photo of Mexican man the sierra norte
Mexico glossary

Mario Fernando







community manager


Yavesía, Oaxaca


September 1999



Section 1
Good afternoon, what is your name?
My name is Fernando Ramos, well, my full name is Mario Fernando Ramos, but I
normally use Mario Fernando, I mean, I normally use Fernando Ramos.

Right, and your age?
Well I was born on the 12th of February 1961. I am 38 years old, yes, well lived, almost!

And are you from here, from the village Santa María Yavesía?
Yes, I’m from here, from the village Santa María Yavesía. In fact I was born here on the 12th of February 1961.

And your marital status?
Well, at the moment I’m married, well I’m living with someone. I was married before, I got married in the church with someone from here, from the village but unfortunately it didn’t work out and we separated. So now I live with another person and I have two children, yes! Registered as born in Yavesía.

How difficult is it to live in this situation when we are living in very traditional, very religious communities?
Well, yes it’s a little difficult because I try to follow the tradition of marriage but, as I said, unfortunately it didn’t work out. Well in fact, now that I’m living with somebody, well my partner isn’t from here but a neighbouring community, so that makes it a little more difficult because we live in Yahuiche and I have relations and work here, in Yavesía. So it’s a little more difficult, but one’s got to know how to cope with it to be able to live well and agree with the traditions and with the other villagers, don’t you? Yes, it’s a little difficult.

And how difficult is it to exchange traditions and ideas?
Yes, yes it’s also difficult to exchange things because Yahuiche is a small village, it’s a municipal agencia (community office) and I’ve only been living there for a short while really, nearly a year. My partner and I have been living together for about six or seven years but just one year living in Yahuiche. In fact my home has been in Guelatao, where I’ve been working and I’ve had a more direct contact with Yavesía. In Yavesía I feel that I’m among friends, I know the people there and I’ve been to the asamblea (community parliament), I have taken part in things more there, and now that we’ve moved to Yahuichi I still haven’t, in fact I don’t partake as a ciudadano (citizen). I mean, there’s a tradition in Yahuiche that once you’ve been living there for six months it means you want to live there, right? And that has now passed for me – yes, it’s difficult. In fact I haven’t presented myself in front of the authorities because it signifies a very big commitment and I’ve got connections, as the women say, my umbilical cord is buried in Yavesía. And I’ve got my assignments there, I’ve got direct connections with the community, with my community of origin, with Yavesía and that’s why I haven’t taken this step and so exchange is difficult, where to settle down. Yes!
Section 2
During the time you’ve had here, what has your role been with your community, with its development?
Well, it’s been almost 10 years since I’ve returned here, to the sierra, since I have been here permanently. I returned in ’89 and I started working here in Guelatao, on the INI (National Indigenous Institute) radio project for the Sierra Norte and I’ve never stopped having contact with Yavesía after that. I went to study in Mexico City when I was 13 years old. I went to secondary school, prepatoria (upper school) and university there but I always came back here during the holidays. I always came back to Yavesía, I never lost contact with the village. So when I arrived in Guelatao I came here much more, I sometimes came here every weekend. I was involved with the people here; I’ve taken part in a lot of things with the people here. I work with them now, coordinating the ecotourism activities; this was decided and approved by the asamblea. Well, I’ve had some different roles in the community, mainly management. I support the authorities with the management and the working of some projects. I’m like a community manager. I advise the community on some aspects, such as environmental questions, and on some projects that are carried out here, but my work has mainly been with their struggle for land recognition.
It’s a struggle that has been going on for about 50 years and my role in the community has basically been supporting and accompanying them in their struggle for recognition of their land. However, during the last five or six years I’ve been supporting them in other projects, basically as a community manager, giving advice on some aspects and being with them, fully involved, right?

Do you believe that you have overcome the problems that you had before, that there are now?
Well yes, there are things that you have to do, to work out your priorities. There have been many problems in the community, as in all villages, right! But maybe the main problem that has caused a set back in the village in the last 20, 25 years, has been a little one, a division. But it’s a division that maybe isn’t decided by these people but is the product of a series of circumstances. Well, the division is basically between those of us who are in agreement that Yavesía has its own land and is recognised as an independent municipality, that its community decisions are respected - and those that, well, they have said that no, well, now there’s legal recognition that we are part of three municipalities that share land, well there's nothing we [more] can do. So that is the struggle that the village has fought, within which there are “fors” and “againsts”.
The leaders of each group argued a lot; there were many problems and many expulsions, as much on one side as on the other. The most difficult problems were in [19]91 – ‘92 but during the last five years the village has managed to become more unified, at last. It has managed to unite its point of view and its ideas and now one can say that the group that says there’s nothing that we can do is small. They are about three ciudadanos (citizens) in the asamblea but most people now say that Yavesía has to continue fighting for its land to be recognised by the federal and state government and they agree that this should be a free and sovereign municipality. Most people feel like this now. I think that it’s a big achievement that now most of the community is united in the idea to continue fighting.
It was mostly the work of the municipal authority that made the people aware but there are other factors that were influential. For example, the village has conserved its natural resources, it has taken care of its natural resources - the river that crosses through the middle of the village - and one can see deer and many animals. There’s a strong relationship with nature here, and the village has looked after its natural resources. The recent droughts of 97-98 made the importance of looking after the environment known, because they saw, felt and lived it and we saw that the flow of water in the river went down a lot. There were years when, for example, the corn and fruit harvest were very bad and the people said that it was because the weather was changing. There were many problems and it was said that that’s where the importance of looking after the resources lies, because it is the only way that it is possible to have water, to have air, to have animals to hunt and to eat. These were two main factors that helped to unite the village: the work of the municipal authority in the last three to five years and the crises, the environmental crises, the droughts. This made it possible for the community to unite, right? And it was a very big achievement, to be united in this cause - because to conserve their resources and have their own land is a very good achievement.
Section 3
And how long have you been here?
Well I got back in ’89 and so I’ve been here for nearly ten years. It’s been almost ten years since I came back to this region. I’ve basically been working in Guelatao but maintaining my relations with Yavesía. So that’s basically what I’ve been doing.

