photo of Mexican man the sierra norte
Mexico glossary








member of the consultative committee


IxtlŠn, Oaxaca


29 May 1999



Section 1
Your name?
Miguel Pťrez.

Are you from IxtlŠn?
Yes, Iím from IxtlŠn.

Were your parents also from here?
Yes, they were from here.

How old are you?
Iím 52 years old.

Did you study here, in IxtlŠn?
Yes, I went to primary school here.

What has been your biggest impression of the primary school up until now?
Main impression? Well, the overall impression that Iíve had of the primary school teaching that we received in the Ď50s, one could say Ď50s, Ď60s, Ď50s to Ď70s, is that the teachers had a definite vocation for the profession that they had chosen, because, at the least, they taught me. They put a lot into teaching us and we learnt, at least I did. Now, in comparison, the education at primary and secondary level has got a lot worse.

What stopped you from continuing studying in the secondary school?
What influenced me more than anything was my family because there were some problems when I left primary school. I was intending to work, sorry, study, but there was no other option than to continue working, work to support myself. There were some very difficult problems, family problems in which my brothers had to go away to earn themselves a living. But they didnít have enough to send money to my parents, for them to live off, so I felt responsible to stay with them and work to help them, so thatís how come I didnít have the opportunity to continue studying. If I had had the opportunity I would have probably continued studying but my parents didnít have anything in those days, thatís why I had to work and leave the primary school.

What were your first jobs when you began working?
Well the first jobs were in the fields, planting, cultivating the land, ploughing with the animals, everything that needs to be done in the fields to grow corn and beans, thatís what is mostly planted here.
Section 2
There are cargos (unpaid community positions) within the social organisation of the municipal office as well as the comisariado (office responsible for community property). What has been your experience of them?
Well the experience that Iíve had of the cargos has been, more than anything, of the deeply rooted traditions of our community, that one must accept putting the cargo in front of any problem, economic or family, has been very difficult. When they gave us the cargo of topil (junior cargo position involving running errands and keeping order) in the municipal office we didnít have any income whatsoever, it was very difficult to support oneself because we only rested for one week and the next week we were in the municipal office. None of the cargos are paid either, the chief of police [is needed?] once a month, the tasks of the regidor (cargo official responsible for supervising topiles and maintaining order in the community) [are required?] every month and a half, but what Iíve noticed with the cargos is that one completely leaves oneís own work, in one way or another. One concentrates oneís efforts on the cargo, well everything else stops, everything is postponed, interrupted. Then to start again isnít the same as before, the conditions are different, itís more difficult to make oneís way again. Thatís for those cargos, regidor (cargo official responsible for supervising topiles and maintaining order in the community), the ones I mentioned.
The cargos of sŪndico (senior officials, next in authority to the agente or elected community head) and presidente (highest authority in the municipality) are even more difficult because these are full time. Well, one gets good experience, one definitely learns a lot, but economically the family really feels the effects because thereís no pay. So the experiences that one acquires are 100 per cent positive in that one gets to know people from the different problems that each of the ciudadanos (citizens) and commoners have and problems that the community has in its relations with the other agencias (community offices) and with neighbouring villages. Because in one way or another, when one has a cargo that includes responsibilities to the community one has to have relations with different villages and one must have closer contact with the agencias, municipal agencias (agencies that are part of a municipality; in this case IxtlŠn de JuŠrez) and police agencias.

If it were in your hands to decide whether to continue in this way or change, what would you propose?
If I had the opportunity to make a change, I would propose that the cargos of the municipal authority and of the comisariado (community official) last six years, because as it is now, the municipal presidency is just one and a half years and so, if one tries to do something, a job, an improvement for the community, well, it canít be planned properly, all the needs of the community arenít understood, things are done in the short term. As a result things often donít turn out well and afterwards we regret the fact that something should have been done first so that we would be able to continue like this. If one had a cargo that lasted six years one could implement a good work plan, a plan for development, or whatever one wanted to do in the community could be completed like this.
This is one option. If not, that it continues as it is, but the cargo of the presidente lasts three years and the community is organised well. A commission or a long-lasting committee could be formed, carrying out a, letís say, 20 or 15 year long community plan in which all the community is involved, all the villagers, so that they can contribute ideas and explain what the community needs. From there a plan could be worked out, a work plan that lasts 20 years. Like this there wouldnít be this problem of the municipal authorities: that one enters and begins a job and then leaves and his work stops, that thereís no continuity. There would be a way to do things, a municipal authority would know what work he is going to do and the following ones would know that he will continue [this] and so on. In 20 years we would see where we are, and evaluations to improve and correct things would be made.
Section 3
Right. Now, changing the subject, has there been something that has had a special impact on your life?
I canít, no, I donít understand the question.

