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Looking up in Palomas

Manufacturing work brings hope to Mexican town


It’s hard to believe such good news is coming out of Palomas after seven years of violence and unemployment.

The story is that hunger is being beaten back in dramatic ways. The causes are a couple of new govern-ment social programs introduced in the past year, an increase in scholarships, and – most important – a Taiwanese Foxconn maquiladora (manufacturing operation in a free trade zone) just south of Santa Teresa that’s been courting hundreds of workers from Palomas and the surrounding area. They’ve made hunger virtually a thing of the past. Las Palomas Mayor Talaco Sanchez said, in April, the Foxconn people “made an appointment with me to meet with them in Juarez. They asked me if I would like Palomas residents to work in their plant in San Jeronimo (Mexico). I said, ‘Of course.’”

Work started in late May. A food-stamp program associated with President Enrique Peña Nieto called SinHambre (without hunger) has been in operation in Palomas since last June. Although, in United States terms very little money is distributed to each person, the program has cancelled hunger for most people in Palomas.

The number of clients at the SinHambre lunch kitchen has recently dropped from 120 to 50, according to manager Brenda Rodriguez, because there are so many people working in San Jeronimo. She worries it may close soon.

A young woman named Norma Casilla has been working for just a week at the Foxconn plant, west of Juarez, assembling computers. A bus picks her up at 4:30 in the dark morning hours to take her to work and brings her back at 6:30 p.m. It’s a two-hour ride each way.

She started getting the SinHambre food-stamps card almost a year ago, as a single mother of two. Before that, she had earned $20 to $30 a week by selling bread, burritos or sweets in the streets.

I told her I always hear Mexicans say, “Adults can bear hunger, but children can’t bear it.”

Norma leaned her head forward and said sometimes her children have cried all day from hunger. She seemed to be holding back tears. But now she’s getting $57 a week from work.

“Tomorrow I’m going to get my check,” she said. I asked her what she’d get with it. “Shoes for my children,” she said with determination.

“They don’t have shoes?” I asked.

“No,” she said.

A woman who works with Casilla, Agustina Monrreal, dropped by. She is a widow with an 11year- old dsabled son. Before gettingthe SinHambre card, Monrreal cleaned houses for $10 a day, for an average of $20 a week. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard of anyone getting by on so little money. We sit quietly for a few seconds. What she earns at Foxconn isn’t much, she knows, but gracias a Dios, they’re not hungry now. Angelica Del Val acquired the DICONSA store in June 2014. It’s a cramped mom-andpop type store with dim lights. This is where people with the SinHambre card need to go to buy food. Del Val is a cheerful woman with a tiny grandson she takes care of often. She showed me her records and said about 240 people in Palomas get the card and in the “colonias” – Col. Victoria, Seis de Enero, and Col. Modelo – 60 people get it. She knows many people from these little towns a half- hour south of Palomas have no cars and need to get a ride to her store.

Each family gets P1,116 ($80) every two months, and each child under nine gets P240 ($17).

One section of the store is where card-holders buy the 15 products that are delivered twice a week from Juarez – basic, nutritious things like beans, rice, eggs, sardines and amaranth bars. There’s no fresh milk, as it’s expensive – about $5. Instead, there are different kinds of powdered milk. There are no vegetables or fruit.

The other section of the store has items discounted by 25 percent that are available to everyone. I asked her why everyone doesn’t buy from her store and she said she doesn’t know. But she’s heard there are people who are forming a group to do exactly that. This part of the store has things like soap, shampoo, soda, canned fruit and cookies.

Pat Noble, who runs Casa de Amor Para Niños, an orphanage in Palomas, with her husband Jim, and has been distributing food to people in town for about 15 years.

“When we give out food, we give it to the pastors of churches, and they’re the ones that are telling us, ‘We don’t need it anymore because they’re getting it from the Mayor’s office,’” Noble said.

Her husband, Jim Noble, said their own program, called Alas de Amor, has been giving out scholarships for six years. The first year they gave out 15 to the “prepa,” or high school, and in 2014 they gave 37.

One problem he sees is that, “The job market hasn’t caught up. They’ve got a degree, but there may be no jobs for them.”

Saray Mireles is young and energetic. She started work at Foxconn the week before. Her two-year-old son, Eden, and his cousin were playing under the kitchen table with a yellow chick when I arrived. Saray used to work at Mexican Customs as a guard. Working at Foxconn is definitely more beneficial to her than working customs.

She said workers at Foxconn, mostly from Juarez, started walking off the job until the plant began to increase their salaries. After one month, they’ll give workers a raise, then again after two months and after three months. The cycle would start again after six months.

A Jan. 16 article in openDemocracy records complaints from Foxconn workers in Juarez. There are reports of “relentless monitoring by supervisors and team leaders.” But Saray said her supervisors “let them work at their own pace,” and that they offer chairs to elderly workers.

A Juarez worker is quoted in openDemocracy saying, “They always give you a hard time if you don’t stay late and work overtime,” up to 14 or 15 hours. But Saray said she works from 6:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and has an hour for lunch and two breaks.

Because she has a high school degree from Palo- mas, someone at the plant told her, “If you work hard, you’ll have an opportunity to advance in your work.” She’s full of optimism.

There are high hopes that Foxconn will eventually bring a plant to Palomas. For many years people in town have been talking about plans to develop San Jeronimo and build a road to Palomas. Maquiladoras have been envisioned on the empty lots on the east side of town.

The steps that are being taken now may be part of that dream materializing.

 



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