Do you remember anything of your childhood?
Well, I lived in Yavesía during my childhood, from when I was born until I was 12 or 13 years old. Roughly at this age I went, or rather my father came for me, so that I would study in Mexico City. So I went to secondary school, upper school and university in Mexico City, but as I told you, I always came back to Yavesía in the holidays. I took part in things with them, I worked with them clearing the corn and sowing, ploughing and collecting firewood. I learnt all the normal activities that people do with the people here.
I can remember many things from my childhood, but maybe the most important thing I remember is the teaching of my grandfather. Because my father worked away - he was one of the first migrants from Yavesía - so I mostly remember the teachings of my grandparents. This was that you have to respect adults and be hardworking. They gave us chores every morning, before we went to school. At this time of year we went to collect the nuts that grow in this season of August–September, and before we had breakfast we went to collect water for the coffee and for the food. We did all sorts of jobs before school and after we had done the work we ate breakfast and went to school. It was the same in the afternoon when we got back; we went to get firewood and did some chores and then we returned to school. Because I went to school when it was still twice a day, in the morning and the afternoon.
And well, [as for] this discipline for work and for complying and for respecting things, respecting older people: I remember that before, in those days, when one met an adult in the street one had to greet the adult and kiss his or her hand; this was one of the things that I was taught. We were bakers, my mother made bread and we helped her by collecting the firewood to bake the bread, and chamizo (willow-like shrub that grows in humid places, Baccharis salicifolia) to clean the oven. When we were a little older we helped her to mix and knead and go down to sell the bread. I did many different things, different work; a lot of good things.
When I went get the firewood my grandfather used to tell me that one had to be very careful when one went to get firewood because the mountains have their owner (Zapotec deity), there are goblins in the forests and if one began to make a lot of noise, well, the goblins would wake up and play a nasty trick on you, they’d make you lose your way in the forest.
So I learnt things like this and well, I learnt many things. At night my grandfather told us about the time of the revolution (Mexican revolution of 1910). We used to sit in the yard, taking off the leaves and shelling the ears of corn, and my grandmother served coffee and we talked with my grandfather. It was there that he told us about his life, about the revolution, in the evenings before we went to sleep. I learnt a lot during my childhood, a lot.
Above all, the school was very disciplined, the teachers were very strict in those days and there used to be the parents committee, it was very disciplined. For example, we couldn’t go to wash in the river because the parents’ committee watched us. If we went to wash in the river they hid our clothes and handed them in to the authorities [laughing] or the teacher, and then we had to go [to them] so that they would give us back [the clothes] and that drew attention to us! In the end there were many good things that I learnt in those days. The teachers were very hard too - they beat you, didn’t they? - they don’t do this now. They used to throw the board rubber and chalk at you, they hit you with a ruler; they were hard. They were very hard - and now they don’t [do that], well, it’s rare that the teachers hit you or that they throw the board rubber at you. We did learn a lot during our childhood, [but] the canings, the ear pulling, all the punishments, the donkey in the corner of the room, no! Many things.
Maybe the hardest thing in the primary [school] is that they didn’t let you speak Zapoteco, because they punished us and our fathers or our mothers if they heard us speak Zapoteco. That’s why I can’t speak it. I understand it, I understand Zapoteco very well but I can’t speak it. In those days if the teacher heard us speaking Zapoteco they drew attention to us and they sent for our parents and gave them a punishment too. When we arrived home our parents told us, “Stop speaking Zapoteco because they punish us and I lost one day’s work. Don’t speak it any more.” And that is how it was and we lost the language. I still understand it because, thankfully, I’ve maintained a close relation with the village and I listen to what the people say in Zapoteco. I understand them perfectly well but [laughing] now I can’t answer them in Zapoteco, no! It’s possibly the most bitter experience I’ve had because now I know the importance of the language.
Section 4
Do you think that this education has influenced the revival, in one way or another, of the way of speaking?
Yes, the education has had a lot of influence on this. Well, some of us don’t value what’s ours. For example, I told you that they taught us to work from the beginning: we had our plots of land and we planted fruit trees, we helped to harvest the nuts and the fruit. They taught us how to work but they also taught us that Spanish is the most important, that to get ahead in the big cities it was the most important and well, they took many things away from us, for example the fact that we don’t speak the language. Today the cultures of the indigenous villages are acquiring a new value, like the culture we have here in Yavesía, but many things have been lost, haven’t they? The language and in many places the organisation. But yes, education has had a lot of good and bad influence on many things.
Another one of the bad things is that they tell us, or they teach us about things that are from other places, from other countries, from other nations. I see it with my children now. They don’t even know the neighbouring villages or where they are geographically but they do know where China and Russia are, for example. With the television and radio now, the children learn more from these means of communication than from what the teachers teach in the school, don’t they? So yes, there are good and bad things that can be got out of education but it has had a lot of influence on the loss of the culture, yes a lot of culture has been lost because of the official education. Even though, of course, the communities are intelligent and they educate us. When we finished school we had to do our tasks. They told us that we had to see that our fathers went to the tequio (obligatory, unpaid community work) and the meetings - and we said, well, this is what we have to do, right?
So, on the other hand, this is the education the community gives us: that one must respect and comply with the cargos (unpaid community positions), the asamblea, assigned tasks and a series of requirements that there are in the community, and this also helps to conserve this, doesn’t it? I mean, there are two types of education and maybe the strongest is that of the community, because that is where one lives. They say to you, well, this is your companion, this is your godfather, this is your uncle, this is your grandfather, this is the authority and this is the committee, and so one learns from this, doesn’t one? One learns and one has to conserve this tradition and this culture. I think that this is the good thing about the community, right?
Section 5
How important do you think these issues are in how you personally live your life?
