Mexico Trek!   Trekkers DISPATCH: September 13 Monica's Log

Struggle for the Land - Ejidos

Early this morning, I awoke knowing my host Mama wanted to take me to visit her land in Xochimilco ("show-chee-meal-co"). Mama's niece, Ita, would drive us along with Victor after a desayuno (breakfast) of huevos (eggs), tortillas and black coffee. My host Mama Victor, Ita, and Mama Isabel Mateosowns five hectares of land (thats about 12.5 acres). Its near an ecological preserve of 570 hectares, but the preserve is going to be turned into a golf course over the next few years. Mama wants to build apartments for up to 300 people on her land.

Just as we set out in the car, rain started drizzling, and I had some time to read about the struggle for land in Mexico. A very important issue for hundreds of years in Mexico has been who controls the land. After the Spanish arrived and took over all the land, they did some things to make sure they maintained control of the country. (To learn more about how they took over, read "A Report from the Battlefield" from September 5 in the calendar.) They took small Indian towns and would make several that were close together all live in just one pueblo (town). When they did this they also gave them some land that would be owned and worked by everyone. These plots of land were called "ejidos." The people then shared anything they made by working the land and gave some of it to the Spanish government in taxes.

Meanwhile, Spaniards and people of Spanish descent (the "peninsulares" and "criollos") started to create huge plots of land for themselves, called "haciendas." Sometimes, ejidos were sold by the people and sometimes the big landowners just took them. Some Indians farming on ejidos had to then work for their new Spanish or criollo masters, instead of creating crops for themselves. By the early 1900s, all of the 670,000 people who worked on ejidos owned only 15% of farmlands, while very few people owned most of the rest.

In 1935, the Mexican President Lazaro Cardenas gave some of these lands back to the campesinos, or poor families. The number of people using ejidos almost doubled. However, the wealthy families with lots of land fought back, and by 1947 80% of the ejidos switched back to their control again. In 1978, there were about 28,000 ejidos,Xochimilco and most of them were on land that was not really suitable for farming. The place we were visiting in Xochimilco used to be ejido land, but is now an eco-reserve, and next will be a new golf course, "For the jet set," as my host mama said.

I asked Ita why there was some graffiti in town disagreeing with the golf course. She says there are two kinds of people in Mexico, "the people who don't think about the future and don't like change, and the people who are forward-thinking and think about the betterment of the economy." A new golf course would create jobs, and working people could live in the apartment buildings my host mama would build. BUT I worry. This old land, land that was formerly ejido, communally owned farmland, would disappear, and some people living here would have to move.

Down from the car we went, meeting some people who live off the land, farming chayote, wiring in electricity from existing lines and using rain as a source of water. I heard bees buzzing and saw little tadpoles in a big puddle on the trail, and the air was so fresh, I took deep breaths away from the pollution of downtown. The view is beautiful: you can see what very little is left of Lake Xochimilco and a little bit of Mexico City. (Remember that the Aztec capital was built on an island in the middle of two lakes. The lakes were filled in and built on to make modern-day Mexico City. Learn more about the Aztec city in "Aztec dancing, Aztec ruins, modern day cops" in the August 22 Update in the calendar.)

On the way back, Mama held a little flower she had plucked: she said it had "fallen asleep" because its delicate purple leaves were curled together. I, too, had taken a tiny leaf with the faint scent of lemon, and kept it close to my cheek. I reflected on the land wed seen and on the ejidos that had been taken away from the Indians, and in the larger sense, have been taken away from the history of Mexico.

So, do you have lots of development where you live? Are more and more people moving to your town? Did you move to a new place recently? What do you think is the best thing to do, keep the land natural or build on it?



Related Dispatches: 
Monica - Struggle for the Land - Ejidos

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