Sierra Gorda, part 1
Trip Start Mar 23, 2007
2Trip End Ongoing
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100,000 people live in the Sierra Gorda, but in recent years this number has dropped as men head to the States for work. The reasons are obvious--the minimum wage in Mexico is 42 pesos a day--equivalent to about 45 minutes work at minimum wage in the U.S. The money they send home is collectively the second largest source of foreign revenue in Mexico, just behind oil. But unlike oil revenues, remissions are dispersed to the poor, bringing dramatic changes to rural areas. Huge homes (or 'dollar houses' as the locals call them) and big trucks purchased in the US look out of place. The women find themselves with more power, freedom, and responsibility, often running businesses and taking care of communally owned lands. The pressure to exploit natural resources has been greatly reduced, and forests are naturally re-generating on many of the steep slopes once cleared for agriculture.
The Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve was founded 10 years ago, after a decade of hard work by the Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda, the non-governmental organization where we will be working for the next two years. The program was founded by a remarkable local woman named Pati Ruiz, whose larger-than-life personality, inspiration, and dedication have motivated legions of employees, volunteers and residents throughout the Sierra Gorda and across Mexico to conserve this diverse landscape and provide sustainable livelihoods to its people. Pati's husband and two sons live and work in the Sierra as well, and have helped to build a progressive and successful community-based conservation organization
On June 13th, Ben's birthday, we offically ended training and become cooperantes. The US Ambassador was present, attracting other pescas gordas (big wigs), along with all our spanish teachers, professional counterpars, and Mexican families. Formal speeches were followed by finger food and a surprise appearance by a Mariachi band, who serenaded Ben and Tony Garza, the ambassador, in honor of Saint Anthony (who shares his name) with the beautiful Mexican birthday son "Mañanitas." The tequila came later, along with fireworks celebrating San Antonio in the big chuches downtown. Now, we're on our own!