Well, I think that they are very important because nowadays there are many crises everywhere. In the case of Yavesía, for example, it looks like the community can have alternatives to be able to live well, there aren’t any problems of drug addiction, of alcoholism, there isn’t much television or radio, and one must comply with the cargos, the asamblea, the orders, and with the tequio. I believe that there is a lot of worth in this, that there’s a strength. I believe that, instead of disappearing, these traditions are becoming stronger. In our case, in Yavesía, these values of the community, such as the tequio, the asamblea, the cargos and the festivals are becoming stronger rather than weaker. We may have lost other things but not the main ones, I mean there is organisation, there’s an authority which one must respect because it was oneself who nominated it. When they arrange a meeting one must go because they are the authority that one appointed; they, as one says, order - it’s their job to give orders because they say what has to be done in the asamblea, that’s why it is the asamblea. The elders speak, there is a sector caracterizado (senior group within the asamblea). I think that there are many good things in the community that help us to continue to progress and, above all, to live, in spite of the problems that there are in the world, in many countries. I think there are very good things in the community that help us to advance.
Section 6
What is your community’s relation with the environment? How does it help the conservation of the environment?
Well, this is a very long story, very, very long. During the time that the people were giving their opinions and some people wanted the village to have its own land while others said no, it became more complicated 15 years ago, in around 1980–81, when people began exploiting the forest. When the mancomunados’ (joint communities sharing land, in this case Lachatao and Amatlán, both of which are joined with Yavesía) company was finishing off its resources that it had on the territory of the municipalities Amatlán and Lachatao and was entering Yavesía’s territory, that’s when things started to get more complicated. The village went up to stop the chainsaw operators, it went up to keep watch on the forest, take care of it and guard it - and this was constant, they were very difficult times. It was from there that a greater awareness that the forests must be looked after was born. I think that it’s worth mentioning that the village doesn’t live off exploiting the forest, and it fact it doesn’t want any sort of exploitation of the forest. Finally the ciudadanos, the asamblea, said that there is no law that obliges us to accept that they exploit our forest.
The way of life in this village is different, it’s a village that grows all types of fruit - peaches, plums, quince, pears, apples, nuts, avocados, a local variety of pear - and there are carpenters who make furniture. They go to Ixtlán, Oaxaca or Tlacolula to sell, and it’s good. They cut down trees that are already old and on the point of falling. They have a very special system for getting wood to make the furniture. It’s rustic furniture and it’s a very different way of getting an income. For food they sow corn, beans, wheat and there are bakeries that make bread and sell it right here as well as going to other places to sell it. Lately they’ve been farming trout and cultivating mushrooms. It’s another way of life that the village has and because of this they always say that they don’t want exploitation of the forest.
I think that it’s worth mentioning here that when we went to the government institutions to say, to demand, that they stop the mancomunados’ (joint communities’) company exploiting the forest on Yavesía’s territory, we said that the exploitation must be stopped. I remember very well what the institutions said to us, “Yavesía is against development, is against progress. The exploitation of the forests will bring the villages out of poverty. It’s for development, for progress and it’s for you. 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.” And we told them, “No, it doesn’t matter if we are poor or not, what we don’t want is that more trees are cut down.” That’s how we were, and they always said the same thing to us: that we were the ones who didn’t want progress until, well now, in the last five or six years, with the famous sustainable development and conservation of the environment, well, now we’ve more or less been accepted by some institutions.
Exploitation of the forest hasn’t stopped, it continues, but the village stops it. The forestry company entered and the village went up and stopped it, resisted it, [but] it goes backwards and forwards. It’s for this reason that the forest resources haven’t been finished, because if it had been left up to them – the mancomunados (joint communities sharing land), the forestry companies – they would have done it, they would have finished off the forest, but the village has gone up and defended it. It’s done many things to stop the exploitation and now it seems that some institutions say that we must take care of it, that we must look for a way by which we will resolve this business because one of the most damaged areas is the land of the mancomunados.
I remember that a short while ago we had a meeting with people from PROFEPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and we told them that we don’t want any sort of exploitation and that there’s no law that tells us that we must accept any exploitation. Officials came from Mexico City, from, PROFEPA and from Oaxaca City. After a very long and difficult discussion the head of PROFEPA said to us that the institutions probably didn’t understand us and didn’t know how to understand us because Yavesía is probably 10 or 15 years ahead of them…that Yavesía is ahead and wants a very different proposal…that those in the institution probably didn’t understand the ideas of Yavesía because they are very much ahead, that we have a different vision, we want a different thing that isn’t the exploitation of the forest and it’s probably them that didn’t understand. So in a way they recognised that our ideas are very different. No, we don’t want exploitation, we don’t want the forest to be destroyed, we want to continue like this, how it is now, so that the future generations can enjoy it like we do. But we have to continue fighting.
I remember that the representante comunal (official responsible for community property) sent a letter to PROFEPA a few months ago. He wrote, like this, using few words, and he also consulted with the authority. He wrote that we want the institutions to know how to do this so that they can get involved with the ideas of the village and accept that our intentions are different, what we are proposing is different. We are demanding that they respect our community decisions, and that’s good. We want them to feel, to know what we want so that they listen to us. We know that it is difficult because there are many interests but I believe that we are left with no other alternative than to continue fighting. We are in the right, we believe that we are right – we are gathering the arguments, we have the arguments and we are gathering more, but I believe that we are right. I don’t think that they have put themselves at the level of the law but it is a little difficult to resolve the problem because there are many interests involved. But we hope that now, as we are now - well, that it is resolved very soon, sooner rather than later, and that the village can have its own plans for the life [of the community].
This is why we are strongly insisting that the village has its own development, its own progress, and according to the principals that it has defended: respecting and looking after nature, making good use of it and protecting it more than anything, right? So I think - we think - that it will be resolved soon, above all because it’s a matter of the life of the village, isn’t it? Its life is on its territory, water comes from there - water is born there so that the people can drink, the land is cultivated and the trees get water. Well everything is there, that’s what they say; one can’t do more than say what they said before (in front of) the institutions. We expressed the feelings of the village before the institutions, that was the only thing that we said - and well, I think that this has been the relationship of the village with the environment. It has basically been a relationship of respect, looking after it, protecting it, because the village knows the importance that [the environment] has.
Section 8
What do you think of these decisions?
