Notes from Mexico Trip- Johnny Monsarrat Mexico Trip

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 15TH, 1999 -- OAXACA & MITLA RUINS (CONT.)

The owner of the restaurant comes out and shows up how natural dyes are made. Probably this is why Nicolas took us here -- so we'd buy some of the rugs! Amy likes the rugs, though, and besides, we're curious how the dyes work. They get powder from various sources, and put the powder under a stone rolling pin, making a paste. That paste goes into water for color. Indigo grows on the coast in "heletepec"(?). They let the leaves ferment for one week.

The owner of the restaurant dresses modern. Clean, with styled hair, patterned grey shirt with white symbols. Jeans (not faded), brown belt buckle, brown shoes. His assistant: she has a machine-made simple plaid dress onto which red flowers have been embroidered.

They ferment spanish moss, boiling it every 4 or 5 hours for a few days. She is carding the wool between two cards of metal brushes. Wool has a lot of impurities. When you card it, the impurities fall out. Usually a woman does carding and spinning.

"huizache": inedible, looks like green beans. Dry and grind it to get jet black dye. Dyes with natural colors takes a long time, and is also more expensive than chemical dyes. You can dye 10 kilos a day natural but 100 kilos chemical. Also, you must handle the natural dyes right or it won't be "colorfast"... I guess that means it will run in the wash.

I ask him why he bothers with the natural dyes. He says that tourists come here to buy something authentic and traditional. The original Indians had dyes and spinning, and then the Spanish introduced wheel and loom. Fermenting happens with a bucket of water and the wool in the bucket. Chemical dyes: boil with wool for 30 minutes. But natural dyes, boil & ferment for days.

As we drive away, I ask Nicolas: What are the common mistakes that Americans make when they are new to Mexico? He says that locals would not want an American around. "Whenever we see an American, we see dollar signs". Americans who talk too much or invade your privacy. Or Americans who try to do something that locals have been doing for years, and it turns out the American can't do it. If you try to get the Indians to do stuff for you for free or get too intrusive.

The black pottery is unique to Oaxaca, because minerals in the ground turn black. Elsewhere, the pottery may just be painted black... but you'd be able to tell the difference.

We pass through a checkpoint. Men with machine guns, green caps, black boots, green helmet, army green w/green jacket with many pockets. "green fatigues"? They didn't stop us. Nicolas says they are looking for drugs, guns, machine guns, illegal aliens from Guatemala or Nicaragua. If Guatemalans want to illegally enter the US, they first illegally enter Mexico. To be legal, a Guatemalan must provide a visa saying he has permission for vacation, job, school, etc. It's much easier to come to Mexico because of the Pacific Ocean. Guatemalans just arrive by ship.

Nicolas tells us how he went to the US illegally himself. (Yikes!) He crossed by running along the beach. His cousin was caught by the border patrol and Nicolas was afraid to be alone, so they got caught together. The border patrol took them to San Diego and asked for their names and signatures, but of course they gave false names.

When Nicolas got caught they kicked him out of the USA. But Nicolas got a "coyote" to take him back to the US and they got in: same thing, running on the beach. The coyote (14,000 pesos) knew what time the water patrol was changing guard: 4:30-5am. Nicolas stayed three years in the US, worked and studied.

You don't need permission to come back to Mexico because he can prove he's from Mexico. Just go to the border and say "I live here -- all my family is here, you can call them." I ask why would an illegal Mexican in the US return to Mexico? Nicolas says someone from the villages would probably stay, because in Mexico they're poor and haven't enough money to farm or do anything. But a Mexican from the city is more likely to come back because he has a future.

In the US, he got a high school education. They didn't ask for ID, just a certificate of elementary school. There was a girl who was an illegal in the US. She was 35 years old and had 2 little kids. She applied for alien resident cards. The lawyer told her she had to prove that the children were starting high school. She asked the school for proof, and that helped her to get the alien resident card. Her kids can become full citizens.

Jobs Nicolas had: party rentals, Sizzler Restaurant, Burger King, Taco Bell, Cannery, bakery. He bought a Social Security Number so he could get a job. A birth certificate and a driver's license was enough to get into Mexico.

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