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“Salt of the Earth” at 60

31 March 2014

What I think is probably the first “Chicano” film, certainly the first with dialog in English, Spanish AND Spanglish, a Hollywood classic almost no one know about, premiered 60 years ago.. and quickly faded from view.  It was banned for over ten years in the United States, and I first saw it on Mexican television (on May Day, shown on May Day, of course).


Made during the height of the McCarthy era, the story of a strike at the Empire Zinc Mine in Grant County New Mexico, the story of the making of Salt of the Earth is almost as interesting as the film itself … being a collaboration between the Mine Workers’ Union, the Wicked Queen from Disney’s Snow White, Grampa Walton, and… in the role of the heavy, the FBI and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees — which … fearing they’d be “contaminated” by their cooperation with a “Communist” film would get them blacklisted.  (I wrote more about “Salt of the Earth”… and some personal matters, back in August 2007).

Although the strikers are “radical” in the 1950s film, their demands today don’t seem all that unreasonable:

Empire Zinc mine had one of the smallest work forces, and its workforce was almost entirely Mexican American, according to retired miner and local historian Terry Humble.  Wages there were 15 cents an hour lower than at the other mines, there was no paid lunch, no paid vacation, and workers did not get the same “collar to collar pay.” Workers in the other mines got paid from the time they arrived to work at the mine “collar.” At Empire Zinc, you didn’t get paid for lunch even though you spent that half hour underground in the mine. Safety conditions also suffered. And there was neither equality nor dignity when it came to company housing for the Chicano workers’ families. Unlike the homes of the Anglo miners, those of the Chicanos had neither indoor plumbing nor hot water.

Which isn’t to say that “communist” fears were unfounded.  As if having a strike leader (“Ramon Quintano”) played by the real strike leader, Juan Chacón… who was a communist party leader in subsequent years.  Or casting left-wing Mexican actress Roasario Revueltas as the real-life Virginia Chacón (called “Esperanza Quintero” in the film),

What was radical was that Esperanza transforms herself  from a meek housewife to a “Women of Steel”… an equal of the miners, and of the Anglos… anticipating a much more radical social change  in terms of racial and sexual equality  than any union contract could have brought about.  Perhaps, then, it was only right that Revueltas was deported during the production, for fears she might “contaminate” the fairness in the mines might have brought about.

No longer seen as radical, those who helped celebrate the anniversary included the descendants of those that back in 1954 went out of their way to stop Salt of the Earth… and that the best coverage comes from the descendant of the old Communist Party newspaper, Daily Worker, the on-line  People’s World:

It wasn’t coincidental that the impetus for the 60th anniversary celebration came from the union that now represents the Sheriff’s Department employees, according to American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees Council 18 Communications Director Miles Conway. The union members, upon learning of the dastardly role played by deputies during the strike, were eager to put themselves on the better side of history, Conway explained.

International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, IATSE, the union representing movie projectionists, also wholeheartedly pitched in. They wanted to atone, said their president Jon Hendry, for the role that union played, succumbing to anti-communism, in suppressing the film. Hendry, who is also head of the New Mexico AFL-CIO,  recalled how the FBI successfully pressured the union to order its members to refuse to screen the movie.

The 90 minute (more or less) Salt of the Earth on youtube here:

Free trade? HAH!

30 March 2014

I couldn’t have said this better myself, so I’ll let “Yucalandia” — writing on the forum (in response to a whiny post about sugar “dumping” in the U.S. by Mexican sugar producers):


Lots of submerged-hidden aspects to America’s rhetoric on the benefits of “Free Trade” and “Free Market” economies:



~ Since 1993, US taxpayers have paid an average of $4 billion a year in tax-$$ subsidies to dump corn onto the Mexican market at artificially low prices, far below production costs. This corporate welfare of over $80 billion taxpayer giveaways to big US agribusiness corporations has bankrupted over 1.5 million Mexican family farms – collapsing local rural economies across Mexico – driving over 10 million Mexicans out of rural areas…. Most of these former rural Mexicans became illegal aliens seeking work in the USA, and others moved into the drug trade.