Well, the decisions of the village have involved a lot of work, it has been very hard and there have been very difficult moments. It has all been very difficult but I think that it’s for this very reason that [this issue] is felt strongly. The fact that in the asambleas and the streets the community is now saying that we must look after, protect and conserve this so that our children can enjoy it and that they have accepted an ecotourism project to make good use of them, that they have put into practice projects such as the cultivation of mushrooms and fish farming, that the people say that the land is sacred to them because that’s where their life is - I think that these are the things that fill one, not with pride but with satisfaction. Because after having lived through some very difficult problems the people finally understand the importance that the land has and the importance that the natural resources have for the life of the village. This is a very big advance, and above all because it was approved by the asamblea, by everybody and they say that we must conserve and look after it. The decision to go and keep watch so that nobody entered to cut down trees, it’s just like that, taking care so that the forestry company didn’t enter to cut down trees. They are things that show the determination of the village to continue ahead, to conserve its resources, to look after its territory because it knows the importance that this has for its life, a life different to that of the mancomunados (joint communities sharing land) and other villages. Because the mancomunados say that we must finish off these forests, that they were put here for us to use. Well, the village says no! We don’t have to exploit them, we must know how to use them while taking care of them, protecting them. And these are two very different views.
Since I was a boy, I have been involved with the villagers and I think [what they have done] is a very big achievement. The village has advanced a lot by taking this type of decision, by looking after and protecting its resources, and defending its territory and at the same time implementing development projects, productive projects with women, vegetable projects, all this. I think that it’s a very acceptable achievement. There is still a lot to do; we aren’t satisfied with what’s been achieved yet. There’s a lot to be done yet; we need to work more with the young people and the children.
We have a proposal that we hope to put into action as soon as possible; it has been studied by the director of the primary school, the secondary school of CONAFE (National Committee for the Promotion of Education), the representante comunal and the municipal authority. The proposal is simple: we are going to revive the way in which we adults, we older people were educated; and we are going to take this up again so that the children learn about the village – what there is here – its history, its struggle and its life. So the proposal is very simple: we shall go one day a week and bring together the children of fifth and sixth year from the primary school, and the first, second and third years from the secondary school. We will get them together in the room or the veranda of the authority’s office, or any place we decide on; and on a specific day every week a ciudadano (citizen)which the authorities will select according to the list of ciudadanos – will go to talk about his experiences and his life. If he is a carpenter, well, what it was like to be a carpenter, what his family was like, how he works with wood, what cargos (unpaid community positions) he has held – things like that. And the next week it will be a different person [who belongs to the sector caracterizado - senior group within the asamblea, formed of 25-30 people who have completed their cargos]. And when we have the opportunity we will bring in people from other places: researchers, scholars or anyone who brings something extra to this class. But it will be an open class where anyone from the village can go to share his or her stories, legends, traditions, cargos, all of that, with the students so that they know them.
I think that the teachers are worried about this, especially the director, who is from here – he has only been back for a short while. The authorities, the representante comunal and I myself proposed this alternative. It looks very interesting and we believe that it will be worthwhile, we are looking for approval from anyone apart from our own people [laughing], from this village. Many ciudadanos have now joined in and we hope that this proposal gets underway as soon as possible. We now have the first five ciudadanos who will start the first five weeks, so they’ll go to speak.
So these achievements and decisions seem to be very good to me; it has been very satisfactory but there’s still a lot to do, isn’t there? There’s a lot left to do. I don’t think that we can, or should be, satisfied, above all because the most important thing hasn’t been resolved. They haven’t given us the legal security of our land, have they? The Reforma Agraria (secretariat of the federal government institution in charge of resolving land conflicts) tell us, yes. The National Supreme Justice Court said it, well, they must do it, right? Yavesía has its territory and it’s legally recognised and that’s it - even though we have known since time immemorial where our territory lies, up to where it goes and with whom we border. But they have been good achievements, very positive - but we still have a lot to do, don’t we?
Section 9
Do you think that the future generations will continue with this work, this effort that you have made?
Well if we don’t work with them now…well, I don’t know, I couldn’t say yes or no. One would have to wait and see how many young people stay here, how many young people will actually live here, in the village. But if we don’t work with them now it will be very difficult to say if they will continue fighting or not. If we put ourselves to work with this proposal, with this idea to take them out of school and get them into the fields, taking them on trips so that they learn, so that they know the stories of the people who made the history of the village, 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. I’m sure that there will be many, rather like the young people now.
I think that this is a very interesting question because in the ’30s one of the rural teachers, one of the first rural teachers that there was in the country, was from Yavesía, from right here. He came from here, and as a teacher he taught here in Yavesía; he taught a generation, in the ’30s, at the end of the ’30s and in the ’40s. As a rural teacher, he taught a lot to the people here in this village. One of his main teachings was to look after the natural resources, to defend the territory and to maintain a respectful relationship with nature; these were his words. And so it has turned out to be funny because the municipal authorities that there have been during the last 10 years, those that have carried the direction of the village during these moments are his disciples; I mean they went to the school with him and they learnt from him. For example, the person who is now presidente (highest authority in the municipality) learnt with him, was his student; his teacher was this rural teacher, and the one before him too. Many people must have learnt with him and now they are authorities, part of the municipal authorities, with important cargos (unpaid community positions).
Well, they teach us these same ideas of conservation, of protecting and maintaining a harmonious relationship with nature, of fighting for our territory, of fighting for the ideals of Yavesía, of fighting for the principles that identify us with Yavesía, and that is an example. If we work as we have been doing during the last four or five years at the asamblea level, if we work with the children now, with this scheme that seems to us to be the closest to our reality, I think that if work now the same will happen. In 15 or 20 years these children who are here now will be young adults and they will carry the future of the village and I think that they will defend it; they will continue fighting and they will continue with these principles. But we must work from now on, because if not, well I don’t dare to say yes or no! I don’t know what will happen if we don’t work. It will be difficult; there will probably be some that have this heart [for work] and say yes, we will continue ahead, but their work will probably be more difficult because not everybody will be aware. But if we start now - there’s a proposal that the young people take part in the discussions, but well, we’re going to look at it with the authorities to see if this is possible. But yes, 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. It’s very difficult to answer this now, to say that they will or won’t do it, but we must work a lot from now on, right? Work with them because it is important; I think so.
