The weekly newsletter of the México Solidarity Project


April 28, 2021/ This week's issue/ Meizhu Lui, for the editorial team


Damaged in Transit

Sometimes our packages have a rough transit. Heavier packages may squash more delicate ones or something we send out might fall and break on a concrete floor. Boxes can arrive ripped, corners smashed. We can only hope that parts inside haven’t broken beyond repair.


Mexican migrants endure a rough transit too. We know about the physical damage: the thirst, the hunger, the blistered feet, the beatings, the rapes. But migrants also face unseen internal trauma, the damage that makes normal human life next to impossible.


In Anapra, hardly more than a desert encampment outside of Ciudad Juarez, families who’ve had to abandon homes farther south in México arrive like damaged goods. Uprooted from everything and everyone familiar, they suffer humiliating working conditions in the local maquilas. Their attempts to organize independent unions get quashed mercilessly.


Every broken spirit generates repercussions. Fathers unable to provide for wives and children feel a shame and frustration they take out on the very people they love the most. Mothers exhausted and depressed leave their children without the hugs and smiles so necessary to a healthy upbringing. Like a garden without enough sun, these kids wither. They become pale replicas of the beautiful flowers they could be.


In Anapra, Elvia Villascas and her partner saw all this emotional damage. But they didn’t see these damaged souls as beyond repair. The programs at the Hormigas project they’ve launched have helped restore childhood to children, motherhood to mothers, and fatherhood to fathers. And U.S. groups like the San Francisco Living Wage Coalition are reaching across borders to contribute to these efforts.


The answer to the frightful conditions along the border? Not just better wages and working conditions, as sorely needed as both may be. We need to help mend broken hearts and spirits. People who learn to love themselves and others, people who find they can help themselves and others, start to feel hope. They begin to realize their dignity and their power to effect change. By supporting each other across gender, generations, and borders we can forge better lives for all those who labor in maquilas.


Elvia Sanchez Villescas started Las Hormigas: Comunidad en DesarolloAnts: A Community in Development — with another former nun almost 10 years ago. Their purpose: to help dislocated, disoriented, and distressed migrant families construct a healthy community. Activists with the San Francisco Living Wage Coalition have since then joined the Hormigas network to help maquila workers gain the confidence to challenge the conditions that make barrio life so difficult. They happily count themselves as “ants”!


Hormigas, ants. Why did you give your organization that name?


Ants form big underground networks where others can’t see what they’re doing. Each ant connects to the network and works to strengthen the whole collective.


You and your friend, the founders of Hormigas, moved to Anapra, an “annex” of Ciudad Juarez that borders both Texas and New Mexico. Why did you move?


We were nuns for over 20 years and decided to leave that life. We did not come to convert people to any religion. We wanted to work among the poor and to heal broken communities. When we arrived, we lived as the people lived, with no running water, no services, no schools or medical providers, no opportunities for children. We just hung out with other women, and through them we saw their reality: partner abuse, overwork, no time or energy to give attention to their children.


Can you describe the basic situation in Anapra?


Anapra has become a community of migrants from many places: Oaxaca, Durango, Coahuila, Chihuahua. Here they find jobs in the maquilas. At Foxconn, for example, 8,000 people work making parts for TVs and computers.


Those jobs are a salvation because they enable migrants to earn money. They also give women some independence. But these jobs have another face: unhealthy working conditions and insultingly low wages. The company unions at these plants just control the workers and don’t allow them to complain. Five years ago, workers staged an uprising. All the people who demanded more rights have since been fired.


What did you do to help this suffering community of workers?


We realized that these workers are suffering from the “disease” of poor emotional and mental health. Like ants who work below the surface, we engage people in internal processes to reach their hearts, because that’s where the problem lies. We believe that people, when emotionally healthy, can change their social relations.


So we offer psychotherapeutic services to adults, helping women regain their dignity and self-respect. They do not deserve abuse. We also counsel men since they carry a load of suffering for just being men in a macho culture. They do not deserve to live with alcoholism and sexual violence.


Our second program addresses family issues and the neglected children. Many children lack even basic social skills. These children also need to learn how to read and write.


Given the structural poverty in Anapra, do you provide your services free?


No. Our sense of dignity means that everyone must contribute, and everyone must be valued. So people who seek our help give a donation, but not a set amount. They give what they can. And everyone on our team receives a salary that recognizes their worth.


The San Francisco Living Wage Coalition, among other groups, raises money for you. Relationships between funders from the US and the poor in México can also be unhealthy. How do you handle these unequal relationships?


We do not consider the relationships as unequal, nor the donations as “charity.” We see the fundamental issue hurting all of us as the compromised human development of those forced into poverty. So money becomes just another way to contribute to improving people’s lives. We’re walking on the same path.


