We have entered the final stage of our program here in Mexico: The Independent Study Project, or the ISP. Each of us on the program has chosen a subject of interest, identified a research question we wish to answer, identified an grass-roots NGO that works on our topic, identified a person who works within our field of interest to be our Project Advisor (usually, but not always, from the NGO), and begun conducting a field-based research project to answer our question. Most of us opted to stay here in Oaxaca City, but three left for San Cristóbal de las Casas and one returned to Mexico City. Topics include micro-finance, community radio, migration, alternative and environmental education models, midwifery, the APPO movement from 2006, and transportation worker unions. For the most part, the projects are based largely on interviews we conduct in the field.
My topic has gone through many phases. As I have stated before, I was at first really excited to research the legacy of the student movement in Mexico City, but decided not to return to Mexico City. Once I had ruled out my first idea, I returned to a general subject that I have always found interesting: the agrarian question in Mexico, specifically looking at the changing role of the ejido in Mexico. When our group visited the Isthmus of Tehuantepéc we visited several groups working to preserve their ejidos in the face of privatization efforts by the government that I became very interested in working with (the community group in La Venta and UCIZONI). My academic director decided that working in La Venta was too dangerous as police forces maintain a large and often violent presence in the area..
How could I work from Oaxaca City on a topic that is largely related to the rural sector? I remembered that during our “Alternative Tour” with Oliver Froehling he had mentioned that ejido communities on the urban fringe have been encountering major problems and pressures in light of the city’s rapid urban expansion. Oliver Froehling became my advisor and, after a few conversations, I decided to focus my project on a case study of a community called Reyes Mantecón.
Reyes Mantecón is an ejido community of about 1,500 residents connected to Oaxaca City by a major highway. The community has been traditionally one based largely on small-scale agriculture, but much has changed and continues to change in the last 15 years. It is a community governed by the system of usos y costumbres and thus has two governing asambleas: one comprised of the community's ejidatarios which decides everything that has to do with land, and the other of all the citizens (called the Asamblea Municipal) which decides everything else. If I were forced to describe the community in one word, it would be “urbanizing.” Two years ago the government decided to move the entire judicial branch out of Oaxaca City. The official explanation is that the move will free up the city center from excess congestion, thus making it more tourist-friendly. But many will tell you that the real reason is to remove the government (each branch is being relocated to a different site) from the city center where it is vulnerable to highly-visible protests, like the APPO movement of 2006. The judicial branch will be moving to the Ciudad Judicial (“Judicial City”), currently being constructed in Reyes Mantecón. When the construction ends in 2010 and the offices begin running, it is estimated that at least 10,000 people will be coming and going from Reyes Mantecón every day. For an agricultural town of 1,500, that is a significant change.
One effect of this urbanization (there was also a housing development constructed on part of its property several years ago) is the disintegration of the ejido itself. In 1992, President Carlos Salinas de Gotari enacted the constitutional reforms of Article 27 which effectively ended the Agrarian Reform set in place after the Revolution of 1910 by ending the government's obligation to redistribute land and by terminating the mechanisms that had protected the ejido from the market. Ejido lands can now be parceled, owned by individuals, rented, and sold. In the face of poverty and pressures from developers, many ejidatarios are choosing to sell their lands to urban developers. My project is examining how this process works and how community members conceive of these changes.
Sarah Farr is PhD student in Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The views expressed in this blog and on this website are my own.