because in those days teachers hit the pupils a lot. Becoming the secretario (community secretary) taught him a lot more because you have to do all the paper work for the community.
Section 2-3  Talks about leaving his parents’ house – he worked some land in Teococuilco but then moved to Yagila. Also spent time working in Mexico City in construction. Has one son who lives in Mexico City with his children in a house built by Mario and his family on land his father bought. Talks about moving to Tiltepec after time in Mexico City. Authorities gave him a vacant piece of land: “a topil (junior cargo – mandatory unpaid community - position involving running errands and keeping order) came and said to me ‘Let’s go and see where you’d like [to farm] because you don’t know these parts.’ He took me here. Well for me all the land was good because where I’d come from there wasn’t land like this and I stayed with this land.”
Section 3-4  Starting to grow coffee – getting first seeds and then first harvest three years later. Building his house: “Little by little I built my house, I had been working in Mexico City as a bricklayer… I made the house by myself, I didn’t use a labourer, I made the re-barb and adobe (mud brick) bricks.”
Section 4-6  Selling coffee: “when I began to harvest a lot, a buyer came here. When he had just arrived he sold his coffee to the INI (National Indigenous Institute) in Guelatao. He started coming to Tiltepec to trade: bought coffee in exchange for salt, bread and other goods from Ixtlán and Oaxaca. Describes journey to Guelatao with pack animals carrying coffee for sale. Brought avocados back.
Section 6-7  He then gave up business of exchanging goods: went to Mexico City and sold his animals, and decided to dedicate himself just to coffee. Also planted some sugarcane and chilli but now he just grows coffee. Talks about the plantation now, the labour shortage: “I’ve cut about half, the harvest remains out there for lack of workers.” His illness: says it is probably a consequence of working in a mine even though he only worked there for 10 months, leaving because a contractor had an accident. He felt “it’s true that you earn good money” but there are too many accidents. Thinks that the coffee will provide for the rest of his life; discusses his weekly spending. His sons-in-law or daughters take it to market for him.