Brenda Manuelito, Dine’, and Carmella Rodriguez of Laguna, N.M. created nDigiDreams for sharing stories in a digital format. Storytelling becomes an act of healing, reconnecting and restoring.
nDigiDreams performs media production and conducts community-based digital storytelling training workshops. We believe our diverse cultures, identities, histories and stories hold enormous strength and beauty and we seek to train and empower indigenous individuals and communities with new media tools to realize optimal health and wellness.
Read more about nDigiDreams:
Censored News congratulations Brenda Manuelito and Carmella Rodriguez, creators of nDigi Dreams, who both recently completed their PhDs at Antioch University in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Congratulations!
|Keith Secola, Pura Fe, Jennifer Elizabeth Kreisberg and Cody Thomas Blackbird. Photo copyright John Frazier|
|Pura Fe and photographer John Frazier|
|Dawn Littlethunder and Shawn Lynn Littlethunder/copyright John Frazier|
|Cody Blackbird Band Photo copyright John Frazier|
Govinda of Earthcycles is live at the Unity Concert in the Black Hills. The Crow Voices mobile radio station of Center Pole is broadcasting Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 28 — 30, 2015.
Listen to shows live and restreaming of performers beginning on Friday night. Three days of performers, including Frank Valn, Ulali and Keith Secola. Rally for the protection of the land, water and air.
A Family’s 20 Year Quest for Truth, Justice and the Border Dream
By Kent Paterson
At the center of Paula Flores Bonilla’s tidy living room hangs a picture of daughter Maria Sagrario Gonzalez Flores. Taken in front of the border factory in Ciudad Juarez where Sagrario worked, the photo portrays a young woman with the look of someone who was headed for big things in life. Dressed in smart attire and showing a dignified beauty, Sagrario projects a serious and stately presence, almost as if she were a border ambassador.
Snapped by one of the photographers who roamed the export-oriented manufacturing plants, or maquiladoras, offering to take pictures of female workers, the photo was shot shortly before 17-year-old Sagrario was abducted and murdered back in April 1998.
Inevitably moved to tears when she talks about Sagrario, Flores described her daughter as “friendly with many people,” but possessing a quiet personality and a preference for socializing within the family or among the girls in the church choir in which she performed. Besides chorus, Sagrario liked to play guitar and teach school to kids, her mother recalled.
A member of a financially struggling but hardworking family, Sagrario began working in the maquiladora industry at age 16. To celebrate the teen’s quinceanera, or 15th birthday party, the family bought Sagrario a small cake and adorned her with an older sister’s ceremonial dress because of the lack of money.
“She was happy with it, in spite of the fact that it wasn’t bought for her,” Flores said.
In interviews with Frontera NorteSur, Flores and two of her other daughters, Guillermina and Juana, remembered Sagrario, spoke about efforts to preserve her memory and curb similar violence, and traced back their lives in a tough Mexico-U.S. border city.
In so many ways the story of the Gonzalez Flores family is the story of Juarez.
Originally inhabitants of Durango state, the hopeful newcomers arrived in Juarez searching for a better life in 1995. Once on the border, the Gonzalez Flores clan joined hundreds of thousands of other internal migrants who had gravitated to the border city in a bid to escape economic deprivation and get ahead in life.
Bursting at the seams after the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement, the foreign-owned maquiladoras clamored for workers. Though the wages were low, work was plentiful.
Son Chuy planned to attend a university while Sagrario dreamed of studying computing, Flores said. The close-night family found a plot of land on a wind-swept strip of land on the northwestern edge of Juarez called Lomas de Poleo. Situated at the tri-state junction of Chihuahua, New Mexico and Texas, the neighborhood overlooks Sunland Park, New Mexico, and El Paso, Texas.
Together with her father Jesus and sister Juana, Sagrario found employment in a maquiladora at the Bermudez Industrial Park. Their hands joined hundreds of thousands of others in cranking out products for the voracious consumer society just across the Rio Grande that nibbles the highway winding up to Lomas de Poleo.
Despite family members’ busy schedules, Flores insisted that they all sit down together to eat every day.
Digging into her belongings, Flores pulled out Sagrario’s old employee identification card. For the CAPCON company, Sagrario was Employee #11168. On the back side of the card, a message defined CAPCON’s commercial mission: “to deliver products and services free of defects, on time, all the time.”