US “Free Marketeers” using NAFTA-mandated forced-dumping of artificially low-priced corn onto Mexico, have created an estimated 7 million illegal aliens – moving to the USA – as economic refugees created by US taxpayer $$.

When the major root cause of illegal immigration is over $100 billion of US taxpayer subsidies paid to ruin millions of Mexican corn farmers, should the USA focus on building bigger border fences? , or …. should the USA stop bankrupting the Treasury with over $150 billion a year for decades, paid to dump US big agribusiness products onto supposedly “free markets”?

~ US “Free Marketeers” colluding with (inherently-corrupt) Washington politicians have similarly paid US farmers over $3 billion in taxpayer $$ every year to big cotton agribusiness corporations to dump artificially cheap cotton onto world markets at prices below production costs – ruining decades of cotton sales for Indian and African farmers.

Cotton subsidies rack-up another $60 billion of US taxpayer $$ over just 20 years, purposefully ruining rural farm families and farm communities in Africa and India. Over 120,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide after losing their families lands due to Monsanto’s & the US Govt’s predatory practices.

~ Irony? US “Free Trade” advocates and supposed “Free Marketeers”, under the aegis of the “American Sugar Alliance” now ironically accuse Mexican exporters of dumping cheaper Mexican sugar onto the U.S. market. The “American Sugar Alliance” claims Mexican sugar imports could cost U.S. sugar producers nearly $1 billion in net income in the 2013-14 crop year.

Which is better: US government using its power to legally force unfair unbalanced trade onto its poor trade partners – using over $150 billion in US taxpayer $$ to dump artificially cheap ag products onto Mexico, Africa, Brazil, & India – wrecking 10′s of millions of poor family farms? or Mexicans selling their lower-production cost sugar on US markets?

– American Sugar producers use “Free Market” ideology to complain, as the US government spends another $60 million in taxpayer $$ to artificially inflate sugar prices.

Why have the US “deficit hawks” and “Free Traders” (Tea Partiers & Conservative Republicans) stayed silent on these issues?

If we look at simple $$ statistics – as a geography exercise, (nothing political), the data show:
USA – biggest trade bully in the world….
USA – biggest protectionist trader in the world….
USA – loudest advocate for “Free Trade” and “Free and Open Markets” … ( => biggest hypocrites?)

~ USA ! ~ USA ! ~ USA ! ~

(Not so) Barbarous Mexico

29 March 2014

Via AP:

MEXICO CITY — Mexico’s lower house of Congress has approved a bill that allows for prison terms for fans who engage in violent acts at sporting events.

Lawmakers approved the bill Thursday that calls for sentences ranging from three days to four years for those who enter stadiums without authorization, throw objects that put lives at risk or engage in physical violence.


Not our cup of atole, chaps.

I haven’t heard such worries about soccer violence since, oh… a kid set off a bottle rocket a few years back.  TV news was dominated by  the incident which sparked this bill… a bunch of hooligans (“Mexicanized” by the talking heads “ooliganos” engaged in “ooliganismo”) waling away on a couple of cops. The idiots were filmed beating and jumping on the policemen, were identified, and have been detained.

But… as the TV announcers (both during the sports and news segments) all commented, we’re a civilized country… not like… oh… the British.  Or, rather, don’t want to get the bad rap they did.

¡Ai, Chihuahua!

29 March 2014

Mexicans not only dance in the streets, they do it in shopping malls, too.

Bolero in Toluca…

29 March 2014

Probably nowhere the music and setting go together better:

Bottles and stars

29 March 2014

Texan Jesus Chairez, who has been living on and off in Mexico City (and noting — with good humor — the differences between Mexican-American and Mexican), posted this photo on his Facebook page:


His question — “Can anyone tell me what this Brujeria [witchcraft] is for??? To ward off what evil?” — was one several of us could answer. The “evil” supposedly warded off by pop bottles full of water  is dogs peeing on your plants (or, here, on your wall).

Of course, it’s “brujería” — sympathetic magic to be precise — and completely irrational to assume water bottles keep dogs from peeing… and most commentators said as much.