Section 10
The city is a source of attraction for the young people - do you think that they will migrate to the city?
Well, I don’t think that the migration will stop. I don’t know. It would be very difficult for it to stop because now some are going with the idea of getting to know it, right? They’re not just going for the work, I mean to earn money; some are going to know and live new experiences, to know what there is over there. However, I think that we will be able to cut down on the amount of migration when there are alternatives for living well, if not [bringing in] a lot of money, [at least] the basic minimum.
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. They tell you that this is living well. We have a different idea of what living well is: that you can eat, that you can educate your children, the most elementary things. I think that this can be sustainable, especially if the younger generation changes its mentality a little and says that yes, they accept living in the same way as our forefathers - not completely the same, but a little more comfortably. I mean, in the village we used to go to sell lime[stone] or bread in Natividad, leaving at four in the morning - I had to do this - or go towards Tlacolula to get the large wooden beams we use to build roofs; but we don’t do this any more. Now the village has two community buses; this is a sign of the advance we’ve made. Now that we have a certain level of amenities it isn’t necessary to go, but yes, the city is a centre of attraction, without a doubt.
However, the big cities also have problems now; there aren’t the same work opportunities that there were in the 60s and 70s. They’re 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. It happens even when one goes to enrol in a school, it happened to me when I arrived in Mexico City to enrol in secondary school, for example. It’s a lot more marked now because I saw it with my nephews and with various people here, in the village. When you arrive, for example, you’ve left primary school and you’re going to study in Mexico City - I don’t know if it’s the same in Oaxaca but it’s very obvious in Mexico City – you take your birth certificate and your certificate for the sixth grade of primary school and they tell you, no, well, he’s from the provinces, he’s from Oaxaca, well, we’re going do what we can. They always give preference to those that live there, in Mexico City, and you go in last, you are on the waiting list. They take you on at the end if there’s room, and they still take you at the last moment now. The preference is always for those who come from the big cities and this shows that you can’t join very easily. So in the case of education, even though the state is obliged to give it to you, you can’t get in very easily because there are problems. You have to have a house and family and the resources to be able to study in Mexico City and after all that, you arrive and they still say no! “You come from Oaxaca, well, we’ll see.” They don’t say it but show it with their actions. I was almost the last to get in to the secondary and upper school, and it’s clearer (even more obvious?) now.
In comparison to the labour that one sees [elsewhere] - I was in the north for a while, in Tijuana, Mexicali - the labour from Oaxaca in the agricultural fields is recognised and accepted, but that is for working in the fields, bending one’s back in the long furrows in the valley of San Quitín, in Sonora. Because the people from Oaxaca know, we know how to work in the field, and this is recognised and accepted for the people from Oaxaca. But it’s work in the fields and the young people now – well some of them, I’m not saying that it’s most of them, but some of them – prefer to work more comfortably. If [people suggest] they go to the fields, and if they’ve finished upper school, they say, “No! I studied at the upper school.” But the education of a boy who comes from here, from the Sierra or Oaxaca City compared to that of someone from Mexico City, well, this also means there is some competition, doesn’t it? They will give preference to the person who studied in the city rather than the person who studied in the mountains, right?
I mean, there are many, many problems here, in the Sierra. I don’t know what will happen with migration but it can be stopped; I feel that it can be stopped but it would involve a long process, [a lot of] work. In the village they say that it’s a process of re-educating us, and I lived (experienced) this. For example, I lived in the city and on returning here, the people, the community, my village have been re-educating me because I have to fulfil my obligations. I had the bad habits of the city, let’s say, but when I came here they re-educated me. It’s like a fellow villager once said; I mean a neighbour of mine from this village of Yavesía was out sowing – well, re-sowing as he called it – and I got chatting with him over the fence. I was on an errand and I asked him, “What are you doing?” “Nothing,” he said. “I’m just re-sowing because the birds passed by here and took all the corn that was four weeks old, and well, I have to re-sow it so that it’s the same as the rest.” This idea stuck with me and I saw it; I’ve lived it, and I’ve felt it with the other people, this return. This process of re-sowing is the same as the process of re-educating and saying, well look, you live here and you have to comply with certain principles and you have to fulfil certain obligations; they re-educate you. So one has to re-educate oneself, one has to live there and do what there is [to do] here, right? One has to obey and comply and re-educate oneself again, re-educate ourselves in village life [a friend comes into the library and greets us]. Because to change one’s mentality is a difficult process, and even more if you’ve lived in Mexico City, then it’s even more difficult to return and re-educate oneself – yes, it’s a lot of work.
For example, when one sees the professionals here, right here in this village. There have been professionals that have come but they don’t stay or it is difficult from them to work with the village because they think, well I’ve studied, so why am I going to be a topil (junior cargo position involving running errands and keeping order) if I’ve studied. I have a degree, why would I be a topil? If they give me the cargo (unpaid community position) of presidente (highest authority in the municipality) I will stay but I’m not going to stay to be a topil. No well, how am I going to do the tequio (obligatory, unpaid community work); I didn’t study to go and do tequio, no! So this mentality, when someone says that they won’t go (fulfil the obligations), well the village says no! This isn’t abiding by the village rules, well why is that? So it’s difficult for the professionals to return and join in again because firstly one must comply. It doesn’t matter to the village if you have a degree or are a teacher, doctor or [other] professional, you have to do what the village asks you to, you have to do the tequios, hold the cargos and go to the asambleas - and conform, yes! Your work will support you, not your knowledge. Knowledge will help you a little but the work, the work that you do with them, shoulder to shoulder, side by side, day after day, this is what will give you recognition.
But yes, it’s really a question of mentality, of re-educating ourselves so that we don’t have these bad habits of other places; and re-education is difficult. It is difficult to re-accept the principles of the village when it basically says that the good of the community comes before yours, isn’t it? The good of the community is above your individual good. So somebody that has the mentality of ‘me first’…and, well, here they think that the good of the village comes first, and then yours - and it’s a little difficult, isn’t it? I have seen many people from this village that come here sometimes for holidays and, for example, there’s a tequio. They say, ‘No, how can there be a tequio on Sunday? Sunday is for being with the family and all that. “Tequio on a Sunday? Sunday is for the family.” And you can see the ciudadanos doing the tequio on Sunday because the good of the community comes first, right? Or the asambleas – for example asambleas that last four or five hours, and you say, “An asamblea lasting five hours! Well no, this time should be spent with the family. If I arrive in the afternoon it’s to be with my family and work [with them] - and the people are in the asamblea!” And they say that it isn’t possible; but that’s their view and the view of the village is different. The good of the community comes before individual good. So yes, it’s difficult and migration plays a big part in this, doesn’t it? Yes it’s difficult.