Sagrario and Juana, who was only a year older than her sister, were especially close. Almost two decades later, Juana recalled Sagrario as a generous sweet tooth who always had gum to share.
“If she had a piece of gun, she’d give me half of it.” Based on her recollections, Juana calculated that she and her sister earned about $50 each every week making electrical capacitors for refrigerators and air conditioning systems.
The two sisters worked the same swing shift but were separated after the company decided to move all the employees under the age of 18 like Sagrario to the day shift, according to Juana. Shortly thereafter, in April 1998, Sagrario disappeared after leaving work one day.
Flores, who was accustomed to meeting her daughter at the bus stop down the street after returning home from CAPCON, became alarmed when Sagrario was more than ten minutes late that fateful spring day.
To get home to Lomas de Poleo, Sagrario had to take a bus to downtown Juarez and then transfer to the Number 10 service for the final and lengthy excursion home. Both routes passed through sketchy zones.
Almost three weeks after she vanished, Sagrario’s body was discovered in the rural Juarez Valley, an area far from the opposite side of the city where she lived. In subsequent years, many other murdered women with signs of sexual violence would be recovered from the Juarez Valley, a hotbed of organized crime and a zone of militarization opposite the border from the Texas.
Sagrario was a “simple person with very beautiful feelings,” her older sister Guillermina said. “It’s not right that so much harm should have been done to her. This shouldn’t have happened, and it shouldn’t continue happening.”
Sagrario’s violent death would not go forgotten. Flores and family banded together with Irma Perez, Bertha Marquez and other relatives of victims of feminicide, to form Voces sin Eco ( Voices without Echo).
A pioneering relatives’ activist group that was active from 1998 to 2001, the scrappy organization demanded justice, pressured for better public safety and raised hell with state authorities over the growing toll of unsolved, violent crimes against women and the impunity that accompanied them.
As part of its justice campaign, Voces sin Eco introduced the black crosses on pink backgrounds that have since become icons of the international anti-feminicide movement and continue to cover utility posts and other public surfaces in Juarez to this day. Flores credits Guillermina, who served as the spokesperson for Voces sin Eco, for the pink cross idea.
Periodically, whenever the paint on the crosses fade, Flores and other Juarez activists take to the streets brush in hand to touch up the symbols that honor their loved ones and cry out for an end to gender violence.
The story of Sagrario and Voces sin Eco was depicted in “Senorita Extraviada” (“Missing Young Woman”), Lourdes Portillo’s landmark 2001 documentary about the Juarez feminicides.
In the aftermath of Sagrario’s disappearance and murder a fire of activism gripped Flores, forging a grassroots community leader who also got involved in improving the quality of life in her neighborhood.
The mother of seven children (six girls and a boy) served two terms as neighborhood association president, helping bring electricity in 2002 and 2003 to Lomas de Poleo, a settlement that developed along the classic lines of similar colonias in Mexico, Latin America and the U.S. Southwest, where low-income people with dreams of a patrimony settle undeveloped lands and then struggle for basic services.
A resident of the lower portion of Lomas de Poleo, Flores supported neighbors in the upper section of the desert settlement who were locked in an explosive land dispute with members of the Zaragoza family, one of the most powerful in Juarez and Mexico.
By the middle of the last decade, violence rippled through upper Lomas de Poleo, with residents’ buildings burned or bulldozed and homeowners and their guests beaten and harassed. Two people were killed. Residents pinned the violence on security guards for the Zaragozas, whom they charged were drawn from gangs and criminal elements. Flores called upper Lomas de Poleo at the time a “concentration camp.”
She added, “We saw how the authorities allowed this to go on.”
Flores fondly remembered one protest when she was arrested, put in different police campers to confuse the protesters and nearly rescued by her comrades. “This was a bitter but beautiful experience,” she said. “I saw how the people responded by running after us.”
Her twinkling eyes bursting with a young and contagious energy, Flores conveys a genuine warmth that touches many people the world over. Fetching her archives, Flores retrieved a photo of herself with Salma Hayek.
For Flores, however, the justice movement is not a one-way street of outsiders coming to Juarez to express sympathy and lend a hand to victims’ mothers like herself.
