The indigenous migration from Oaxaca to Chihuahua 

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Tuxtepec.— One morning in January 2017, Trinidad left the Siglo XXI neighborhood with fear between his teeth. Before taking the bus to Ciudad Juárez from Tuxtepec, he closed his small grocery store and his wife had to flee his home in the Papaloapan Basin region. 

Trinidad had been thinking for years that he would reach 60 years of age and had no money to retire. He thought of Ciudad Juárez as an inhospitable land, full of factories and gigantic towers. He didn’t know anything about the desert, he had heard of drug cartels with famous names fighting those northern lands. A ghost that he believed was far from his community but arrived at his door in 2016, when local criminal groups asked him to pay a flat for six months as a condition for not burning down his business. 

Trinidad arrived at the Siglo XXI neighborhood in 1994, when things were very different. His family was one of the founders of a 28-hectare settlement where today around 4,000 people live in poverty. He left San Felipe Jalapa de Díaz, a Chinanteco municipality located 61 kilometers in the high mountains, to invade the banks of the Papaloapan River, until they were relocated in this colony. 

Poverty, marginalization, lack of opportunities and violence have caused a particular social phenomenon: the arrival of inhabitants of the original towns of Oaxaca who migrate to the north of Mexico has outnumbered the native indigenous people. In Ciudad Juárez, for example, Chinantecos and Mixtecos already exceed three times the number of indigenous natives from Chihuahua settled in this border city, according to official data. 

Despite the high rates of violence and although the urban development of Ciudad Juárez is not optimal, since of its 966 neighborhoods, 403 are unpaved, between 97.6% and 99.3% of the houses do have services such as drainage, piped water and electricity, according to the 2020 Population Census of the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (Inegi), which contrasts with the sociodemographic conditions of the indigenous communities in Oaxaca, the main expellers of migrants. 

According to the report Así estamos en Juárez 2021, by the civil association Plan Estratégico de Juárez, Oaxacans migrate mainly to work in 330 manufacturing, maquiladora and export service industries, which employ 269,955 people in operational jobs. According to this civil organization, the majority of migrants are concentrated in colonies such as Anapra and Tarahumara, located between hills near the border, from where they can see the buildings of El Paso, Texas. 

“My fear was that they would kill my wife, they left me messages at the door. Many of us in the neighborhood had a big problem, that’s why we closed the store, it was already affecting my health. I told my wife to go to the ranch and I left for the north, the little she earned was to eat, there was no way she would give it to those bastards,” he recounts. 

Trinidad now works in a maquila in Ciudad Juárez. In addition to the insecurity of his municipality of origin, he says that he went to Chihuahua because his health is serious and in the maquilas they hire older people, up to 65 years of age. In addition, they are given Social Security, a benefit that he never had when he lived in the north of Oaxaca and that is vital for him at this time when he needs medical follow-up. 

“I am 53 years old and I am not in Ciudad Juárez by choice. I use my salary for the basics, rent, water, electricity, just like me there are many from my neighborhood who left because there is no work in Tuxtepec and many bad people have arrived in recent years,” he says. 

Chihuahua is a border state where the existence of native inhabitants of original towns is not new and the ones with the greatest presence in this desert territory are the Rarámuris and the Odami or Tepehuano. In total, according to figures from the state Secretariat for Indigenous Peoples and Communities, there are 56 indigenous peoples present in the entity, including those of Oaxacan origin such as the Mixtec, who prefer to call themselves ñu’u savi, which ranks third, and Chinanteco, which is in seventh position. 

The panorama is different in Ciudad Juárez, an urban center where more than 20,000 indigenous people are present, but where the people are registered in first position the Chinanteco people with 4 thousand 400 people; Nahuatl follows with 2,414; the Mixtec, with 1,557, and the Rarámuri, with 1,445. There is no recorded presence of other indigenous peoples of Chihuahua on this border, such as Pimas, Tepehuanes, or Warojíos. 

The fact that the presence of Oaxacan indigenous people in Juárez has surpassed that of the natives is explained by the fact that when they migrate to the northern border, they regularly do not intend to cross into the United States, but to reach this city populated by maquiladoras, which they consider as “a land of opportunities”, but above all, it allows them and makes it easier for them to return to their communities of origin to comply with the tasks and obligations of their Indigenous Normative Systems. 

According to Ana Margarita Alvarado Juárez, a specialist in the dynamics and effects of human mobility, and a doctor at the Sociological Research Institute of the Benito Juárez Autonomous University of Oaxaca (IISUABJO), Oaxacans specifically migrate to Juárez due to “the existence of high rates of marginalization and poverty; the presence of rural activity with a significant deterioration, the lack of well-paid jobs, coupled with the illiteracy of the population and the social and family networks that drive population movements”. 

The representative of the Secretary of Indigenous Peoples and Communities of the state government (formerly Coepi), Fernando Mota Allen, adds that those who arrive at this border do so thanks to the support of relatives who already live in Ciudad Juárez and in search of job opportunities.  

Trinidad is a distrustful man who does not know that he is part of the thousands of Chinantecs who have suffered internal forced displacement for years due to poverty and violence in a Oaxacan municipality like Tuxtepec, which between 2017 and 2019 was considered one of the 50 most violent in the country and the most violent in Oaxaca, with an average of 500 murders on public roads per year, according to data from the Executive Secretariat of the National Public Security System. 

On the indigenous peoples who arrive from the south of the country, such as those from Oaxaca, and who live dispersed in Ciudad Juárez with different forms of organization, José de Jesús Vargas Campos, who has accompanied the Rarámuri people for 25 years and was a representative of the State Commission for Indigenous Peoples (Coepi), explains that on this border the indigenous peoples respect each other and although there has not been much friendship between the Rarámuri community and the peoples of Oaxaca, they have begun to organize for at least seven years. 

 Source: El Universal