Section 13
Do you think that the glorification of other customs by the media has much influence on the people?
Yes, yes. Unfortunately one can’t fight against the media, no! But by luck, Yavesía hasn’t seen young people arriving like that, with a fashion[able attitude] or an attitude of the big cities, but I’ve seen it in other places, for example Ixtlán and Guelatao. I’ve seen it because I lived in Guelatao. The people there like the style of Mexico City, of the northerner [laughing], of the street gang and the gringo (North American) and the people don’t look at you strangely but they say: “Right and what’s up with him, what’s happened to him?” They don’t get involved with your private life but if you get into this – for example, if you admire a lifestyle different from that of the village, and besides admiring this, if you don’t fulfil your responsibilities – the people will look at you badly and they’ll demand that you do so. OK, they’ll say, it’s OK that you try to be like a cholo (young person on the fringes of society, with an alternative lifestyle), someone from Mexico City or a gringo, but whatever you are, you must comply, do the work of your cargo (unpaid community position), the tasks and assignments that you’re given. And if you don’t do it and you prefer a style that isn’t from the village – well, it’s worse, the criticism is worse and it’s a very difficult situation to improve. However this mentality is mainly among the young people, the people who go and then return. Here in Yavesía there are various young people that are carrying out their work, that were in the USA, they are in the USA. When they finish their cargo they always go, but they are kids that listen to and like banda (traditional Mexican music, predominantly wind instruments) and the banda rhythm that they listen to now, or rock, all that sort of thing, but they are fulfilling their responsibilities and there aren’t any bigger problems.
But yes, there’s admiration - in some places very great admiration – for things from different places, and if you get so influenced by it so as not to adhere to the community life, it could cause problems for you, above all for the young people. There haven’t been - well, I haven’t seen - any such cases here but I have seen it in Guelatao and a few cases in Ixtlán when, apart from not complying with the village, they enjoy the image, the attitude and the behaviour of other cultures. Well, this can cause a lot of problems for the young people. This probably also leads to alcoholism and drug addiction - well I don’t know, but this admiration for other people’s values is a very complicated problem. But I tell you: if you get into the other way [of living] and don’t fulfil your responsibilities it will get very complicated. You have to comply, and it doesn’t matter what [else you do].
It’s the same with religion. It doesn’t matter if you are an atheist, a sabatista (a follower of a religion that does not permit work on Saturdays) or an evangelical, your religious way of thinking is respected; if you comply with the cargos, with your assignments, there aren’t any problems. But if you are atheist, evangelical or I don’t know what religion, and apart from this you don’t comply, well this is where many of the religious problems arise that are often talked about. It can be the same with the question of values that come from other places. If you admire them and on top of this you don’t comply with the responsibilities the problems are big. It also depends a lot on the control that the authorities have over the community, I mean, how strict it is about discipline, as well as how united, how harmonious the community is. So the problems are serious, I see them to be serious. There are lads that rebel, in Ixtlán and Guelatao for example, they don’t do their work - well there they are, for better or worse. Sooner or later we ask for some document and one has to go to the authorities; if you haven’t complied with the village rules the authorities will refuse you, they won’t give it to you - you didn’t do your work and there’s a very strict control over this. Well the first thing that the village tells you is that your obligations come first and then your rights and so in the face of this you can’t do this.
This helps you too. Well, it should help the young people to reflect and think that there are values that can’t be substituted for others, right? There are values that can’t be substituted for others and these values are those of the community. Obligations come before rights, or the common good comes before the individual good. These values can’t be substituted, if you substitute them you take the risk, right? You take the risk and well, nothing big can happen to you, they don’t put you in jail but it comes back on you. Suddenly it happens that you are fighting with your brother over a piece of land or your father dies and he hasn’t made a will. Well, you have to appeal to the authorities and then they sometimes check your servicio (cargo service) record and say no, you didn’t fulfil your responsibilities and your brother did more. So then he has done more for the village and has more rights and you don’t, even though you may be a lawyer and cause a scene, no! Because you haven’t fulfilled your obligations, at times the brother with whom you’re fighting has more rights because he has fulfilled his obligations. Yes, yes it does create problems – but this is a challenge that the young people will have to overcome. It hasn’t been seen here in this village but as long as migration is increasing I don’t think that it will be long before we see it. But as I said, everything depends on how the authority connects with the young people, doesn’t it? How it deals with the young people and the children. They can improve, yes they can be improved.
Section 14
Do you remember any difficult moment that you’ve had in this time?
Well yes, difficult moments, I think that there have been many. I think that there have been many difficult moments, I remember various ones. Maybe they’re worthwhile, they demonstrate to you that you have to adjust yourself to the community life. I remember when I began university, well, I was working too because my father very kindly only gave me the minimum to be able to study, I mean, for travel and for books, right. Well, a young person in the city wants to go to the cinema, and then we had rock music, and one wants to dress fashionably and things like that. So well, I had to work for these extras, these extra pleasures. They weren’t much because, in fact, I didn’t like the city much.
I went to the university and worked a bit [too]. During the time that I was at university I worked nights for almost a year. I left my house at 3.00 and got to university at 4.00; I left at 8.00 and started work at 10.00, 10.30 – it was a night job. Sometimes I spent the time in between in the library or I took a nap. I started at 10–10.30 and left at 6am, I arrived at my house at 8.00 and went to bed at 8.30 or 9.00. So I slept from nine in the morning till two in the afternoon for a year; well, I was mentally and physically exhausted, I couldn’t do it. First year at university and then almost one year working, I couldn’t do it! So I said to my father: “Do you know what? I’m going to rest, I’m going to ask the university for a year of rest and I’m going to go to the village. I’ll work in the village.” Well my father said, “No, this means that you won’t be able to finish your degree, you’re not going to finish it now.” He was very hard, he said, “Do what you want.” I learnt about hardness from him, that things should be clear, right? So he told me to do what I wanted and I said that I would do it, because they had taught me to do everything.