She’s hit the road in Mexico and abroad to support others demanding justice in their own lands. Flores was struck by the parallels to Juarez she encountered on trips to New Mexico and Canada, where she met family members of some of the hundreds of indigenous women who have disappeared or been murdered in recent years.
“They are humble, poor girls and live on reservations,” Flores said. “They have families that can’t struggle. (Relatives) complained about the same negligence and lack of justice.”
Four hours up the old Camino Real from her own home, Flores met women with missing or murdered relatives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She compared the 2009 West Mesa case, in which the remains of 11 murdered girls and young women of color, who were also from working-class backgrounds, were recovered from a clandestine burial ground on the outskirts of the city, to similar finds in Juarez.
“It’s the same thing. I saw many similarities to the Juarez cases,” Flores said. “(Victims) were found in empty lots and (police) hauled out (earth moving) machines and erased evidence…just like here.”
The Juarez activist added, “I asked (relatives) what can we do to make known the voices of the 11 murdered women. We can do something in Juarez.”
Back at home, Flores doggedly pursued Sagrario’s suspected killers, forcing the authorities to arrest and finally convict in 2007 one man, Jose Luis Hernandez, for the crime, while still pressing officials to go after additional suspects. Hernandez, she said, set up Sagrario for a gang of drug smugglers and human traffickers in return for a payment of $500.
“The day I shut up I will turn into an accomplice,” Flores said. “Sagrario is dead but as long as I speak out, she is alive.”
Dr. Patricia Ravelo Blancas, professor of sociology and gender violence researcher for the Center for Research and Higher Education in Social Anthropology (CIESAS) in Mexico City, produced a 2010 documentary about Flores entitled “La Carta.” “We’ve learned a lot from her,” Ravelo told FNS. “She’s been a first class investigator.”
Paula Flores and her family have delivered important lessons, Ravelo said. “It’s a story that has taught us a lot, and to not stop struggling for social justice,” she added.
A lot has changed and a lot hasn’t in Lomas de Poleo and Juarez 20 years after the Gonzalez Flores family found a new place to call home. In 2015 modest homes of cement, block and wood homes have running water, electricity and sewage hook-ups; commercial chains such as S-Mart and Oxxo are opening up for business.
Down the street from the Flores homestead, the neighborhood kindergarten is now called Maria Sagrario Gonzalez Flores Kindergarten.
Yet Lomas de Poleo remains an underdeveloped place, bearing more than a passing resemblance to a poor Mexican country town, with rutted thoroughfares that spawn pools after the summer rains and unpaved roads that kick up dust and impair air quality in a tri-state region. Five years ago Flores shut down a small family store after suffering a half-dozen robberies.
Once again, the maquiladoras beckon thousands of new workers. And once again, the wages are rock bottom.
Now a mother of two children, Guillermina is disturbed by ongoing acts of violence in Juarez. “It’s sad that 15 years later girls keep disappearing and getting killed in Juarez, “ she sighed. “(Authorities) don’t want to stop the problem, or nobody can stop it and it just continues.”
Nowadays, a statute-like pink cross is plopped in front of Paula Flores’ home. Since April 2015, a mural of Sagrario covers the front of the abode. Painted by Juarez muralist Maclovio and friends, the art work is among dozens of similar projects dedicated to victims of gender violence springing up across Juarez.
“This is a memory of my sister,” Guillermina said. “It’s important for us as a family and as a society.”
Splashed with contrasting scenery, the mural alludes to the Gonzalez Flores family’s migration from their pine-rich, mountainous homeland of Durango to the high and hot desert of Juarez. Indeed, Sagrario missed the cool days of Durango, her mother said.
“They detained your flight but your memory echoes,” read words written on Sagrario’s mural from the Juarez poet Armine Arjona.
Behind the mural, two parakeets chirp from a small cage on the house’s patio. Flores explained she has kept such birds ever since Sagrario had a pair of them. Two big and beautiful parakeets figure prominently in the mural.
Strangely, one of the pet birds died the day Sagrario disappeared. The second one, “Luis,” suddenly flew away to never came back on the very same day Sagrario’s remains were found in the Juarez Valley, according to Flores.
