Desktop version

Home arrow Political science

  • Increase font
  • Decrease font

<<   CONTENTS   >>

Juana: employment in the local tourist sendee economy

Juana and her partner had two toddler daughters when he left for New York in the late 1990s. In his absence, she lived with her in-laws. Her mother-in-law appreciated Juana’s company and assistance in caring for her five sons. Juana’s partner rarely sent any money home, and it took her many years to build a separate house on her in-laws’ land. When her daughters were in primaiy school, she learned that her partner had started his own family in New York and was not coming back to Zapotitlan. The news devastated Juana and her daughters. In the immediate aftermath, she wanted to move back in with her parents. However, in an unusual display of solidarity, her in-laws begged her and the girls to stay. They would continue to help Juana raise the girls. They took her side in the matter, disappointed that their son had reneged on his responsibilities. This surprised Juana’s partner who had expected his parents to follow his lead and cut their ties with Juana. She decided to stay with her in-laws, who took care of her daughters during the day when she worked as a domestic in Tehuacan to cover household expenses.

By the time her daughters reached adolescence, Juana had taken up full-time work in a restaurant opened by her sister’s husband, a migrant who returned to Zapotitlan in 2006 due to a nervous breakdown after working as a kitchen manager/chef/cook in a New York City restaurant. Situated next to the highway, the establishment attracted truck drivers shuttling goods across the Mixteca and

Recession, return and social reproduction 147 billed itself as a welcoming spot for tourists coming to experience the desert. For decades, researchers and visitors had been drawn to the dramatic desert landscape surrounding the town, an interest that grew after the institutionalization of the area as part of the Tehuacan-Cuicatlan Biosphere Reserve in the late 1990s. Throughout the 2000s, state funding for tourism projects increased in an effort to boost local development and ecological conservation (Lee, 2014). The incorporation of the desert into a natural protected area and the transformation of Zapotitlan into a tourism destination is part of the development of the “nature industry” that links the region to similar developments in Mexico and elsewhere (Martinez-Reyes, 2016; see also Macip & Zamora, 2012).

The menu at the restaurant featured dishes with ingredients from local cacti and other desert plants. Producing a culinary experience that involved consuming—materially and symbolically—the landscape, emerged from state-led efforts to fashion a service economy based on tourism from the remnants of the dismantled rural economy in Zapotitlan. The framed diplomas on the walls of the restaurant announcing the completion of courses in tourist services and hygiene interpellated the owner and other restaurant workers as certified service providers in the emerging tertiary economy. However, despite its symbolic ubiquity, the tourist economy was not capable of absorbing the majority of unemployed workers as had the onyx industry in the 1970s and 1980s.

Although working in the restaurant provided Juana with a steady wage— roughly equivalent to the highest salaries in the local garment factories and the wages she had earned as a domestic in Tehuacan—it was not enough to cover all her household expenses. Despite several attempts, Juana failed to gain acceptance into Oportunidades. Her daughters left secondary school because of the mental stress occasioned by the experience of being abandoned by their father and the resultant precarious economic situation. They found jobs in the village: the oldest cared for a teacher’s infant during the day while the youngest worked cleaning rooms and attending the front desk at a local hotel. Juana pooled resources with her daughters in order to pay for food and other household expenses.

Juana participated in an informal rotating credit association savings group with other women from her extended family.21 By saving just 20 pesos a week, she could expect a payout equivalent to about two weeks of salary at the end of the year. During the period we interviewed her, she used these savings to pay for part of her daughters’ quinceanera celebration and for a family emergency. She admitted that she sometimes fell behind in her payments. Given that her group was comprised of family members, she was not penalized with a late payment fee, as was the case with many government-sponsored savings groups. However, it was clear to us that despite their regular employment, Juana and her daughters struggled to cover all basic household expenses.

Despite the fact that Juana was in the control group, a group without regular access to remittances, she still benefited—sometimes indirectly—from the fact that she had four brothers working in New York restaurants. Three of them had their hours reduced during the Great Recession, but they still managed to send remittances occasionally to their extended family in Zapotitlan. One sent regularremittances to Juana's parents, thereby alleviating the burden of care on Juana and her other siblings, who were able to channel more resources to their nuclear families. Furthermore, when her mother became ill and required full-time care, her brothers convinced Juana to quit her job for a time and paid her the same amount as her salary to care for the elderly woman. Finally, Juana’s brothers contributed to her daughters’ quinceanera celebrations as well as some other ceremonial expenses.

It may be that this connection to remittances in the form of an extended family safety net rather than a regular contribution to household income gave Juana some piece of mind. If she were ever really in a bind, she would be able to count on her brothers’ help. She maintained friendly relations with all of them, periodically speaking to them on the phone. She also visited her mother regularly and was very attentive to her health needs. This potential safety net gave Juana more of a positive take on migration, since there were many ways that remittances partially financed her household’s social reproduction.

For me, the United States has taken away half my family. We have had rifts among siblings and sisters-in-law. But, it has also given me a lot. My brothers helped me when I most needed them. And now my job exists thanks to [the restaurant owner] who came back, started his business and gave work to various people. Yes, [the United States] has taken many things from me, but I think it has given me more than it has taken.

(Juana, 34 years old, Zapotitlân Salinas, June 2016)

<<   CONTENTS   >>

Related topics