por Tiffany Nguyen
Tiffany is a fourth-year undergraduate at the University of Texas at Dallas, and she is studying public and nonprofit management. She misses Oaxaca, and she hopes she can return to see her many beloved friends in this beautiful city!
It was a Wednesday in mid-July. I sipped orange-flavored Del Valle and asked Angélica what she would miss the most about Oaxaca if she moved to the United States. She laughed. The food, she said. Tlayudas, more than anything, she said, because they are perfect; even with nothing more than a pinch of salt, a plain tlayuda is filling and delicious.
Angélica grew up in a house of five children. Due to her father’s disability, she and her siblings had to work to support their mother. When she was 12, Angélica moved to Mexico City to earn money for her family; however, apart from those six months, she has not traveled much. But Angélica knows there’s a whole world outside of Santo Domingo Tomaltepec, which she has yet to explore. Hay un mundo afuera. And oh, how she wants to explore!
How bad must Mexico be if everyone wants to leave, she wondered aloud. What does it say about Mexico if everyone who migrates north to the United States stays there once they arrive? Angélica isn’t interested in politics, but she knows Mexico does not fight for its people. In her eyes, one’s life is better in the United States in all respects: education, income, health. She asked me pointedly: What do people without loving homes do? They leave – she answered her own question. They search for a place that offers them the things their home lacked: apoyo, ayuda, cariño, support, care, affection. And just like a home that lacks kindness, protection, or support, a country without such things will only witness more and more people fleeing. People long to live where someone will fight for and care for them.
During my time studying in Oaxaca, I visited two albergues (migrant shelters). Most migrants in the shelters came from Honduras, Guetemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua. And the stories we heard over and over were those of people on their fourth, fifth, sixth attempt to get to the United States.
Tomaltepec itself is not the most amenable to all its residents. For example, its governance system of usos y costumbres only recently allowed women to fulfill cargos. Angélica indicated that this really only happened in the past five years due to a mandate from the Oaxacan state government. Prior, women were permitted to vote by law but not in practice. They couldn’t even participate in the regular town halls. But with the efforts of a number of women in the town, las mujeres finally won the right to vote and participate in the asambleas. This change was polemic for the varones en contra, men against women voting. They even threatened the women taking up positions in the local government by leaving bags of dead cockroaches at the women’s front doors and sending them death threats via menacing telephone calls.
Angélica critiqued the society which claims machismo has been eliminated completely. No se erradica el machismo. Dicen que sí pero no, she argued. Machismo has not be eradicated; some say it has been, but that’s not the case.
Another En Vía woman, Teresa, from Tomaltepec even fought during the movimiento for Tomaltepec women’s right to vote. Teresa recounted that previously, women who tried to vote faced the threats of men hurling vulgarities at them. “You aren’t good for anything but serving men,” varones in the town would shout at the women lined up to vote.
But it’s not only men who propagate machismo. Angélica’s grandmother believed that women shouldn’t go to school. According to her abuela, women need to get married and care for their children. And besides, their husbands would not permit them to work later on. But Angélica disagrees with such a mindset. She would rather see her daughter study, travel, and know the world, a world that Angélica firmly believes has many beautiful things to offer. There’s a whole world that Angélica herself would like to explore. Angélica wants her daughter to study and support herself – her wish is that Alexandra would not have to depend on anyone to survive.
While the government sponsored Angélica’s free education on costura and a political party’s campaign opened the door to her negocio de galletas, those concessions do not mitigate Angélica’s resignation about politics. All politicians lie, she says, and they don’t accomplish the goals they set during their campaigns. She sees ample corruption in the political system. The laws of Mexico are stuck and fixed, she told me. But Angélica continues to vote in spite of that so as not to waste her ballot. Still she wants to express her voice.
In spite of her critique of Mexico, Angélica sees herself remaining in Tomaltepec. She can’t see herself adjusting to life in the United States despite its benefits and advantages. She only wishes to visit and then return – return home to Tomaltepec where she has the love of her family and warm, hand-made tlayudas. And to a degree, I am thankful for the true blessing of having met her in the place she loves. I am thankful that in her modest home on Reforma in Tomaltepec, we had our final conversation. And I am thankful that in our final interview, she taught me about the love that I could find in the world despite my own hurt.
Tiffany has one more post in store about her cherished conversations with Angélica. Stay tuned for the final installation of the four–part saga, where Tiffany shares Angélica’s thoughts on love, family, and perseverance in life.