photo of Mexican man the sierra norte
Mexico glossary










Tiltepec, Oaxaca


27 April 1999



Mario is originally from Teococuilco de Marcos Pťrez, Sierra Norte, Oaxaca.
Section 1
Iím here with you today to ask you some questions about your life, from when you were a boy to the present day. Could you tell me something about your life?
Yes, itís lovely to be alive. I for example was born in 1935 on the 19th of January and I grew up in Teococuilco with my parents. My father worked in the fields, worked with animals and little by little, I also began working with the animals, planting corn, beans, broad beans and wheat, as I was bound to. Little by little, well, I was growing up and I was 18. I said, ďWho are you going to marry?Ē and I got married, but not legally. We lived together until 1954 when we separated and then in 1955 I went to the North (the USA)

So you went there and grew up with your father when you were a child. Did you live with him all the time?
Yes, I grew up with my parents and then in í54 I got divorced and so I went to the North but I was with my parents, I mean, I sent them money to help out at home. When I returned we were together again, then my father went to the North and I stayed at home working. I began with the cargos (unpaid community positions). I started as topil (junior cargo position involving running errands and keeping order) and I was also secretario (community secretary) and thatís how it was. Then in í57 I found another woman with whom Iím living now. At this time I was working with my parents for one year. I didnít separate from them; we were working the same land together.
We lived in a kitchen, my mother, my wife and thatís how we were. Later, in í62 I went to the mine for work - well I needed money. After that I went to work in the Valle Nacional [also in the Sierra Norte] where there is tobacco. I continued like this, year after year. I used to go to the USA every year for seven years; I wasnít there long, just two or three months.

So how did you do in school, did you go to school?
Yes I went to school, I studied up till fifth grade, nothing more. In those days I had a problem in that there were times when the teachers hit the children a lot. I wasnít used to being beaten and so I didnít want to go to school. The teacher hit students who didnít turn up or couldnít answer a question about the work. It became that everyone was getting hit. Well, I felt terrible and so thatís why I didnít continue studying. So thatís why I didnít finish primary school, I only got up to fifth grade. As it was, thanks to God, I was secretario this taught me more because you have to do everything. The paperwork every day, and one is there every day. Every day I had to draw up marriage certificates, death certificates, birth certificates; these were all part of the job as secretario. So in this job you learn more because you have an official role, you do all the application forms and work that people in the community need doing. So thatís how, thanks to God, I got some more training. Also Iím trying to learn the Castilian language (Spanish), well, Iíve been away a lot and I have practised good Spanish, expressing things, so I hardly make mistakes now.
Section 2
Ah! Right. And after you worked and grew up with your parents, did you move out?
Yes, after about six years of living with them together with my wife, a day arrived when I decided I would go and make my own life, also because it wasnít the same, living with them. So I told my father that weíve been together for a good length of time and I think Iím going to move out, so he knew what I was going to do since I was eating and living with them. Then he gave me three small plots of land and my animals that we work. I worked there in Tecoculco but later, well, it didnít seem good to me, I got ready to leave. It was a lot of work, I had to make the short journey to here. In 1973 I began taking trips this way, to Yagila and I liked the weather and everything, so thatís how I came to stay here. I moved around a lot, I went to Mexico City to work in construction, it was called Rios. We were laying pipes, they said the river [water] came from the River Lerma to supply the city: everywhere from Las Lomas de Chapultepec though San Bartolomť and on to San Angel. They put down tanks and made tunnels and I was drilling.

Did you have children when you got married?
Yes, I had a son with the same woman I married. Now, well, he studied in Tecocuilco where he finished primary school and then went to Mexico City where my late father lived. They were there and they helped him, and thatís how it was for a while. Iím not saying he learnt a lot, but it helped him in some things and heís supporting himself now.

Do you have a house in Mexico [City]?
Yes, we have a house because my father bought it. My late father bought the land, saying afterwards, ďYou are the only two brothers and this land is for you both; you wonít live here but your son will, in our place.Ē And thatís how my boy got to live in Mexico City. Thatís how we are now. We built the little houses and then agreed that when we had money we would build some more. Thatís how they are now and thatís why my boy stayed in Mexico City. Heís been there for a long time now, he married and has sons and education, and the oldest one has finished high school. Iím not sure what theyíre doing now because I havenít gone there for four years. I donít know what career heís chosen but heís studying so he can make a go of it, the oldest.

