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Creating Opportunities, Helping Families, and Preserving Culture: CAFAMI

by James Hutter

Creating Opportunities, Helping Families, and Preserving Culture: Centro de Atencion a la Familia Migrante Indigena

After hearing about the situation in San Francisco Tetlanohcan, one may think that nothing is being done to reverse the trend of migration and its effects on that small town. Thankfully, that sentiment could not be any further from the truth. One remarkable group, based in Tetlanohcan, recognizes all of the difficult challenges that the town is facing and is working to meet them head on. CAFAMI – Centro de Atencion a la Familia Migrante Indigena – is an organization that is taking a multifaceted approach to tackling the many issues that they witness every day. They understand that migration is affecting villages and towns all over Mexico, and that much can be done to prevent it. The CAFAMI project has spawned several successful initiatives and they are working tirelessly to spread their message and methods to other parts of Mexico.

members of CAFAMI

CAFAMI is upfront and honest when talking about the issues facing communities that have been severely impacted by migration. The centerpiece of their effort is a performance entitled “La Casa Rosa.” This play, written and performed entirely by members of CAFAMI, takes an unfiltered look at how migration can put severe strain on families and cause them to bend to the point of breaking. One of the strongest aspects of the story focuses on the role that women play in Mexican families. This presents rare insight into an issue that is often dominated by a male perspective. The play shows how difficult it can be for a woman to hold a family together after her husband has migrated to another region in search of opportunity. A woman is left behind to raise children and take care of extended family living under the same roof – there are almost too many responsibilities left behind for her to juggle.The stress and frustration of her situation were perfectly transmitted to the viewer.

When not working on their performances, another project of CAFAMI is the development of natural medicines that are packaged and sold under the name Herba Lintzi. It sounds like a strange tangent for the CAFAMI project until you hear the reasoning behind this endeavor. The medicines utilize plants which grow easily in the region and the recipes are based on native traditions and knowledge. They use all natural ingredients, and even substitute components like petroleum jelly (often found in medicinal creams), with honey. Homeopathy and natural medicines are still not widely recognized in Mexico, but their use has grown in the United States.

The ultimate plan for the project is to continue growing the business and to export more products to the United States. CAFAMI had thought that the NAFTA trade agreement would make commerce between the member countries more streamlined and help them establish a new business. The reality, however, was much further from the truth as they had frustratingly encountered many regulatory problems when trying to export their goods to the U.S.

With that being said, CAFAMI did not seem discouraged. The goal of the project was to create a new, easily sustainable business in Tetlanohcan that would generate both jobs and revenue in the town. The business would, hopefully, be successful in retaining the younger members of the community while generating additional income for others.

This was one of the best sounding strategies that I had heard thus far. It seemed like an excellent way to combat negative migration in the area and to generate income. The implementation of sustainable, organic farming to create the product sounded like the perfect mix of traditionalism and modern marketing to make it unique. What was very disheartening to hear was the difficulties they had been facing in sending the product to the United States’ market. I had heard many stories of how easy it was for United States or Canadian companies to establish a foothold in Mexico. To hear that doing the opposite was nearly impossible seemed quite unfair.

Another project of the CAFAMI group is the preservation and dissemination of Nahuatl – the indigenous language spoken in Central Mexico. The group has worked hard to prevent the loss of this important language. One method they use for preservation is the creation of audio books that contain stories and recipes. These works are then translated into both Spanish and English to assist students of the language. It was extremely impressive to hear that they are going through these lengths to ensure that the Nahuatl language can be shared with others throughout Mexico and the rest of the world. There are too many stories of languages and other important cultural artifacts being lost to history. It is clear that CAFAMI is doing all they can to prevent that.

Meeting with CAFAMI was an energizing experience. This group is intelligently tackling so many challenges facing their community and they are doing this on so many different fronts. It was discouraging to hear of their problems selling their medicinal products. But hopefully, by the time this has been written, those hurdles will have been overcome. Also, one should not understate the power of “La Casa Rosa.” CAFAMI had found a way to share one painful aspect of migration through art. By doing so, they found an impressive way to connect with an audience and spread their message.

Thankfully, CAFAMI would not be the last group that the Roots of Migration Delegation would meet attempting to achieve the same goals through similar methods…

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