Mexico Oaxaca senior home/help
June 7, 2012 8:01 PM   Subscribe

Mexico Oaxaca-What is the history or background of the poor old women who sell things at the Zocalo?

I have been troubled by what I saw in Mexico Zocalo after a recent trip there. I love the country, the culture, the people. So open, giving, loving/happy people! Amongst all this I saw a lot of poverty which wasn't surprising but one image has stayed with me and I am wondering about it.

I saw a lot of old women almost around 75 to 80 years who were frail but still had to sell tourist things to make a living. I know this is nothing new I guess in poor countries but Mexico has a strong family system and Oaxaca doesn't seem to urban to break into nuclear families. There was one woman who came up to our table with 2 baskets that were so heavy that she couldnt even lift them. She very gingerly sat down at our table, almost afraid that we would wave her away. I think the basket weight was more than her fear/apprehension. She couldnt see properly, was thin, malnourished and also needed medical care. The things she was selling were worth not even a $1 in US money. It struck me that this senior woman was working in the 85 degree heat all day for less than a $1. I don't know about you but the unfairness of the situation hit home. As such I have a few questions-

1. Mexicans have strong family ties. Where are the families of these old women and how come they have no one to support them? Who are they, i believe that they come to the main city from the villages (?)
2. Is there no social welfare or help system there that can assist them?
3. Is there anything we can do to help?
4. Does anyone know of any old age homes, help etc. that can be extended to these women?
5. I would like to donate money to any volunteer organization that helps women on that square (Zocalo). Please let me know if you know of any such resource
6. What does it take to create a fund for someone in Mexico?

Thank you for your input.
posted by pakora1 to Human Relations (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Her family may very well be gone to the bigger manufacturing cities or the US to find work (driven there largely by the inability to earn a living growing corn due to NAFTA inequities). The church helps out with some pittance. Selling trinkets is a step up from begging. Honestly there is very little one person can do. There are relief agencies that help with Mexico's rural poor. I don't know of a specific one that helps out old women in the market. You can always buy a few of her trinkets. That will get her a meal perhaps.

When I was about seven or eight, my parents took me for the summer to rural Mexico on one of my mother's PhD research trips. My father was always looking out for life lessons and one day he pulled me along to the zocalo in one larger town. There was sat on a bench not far from a woman in absolute rags. She couldn't have been more than 20 or so, but her life had already greyed her hair. She looked like she'd given up everything. One hand was out almost reflexively for hand-outs, the other held the dregs of an old coke bottle to the lips of a limp baby. I'm not sure if the baby was alive. I was six or seven years old and that image greets me many many nights. In fact, I can hardly type these words now some 30-odd years later. That look, that hollow look just kills me to this day.

The takeaway for me at least is that you live your life more concious of your place in it. Your actions, your purchases, your decisions, have ramifications well beyond yourself. Do you buy the regular coffee or do you find one that is certified by that Oaxacan fair-trade cooperative so that more money trickles back to the farmers and that lady's grandchildren have money for school supplies and they have less pesticides in their drinking water? Do you support corn ethanol because it theoretically makes us less dependent on petroleum or do you oppose it because it drives that woman's lifeline to the DF for a job in a nasty plastics factory?

Of course you can play that game all day, but the quickest way to help her out is to buy a couple of her crappy do-dads so she can get something to eat.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 8:32 PM on June 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

This is just off the top of my head, based on some journalism I did a while ago about the Oaxaca strikes and indigenous movements - it's not proof. But Oaxaca is an extremely heavily-policed state where many indigenous folks live in poverty and where many indigenous organizers have been killed by government/government allied forces. As I understand it, there is tourist Oaxaca and there's the Oaxaca of the teacher strikes, anti-government organizing and the intermittent and fragile alliance between city people and rural/indigenous people. It's pretty complicated, with a lot of actors, but when I was researching all of this stuff, it seemed like the Mexican government is desperate to keep a lid on the rural/impoverished states, especially when there is any chance that indigenous organizers will get together with labor. There's a lot of money in screwing over the indigenous folks as laborers or by taking their land when it has valuable stuff on /under it. My point is, there are a lot of displaced and impoverished people around, even if they don't always make it into tourist areas.