Did you live in Mexico [City] too, with your son?
Yes I was there too because he was studying and at times he needed the help of his father or a guardian to sign papers and everything like that. So I was there with him, ready for whatever little urgency there may have been, to sign a paper, or some copy, all of that; I got up to date with that. Then I came here and by the grace of God Iím getting old, well thatís how it should be. So I arrived here and began working with coffee. That was my ambition; it was my life and itís been good for me, and itís what Iím doing now.
Section 3
How did things look to you coming back, after having been away from your land?
Well when I came back I arrived at JosaŠ first. Then some people from Tiltepec invited me here to carry corn and I went to that land down there to carry the corn and see the farms. The land, it was incredible! Just look at what the land is like here. I had never seen this land before, the land was excellent. I had been thinking about moving to Veracruz but when I came here and got to know the land here and everything, well I said ďThe food is here, why go so far?Ē And lots of people here told me to come here, they said ďItís better that you donít go there, you shouldnít go there, thereís just land there.Ē So that was how I came to be living here now, thanks to God. Well as I said, Iím getting older but Iíve got enough to support myself, because the coffee plantation is producing well. Of course I canít work growing corn now, but the coffee gives me enough to get all my things, well, I have a little more than 3, 4 hectares, roundabout (approximately).

And did you begin your plantation immediately after you arrived here?
Yes, in the first week I got here. I remember very clearly, the 29th of June - San Pedroís day - when I arrived. Well, three days after I arrived, thanks to the authorities, they pointed out a piece of land. I asked them to give me land which they believed didnít have many neighbours, but if there was a vacant piece Iíd cultivate it, Iíd sow. Well, they kindly told me about this piece where I have my farm now. In Zapoteco itís called Ragui. And then the next day a topil (junior cargo position involving running errands and keeping order) came and said to me ďLetís go and see where youíd like [to farm] because you donít know these parts.Ē He took me here. Well for me all the land was good because where Iíd come from there wasnít land like this and I stayed with this land.

What was this topil called?
SeŮor Abraham Bautista, he was the one who took me there. I went there with him and went by the houses, then there was the late Gabriel and he had his farm; we went by there and further down and passed by where the big cattle pens of our forefathers are: ďWell all that bit is what the authorities told you about, have a look and see how it looks to you.Ē

And arriving on this land, what did you think?
Well, arriving on this land, well I said, well no, just look at the land these people have and itís going to be mine. Because I came here with the mind to work, and I was ready to work, I was strong. Well I went down there the next day with my machete. I started clearing the land straightaway as it had already been cleared of trees. It was very exciting for me because I was going to learn my trade. It happened because Iím sure that if you have the mind and courage to do something, if you have the initiative to do a job it works out - but also always as and when God [wills]. Heís the one who gives us the permission and courage to do the work, thatís why, God helps us in everything.

How many years after planting did you begin to harvest?
It began after three years because the plants were young and small. At that time I didnít know where there were seeds here. I spoke to SeŮor Macedonio about it Ė he was young then and didnít yet have problems with his eyes. I said to him, ďCould you get me some seeds? Iíll pay you 20 centavos (cents) for every seedling.Ē So he went with his wife and he brought me 500 seedlings. Well Iíd already spoken with him [and arranged] that he would leave what he got where the old school used to be. The next morning I went down and got them. This SeŮor went to get me the seeds (seedlings?) because he knew where they were, because I was starting up, as they say. He went to get me 500; well the money was a help to him. So the next day I took the coffee to plant and as I was working and giving them attention the plants began [to flourish] in three years. You wouldnít believe that in the first year it gave me six arrobas (1=12kg), just three years after planting, the next year I got 18 arrobas, and from 18 and in the third harvest, I got 40 arrobas, from 40 to 100, from 100 to 160 arrobas. Now, well, this is more, I put in more, but now I donít manage to collect all the benefit, all my plants. I take in about 60, 80, well last year, because the crops werenít good I only collected 40.
Section 4
So at that moment when you first saw that it was being harvested, that the plants had a crop, was it then that you made your farm, where you lived in the plantation?
Yes, the first thing I did was build the house here in the village because first Iíd asked the authority where they would give me a little land so that I could build my house after all. They told me [it could be] wherever I wanted. I said, ďYou tell me.Ē Well they gave me the land and I made my little house. I was afraid because of what happened to me in JosaŠ: I built a little house there and after 20 days it was blown away. It was simple, made of tejamanil (traditional rough pinewood planks), of wood; like that, the wind blew it away because sometimes a very strong wind passes here. I had to sell my pig that year. Here I had about 200,000 pesos, well that was a lot of money. I went to Oaxaca to buy metal rods and wire, plain wire, and I got [the materials] to Yagila, this was with SeŮor Esteban who already had his car then and he took the stuff for me. From there I carried it here. Little by little I built my house. I had been working in Mexico City as a bricklayer, well Iíd tried my hand at bricklaying, Iíll do any work, I can make floors, mix cement, place bricks, I know how to do re-barb (concrete columns with reinforced steel) and engaged columns. I did all this, thatís why I made the house by myself, I didnít use a labourer. I made the re-barb and adobe (mud brick) bricks. The walls are adobe and the corners are pure columns, pure re-barb.

