North to Colorado: Sombrerete |

North to Colorado: Sombrerete

Former Greeley onion picker Sergio Rodriguez Amaro literally farms with 40 acres and a mule, without machinery or irrigation. The father of nine was recently diagnosed with skin cancer. (Alexis Charbonnier)

Editor’s note: Alexis Charbonnier visited some of the cities and towns of Mexico with heavy migration to Colorado. The following accounts were gleaned from Mexicans who emigrate north, as well as those who remain behind.

Heading northwest to Sombrerete, the slowly setting sun oversees a landscape of gentle hills, shade trees, green fields and occasional villages. On the radio dial, XEMA encourages listeners to dial 690. If the foghorn sounds, you’ve won a free, unlimited phone call to your family in the U.S.Around the main plaza, a quick survey of pay phone booths reveals the most frequently dialed area codes are 720, 303 and 970. Indeed, Sombrerete residents are migrating en masse to Denver, along with residents of San Juan de la Tapia, Mesillas, Estancia La Parada, Gualterio and Chalchihuites, all villages in the foothills south of town.At one of those phone booths, located inside a pharmacy, María Cristina Sánchez Hernández is a jack of all trades: a telephone operator, homemaker, organ player and saleswoman, now she wants to get into real estate. One of 15 children, she’s lived in Sombrerete all her 55 years. Although there’s livestock in the area, Sánchez said the good jobs in Sombrerete are in the silver, gold, iron and copper mines. Plata Panamericana has 1,600 employees, Industria Minera Mexicana, 1,800, and Sabinas has another 1,800 workers. If you don’t get a job in one of the mines, you leave for the U.S. or starve, since local farm work is so poorly paid. Even good students have few job prospects.”We have a technical college and high school here, and 400 to 500 students graduate from college every year, but there are no jobs,” she said. “For as long as I can remember, there’s been emigration to the U.S. Families are big here, and eight out of every 10 children are up north. People live with the money sent home. If people didn’t emigrate, they’d never get out of this.”

Some workers send home about $750 a month, but the average is around $275 – just enough to keep a family fed.Along with the influx of dollars, immigration has distorted family values in Sombrerete, Sánchez said.”There’s an epidemic of single mothers,” she said. “Men look for inexperienced young women, and there’s lots of machismo. We’re in lack of real men. Young men come home at Christmas with new clothes and a borrowed pickup. They’re not looking for true love.”Sergio Rodriguez Amaro grows corn and beans in Ermita de Guadalupe, 11 miles outside Sombrerete by dirt road. There’s no public transportation or drinking water, and electricity is provided by solar panels. The nearest well is a mile and a half away. “There are 30 houses in Ermita, but only 20 families still live there,” said Amaro, 39. Vasco de Quiroga is one of many abandoned hamlets nearby, as people flee the barren land.Rodriguez bought three “ejido rights,” which means he does not permanently own the land he farms. He plants only 40 acres, the only good land he has, grossing just $1,300 a year.

“I don’t see any future in agriculture,” he said.Rodriguez has nine children, ages 5 to 20. He has a third-grade education, and only one of his children finished junior high; most of them stop to work in the fields.To keep his growing family from starving, Rodriguez swam across from Tijuana and waded across the Rio Grande to jobs in Dallas. He also spent six months in Greeley picking onions with friends from nearby Saín Alto. “Entire families leave Saín Alto for Colorado,” Rodriguez said. “There are 500 communities in the Sombrerete area, and they all have families in the U.S.”In Greeley, Rodriguez made 50 cents a half-sack of onions, working 10-12 hour days. He also picked lettuce and potatoes, all illegally.”I worked without any papers. They never asked for any,” Rodriguez said.

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