La Preciosita

In La Preciosita, a small migrant community village about an hour outside of Puebla, Mexico, the streets are quiet when the sun is at its peak. The air is dry and still. The hills unfold endlessly outward, dotted with maguey plants with leaves spread wide like a hawk in flight.

About 1/6 of the Puebla population lives in the New York area working seasonally or permanently in food service, restaurants, or agriculture. This is a group made up mostly of men, which means that many times since the last wave of immigration began about 20 years ago, the village has been noticeably bereft of any male presence. During our visit we met with a group of women whose husbands and sons (and a few daughters) left La Preciosita with dreams of a providing a better life for their families through work in the American food system. This group of women has been working on empowering other women in the community, holding skill workshops that include gardening and crafts. They have also started a garden to grow medicinal herbs, since there is no hospital in the village.

The women said that this is a time of enormous change in La Preciosita, not all of it positive. Whereas the community used to be poor but united, it now has some members better off financially as a result of remittances, but also a sense of fragmentation due to that. Many customs and traditions have been lost: houses were once built with adobe, but now people want to use brick; streets used to be stone, now they are concrete; families used to build their homes, but now they just hire outside construction workers. Young people feel a pull towards the cities and towards the U.S.; when they come home to La Preciosita, they act and feel like outsiders, visitors just passing through.

And the women are left to fill a void almost impossible to fill: children growing up without fathers, without older brothers, with the sense that money made far away from home takes precedence over the priceless and precious family that resides right here. When asked if she thought that this exchange of time, absence, and longing, for bricks, concrete streets and remittances was worth it, one of the women told us, “It will never be worth it, because the family is more important than any material goods or assets.”

Still, there is a steady pull, a steady magnetism that draws men from Puebla northward, persuades them to forgo managing their family’s land in La Preciosita to work in the kitchens of New York City, in the farms of Long Island, far from home in both geographical and spiritual terms. The women told of community members lost in the desert, never to be heard from again. They spoke of the immense sacrifices that are made, the losses sustained when a family member decides to get up and go.

This is a story almost mythic in its sweep: the men traverse the deserts of the southwest to reach the supposed promised land to the north where there are rumors of money to be made in the food industry, enduring long days and nights of wandering, relying on a coyote to help guide the vulnerable traveler to safety in the desert darkness.

The hope is that when the men do return, they bring back their skills gained in food preparation, in agriculture, in food business, and create institutions and businesses that keep future generations from wandering the desert in search of the gardens – literal and figurative – that already exist right here in La Preciosita and need tending. These gardens have produced beauty and abundance in the past and can do so again.

La Preciosita

La Preciosita

The sap of the maguey plant, called agua miel, becomes pulque when fermented.

The sap of the maguey plant, called agua miel, becomes pulque when fermented.


2 Responses to “La Preciosita”
  1. Seth says:

    I imagine this story isn’t unique to La Preciosita. It may be known all too well by too many people. I wonder though, are folks returning? If so, what’s developed since they have returned? if not, what needs to happen for La Preciosita to be home again?

    • ehimmel says:

      You’re right, it definitely isn’t unique to that community. My great-grandparents left home in much the same way, looking for work and a better life far away from their families. And in current day Mexico, there are certainly other communities experiencing what La Preciosita is experiencing. I guess the interesting thing about Mexican migration is the way that it connects directly to the American food system. To make La Preciosita home, there needs to be sufficient opportunity for meaningful work to keep young people around. You would think that men returning after working in America would apply what they’ve learned to their lives back at home and would create those sorts of opportunities. But the women whose husbands returned said that the men didn’t come back and help their wives in the kitchen, even if the men worked in New York City kitchens. There’s still an element of machismo that prevents that, so when the men return (and when the female empowerment work going on right now is taken into account) there is tension between old gender roles and new gender roles that are developing.

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