When you first arrived, when you first arrived in Tiltepec, where did you live?
At that time, as I said, I lived in the late SeŮor Ciriacoís house which was in front of the school, of a classroom, that used to be down there where we lived before. That was before they built up here, and the church was a little below, the old church. Well there I was thanks to that SeŮor Ė he was a good man Ė and that SeŮor Abraham too. Because he couldnít see any more but he lived with his son Abraham - but he wasnít his own son, he was a nephew; yes the late Ciriacoís nephew. Well it was them who asked me to carry their corn; thatís why I trusted them, we trusted each other. Well they said to me, ďIf youíre going to live here, well, here is where you will live.Ē I lived with them for about a year and then I moved up with SeŮor Isauro. In those days SeŮor Bartolo Franscisco, from Yagila, was in power. I spoke with him and he gave me this place, I was going to buy the house but he told me Iíd better not, it was going to be expensive. So for a while I was harvesting the coffee together with SeŮor Bartolo and I made myself a little house later, after that, [on] this hill; I made it with tejamanil and wooden columns to hold the beams of the roof, very simple. Then when I had more coffee I sold it and built the house we have now.
Section 5
Where did you go to sell your coffee when you began harvesting?
When I began to harvest a lot, a buyer came here. I sold him 80 or 90 arrobas (1=12 kg). I sold two or three harvests here because I didnít have enough animals to carry it, because it sold. They bought it in Yagila, mostly in Yagila. They bought it there because cars could get there but before, when Iíd just arrived, I sold coffee to the INI (National Indigenous Institute) that was in Guelatao, so they bought coffee there but in those days I hardly had anything to trade. Well, whatever money, as they say, I bought coffee seedlings here in exchange because there werenít any shops here then, there wasnít anything. I sold [harvested coffee] and I brought back salt, I brought back lots of things, bread, everything that comes from IxtlŠn and Oaxaca, I brought it here to sell in exchange for coffee. Thatís how I also bought, with a little more money, thatís how I bought coffee seedlings [for myself]. I packed up the four animals I had and went to Guelatao, to the INI, to leave it. They were giving me a good price; also I earned a little for charging for the transportation that my animals did, a little of what everything cost. I earned from what I bought. I made my little business and thatís how I went with the coffee, thatís the way - that one suffers a lot when God so decides, yes, and when God helps you, and one has food to eat after the spending for the house, well, itís easy.

How long did it take you to go from here to Guelatao with your animals when you
exported coffee?
Well at times I left at one or two in the morning, I didnít get sleepy until three in the morning. So I went up above Yagila to the path that goes to Santa Cruz, I would be going along there as the sun rose and there I went. I picked up a rhythm there, well I left the path there for the road where there was the Yagavila (Yagila?) store, formerly the spinning shop Ė there used to be two stores and a warehouse. This was where the road ended before. A fellow villager of mine who lived in Tecocouilo but now lives in Oaxaca used to go there to buy avocados, coffee, all of that. From there I took the road from the Cerro Grande (literally, large hill), arriving at the Cerro Grande, and from there I went through all the mountains. Where they call it the Cuarentena, one gets to where the Tepanzacualco road goes down, one gets to Los Pozuelos Ė well, there one turns off for above Ixtlan. Heavens, well, at times when the animals were going very heavily laden Ė well, sometimes I loaded them up with 100 kilos, 100 kilos I put on my animals, I took three loaded animals and a riding horse to help take my wife at times Ė we got up to [the road] almost [always] when it was already the evening Ė I mean night time; we just got to where the Tepanzacualco road divides. The storage [place] was there. We just arrived there when the night began; we left at three in the morning. Heavens, thatís where it got dark on us, we arrived above Guelatao at 11 at night. Well, we took almost, almost 15 or 16 hours, or 18 hours.

And where you said that there was a warehouse, so at this time cars didnít come often?
No, in those days only my friend from my village came; he only came during the avocado season and he just came to bring us avocados. We carried them from there. I bought avocados, I bought them in Yagila, and I bought them in JosaŠ Ė well, where there are avocado plantations Ė and thatís where we did business, because we were responsible for the sacks of avocado from Ixtlan on the road. Well we loaded every animal with a sack and made two or three journeys a week, and it went on like that.
Section 6
So did your friend bring a car?
Yes, he brought a car and in those days and he brought things asked for too.

