By Pablo Jaime Sáinz
Just like thousands of Indigenous Mixtecas that come from villages in the states of Oaxaca and Guerrero, in southern Mexico, Maria migrated to Tijuana several years ago.
She left behind everything she knew: Her family, her village, her memories.
What she couldn’t leave behind and brought with her to the north was her poverty, the discrimination, the lack of opportunities to have a better future.
When she arrived in Tijuana, doors were closed for her. She couldn’t find a stable job in the maquiladora industry because she speaks little Spanish. She hadn’t even finished first grade. Almost all maquiladoras require at least an elementary school certificate.
It was then that she put her pride aside and asked for money on the streets and the San Ysidro port of entry. Her two children had to stay out of school to help her walk the streets, looking for something to eat.
Some three months ago, Maria’s luck began to change, when she signed up for a governmental program that offers free dress-making and sewing training for Mixtecas women and at the same offers scholarships so that their children can attend school.
It is a dress-making and sewing workshop offered by Sistema Municipal para el Darrollo Integral de la Familia (DIF) in Tijuana, where some 200 Mixteca women learn the trade.
The classes, which are offered at Centro DIF in La Mesa, are free and try to give these women a steady income, said María Elvia Amaya de Hank, Tijuana’s DIF president and wife of Mayor Jorge Hank.
“We want to open the doors so that all the Indigenous women that are on the streets of the city can have a steady income that enables them to support their children without the need to expose them to the danger of having them on the streets, without attending school and to the mercy of unnecessary risks,” Amaya said.
A few days ago, Amaya delivered them fabrics for the making of school uniforms. The goal is that the women can have the material that will permit them make the uniforms for the children that attend DIF’s kindergartens, which represents a secured income because there’s a market.
She said that it is an integral program, that children are also taken into consideration, and starting this month DIF will award scholarships so that Mixteco children can attend school with the agreement that they will remain in school.
Some 300 Mixteco children will receive a scholarship and every month their teachers will pass a progress report to prove their taking good advantage of the scholarship.
Amaya said that this program has been one of the most difficult for DIF, because it was hard to convince the Mixteca women about the importance of learning new trades.
“For them it was important to remain on the streets and to live from the money they would receive, but that was minimal and their quality of life was also very basic,” Amaya said.
She said that now the goal is for Indigenous women to learn a trade that can give them a higher income, for their children to attend school and to receive specialized care and attention.
“We’re very satisfied with this program because we know that we’re giving this community alternatives for self-reliance and giving their children developmental opportunities as part of a modern society,” Amaya said.
At the end of the program, the city of Tijuana will give them a small credit so that the women can purchase their first sewing machine.
For Victor Clark-Alfaro, a human rights activist that has worked for the rights of the Mixteco community in Tijuana for several decades, this career training program represents an excellent opportunity for Mixtecas to enter the labor market.
During the 1980s, these women used to be incarcerated or abused by police because they were asking for money on the streets.
That has improved, Clark said. But there’s still plenty to do for the Indigenous community of Tijuana.
“It’s good that the city is looking for alternatives to this problem,” he said.
Clark estimated that there are about 50,000 Indigenous people in the city, 7,000 of them are Mixtecos from Oaxaca and 2,000 from Guerrero.
Clark said that Colonia Valle Verde, on the easternside of the city, is home to a large Mixteco community in Tijuana.
For further information about this program, please visit www.tijuana.gob.mx.