“(Sagrario) hasn’t gone. She is here,” the mother said. “She’s on the mural, in the Maria Sagrario kindergarten, in the community, and on the pink crosses.”
Frontera NorteSur: on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news
Center for Latin American and Border Studies
New Mexico State University
Las Cruces, New Mexico
— Censored News
August 27, 2015
In Search of the Great New Mexico Chile Pepper
By Kent Paterson
It was one of those splendid cruises up Highway 26 and around the Mesilla Valley south of Las Cruces, New Mexico. A hot summer day and Mexican radio 106.7 FM from Ciudad Juarez was jumping with classic rock and ska-Panteon Rococo, Lynyrd Skynyrd and CCR’s “Green River.”
The music crackled and the acequias flowed in a lazy sweet rhythm as the car glided by tall rows of corn, clipped clumps of hay, sleek horses, dark pecan forests and sprouting bundles of cotton, in and around Anthony, Berino, La Mesa, San Miguel, San Pablo, and Mesilla.
But something was missing, something was very odd that summer day of 2015. Not a single field of chile was readily observed.
Decades ago, when this reporter began covering the Paso del Norte borderland, this patch of Dona Ana County was Chile Country. Hundreds of acres of the hot stuff stretched far and wide under the New Mexican sun, filling buckets lugged by seasonal and immigrant workers that soothed the palates of consumers in the Land of Enchantment and far beyond.
La Mesa was the scene of the historic 1992 strike by the El Paso-based Border Agricultural Workers Union (UTAF) that demanded better pay and working conditions for the overwhelmingly Mexicano chile pickers.
More than two decades later, Carlos Marentes, director of the Border Agricultural Workers Center in El Paso and leader of the ’92 strike, mused about the changing landscape of the once booming New Mexico chile industry.
“Consumption isn’t declining, it’s not that people are eating less chile, they’re eating more,” Marentes told Frontera NorteSur.
The difference between now and then, he says, rests with the increased globalization of the chile industry as well as the greater role of financial and speculative capital in the world economy. Just as the Florida orange is but one ingredient of a global industry, so is New Mexico chile, according to the longtime farm labor activist.
Visually, change is evident in places like the New Mexico-Texas border town of La Union, where Marentes says big houses have replaced old chile fields.
Priscilla Garcia, program assistant for the La Semilla Food Center Community Farm in Anthony, also has noticed “a large change” in local land usage during the past 15 years or so, with more parcels developed for housing or simply left untilled.
In 1992, the year before the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was approved, 34,500 acres of chile were harvested in New Mexico. That harvest remains the high point for a crop that is not only an economic driver but a cultural icon of the Land of Enchantment. Since then, it’s been mostly downhill for chile.
The decline was especially notable during the drought-worn, post-2009 years, when less than 10,000 acres were annually harvested. The stunning news that 2013’s harvest of 8,600 acres was the lowest since 1973 was beat out a year later when only 7,700 acres of peppers were pulled from the New Mexican land.
Tagged at $38, 695,000, the farm-gate value of the 2014 crop was much lower than in 2013 when chile earned state farmers $49.5 million; in 2012 chile fetched growers $65.4 million, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agriculture Statistics Service.
In the chile hierarchy, workers have been the hardest hit. Marentes challenged some growers’ assertions that there wasn’t enough labor. “There’s a contradiction,” he said. “Workers are saying there isn’t work, and in the media farmers are saying there aren’t enough workers.”
Chile Industry participants and observers cite many reasons for the misfortunes of the New Mexico chile pepper, including drought, plant diseases and pest infestations, underhanded competition from sellers of fake New Mexico chile, and labor shortages caused by restrictive immigration policies.
But a primary reason goes by five fat letters-NAFTA- as well as other free-trade inspired agreements with chile-producing nations that have far lower labor costs and less environmental controls.
For instance, New Mexico Business Weekly cited United States Department of Agriculture statistics several years ago in reporting that U.S. chile pepper imports soared from 417 million pounds in 1999 to more than one billion pounds by 2008.
Back in the days of the Great Chile Boom, some old timers and insiders suggested that the state industry had gotten too big too fast, evoking a wasteful monoculture, and was burning up lands that should be carefully rotated with different crops. Now, however, the trend has arguably gone in the opposite extreme.