Seriously, the best way to help folks would be to support efforts to fucking straighten out the government situation - end the quasi-military US aid to Mexico, support indigenous self determination.

I love the country, the culture, the people. So open, giving, loving/happy people!

This reads rather oddly to me - I mean, I know a number of giving, open, delightful folks from Mexico, but I also think of Mexico as a land of radical intellectuals, great artists, high culture literature, the Zapatistas, Subcommandante Marcos, coffee collectives, a bohemian artisan culture, the maquila zone...I remember taking a Mexican history class in the nineties and having my whole understanding of Mexico turn upside-down - it was like it snapped into place, and all of the sudden Mexico was as complex and political and real a country as the US.
posted by Frowner at 8:41 PM on June 7, 2012 [15 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you. I understand. But no, I do not believe that one person can do nothing. This is not about politics. It is about people to people connections. I don't care about what the Mexican govt does or what their policies are. I care about the one person who is caught up between poverty and the helpless situation in her country. I can give and did give her money. But that is not enough. If we all start thinking like this then maybe that is the reason why the world is moving away from community and inter personal involvement to alienation. Mexico or any other country may be complex, true, but the common man is more interested in his daily living and the safety of his family and the ability to live in dignity. I think we as human beings should fight to uphold that for everyone, whether it be a Mexican/American or whoever. The day I stop being outraged by abuse of such dignity, is the day I stop being human.

I found one volunteer org which is interesting
posted by pakora1 at 9:04 PM on June 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I lived in Oaxaca for a couple of years in the late 90s. The elderly women you are talking about are indigenous women (Zapotec and Mixtec) from the villages/mountain region surrounding the city of Oaxaca. There is a lot of institutional racism in Mexico against indigenous groups and though poverty in Mexico is common, it is far more prevalent in indigenous communities. There is also a lot of racism from the majority group in Mexico (mestizos of mixed European and Indian heritage) directed at indigenous people.

The women you saw are working because they have to --- they don't have families that can take care of them because their families are often exceedingly poor and they are contributing what they can to help their families. Here's a way to help.
posted by Sal and Richard at 9:35 PM on June 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

You don't care what the Mexican government does and what their policies are? Even if those policies are causing the poverty which causes elderly indigenous women to sell trinkets to tourists causing you such distress? CAMPO, linked above, seems like a pretty good organization - precisely because it's about helping indigenous folks to organize and stand up against some pretty serious racism. It's true that social problems have a personal/affective piece, but if you don't tackle the big, underlying causes, you'll be trying to empty the ocean with a teaspoon.
posted by Frowner at 9:41 PM on June 7, 2012 [6 favorites]

Mod note: Please keep this focused, guys. The OP has a list of questions, so let's stick to answering those. Pakora1, I've left your comment as a clarification that you want suggestions for action an individual can take, but, again, this is not the space for philosophical discussion, or back and forth conversation with or among commenters. Thanks, all.
posted by taz (staff) at 11:28 PM on June 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: There are a number of loans you make via Kiva for that area.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 8:45 AM on June 8, 2012

* you COULD make...
posted by SuperSquirrel at 8:45 AM on June 8, 2012

Response by poster: @sal & richard-that is exactly what I was looking for. thanks. Trying to figure out where they came from. Could not believe how they were treated. Makes you wonder if changes could be made to the villages just like the changes that happened in Bangladesh led by Grameen Bank. Maybe it is possible or that they already are thinking of such venture. I will follow up with them. (We could say the same things for them that Bangladesh is a poor country, lousy govt, and one added problem of conservative religious ideals. But that didnt stop Muhammad Yunus from changing things)

Thanks for the links to Kiva! it is really a great idea and help to the people there from what I see.
posted by pakora1 at 9:30 AM on June 8, 2012

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