January 27, 1999
As I travel from the lush, tropical jungles of Palenque through the fertile, green hills and up to the cool, pine-forested mountain valley that is home to San Cristóbal de Las Casas, I'm overwhelmed with the beauty and richness of the state of Chiapas. Chiapas, the southernmost state in Mexico, offers incredible geographic variation: a hot coastal plane; a high mountain range; a dry valley; cool, green highlands; and one of Mexico's last remaining tropical rainforests. Amongst this great diversity, the one constant I noticed while traveling through different parts of Chiapas was the poor indigenous locals trying to sell anything they could in towns, by popular tourist sites, or on the sides of roads where buses may pass.
The indigenous peoples of Chiapas are descendents of the Mayan people who once ruled over this area. Today, most of the younger Mayan girls and boys of Chiapas are not in elementary school learning to read or playing kickball at recess. Instead, they are up at sunrise to work at the market places and busy tourist sites. Young girls walk around endlessly trying to sell little hand-held trinkets like Mayan necklaces or bubble gum. The boys walk into restaurants and hotels trying to polish the shoes of tourists for less than one dollar!
The teenagers are not in middle school or high school worrying over exams or going to the mall on half-days. Instead, they are helping their parents carry heavy loads of handmade clothes and jewelry in and out of the towns (to and from their home villages) every day to set up little sidewalk stands. The parents aren't getting up at 7 AM to make coffee and sit in rush-hour traffic to go to work. Some mothers wake up at 2:30 AM every morning to cook tamales or empanadas to take and sell on the sidewalk. Fathers often spend months at a time working 16-hour days on farms away from their families.
Can you imagine selling trinkets, polishing shoes and carrying heavy loads for many hours every day instead of going to school, playing an instrument and going to soccer practice? Think about the decreased opportunities that these kids have to ever leave their home compared to you and your friends. Would you want to trade places with a Mexican boy or girl from Chiapas for a day? for a year?
Jamila - Mayan Mummies were Calling Me
Team - Heading Back in Time
Abeja - From Riches to Rags
Shawn - Consequences of Stripping the Land
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