Something that has had repercussions, for example, something that happened in your childhood that has had significant repercussions for you.
Well, just what my parents taught me: responsibility and work, these have been the most significant things. That one mustnít wait for someone else to do things for you, but do them yourself, and one mustnít be lazy at work, thatís were one gets most of the bad habits.

You just touched on a subject, the responsibility. What do you think about responsibility?
Well, responsibility is a value that all human beings must have, but many of us just understand it as a word and we donít carry out the responsibility, the responsibility involves a lot. Beginning with the responsibility to be oneself, be responsible for oneís health, for the clothes one wears, for our character, for the mistakes that we often make. If we make a mistake we have the tendency to look for someone else to blame when most of the time the guilt is ours, we lay the blame on someone else. Above all, we donít think about punctuality, but itís very important for whatever work we may have to do and we must see it as such. I couldnít define responsibility in two or three words; it is part of being human. It should be taught in the schools, starting in the nursery schools, to know what responsibility is and to be responsible for ourselves, our actions, our achievements and our mistakes.

Another thing you spoke about a moment ago was work. What are the work prospects like in this community now?
There are many prospects in the community now, but as I was saying, we just need to organise ourselves better. We need to understand peopleís needs and look for new alternatives. There are opportunities, one just needs to go looking for them; one must think. Because we have the potential of the community at our disposal, we have it all at our disposal, it just that our organisation hasnít been sufficient to be able to promote new sources of work, new jobs. We have only thought about exploiting the forest, but we also have to think that itís a heritage that our forefathers left us and we must be responsible and leave something for our children, for the future generations. Our forefathers were very intelligent to leave us a good heritage, above all the forests; our responsibility is to take care of them and look for alternatives so as not to be satisfying our needs only with the forest.
Section 4
Do you think that the efforts that have been made up till now to conserve the forest havenít had much success?
What happened was that it took us a lot of work to become conscious, this awareness has been developed over the last 10Ė15 years and now that there is a programme of harvesting our forest, it is being regulated. So, using this programme we are taking more care when we cut down a tree not to cause unnecessary destruction. Also the land clearing that we members of the community do to sow crops, sometimes we just planted for one year or two years and then we cleared some more land and caused more destruction - we didnít make full use of everything as we should have done. I think that that is why there was a lot of destruction before, especially when the Tuxtepec paper mill (which had the logging concession in the forests surrounding various communities in the Sierra Norte for about 25 years) was here, but now that it is our responsibility, as commoners, we are taking better care of our forests. There definitely isnít the destruction now that occurred before.

Is the conservation of plants as important to you as the conservation of forest animals?
Of course. It is definitely the most important thing for us because itís the environment in which we live, so with the destruction of our forest, the vegetation, fauna and animals, we are destroying everything that we have. Hence we need to implement a programme, a plan, something that is attractive to everyone in the community so that we look after the animals. Instead of hunting them without control we need to establish a better system of control and continue protecting the animals, our forests and everything that exists within them.

About the legends. What can you tell us about the legends of the community? What exists in the forests or in some particular place in IxtlŠn?
Well, one legend that my father told me dates back to many years ago when there was fighting for possession of this area of IxtlŠn. There were many communities, many villages, tribes one could say, that were nomadic and wanted to settle in IxtlŠn. So there were two groups: one was from IxtlŠn - or rather, one was the group that eventually did establish itself in IxtlŠn - and the other also wanted to settle in IxtlŠn. So that there wouldnít be unnecessary bloodshed, they said it would be better to make a kind of bet to see who would get to stay here. What they said was that the one that managed to stand a tree up with the roots above, would stay in IxtlŠn - and of course almost everyone thought that it would be difficult to do. Nevertheless those that stayed here managed this feat of standing up a tree with the roots above.

