Many, many things happen in Miriam Toews's slim new novel—drug dealing, a shotgun wedding, filmmaking, filicide, teenagers running away, political protests—and all of them happen in a year of the life of Irma Voth, a 19-year-old Mennonite living in Mexico.
Amid poverty, war and, occasionally, massacre, the Presbyterians in the town of Polhó in Mexico's southernmost state of Chiapas are singing for their lives. The language of the Tzotzil Maya has a special lyrical quality. Sentences float like melodies in dialogue, rising and falling so that one speaker's tones spill over into the responses of the next.
On the Shelf
Mother of God Similar to Fire
Icons by William Hart McNichols, reflections by Mirabai Star
A few years ago, when I was researching a story
in Veracruz, Mexico, the proprietor of a small cantina and I struck up a
conversation. When talk turned to religion, Señor Gonzalez shyly asked if I
would like to see one of his most highly prized treasures.
It’s like the Berlin Wall falling down,” said one Mexican official about his country’s July 2 election. “But the PRI lasted longer than the wall.” A lot longer. In power for 71 years, the oxymoronically named Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, has had the longest continuous rule of any political group in the world.
The woman sitting next to me on a five-hour bus ride from Puebla to Oaxaca, Mexico, opened her Bible to the “Segunda Epístola de San Pedro Apóstol”—2 Peter. The “1” of the first chapter was circled and various verses were underlined. This was a well-used Bible. I asked, “¿Es cristiana?” She nodded and immediately asked if I was.
Mexico’s popular culture is Catholic, but its politics and state are secular. Vast majorities demonstrate both immense respect for the Roman Catholic Church and firm opposition to the political involvement of religious leaders or symbols. During the recent presidential campaign, Vicente Fox Quesada raised hackles by waving the flag of the Virgin of Guadalupe.
As yet another cargo train thunders past her house in Fortín de las Flores, Mexico, Benita Juárez wraps a scarf around her head and looks up. In addition to its usual load of sugar cane, coffee and automobiles, the train carries migrants traveling north from Central America.
For generations residents of San Diego and Tijuana have gathered at Friendship Park to visit with family and friends through the border fence. In coming months the Department of Homeland Security will erect a secondary fence across the park, eliminating public access to this historic meeting place. Until then, I will serve Communion at Friendship Park each Sunday afternoon, distributing the elements through the border fence.
The collapse of immigration reform legislation is best understood not as a failure of short-term political leadership, but rather as an inevitable long-term consequence of NAFTA. NAFTA’s architects believed that as goods and services began to flow in unprecedented volume throughout the world’s largest free market, low-wage labor would remain largely fixed.Unfortunately, the unleashed forces of the free market uprooted longstanding social and economic arrangements in Mexico and caused the already meager economic opportunities, especially in the rural parts of the country, to evaporate. Millions of Mexican people—the bearers of cheap labor—were compelled to seek out their most rational reallocation.
For the past 10 months, the people of the Mexican state of Oaxaca have been waging a campaign to remove their governor, Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, who was narrowly elected in 2004 amid allegations of fraud. A member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional, or PRI), he has been accused of corruption and political repression since taking office.