Chile hounds searching for the vaunted pepper will still have better luck in the Hatch Valley straddling Dona Ana and Sierra counties north of Las Cruces.
As the August harvest picked up, a valley nourished by the Rio Grande bustled with workers dumping hand-picked pods into field crates, trucks hauling chile to packers and processors and metal roasters scenting the air with an unmistakable New Mexican aroma. Down valley back roads deep green fields streaked with red beckoned the sun and rain clouds.
Located in downtown Hatch, the Atencio family’s Hatch Chile Sales is one center of the action. There shoppers will find fresh sacks of green in the 38-42 lb. range, dried green and chipotle chile, bags of red chile powder and other goodies. On a recent day, a roaster exuding pungent smells kept the ambiance true to the season.
A couple from California, Raul and Norma Martinez, loaded the bed of a pickup and a small U-Haul trailer with dozens of sacks of green chile destined for the West Coast.
Originally from Silver City, New Mexico, Raul Martinez said the chile was for a “big roasting party” a neighbor was planning in the Golden State. Hatch Chile Sales helper Edward Martinez chimed in, saying his sister and her husband were contemplating a roasting venture this year farther up the coast in the state of Washington.
As the émigrés show time and time again, you can take a New Mexican out of New Mexico but you can’t take the chile out of the New Mexican.
Now 41, Pete Atencio has grown up with chile. According to the farmer-seller, the number of retail roasting operations in his small town has grown from two in 1986 to 14 today.
“Every year we seem to be selling more and more chile,” Atencio said. Raising a “healthy stand” of peppers with “optimum yields” is the perennial challenge, he said.
Atencio has not seen one of the experimental green chile harvesting machines that some view as a solution to labor issues. “Is there such a thing as a green chile picking machine?” he asked the reporter.
While the New Mexico chile industry is merely one cog in a global chile machine run by international trade regimes, it is nevertheless a local and regional endeavor whose future survival might be found in the direct farmer to consumer exchanges at places like Hatch Chile Sales or in other niche markets.
Geographically, Gilbert “Gilly” Pino has carved out an enviable spot on the edge of Hatch. The 66-year-old’s Hatch Valley Chile Company is the first business on the right travelers see when descending into the town from Interstate 25.
Rhyming with “Gilly”, the self-proclaimed “King of Chile” does not grow chile himself but specializes in peddling salsa and dried peppers, hawking fresh produce and of course, roasting green chile. Dripping with ideas, Pino plans to open a taco bar-style restaurant soon at his storefront, which is located near the willows of the Rio Grande and across from a cotton field.
A folksy man who raises peacocks, spouts racy jokes and hangs a R.C. Gorman painting and other colorful potpourri on his store’s walls, Pino is from a big northern New Mexico family that wound up in Hatch decades ago because of the railroad, a career path he followed his father in pursuing .
“Who would want to quit a $50 per hour job to go into chile?” Pino quipped with a grin. In a lengthy conversation with FNS, Pino waxed philosophical about religion, delved into family history, detailed the differences between Arizona and New Mexico chiles and assessed the latest varieties coming onto the market.
“Of course, God blessed me with a business that is so good for you,” Pino insisted. “It’s so addictive and it’s so legal.”
Hatch’s chile king was outspoken on a matter that stirred controversy in the Land of Enchantment this summer: Whole Foods, the corporate natural foods giant that was recently in trouble for systematically overcharging customers, announced it will use Colorado-grown chile for a good portion of its store sales.
“They’ll never compete with Hatch,” Pino growled. We got a longer growing season than anybody.”
In New Mexico, chile always brings surprises. While more water has been available to farmers this year in comparison with the past several ones, the changing climate appears to be playing other tricks.
This year some growers are watching their green chile turn a mature red earlier than usual, a phenomenon that is causing problems in the harvest schedule.
As field hands finished a hard day at a field south of Hatch, forewoman Angela Mora said she was surprised at the early reddening of the 2015 crop. “It’s unusual. I told my boss it’s turning red,” Mora said. “I’m barely making my green…everything is going red.”