But a much more interesting comment was this one:

Well i live in mexico and i never see nothing like this but i have a feeling thats a cheap cleaning product and the person is just lazy to collect money or he is in a weelchair may not be right who knows.

It’s interesting not because the commentator tries to offer a reasonable explanation for what’s in the photo, but because he’s unfamiliar with the custom.

And therein is today’s lesson for us writers (and ‘spainers and wannabe pundits) of Mexicana. I’ve been immersed in Mexican studies for most of the last 15 years; have an extensive library of Mexican studies; have written three books on Mexico and contributed to a few others, as well as written on Mexican culture for several years; and am considered knowledgeable on such matters, even by those with much more academic training than myself.

But, although I have been throughout the country (everywhere except the Baja), I have only really lived in a few places: Mexico City being one of them. The comments about not being familiar with bottle-magic made me realize that I’d never seen this in Monterrey or Mazatlán.

I’ve sometimes criticized my fellow foreigners for assuming the opposite: that something unremarkable in most of the world, but not done in the U.S. or Canada, is “unique”. One of my favorite examples is found in the stained glass windows of our local cathedral. Not a particularly venerable or imposing example of ecclesiastical architecture (Mazatlán has only been a Diocese since 1958, and the last quarter of the 19th century parish church was expanded… with cinderblock walls), I guess it seems “old” if you come from Saskatoon or Altoona, and there are some nice stained glass windows… with six-pointed stars at the top.

Ask any child who lives somewhere between Tierra del Fuego and the Rio Grande to draw a star and she’ll draw two equilateral triangles, one with the point at the top, one with the point at the bottom. North of the Rio Grande, you’re more likely to get a five-pointed star. Unless, of course, the kid is attending Yeshiva. So…

… I’ve heard some silly “only in Mazatlán” stories (even from tourist guides) with usually some variation on a theme: Jews. The usual variation is something along the lines of Jews paid for the Cathedral windows for some reason.

With the water bottle magic, I could be falling into this error myself: assuming that because I’m only familiar with it from one place, it’s unique to that place.

Or perhaps not. Perhaps the Mexican commentator — a guy in his early 20s — just hasn’t run across it outside what might be a narrow frame of reference — his own community, his own region. It’s easy to make that mistake too. Although Mazatlán is a seaport on the Pacific coast, not known for leather-work, nor are we anywhere near any Mayan cultural centers, but Mexico is known for leather-work… and Mayans. So… of course we have businesses specializing in leather-work… and “Mayan” crafts. One can’t complain about giving the tourists what they want, nor about any possible misconceptions they might leave with, but it’s like selling maple syrup in Arizona, or Navaho jewelry in Boston. Or Tlingat masks in Montreál, or French-Canadian hooked rugs in Vancouver. You very well might, but would you find Navaho traditions in Boston, and — while there may very well be French-Canadians in Vancouver (and maybe even hooking rungs), would you necessarily be aware of their folk customs?

We all tend to forget that all the north American nations are huge geographical masses, with a multi-cultural population. Even in a homogenized society, like the U.S. and Canada, we expect some folk customs to survive, often things we don’t think about. That Mexico was, and is, both less homogenized than its northern neighbors, and at the same ime, more “international” than “exceptional” is something of a conundrum.

I enjoy the privilege of the outsider in noticing the oddities of my neighbors, but whether it is just my own frame of reference as one who grew up with “American exceptionalism” or a genuine artifact of the Many Mexicos which coexist on all levels is one of those questions I intend to keep asking, and have no expectation of every fully answering.

Here comes the sun…

28 March 2014

Via Fox News Latino:

  • solar panel.jpg

Latin America’s largest solar power plant, a facility with 39 MW of generating capacity, has gone online in the northwestern Mexican state of Baja California Sur.

The Aura Solar I photovoltaic power plant was inaugurated by Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto on Wednesday and will supply electricity to the city of La Paz.

The energy industry reforms implemented last December will help lead to “more energy generation, cleaner energy and, above all, cheaper energy to help make Mexico a more competitive country,” Peña Nieto said.

The goal is to turn Mexico into “a country that attracts greater investment for the development and creation of jobs,” the president said.

Some 25 percent of Mexico’s electricity is currently generated using clean energy sources


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