Mexico

Mennonite Cheese is Mexican Cheese

December 2018 – MAD Dispatches

It is seven a.m. in the Mennonite colonies, dead in the center of the northern Mexican state of Durango. In the Mexican settlement across the highway, where they observe daylight savings, it’s already eight and but nothing will open for another two hours. Here in the Mennonite colonies, it’s a different world: the morning still starts with the sun and work stops for no one but god.

Abraham Klassen started his day at five am, colony time, milking his eighteen cows then sitting down with his wife and , three children, and in-laws for a silent prayer and breakfast of coffee and homemade bread spread with homemade butter and homemade jam. Just before seven, he hitches a rickety wooden cart to the back of his brother-in-law’s faded orange tractor and heads out to collect milk from the neighbors.

Last night, giant storm clouds walked in on tall stilts of rain, leaving the oat fields drenched. Low stalks of corn, just a few weeks into their summer flush, were neck deep in standing water; the rutted dirt roads, cut with Teutonic rectitude past white fences and white churches, were totally waterlogged.

“Days like today, it’s too muddy to work in the fields,” Klassen tells me in Spanish as he hefts steaming metal canisters onto a rickety wooden cart hitched to the back of his brother-in-law’s orange tractor. He squints up at the clouds, rolling in like gauze to bandage the huge frontier sky. “There’s always something to do. You get a break from one thing, it’s just a chance to do another.”

Read more in the book You and I Eat the Same, published by MAD Dispatches

Escaping Hate: A Trans Woman’s Journey North

March 13, 2018 – The Nation

In the early hours of a humid morning in March 2017, Alexandra Acevedo made her way to the railroad tracks that skirt the edge of Tenosique, a border town in the southern Mexican state of Tabasco. The sun wouldn’t come up for a few more hours, but the gravel path was already crowded with immigrants. Most of them were from Honduras like her, and all of them were trying to board the cargo train known as La Bestia, or The Beast, which they hoped to ride to the US border.

While Alexandra waited at the station, three masked men emerged from the darkness and dragged her to a hidden corner behind the platform, where they robbed, beat, and raped her. It was the worst attack she’d suffered in the months since leaving Honduras, but certainly not the first. When the assault ended, she gathered herself, and limped up the slope to a migrant shelter called La 72. Founded by Franciscan monks in 2011, La 72 was the first shelter in Mexico to open a dormitory exclusively for LGBTQ migrants like Alexandra; it was also the place where, as Alexandra tells it now, her new life as an openly trans woman began. (more…)

The Lady of the Istmo has no patience for earthquakes

November 26, 2017 – Saveur

On October 4th, the Saint’s day for St. Francis, the village of Santa María Xadani in southern Oaxaca should have been thronged with devotees. The narrow streets should have been lined with vendors selling sweet buns and crisp rounds of masa called totopos, pulled straight from the hot clay walls of a tandoor-like oven called a comezcal. There should have been paper flowers hung between the houses, cases of beer to stave off the afternoon heat, and music late into the night. Instead, a small crowd gathered at 11 a.m. under a covered patio alongside the church of St. Francis. A somber mass echoed through an empty nave. The streets were lined with piles of rubble and empty lots and makeshift encampments, the scars of an 8.2-magnitude earthquake that struck off the coast of the neighboring state of Chiapas on the night of September 7th, bringing down half the houses in Xadani and decimating much of the surrounding area, a region of Oaxaca state called the Istmo de Tehuantepec. (more…)

The Last Pulque Dons of Apan

11 May – Punch

ario Gomez leaned past the razor-edged rosette of a towering agave and deep into its wide-open heart, where a pool of clear, sweet sap—called aguamiel, or “honey water”—had collected overnight. He dipped the tapered end of a long, dry gourd into the plant’s cavity and, sucking at a hole in the opposite end, drew several liters of aguamiel into its hollow center. With the gourd full, he led me a few paces across his narrow plot of land to a two-room cinderblock shed, cool and dim, as the lazy April sun started to rouse itself into the morning sky. Inside, he mixed the fresh aguamiel in an open vat along with the previous day’s batch—feed for the lactic fermentation that, in a day’s time, would transform the sweet agave nectar, its flavor somewhere between coconut water and sugarcane juice, into the pre-Hispanic brew called pulque. (more…)

The Oaxacan omelet that brings the whole town together

img_683012 September 2016 – Extra Crispy

I arrived in San Juan Yolotepec, a minuscule village in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, on a bright June morning at about 8 a.m.—confusingly the same time it had been when I’d left the closest major city, Huajuapan de León, an hour earlier. While the rest of the country had skipped forward an hour at the beginning of spring, Yolotepec, perched on a scrubby hill near pretty much nothing, had remained stubbornly in the past. Neftalí Gonzalez, the dentist who’d driven me up here, to the village of his birth, explained: “Nature doesn’t use Daylight Saving, so why should we?”  (more…)

5 O’CLOCK SOMEWHERE: The taste of poison that’s its own antidote

August 25, 2016 – Roads & Kingdoms

YOLOAmargo in Yolo

In the hills along the border between Oaxaca and Puebla states in southern Mexico, there’s a village called San Juan Yolotepec, it’s name most often abbreviated—I kid you not—to Yolo.

Yolo has been around long enough to go through three different names (so much for only living once). The most recent, San Juan, was bestowed by the Spanish. Yolotepec came from the Aztecs, who invaded these hills back in the 13th century. Before that, the indigenous Mixtec tribes called it Ñoo Iton. Both of the earlier names mean the same thing, Village on a Hilltop, which is an apt description. (more…)