As the bus approaches Yayusa, huegoe trees and ocote pines permit a glimpse of tiled roofs. Sparrows and wrens flit through waist-high roadside growth. Beyond what seems to be an arroyo, small rectangular plots of corn intrude into the forest that rises steeply above them.
The road itself road is rocky, rutted; at intervals, the bus swerves past gravel-filled potholes. A lean brown dog sidles to the shoulder to stare as we pass. The only vehicles visible as we bump past a cinderblock structure with tiny windows and an entranceway paved with odd-sized flat stones are a dusty pickup whose front left axle is propped on a wooden box and a Coca-Cola truck parked in front of a small store.
María de Lourdes and I swing our backpacks over our shoulders and she turns to thank the bus driver as we get off, a courtesy I seldom think about doing. She understands the Mixteca area of western Oaxaca; she was born and spent her early childhood in Huajuapan de León although she has a patina of city sophistication from living in the city of Oaxaca.
Despite its bucolic surroundings, Yayusa exudes abandonment. Not like a town in decay but a town without animation, without energy. “We get by,” a young mother barely out of her teens tells us. Then, to María de Lourdes question, “The future? It’s for the children. I don’t think about it.”
The young mother and her husband, also barely out of his teens, live in a one-room house he constructed. It has no windows but does have electricity and running water. The roof is of corrugated sheet metal; the chairs and table, straight-backed and utilitarian, were built by the husband’s cousin. Twice the husband left Yayusa to join his brothers in California. On his first attempt, he lost contact with the coyote that was going to take him across the border and while waiting for his return was robbed and had to return to Oaxaca. On the second his group was apprehended by the migra, migration police, and he was deported. Now with two young children he intends to stay in the Mixteca, “logrando pasar,” getting by, on the 250-350 pesos a week he earns in the milpas, cornfields, or doing odd jobs.
I realize as we talk to the young mother and others in Yayusa that I am a curiosity—not many gringos pass through Yayusa—but María de Lourdes inspires confidence. By Mixteca standards she is cosmopolitan and well-to-do; nevertheless, she is one of them, slight, with small sharp features and an infectious laugh. And a chameleon of sorts: for years she’s worked for a travel agency and adapts automatically to circumstances.
Although the day is sunny, a chill breeze lisps through the trees. Dissembling white clouds background the forested mountaintops. In the little store, with its nearly life-sized campaign poster of Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto, María de Lourdes and I buy beers and sit on a low wall to drink them. María de Lourdes greets passersby and those entering and leaving the store and we become the center of a small gathering.
Despite the visible poverty many of the mothers do not qualify for federal aid, which is arbitrary and politically putrified. The phrases “ni modo, never mind, we get by” and “it’s the way things are” are repeated. María de Lourdes interrupts to ask a favor. “We brought things to eat but nowhere to cook them.” Murmurs, giggles, offers of help. We unpack a kilo of tasajo, Oaxacan dried beef, and latas de chiles, cans of chili peppers.
The half-dozen or so vecinos, neighbors, increases to a dozen or more as flames flicker in a cast-iron, wood-burning stove. The tasajo, complimented with the chilis and some onions, begins to sizzle. María de Lourdes unpacks another kilo of tasajo that I didn’t know she’d brought. One of the young husbands brings mescal and several women mold masa, tortilla dough, into tortillas. There is laughter, complaints about government corruption, nostalgia. Nothing about the future.
In Yayusa there is no future. Tomorrow the tasajo will be gone. And Yayusa—and the Mixteca—will lograr pasar: get by.
Robert Joe Stout’s Hidden Dangers, Mexico on the Brink of Disaster is circulated by Amazon and Sunbury Press. His poetry, fiction and nonfiction have appeared Two-Thirds North, America, The American Scholar, Eclectica, Open Democracy, Existere, Slant and many other journals and magazines.