Monday, March 15, 2010

Rural Homestay with Indigenous Families

By Annie Ashby

St. Olaf College

Upon arrival to Amatlán, a small indigenous pueblo in our state of Morelos, none of us knew what life-changing experiences were ahead. In fact, we were all a little nervous to meet our first home-stay families. Even though we would only be visiting for four days, our Spanish language skills and lessons on cultural sensitivity had never been as essential as they were with these indigenous families.

The surrounding mountains of Amatlán

The trip began with an immigration panel where three local men shared their heart-wrenching stories of migration to the United States. One man worked in the U.S. on a seasonal worker’s visa, but the other two traveled without documentation. These two men would have to leave their families for years on end in order to send back enough money to construct a small adobe house or support their children. This is the irony of being a migrant worker – one must leave what they love the most behind in order to sustain it.

We soon found out that essentially anyone who lived in an adobe or concrete-block home, rather than a lamina shack, had paid for their home with remittances from the U.S. Every family in Amatlán had been touched by migration, which more often than not meant they had also been touched by tragedy. So many children had grown up without fathers, and so many mothers had lost adolescents to the pull of U.S. opportunity.

In Amatlán, we also became more informed on land rights and agricultural issues. Most people who remained in the community lived off of a campo for their corn supply and perhaps a little money on the side. However, ever since NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), the corn markets of Mexico have been skewed in such a way that it is often more profitable for consumers to buy U.S. corn than local, indigenous products. Thus, the people of Amatlán have evolved to just producing corn for their families. And, this corn was amazing!

Our trip has left me wrestling with many questions. Will Amatlán be able to preserve its indigenous cosmovision and beautiful way of life into the future? Will globalization ruin the preservation of indigenous culture? Why doesn’t the Mexican government care about indigenous poverty and lack of voice in politics and society?


  1. It is crazy to me that many people in Mexico must come to America to meet their financial needs; especially just to build a small house. I cannot imagine how difficult it would be to leave your family and the things you love most behind. It seems to me the US opportunity pulls families apart, either by children or parents leaving to secure work. I agree with a question you posed: The one about why doesn’t the Mexican government care about indigenous poverty? To me this is crazy, the fact that many Mexicans have no other choice but to come to the US to make money. Why does there country not have means to care for those who are poor?

  2. First of all, I am going to be a part of this program next year, and so I was very excited to hear that you got to stay with a family for a few days. That sounds amazing!

    Second, I don't understand why many Americans see immigrant workers as "lazy and ungrateful", most of them have gone through more struggles than US born citizens will ever comprehend.

    Third, I know almost all counties will treat their indigenous people unkindly. The US is no exception. Think about all we have learned about Native Americans and reservations. (and how we used to take all Native American children away from their parents at high numbers) I think this is in part because most people will view native peoples as stuck in the past.

    -Deidre Smith

  3. It's sad how the fathers have to be apart from their family in order to provide shelter and food. To sacrifice such an important piece of one's life is truly heartbreaking and tough. To even make matters worst, US relations to the trade agreement is conflicting with their daily income which makes me think about the things I buy and how it is affecting the farmers.

    Maikou Vang