So I came here, to the village and worked clearing the corn and putting earth on top of the young plants. I worked with the labourers doing various things and we had a basketball team. At that time there were various boys in Yavesía, we were about 12 lads in the basketball team and we travelled around the region, from festival to festival. We used to go [around] and I got to know the region; I made many friends and I got to know the area. We went from festival to festival, all the village festivals, mainly in the region of Zoogoche, Tanetze and towards Los Cajonos. I saw these places; we went with the boys but then there was a problem in the village.
There was a little problem, well, one night we went for a few beers and some boys went to do a bad thing to the teacher in his room. It wasn’t very bad but in those days the síndico (senior officials, next in authority to the agente - the elected community head) was very strict. So the teacher reported it to the síndico and the síndico started to investigate it, starting with the lads in the basketball team, right? They questioned them one by one and the days went by and he continued questioning them one by one. It went on for 15 or 20 days I think. It questioned the boys every night, one by one, but nobody said anything, nobody knew anything, nobody said what had happened, who it was, nobody! I still don’t know who did it, I never knew if they really did do it, if they didn’t know or if they concealed the truth.
So it happened that one day we went to play in a village, here in Yatzachi el Bajo for three days and when we returned we went down on to the court to play, as if nothing had happened and then the síndico called for me. They said, “Well, we’ve gone round the whole team and some others and we think that they are guilty, but nothing [has been admitted], and as you are the oldest in the team, well somebody has to be punished, don’t they? Because we can’t leave this matter as it is; the teacher will think that there is no order, no discipline here.” So the judgement fell on me and they put me in the [community] prison, they put me in prison. That’s the only time I’ve been to jail and, well, I paid, not for a crime but a mistake. Yes, I went to jail for a night and the next day they let me out, it was about eight o’clock, quarter to eight, the topil (junior cargo position involving running errands and keeping order) came, and do you know what he said to me? “Go and have a coffee and bring your machete (sharp knife) because you’ve still got some work to do.” So I went for my coffee and then went back down at about nine. By that time there were some people there, some surveyors that had made the marks put in the irrigation system. So I got down to work with these surveyors, clearing the land to mark where the line of the drinking water would be laid. But it wasn’t only that - jail and, besides that [laughing] working all day! When the report was given in, when the work was finished, well, then there were the fines that there are in the village, that the treasury of the síndico imposed.
In the asamblea general, well [it was], “This man for such and such a disturbance in the public way, such and such a fine, this man for such and such an offence, such and such a fine.” Right? So there we all were and I was even in the asamblea. They said, “Mario Fernando Ramos, in charge of the Yavesía basketball team committed this offence, a joke in the teacher’s room, well, a fine of such and such.” So, morally, everyone there said that, well, jail wasn’t enough, not even the work. But that’s how they are and you have to accept that that’s how it is and you have to comply. This is an example of what I told you, that there are principles that can’t be changed, no! I went and I did it; maybe it was a difficult moment because I was in jail and the men from the mill, who go out early, went past and then everybody in the village knew who was in the jail, didn’t they? “No well it’s him! Well, never mind, he had it coming.” So that was a difficult time - but I learnt a lot, I learnt a lot from this lesson.
I’ve had other difficult moments, the loss of my mother when I was 13, 14. I lost my mother, and I lost my father about five or six years ago. Well one takes these things, all these difficult events; facing them makes one, well, what you are, what we are, doesn’t it? They are difficult times, yes. I remember this because I learnt a lot from the difficult situation, when the authority has to act and one has to take the responsibility, right. It may or may not have been [correct], an injustice may or may not have been committed, it’s not my place to say. I just understand that the authority had to act and had to do this, right? Justice in the village is different, you can see it, it’s clear to see, isn’t it? So yes, this is what I learnt in that case, at that time.
Section 16
Now a moment of satisfaction, a moment of satisfaction that you can remember.
Good, there are also various good moments like that, with the people. Maybe I remember two very, very good things in the last five years. One of them is when we did the trips with the comuneros, with Senior Aristeo who was the presidente (highest authority in the municipality) from ’97 – ‘98, and with the síndico honorio (senior officials, next in authority to the agente). We made various trips into the forest and we took various biologists so that they would see the damage that was being done in the area of exploitation and the wealth of resources that the village had. So the authority helped and going up [there] was [done by means of] tequio (obligatory, unpaid community work). We were accompanied by five, six, eight villagers and these five to eight were undertaken as tequios – so we went up and made the trips; we talked and we had the same worries but also the same hope, that with the biologists’ report something would have to happen.
So it was the authority’s plan to make the people aware. They said, “Well, it’s your turn, you’re going to go up. Take your tacos (filled tortillas ), we’re going to accompany the biologists that Fernando is bringing, we’re going.” Well that was very good for me. These are moments that make you satisfied because you see that the people are ready to take part and work, to fight to conserve what’s theirs. This brings an awareness. The ciudadanos went with me and the biologists to see the studies…the impact, the studies of the impact that was being made in the forest. Several went up with us and the people that went up with us were different [?]. The biologist, [another?] Fernando, gave us a lot of advice during these trips and others that also helped us said, “Why don’t you dedicate a space, an area for ecotourism? If you’re worried about conservation and using the forest reasonably, well, ecotourism could help you.” So we went up and sat down and we ate our tacos sitting by a stream and we talked.
In the asamblea general in September ’97 the ciudadanos discussed the question of resources and territory and the decision was taken by the asamblea, by the community, to initiate an ecotourism project. So everything was approved and they appointed me as part of the committee, they gave me the nomination. Well, I didn’t know anything at all about what ecotourism was either, I had to learn this too. But when you see the results, you say that it’s because the people are [learning to] understand, they are interested, there’s concern and interest. But yes, we are moving very slowly but we have advanced in that the people have become aware of the importance of the resources, the way to use them reasonably and the decision to protect and conserve them. I think that this is an advance and it’s a very nice moment when the people say: We are going to continue ahead, we’re going to fight. When they say this to you it spurs you to keep going on, doesn’t it?