And at that time was there anyone else who came here to sell? Was it only you who brought things from Oaxaca and sold here?
Yes, well, they say that some people came from Tecocuilco before, and people from Ixtepeji came here; thatís why there are some people from my village in this village that can talk about this. They say thatís what the people from Tiltepec were called. They talked about the late SeŮor Ciriaco and the late SeŮor Hilario, the oldest, the oldest people, say that those who came here to sell things stayed with these two men. When I was legal [in the USA], well, I only came here often when I was in JosaŠ, I came here to do business, to sell things they didnít have and had asked for too, to see what people wanted to order, well I took it on. I bought things in IxtlŠn or Oaxaca and brought them here. Thatís how it was. There wasnít anyone who sold, and that wasnít only in Yagila. SeŮora Hilaria Ramos was selling in Yagila, she had the little shop; but it wasnít a grand thing, it only had a little, what I brought; well I came up to here and people bought it because I brought it up to the house.

And when you came here did you exchange for coffee or sell for money?
I just sold the things that I brought [in exchange] for coffee. Well it was sold here, so I brought, as I said I brought bread, I brought chorizo (spicy sausage), sweet breads and all those things to eat, salt more than anything, and it was all exchanged for coffee.

After that, why did you give up that business?
Itís that when IÖ I gave it up when I sold my animals and went to Mexico City for a while. On my return from Mexico City I arrived once again in JosaŠ but it didnít suit me any more and I said no, Iím leaving here. There was land, but the land they wanted to give me was very far; no, it was better that I went. Thatís why I came here. So I had gone to Mexico City, I had sold my animals, I didnít have animals Ė well, it had been them that carried a lot Ė and then I began working with coffee, I dedicated myself to coffee and thatís how I gave up the business. No, well, it was a hard grind [before], also my feet got very tired; it slowly wore you out, as they say; so then I just dedicated myself to coffee.

Did you only work with coffee when you arrived?
I also planted sugar cane; I had a little bit of cane. I worked, umm, a little bit of chilli. Itís customary to plant hot chilli in Tierra Caliente (literally hot lands; area or zone in the territory of Tiltepec with a hotter climate). We went there for two or three years to plant chilli, and yes chilli grew and cane grew, we also made panela (unrefined sugar). I went with SeŮor Isauro; yes, I worked, I worked with all of that, and corn and a small amount of beans. I worked with all of that, and now my illness doesnít let me, I just dedicate myself to coffee now.

And what do you think about your coffee plantation now, do you live off the coffee plantation now?
Yes, I live off the coffee plantation, because this yearÖ not even one maize plant, just the plantation and the coffee; yes thereís a harvest, which hasnít got damaged much but thereís still a lot of coffee remaining (to pick). Iíve cut about a half; the harvest remains out there for lack of workers. [Iíve harvested] just with my SeŮora now, [and] some workers that went [to cut] Ė it wasnít much Ė they went for 20, 25 bags; well they were all that came before August, people sometimes need a bit of money in that month: ďGive me a little money to cut coffee or to work.Ē Thatís why I didnít give much to workers. So just my workers did it, now the rest of us are there because [itís] the only work that doesnít wear you out; I mean one can cut a plant in one place and there you are for half an hour, an hour, one single plant sometimes, three, four plants. I just cut one; well it isnít a question of walking.
Section 7
So now you are ill, was it because of the work, or so much work, how did it happen?
It was probably because of the work - as I said I went to the mine and all that Ė that, probably; well before I heard that anyone who spends time there gets sick immediately. I mean it was probably a consequence of the mine but I didnít work there for more then 10 months. I was working there and there was an accident, a contractor had an accident, exactly on his shift. No, well, I immediately asked to leave that day. I didnít want to be there, the way they were having accidents; they seemed to leave dead before (as soon as) they went in. I didnít like being there any more, so much that Iíd leave the work. Itís true that you earn good money every week but itís very dangerous there. I reckon this illness could be because of working in the mine, probably. One doesnít breathe pure air any more; if you go with the contractor, in the work, well the air is pure oil, just smoke from the machine, thatís what you take in. Itís probably a consequence of [that] work.

With your work, with this, will you have enough money for the rest of your life?
Yes, well because of the plantation. Well, I consider that itís the only thing (we need). [Yes], because of that. And some [of it] is womenís work; my wife and I, well, we donít spend much on what we eat.

How much do you spend a week?
Well - a week? - well sometimes, what happens is that my boys, the sons-in-laws, whoever, go to the plaza and they take a little coffee for me. Well, when Orlando (son-in-law) goes, when Josť (son-in-law) goes, my daughters go, they take an arroba (12 kg) of coffee and with this they bring me every week Ė yes, [in exchange for] the coffee Ė 120 or 130 or 100 pesos for one or two arrobas; I get a little more money: ďHereís what was left and hereís what you asked for.Ē

Well thatís very good, SeŮor, what youíve told me, thank you for the morning, another day we will meet to talk about how youíre going to continue with your illness, how youíre going to continue working.
Well I thank you for the opportunity you gave me to talk, what Iíve suffered, whatís happened to me, what Iíve lived during the years. Right now Iím 65. Well weíve talked a bit now and another day, God willing, we will continue talking.

Thank you, SeŮor.