La Semilla’s Community Farm in Anthony also experienced an early-maturing crop. “We can’t wait for (green chile) to get bigger because it’s turning red,” La Semilla Food Center co-founder Cristina Dominguez-Eshelman told FNS while she staffed her organization’s sales booth on a Saturday morning at El Paso’s Downtown Artist and Farmers Market in Union Plaza.
“We would leave them on longer in hopes they would get bigger, but they would turn red,” she said.
Since green chile usually provides two pickings, an early stand of red translates threatens income for growers and workers .
FNS contacted Jeff Anderson, agronomy and horticulture agent for the Dona Ana County Cooperative Extension Service, for insights on the early red crop. Anderson said he had not yet heard about the problem, but did not doubt that early ripening was occurring.
“All my fruit trees have ripened early this year,” Anderson said, listing pears, apples and apricots. “I’ve had fruit that has ripened earlier, and it probably has a lot to do with our temperatures.”
Anderson said he would need to consult with New Mexico State University’s vegetable specialist for more precise information about the early maturing in chile, but added that hotter weather could produce plant stress and early ripening. Another reason could be from not enough fertility and water in the soil, he said.
According to Anderson, southern New Mexico had a late spring followed by a “fast warm-up.” Dona Ana County’s extension agent said the public has an opportunity to ask about early red as well as other chile matters at New Mexico State’s upcoming annual Chile Field Day (see note at the bottom of this article).
In so many ways, chile is inextricably linked to New Mexico’s past, present and future-economically, socially, culturally and environmentally.
Cristina Dominguez-Eshelman and Priscilla Garcia of the non-profit La Semilla Food Center describe chile as an essential element of biodiversity, a cultural binder of generations and transmitter of values, a potentially resilient adapter to climate change, and a template for labor and food justice issues. The pepper, they said, was the soul food of New Mexico. For La Semilla, chile is one piece of a diversified operation of vegetables and cover crops.
“If we only grew chile we couldn’t compete with those large-scale growers,” she said. “We try to be strategic in our decisions.
A huge part of La Semilla’s mission is working with youth, and chile is part of the curriculum. According to Garcia, “Whenever (young people) are interested in a new recipe they ask, ‘Where is the chile?…it’s a comforting thing when they have their chile.’”
Added Dominguez- Eshelman: “I grew up here and didn’t grow up eating kale.” The Mesilla Valley growers regard chile almost as a “gateway” food that can inspire local interest in other, less familiar foods like kale when mixed into the recipe.
Despite the troubles swirling around New Mexico chile, some newcomers to the business are taking the plunge. Oscar Gutierrez, a part-time grower in Anthony, is harvesting his first batch of peppers this year.
“I was very satisfied with my crop. It was my better crop this year compared with the sweet corn or squash,” he said.
The Anthony farmer expressed pleasure at getting up to five pickings from his crop of New Mexico, poblano and habanero chiles. Gutierrez, who works as the Latin America sales rep for an electronics manufacturer with plants in nearby Ciudad Juarez, acquired land in Anthony six years and began growing alfalfa. He’s now making a transition to organic vegetable farming with the assistance of New Mexico State University.
For his first crop, Gutierrez found buyers locally, in Las Cruces and in Santa Fe.
“I want to be able to find niche markets and grow what nobody else is growing,” Gutierrez said in a phone interview.
As a new chile farmer, Gutierrez said he had “no reference” to judge whether the chile that he planted in April and which started turning red a few weeks ago matured too early.
In any event, Gutierrez said he was flexible in terms of green and red, even tilting towards the latter. “I don’t have a big issue. I’d prefer the red,” he added. Asked whether he would plant chile again, Gutierrez didn’t hesitate in retorting “absolutely.”
The myriad issues surrounding 21st century New Mexico chile- climate change, water, labor or international economics- symbolize broader issues influencing our place and our time. As Cristina Dominguez-Eshelman posits, chile provides an opportunity to ponder an important question: “What does it mean to live and grow up in this region?”
New Mexico State University’s annual Chile Field Day will be held , at the Leyendecker Plant Science Research Center, from . For registration or other information call 575-646-2281 or write firstname.lastname@example.org
Frontera NorteSur: on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news
Center for Latin American and Border Studies
New Mexico State University
Las Cruces, New Mexico
|Save the Arctic Aug. 28, 2015|