I think that what I’ve learnt has left me with some very good memories, pleasing memories. When the village takes a decision and assumes responsibility, it is because we are [all involved], everybody. The responsibility doesn't fall on any one [alone], we all assume the responsibility - this is the most important thing. It’s not the same as you being presidente (highest authority in the municipality) or manager or ciudadano X taking a decision and assuming the responsibility for the decision; this is different because you may be guilty of something and the village can throw it in your face. When you take on and make a decision with everyone, with the community asamblea, well, we all assume the responsibility for what may come, whether it’s good or bad. We all assume the responsibility and we all make the decision and I think that this is the best thing, the most pleasing thing.
I remember very well one experience that taught me this, when we managed to negotiate a grant from the Mexican Fund for the Conservation [of Nature] for our ecotourism project. We almost had it in our hands, all the negotiating was through the municipality but at the last moment, when the agreement was about to be signed, the adviser of the mancomunados (joint communities sharing land) Amatlán and Lachatao, Captain Ruiz, who is the son of the Secretary for Communication and Transport, arrived before the Mexican Fund. He said that the mancomunados didn’t approve the Yavesía project, and they stopped it right then. They didn’t sign the agreement and they never gave us the support that we had negotiated for so long.
Well, I felt bad because I also have this education from outside and I felt very bad. So many months preparing the project and re-planning it and then this man arrives and says “No, don’t support it” and they say to us, “Well then, we won’t support it.” So I told the authority, I said, “Do you know what? Well this [is what] happened.” And they said to me, “Look, don’t worry, the asamblea made the decision to help negotiate for these resources and they won’t give them. Well, don’t worry, there’s no problem, no. Six hundred thousand pesos is nothing compared to what the village has invested in its natural resources, in its forest, its projects, its roads, in the very life there is in the village. Six hundred thousand pesos is nothing, don’t worry, there will be other possibilities, other options and we will take the responsibility that this couldn’t happen.” So I stayed; I said, but it’s not possible, I wanted to say (?) , “Let’s fight until the end to recover it”, when they said this to me. “It’s OK,” I said, “it’s the authorities’ decision.”
In the asamblea they said it wasn’t possible. They would approve the project only if Yavesía approved its forest management plan. So it wasn’t possible, the forest management plan couldn’t buy access to the resources with the six hundred thousand pesos that the fund was going to give us. So when it was said in the asamblea that they were asking us to approve the management plan and then they would approve our ecotourism project, the village said no, they can’t buy one thing with the other, and that’s the way it remained. We prefer to work more slowly but we know what we want and we’re not going to give up defending our resources, our territory for six hundred thousand pesos; this village has much more invested. It has millions of pesos that one can’t see – of course one can’t see them, one can’t feel them – but this village has millions of pesos. It has a future here with its resources, which can’t be negotiated; it can’t be negotiated. So when you look at the answer like this, you say no, they are right, they’re right and these are lessons that one learns, right? These are good moments that you see and learn. I’ve lived for a long time like this with them and yes, it has been difficult because it’s difficult to be complying with the village and also have a private life, your family, your children, it’s difficult, it’s difficult to do.
Section 18
What message would you like to give to the people from here?
From here, from the village? Well I don’t think that I could give a message to them because they are older, or we are of the same age, but those that are at the top are senior people, with experience. I think that the only thing that I would say to them is that they continue teaching us, right? Whether it be the adults, the ciudadanos, the authority, the people of the sector caracterizado (senior group within the asamblea) or unpaid community positions, the village itself, that they 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. That they also teach us, and keep talking to us how our grandparents talked to us before: stories, history, personal stories about what has been done in the life of the village, how the road was built, how the authority’s office was built, how the work of the village has been done. I think that rather than a message it would be a request: that the ciudadanos, the village, men and women of a greater age continue teaching us, that they continue teaching us.
Like something I learnt, me at this age…well I had rather a nice moment recently. I always asked myself where this character of defending its resources, that the village has, came from. They always said that we have to defend it, we have to fight. I grew up like this. Later on I learnt about the rural teacher in the ’30s and I said OK, well that is a big reason and well, we now have an archaeological area where the first signs of habitation of this village were. Well, we recently brought an archaeologist here and we went there with the authority (official?) and various children of the primary, sorry, of the secondary school. We took them and told them that we’re going to listen and the authority (official?) took down an idol from the síndico (senior officials, next in authority to the agente – the elected community head) office so that it would look after [us].
After the archaeologist had been there for two and a half days he gave a talk to various people from the village, and children. He said to us, “Do you know what? Well, Yavesía, here, in the place of the first settlements, there is a court for a ball game based on the solar calendar, but most importantly this was a place of worship for the god Guzio (Zapotec deity, “lord of the mountains”, said to live in the Sierra Norte and to take care of mountain people and their resources), the rain god.” Then he explained to us what it consisted of; there was the statue of Guzio, and then we went to see where there was a snake carved, two snakes carved, in coils. He said that this was connected with Yavesía; Yavesía was a site of worship, a traditional centre where the rain god was worshipped. You can see it because here there is the river, there’s water and eyes of water, and these snakes are the cloud snakes, lightning was snakes coming down from the sky. So this indicated that this was a very important centre of worship, a culture connected with rain.
So I talk with the people and I asked them to explain to me why the people of Yavesía have this strong trait of conserving its resources, of looking after them. Because rain can’t come from another place, they said. 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. That’s how they explained it. So I now understand why the village is a village that has fought so dedicatedly to conserve its resources, and now you can see it too. This is what I would say, that together we continue discovering what else there is at the bottom of the village, what else there is - but that the older people help us, that the Señores help us and that they continue teaching us. This is an example of what I could say and ask that they continue teaching us…that it’s very valuable, more now than ever, everything that they know is very valuable, isn’t it? They know a lot and I think that it’s very valuable. I think that it’s worthwhile that they continue teaching us more - above all for the very young, the children and young people. I think that that’s the most important thing.