Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Village life in Rancho Arroyo Seco

Rancho Arroyo Seco, Jalisco, Mexico-- This small community is home to about 300 people, many of them children, many of them related.
It apparently grew from a small group of farmworkers who gathered to work at one of the large ranches or plantations in the area, and grew from there.
Life here is not simple despite the temptation to see it that way.
On the surface, it appears bucolic and straightforward: we awaken every day to the sounds of chickens clucking and geese honking. You still see someone ride a horse nor burro to pick up tortillas from the local tienda. Restaurants are a few tables set out on the side of the street in front of homes, serving mostly tacos. If you need a coke or beer they will walk across the street and buy it for you, but they expect you to go get it yourself.
Homes have electricity and running water, but drinking water is universally purchased from trucks that come here daily.
Stereotypical Mexico, whatever the stereotype, does not exist here.
Everybody works, often including children, and many people make a living with two or three skills or jobs. Our neighbors manage a ranch, have a small store with incidentals for sale, run a restaurant on the street three or four nights a week, and will do anything they can to provide well for their family of five.
There are extended families in the rancho that own large and expensive equipment such as dump trucks, tractors and grading equipment, items that help them make a decent living. The tienda next door has at least $300,000 worth of such equipment parked out back. It's part of the income producing work they do. Another tienda in a home down the street has an enormous big screened television set where the public can view movies certain nights of the week. No admission charge, but they do expect you to buy a beer or coke or snack from the store.
Another neighbor drives a $45,000 pickup truck, and several families use quads to get around town and to the nearby beaches.

Many of the residents are literate. Some are not. Many are bilingual because they have worked for higher wages in the United States. Some are not. The younger generation seems to have an interest in education -- 30 neighborhood kids came to a free English class here recently -- and the 17-year-old across the street is planning to go to college. While he works on completing high school, he can and does work at a variety of jobs, basically anything his family needs him to do.
Some families are land rich and cash poor. One family we know inherited significant land when it was broken up years ago, and is building an RV park on the beach. But they don't have a lot of money, or at least don't display it.
The poor are here too.
Some children do not wear shoes except for special occasions, and one elderly man sleeps on a pallet under a tree. When the rainy season hits he is brought inside by family or friends. He is not quite right.
But most of the children dress well, particularly for school and church and community events. Cleanliness is expected, and enforced, by parents.
Almost every family has animals, including pets. How well they are cared for may depend on economic circumstance and education. No one here buys Alpo, for example, but the ever-present little Chihuahuas are fat happy and healthy. Farm dogs don't fare as well, but get by on scraps and chicken bones.
Only three non-Mexicans live inside the rancho limits, our friends Michael and Sylvia who arrived last year and a California surfer drop-out has been happily near the beach fort ten years more more. By necessity, they all speak Spanish and all live a lifestyle that is a blend of Mexican and Norteamericano. (Gringo, incidentally, is not a bad word. It means "someone not from around here" in local vernacular.)
Family is very important. It is not at all unusual to run into three generations enjoying each other's company. Our neighbors probably are related to 40 or more people here directly or through in-laws.
There are good people and bad people. As a visitor I am not privileged to know which is which, but the local folk know and that makes the community function quite well. Not everyone likes each other, and old disagreements seem to be remembered. But there is no open animosity or yelling and screaming. I have not heard of any violence in a week, and drugs don't seem to be something people think much about. The police show up, if at all, once every few weeks to by a cool drink at a store and move back to the highway.
In this place, only few adults drink alcohol and there are no rowdy bars. Why pay $3 for a beer, as gringos do in town, when you can get one at the tienda for less than a dollar and enjoy a visit with your neighbor on the sidewalk?

This is much more a snapshot of life here than an anthropological study. But this is a very interesting place. Folks have made us feel welcome. And it's not much like life currently in the U.S.A. Perhaps, if the recession gets a lot worse as some folks expect, we can learn from our neighbors how to get along with less.

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