About the history of the community, do you have any information about this to tell us?
About the history of the community. Well, I just remember the help the community Atepec offered IxtlŠn when other communities were fighting very hard to push out the people of IxtlŠn. Iím talking about Ixtepeji, Lachatao, Guelatao and Capulapan. They managed to surround IxtlŠn but we got support thanks to intervention from the late Enrique Bernardino who managed to help us, he managed to break the circle and went to get help from Atepec. Well, only 20 people came from there but all were well trained in everything Ė well, in killing deer - and so they had unfailing aim. With this [help] it was sufficient to defeat and break the circle that enclosed IxtlŠn.
Section 5
How many traditional festivals can you remember that have evolved within this community?
Traditional festivals? Well, el dŪa de reyes (Epiphany) is on the 6th of January. After that, itís one that has been lost - the baile de los compadres (dance of the companions) - which used to be held on the 6th of February. After that is the Main Week, or Holy Week. After that is the festival of the area of San Pedro which is on the 29th of June, this is one of the first festivals of the community. June, July, August, on the 15th of August we celebrate the region of Asunciůn, on the 15th of September, 16th of September, we celebrate the independence of our Fatherland and the Grito de Dolores (the call for independence made by the town of Dolores, Hidalgo). The 14th of October is the area of San Francisco and then thereís the 1st of November when we celebrate the fiesta de muertos (Day of the Dead) - Todosantos (All Saints Day) when everyone prepares food and fruit and everything for the deceased. Then there is the village festival which is the most important for us, but before that thereís the festival on the 18th of December which is Soledad (fiesta of the Virgin of Soledad, patron saint†of Oaxaca) and then itís the 21st which is the village festival. After that Christmas is on the 24th and 25th.

The Catholic Church in Mexico celebrates Holy Week almost everywhere, what special features does this festival have in this community?
One of the features of this festival, well, it isnít really a festival but a reflection of what happened to our Lord Jesus Christ more than anything, everything that he suffered. I wouldnít really say itís a festival but days to observe, they are days to reflect on (for reflection) and are days for being with oneís family. The main feature of these days now is that there are holidays and everybody who is from here but is in Mexico City or Oaxaca city come, others come from the United States, those that go there illegally. This is when they all come back. Itís also when the community of Yahuiche and other places around here come.

What opinion did your parents have of education?
I didnít have the opportunity to talk with them about education because their work was very exhausting and they almost didnít speak on this aspect.

In spite of the fact that you couldnít go to school, what are your opinions on education?
Well, itís the most important thing in life, right? The main reason for education is to learn, to know different places. Well, itís an important weapon for living, for defending oneself in life, in all these aspects.

What would you have liked to study, if it had been possible?
If it had been possible I would have liked to have studied law.

And do you have a preference for any certain type of reading matter at this moment?
Normally I read anything that attracts my attention, one needs to know a little about everything and everything is needed at one time or another. If I just liked one type of reading or something for entertainment, it would be a novel, but in general one should make use of all the types of literature that come oneís way to gain knowledge.
Section 6
You donít have a special type of literature, but have you felt that the community requires anything in particular, with regards to education?
What the community definitely needs, with regards to education, is to learn a lot more. A lot needs to be learnt, firstly how to organise oneself to understand things well - which is what effects the community most, of course. I believe that the development of this is one of the important points in the development of the community. But for the community to develop it is necessary to start with the children so that they have the knowledge, they have a view on the community, so that they appreciate the place where they were born.

You were speaking about an organisation just a moment ago, could you explain to us exactly what you are referring to when you say ďorganisationĒ?
Well, one could say that the organisation is everything, couldnít you? Because in this way work of different natures can be accomplished, with the development of the community as the objective. If there was no organisation, if methods of working didnít exist and if rules didnít exist, it wouldnít be possible for a community to move forward, it wouldnít have direction. If a well-detailed plan isnít established stating what it wants to do, or where it wants to arrive, I think that it would be very difficult to advance. Thatís why itís necessary to know and to learn how to organise, to be able to move forward and be at the level of any circumstance that arises. With all the advances that there now are in other levels, other countries, other states, itís necessary that we, as a community, as people responsible for our community, train and know how to organise ourselves in all aspects, to be competitive every day.

In the community, as part of the organisation, we have cargos which include education. What do you think about these? About education and cargos?
I didnít understand the question well.

Do you have to learn for yourself? Is there help with doing what the cargo implies or does one need to know it? Is this how itís been for you?
Certainly, yes. Looking at it from that point of view, yes, one learns a lot. One learns a lot in the cargos that one does. But it is still important to develop oneself, read, inform oneself, to be up to date with everything that is happening so that one is well informed and has a wider vision of everything that happens in the community and other places.

