There is no work here, they say. This is the refrain in San Martin Peras. The old men say it. So do the young men with families and the women. I ask if they have been to the United States. It is hard to find anyone who hasn’t.
The talk turns to California cities; yes, they say, we used to live in Watsonville. Some say Salinas. Others say Oxnard. In fact, San Martin Peras is a kind of ground zero for migration; last year the municipality produced the largest number of migrants in the state of Oaxaca.
People here tell stories of sleeping in water storage tanks and crawling like snakes past border checkpoints to arrive in the United States. In La Escopeta, a town about an hour’s drive from San Martin Peras, I visit the home of Guadalupe Bernardino Perea Salazar, who is weaving strands of plastic together to make little birds in shades of red and white. Guadalupe is just visiting; he lives half the year in Ciudad Juarez. He will sell these birds later to gringos who come to Cuidad Juarez looking for a quick slice of Mexico.
His son, Marcelino, tells me he picked blackberries for two months in California. He doesn’t plan to go back. Now he complains that the government doesn’t do enough to help create jobs at home. That would keep people here, he says.
“The government doesn’t care about the migrants,” Marcelino says. He motions toward an adobe house where light filters through quarter-size holes in the roof. “My mother wants you to take pictures of her house so the government will help us.”
Genaro Perea Gonzalez, the mayor of San Martin Peras, points out that migration is nothing new in this part of Oaxaca. For years, people have gone to work in the fields of Ensenada or Sinaloa. In the last 20 years, they ventured further north. Genaro estimates that about 70 percent of the migrants that go the U.S. return to San Martin Peras, 20 percent stay in the U.S. Only ten percent never leave, he says.
“We have always gone to other places to look for work,” he says. “What we have here is corn and beans. We just have enough to survive.”