by James Hutter
A View of San Francisco Tetlanohcan, Tlaxcala, MX
It is, admittedly, difficult to imagine. Yet, picture a town with almost no adult or young men around. The streets seem busy, but you would have to struggle to find a single man in
his mid-twenties walking, working, or even visible. The town has a layer of vibrancy to it, but the male segment of the population has seemingly vanished. A closer look reveals that many of the buildings and dwellings stand in stark contrast to one another. Some homes appear to be newly built and quite extraordinary — multiple floors, large windows, a fresh coat of paint. Others appear to be simply constructed, half built or, sadly, in a complete state of disrepair. Something in the past had clearly had an effect on this town and it left a lasting permanence. Only after meeting with residents of San Francisco Tetlanohcan in the Mexican State of Tlaxcala was the truth about this town’s history fully revealed.
In almost all conversations, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)was targeted as the chief reason for the collapse of traditional farming in these rural Mexican areas and the exodus of younger, male citizens to areas of better opportunity, such as the United States. We were told that, at first, men left Tetlanohcan and headed to areas like Puebla City and Mexico City. Moving from rural to urban areas is nothing unlike what has been seen in countries all over the world. It’s an unfortunate, but somewhat normal, internal migration. However, during the Peso Crisis, migration accelerated in areas like San Francisco Tetlanohcan. During this time of migration, most men were not traveling to neighboring cities. They were, instead, migrating much further north – to the United States. As the Mexican economic situation worsened and money was being devalued (due to the Peso Crisis), the only hope for many was to travel to a place with a strong and stable currency, namely the U. S.
Flash forward to current day and Tetlanohcan is a town of approximately 10,000 inhabitants. A significant number of the residents still speak Nahuatl — a language that is very close to the dialect spoken during the Aztec Empire. Regrettably, that number is
declining. While corn is visible everywhere, almost all of it is for self-consumption and not for sale. That industry had long since left the area due to heavy competition from agricultural corporations based in the United States and Canada. The aspects of communal life that many of the elder residents had cherished was disintegrating as people were moving out of the area.
The reason why many houses in the area stood in stark contrast to one another was because of remittances — the practice of United States immigrants sending money they’ve earned back to their families in Mexico. In Tetlanohcan, families that had members in the United States had more upscale homes – typically all brand new in appearance. Many of these homes were in varying stages of development, but it was clear that improvements were ongoing. Other homes seemed modest and basic – these were likely homes that did not have family members in the U.S. The practice of remittances was creating two classes of people in the town (those who receive money and those who do not). From what we heard, this was leading to some friction between residents and disrupting the social fabric of the town.
From speaking with members of the community, no one wants residents to migrate to the U.S. and leave their families behind. Harsh VISA restrictions make it nearly impossible for
family to visit relatives who may have migrated to the United States. Once separated, it was not always possible for families to be re-united. San Francisco Tetlanohcan was a town that was fully feeling the negative effects of migration, wholly created by governmental policies.
Clearly, the situation in Tetlanohcan is difficult — but is by no means unique in Mexico. The discussions about migration, while extremely informative, were incredibly taxing on the Delegates. The stories we heard were emotional, often heart-wrenching, and rarely offered any happy moments. The one thing that was clear from this visit: the residents of Tetlanohcan recognize what is happening in their town and are willing to do whatever it takes to seize opportunities to better themselves, their families, and their community.