The San Francisco Living Wage Coalition, a low-wage worker advocacy organization, understands that local workers won’t be winning economic justice so long as global trade inequities go unaddressed. Coalition activists, notes co-director Karl Kramer, have been involved in solidarity work with maquiladora workers around Ciudad Juarez for more than a decade. They began partnering with Las Hormigas when thousands of workers at seven maquiladoras went out on strike in 2015. Las Hormigas provided strike support and afterwards hosted a fact-finding delegation to report on what had occurred. We excerpt here from that report. Unfortunately, little has so far changed.

Precarious Existences in a Divided City

The free trade based on the hyper-exploitation of workers. They are stripped of basic workers’ rights and forced to work in harsh conditions for low wages. Production that was moving to China in the 2000s with China’s entry into the World Trade Organization is now moving back into Mexico, primarily along the U.S.-Mexico border. In return, Mexico does not tax the maquiladoras for the goods that are assembled, so long as they return to the country of origin and do not enter the Mexican economy. This incentive, coupled with cheap labor and lower transportation costs, leads to cheaper goods that are more competitive in the global market, making the maquiladoras’ border location highly profitable...


The city of Juarez is divided. On the east side are the factories. On the west side, workers live in impoverished neighborhoods. People live a precarious existence in structures of cardboard or wood pallets that are the garbage produced by the maquiladoras...


Maria — who asked that her last name be withheld because she is currently employed at the company — is 25 years old and works at Rio Bravo Electricas #5. Maria connects cables for automotive parts, including for Tesla. Maria works from 4 p.m. to 6 a.m. and is paid 1,500 pesos per week, about $79. When she makes a mistake, the supervisor sends her home for the day without pay as a punishment. Supervisors discipline workers for talking on the job. If Maria asks to be off for a few hours, she is not granted permission. If she leaves work early, she loses the entire day’s pay, and is further punished by losing another day’s pay. When they have a lot of work, she is forced to do extra hours. “Maquilas are always using you. It is never in your favor,” Maria said.


Maria said that she has a child with problems whom she has to take to neurologists and other doctors. Her supervisor has been pressuring her for sex when she asks for permission for time off work. He further pressured her by giving her harder jobs. He told her that management will believe anything that he tells them. By chance, she met the head of human relations, to whom she told her plight. She moved Maria to another part of the plant. Nothing was done to the supervisor...


The fact-finding delegation after the 2015 Ciudad Juarez maquiladora strike included Karl Kramer, back, third from left, and Elvia Sanchez Villescas of Las Hormigas on the right.


Recent news reports and commentaries, from progressive and mainstream media,
on life and struggles on both sides of the US-México border


Michael O'Boyle and Amy Stillman, México’s Fuel Market Grip Is Poised to Tighten, Buoying AMLO, Bloomberg. The Mexican Senate last week voted to expand control over gasoline distribution and marketing, a long-time goal of Lopez Obrador, who has never hid his admiration for Lazaro Cardenas, the president who nationalized México’s oil industry in 1938.


John Ackerman, El Congreso en manos de la 4T, La Jornada. La semana pasada el Congreso de la Unión culminó dos reformas históricas que tendrán un enorme impacto en el bienestar de la población mexicana.


Reforma lo reconoce: Morena lidera preferencias en elección de diputados, Polemón. En las campañas para la elección de diputados federales, Morena lidera las preferencias, según el diario Reforma, con 45 por ciento. En tanto que el PRI y PAN sólo obtendrían un 18 y 17 por ciento.


Mexican environmentalist, 19, reprimands world leaders for climate inaction, México News Daily. The activist criticized AMLO's speech to summit as falling short.


Suprema Corte de EU duda sobre conceder residencia legal a ‘ilegales,’ La Jornada Sin Fronteras. El caso podría afectar a miles de inmigrantes, muchos de los cuales llevan años viviendo en Estados Unidos.


Trees for visas: Mexico suggests US citizenship for reforestation, Reuters. AMLO last week suggested the U.S. offer temporary work visas and eventually citizenship to those who take part in a vast tree planting program he hopes to expand to Central America.


The Mexico Solidarity Project brings together activists from various socialist and left organizations and individuals committed to worker and global justice who see the 2018 election of Andrés Manuel López Obrador as president of México as a watershed moment. AMLO and his progressive Morena party aim to end generations of corruption, impoverishment, and subservience to US interests. Our Project supports not just Morena, but all Mexicans struggling for basic rights, and opposes US efforts to undermine organizing and México’s national sovereignty. 


Editorial committee: Meizhu Lui, Bruce Hobson, Bill Gallegos, Sam Pizzigati. We welcome your suggestions and feedback. Interested in getting involved? Drop us an email!


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