Among the cargos that youíve held in the community, in the comisariado (office responsible for community property) and the municipal office, is there one that held special interest for you?
Well, interest, strictly speaking, no, no. A special interest in one of the cargos? Well, no. They have been obligations rather, theyíve been... obligations to the community, to the people. To say that one cargo has been of particular interest to me, well, I donít see them in that way but rather that one has more problems when one has a cargo. One needs to work full time with them, physically as much as morally, because there are many problems in the community, many requirements. One feels impotent seeing a succession of problems, of needs, and not being able to give solutions as one would like to do.
Section 7
Speaking about interest I was referring to whether they have been interesting for you, if theyíve been important. Of all the cargos that youíve fulfilled, which has been most interesting for you?
All the cargos have been interesting and important for me. They form one as a human being, as a ciudadano, as a commoner. Itís a development that occurs gradually; so every cargo, from the simplest to the elected positions, are important because one learns something every day in all of them.

Which cargos have you received in the community?
Well, one could say almost all of them, all the cargos that there are in the community. They have appointed me and Iíve fulfilled them as must be done, even though it wasnít with all the satisfaction that one would hope for. I already mentioned a minute ago that one can't fulfil all the requirements of the inhabitants of the community. The cargos of popular election that I had were regidor (cargo official responsible for supervising topiles (junior cargo position involving running errands and keeping order) and maintaining order in the community), sŪndico (senior officials, next in authority to the agente or elected community head) and presidente del consejo de vigilancia (person in charge of keeping watch over the communityís land) which is part of the comisariado de bienes comunales (office responsible for community property).

In your opinion, basically, where does the difference lie between a cargo in the municipal office and a cargo in the comisariado?
The difference is that the municipal is responsible for seeing to everything that is in the district capital, taking into account and organising everything in all the municipal agencias (agencies that are part of a municipality; in this case to IxtlŠn de JuŠrez) and there are 12. So it is more municipal work, with the agencias, with the ciudadanos (citizens). Unlike the comisariado de bienes comunales (office responsible for community property) which is exclusively for the community; to manage public properties, to survey community land, to watch over the business or businesses that a community has, whether itís the community transport, or minibus, or petrol station. So, one could say that the comisariado is responsible for supervising and managing these belongings so that they are beneficially productive for the community, thatís where the difference is. The comisariado de bienes comunales works solely for the management of community properties, and the municipal office is in charge of managing municipal funds and managing what it owns, together with the agencia.

What do you think about the action of the municipal authority over the agencia, should it maintain a leadership? What do you think about it at this moment?
In fact the municipal presidente (highest authority in the municipality) definitely has the leadership with the agencias though the municipal treasury, because the people come here from the municipal agencias (agencies that are part of a municipality; in this case to IxtlŠn de JuŠrez). In this respect, the municipal here in IxtlŠn has to intervene in the projects that another agencia makes, to advise them sufficiently so that their work finishes well, the work that they want to do for their community. So everything is here, the municipal with the agencias. Of course there are some people who think differently, that they are being tricked or that they arenít given everything that belongs to them, like money, but with the information that is given to them now they agree, because that is really what is theirs.
Section 8
What is the value of the community for you now, for the mature families, the young people, the students? How could we place the value that the community has, in this respect?
One of the things valuable to the community is its customs, and own style of self-governing. This is the foundation for the strength of the village, if we didnít have these well established customs, we wouldnít have our self-identity. I think that itís our customs that make us different from other communities, as much within the state as outside.

