|Arturo and his family did not come to Mexico. They are natives, having descended from one of the many indigenous people groups that populate the country.
Arturo is a farmer. His father was a farmer, as was his grandfather. In fact, if you sit and talk to Arturo, you will hear that his family has been farming in Mexico since before it was Mexico.
They have farmed corn for centuries on the family lands. Some years the land yielded a bountiful harvest, and other years, no so much, but always there was enough to feed the family. Until recently.
Arturo and his family have a large plot of land comprising almost 100 hectares, or almost 250 acres. To put that into a practical perspective, the original footprint of Disneyland was just 160 acres.
With this much land, the family was able to not only grow corn for their own consumption, but also sell to some of the commercial buyers in Mexico. As the economy in Mexico grew, so did Arturo’s ability to acquire additional land and expand his business.
Soon Arturo was one of the largest corn growers in his area with almost 150 hectares of corn planted each year. He was living his dream. Working hard, supporting his family and helping friends. At one point he had over 100 employees working for him.
But then something happened. His buyers approached and asked him to lower the price he was charging for his corn. He was given no reason, except to say that they wanted a better price. At first he agreed, after all, it was a small sacrifice to make to keep his main customers happy.
But it did not end there. His buyers soon returned explaining that if he wanted to continue to sell to them, he would have to cut his sales price in half. Arturo tried to explain that there was no way he could possibly sell his corn at half price and be able to pay for the costs of production.
They told him he had no choice. Their companies were demanding higher profits and they had found a source in the United States that could supply corn at half the cost of Arturo’s.
Arturo soon learned how a corn producer in the United States, paying higher wages, could possibly sell corn cheaper than a Mexican farmer. Subsidies. He learned that the American government would step in and guarantee a certain rate of return on corn for US farmers, regardless of sales price.
These subsidies allowed American farmers to undercut the price of Mexican farmers in their own country and effectively wipeout thousands of good paying jobs across the country.
But Arturo was not easily discouraged.
Rather than let his land go fallow, he changed his crop and began to grow sugar cane. It was not long before he was once again moving forward. He sold his cane to one of the large sugar plants in Ameca, Jalisco where it was processed and sold to corporations as a food ingredient.
Just like when he grew corn, the days were long and hot as he had to keep his arms covered to avoid being cut by the sharp leaves of the cane.
But just as he was thinking that he might be able to soon retire and turn the farm over to his son, sugar prices in Mexico collapsed. Mexican soft drink manufacturers began to cut back on sugar and started using cheaper high fructose corn syrup imported from the US.
The North American Free Trade Agreement [NAFTA] had recently been signed and approved between the US, Canada, and Mexico. One of the conditions forced Mexico to abandon tariffs on imported sugar, put in place to insure the continued employment of 2.5 million sugar farmers across the country.
Under NAFTA, Mexico was assured that they would have full access to US markets once the tariffs were removed. What they were not told, or did not understand was that the US market was dominated by low cost government subsidized sugar in the form of corn syrup.
Mexican sugar cane had no way to compete in the international market because of US government intervention and was left sitting in silos rotting for a lack of buyers.
Arturo was crushed. Unable to sustain the business, his land became useless. There was nothing he could farm and his land was not an attractive parcel for development, a route many of his friends took.
With help from the state government of Jalisco, he tried a few other crops, but was unable to make any progress. Nothing he tried offered any real promise of being able to move ahead. At best he was just able to break even and provide his family with the corn necessary to eke out a meager existence.
It was not long before Arturo, once a proud farmer of more than 150 hectares of corn and sugar made his decision. Despite the fact that his family lived on and worked the same land for centuries, Arturo knew he had to go north.
Unable to get immigration papers, Arturo used the last of his savings, $4000.00, to hire a coyote to take him north.
Today he works for one of the largest corn farmers in the United States. He does the same thing he did for years in Mexico.
Except now, instead of helping employ Mexican farmers in his own country, the very company he is working for, effectively is disemploying thousands of Mexican farmers a year.
Instead of coming home each night to see his family, he lives in small crowded house with 10 other men just like him who also came north after their jobs were eliminated in much the same fashion.
And like most of them, he sends as much money back home every week from his weekly earnings to help support his family as he possibly can.
He makes $9.00 an hour, works ten hours a day and prays every night that “La Migra” does not show up at the little house he now calls home.
Labels: corn, immigration, mexico, NAFTA, sugar cane