Could you tell us what your customs are?
Well, the customs have been changing, but the main custom we have in this community is the tequios (obligatory unpaid community work) which is work that is carried out by all the ciudadanos (citizens) when the municipal authority requests. The participants are not paid and for this reason many ciudadanos donít fully understand that the tequios are done for progress of the community. They are often in disagreement with it and tried to convince the authorities that it isnít valid, saying that the authorities are obliging them to work when our Constitution prohibits this. But recently, as has happened in other regions, the tequio was made into an institution, so the tequio is now officially recognised. That is one of the most important customs.
Another is that the community and the municipal authorities are elected by the ciudadanos, the commoners. It isnít like other places where political parties intervene, or where authorities of the state or of the ProcuradurŪa Agraria (government department in charge of resolving community land conflicts) intervene, delegating the cargo of the comisariado) [ie to someone they ďappointĒ]. The community has matured a lot in this aspect and appoints its authorities with true democracy. Asamblea (community parliaments) are held in which there is an open vote, itís a direct vote and no one gets heated about one situation or another which could lead to trouble. These are the most established customs that our community has; there are others but they donít have relevance at community level, they are for identifying this community from the rest. In my way of thinking the most important ones are those I mentioned.
Section 9
Since the moment that you were aware of things, what have you seen? How did they carry out the tequios 30, 35 years ago? Do you have any memories of them?
Yes, about 35 years ago, when the land was still irrigated, the water had to come from about 4 or 5 km away and the channels were opened in the tequio, so that the water could flow. All the material needed to lower the wooden channels had to be taken to the places where it was difficult for the water to pass. People who had horses, donkeys or oxen, took their animals to pull and to drag these wooden channels. There were some people who were very skilled with the axe, at cutting the [wood used for] wooden channels and cutting the thick beams that are used for building roofs, thatís the type of tool we saw in those days. So they brought the agua rodada (literally, ďtravelled waterĒ, water for irrigation transported through canoitas) as we call it, the distance that I already mentioned.
There were also tequios to plant corn and there was a piece of land exclusively for this purpose which we called the villageís land. We all went there with animals and ploughs to prepare the land and afterwards we all went to sow it and to weed the corn, to put more soil on top of the small plants and to harvest. After the harvest the municipal authorities performed some jobs to maintain the drinking water channel which is about 11 kilometres from the community. So then the people took the material, cement, the plaster or whatever was needed to fix the water system, but it didnít come from here, everything had to be brought here and as there was a lack of vehicles they had to carry it all. So the municipal Police were the ones who suffered most in these situations, they had to perform the heaviest work.

Speaking about this, about how you experienced the way in which the tequios were carried out, have there been many changes in the community, within the society, apart from what you just mentioned? What other changes have you seen, that have caused differences to how it used to be 30 years ago?
Yes, the changes that have been very obvious are where there has been a definite improvement, right? They donít perform the tequios to bring the water now because the pipes arrive at the community. Now the water for irrigation is used for sprinkler irrigation, which is a very good improvement for our community, for our agriculture above all. So thatís why we donít do those tequios anymore. Also, before they had tequios to mend the road, the roads that connected us to the other villages - and we donít do those nowadays because we have the highway and vehicles. The paths and the main lane we had are being slowly forgotten.

Speaking about agriculture, corn and beans are traditionally grown here. Do you think that thereís a type of farming that isnít subsistence, but that can produce a crop, I donít know, that isnít just self-sufficient but that one can sell?
Of course it is possible to have enough product to be able to sell as well as feed oneself but the problem here is the topography of the land, thatís one thing. Another, as I told you before, is that we havenít been able to, we havenít managed to make a successful improvement in our organisation, have we? We havenít been able to organise five, 10 or 15 farmers to have one sole [plot of] land and take advantage of all this land to plant, because in that way we could get help from the government. Things work better in a group, but we are lacking a lot of organisation. I admit that itís a little difficult because of the topography of the land, but at the same time it would be possible to get round this if there was an effective organisation and a sufficient feeling of need that we should dedicate ourselves to agriculture. Yes, we could come out ahead. But a lot is needed before we understand that for us the main thing is food.
Section 10
Talking about organisation and what you just said, what do we need to get rid of the disorganisation?
We need training, we need a lot of training, we need the commoners and the ciudadanos (citizens) to be trained. Our managing body could go to see other places where there have been similar situations because of the land, the poor quality of the land. There are places that were deserts, but nevertheless are producing well now. We havenít been away from here, we havenít seen anything, we havenít wanted to invest in our training so that we have a more general knowledge and know how to manage and understand, all things considered. Thatís why training is very important, to be able to move ahead.

Are there possibilities for people for training, economically or otherwise?
Yes there are opportunities, we have to go after them, we have to look for them. If we want to learn more every day we must look for them. The opportunities are there, we just need to let go of some of our pride, the stupid pride makes us believe that we know everything and can do everything and it isnít true. This is what holds us back. I think that if we put fear of criticism and pride to one side we could move forward.

Saying exactly what you said about advancing, that we have a lack of organisation, could this be seen as an obstacle?
Not exactly an obstacle, no, because we wouldnít have had any advances. In comparison to the communities that surround us we have progressed, but thatís been despite many mistakes, many failures. If we had the training, if we had some other form of learning, if we took advantage of all the projects that the government has, all the government institutions, if we were better organised, we could take advantage of them, if we were better organised. Thereís some organisation now, so we could say that we are partly organised, but not completely, we need to take this step to have a more effective organisation. Iím not saying that weíre doing badly, that weíre behind, that weíre not advancing, that weíre going backwards, weíve been advancing gradually, slowly, precisely because we arenít properly organised, but if we were organised it would be different.