News Feature, Compiled and Translated by Peter Micek, Jan 24, 2005
A group of Mexican immigrants in San Diego is focusing on slowing down the
exodus to the
U.S. by reviving
the economy in their native
Their plan is to promote the export of home grown prickly pear cactus -- a
celebrated Mexican delicacy.
NCM, News Feature,
Compiled and Translated by Peter Micek,
SAN FRANCISCO - Jan
24, 2005 - The fleshy, desert-bred prickly pear cactus graces the signs of
restaurants and taco stands across California. More Mexican eateries carry
its Spanish name, "nopal", than the delicacy itself, which is mixed into
scrambled eggs, burritos and exotic desserts in Mexico. Herbal health
websites claim it fights diabetes and cholesterol. Culturally, the nopal
flies on Mexico’s flag, lives in its folklore, and peppers its slang.
She found the
freshly-cut cactus leaves in San Diego flea markets, said Norma de la Vega,
a reporter for the San Diego Spanish-language weekly, Enlace. De la Vega
reported recently on a group of Mexican immigrants in San Diego hoping to
import the cactus from their native Oaxaca to the United States.
“They are talking about an enormous investment,” de la Vega said in a
telephone interview about the Coalition of Indigenous Communities from
Oaxaca, or COCIO. The San Diego group hopes the plant will help energize the
economy back home by creating jobs in Oaxaca and in California. The group
met with an organization of Mexican women -- wives of men who have
immigrated to the United States -- interested in selling the nopales they
harvest in Oaxaca.
The Mexican government and various non-profits plan to invest in the
project, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. The group hopes to build
a factory, then bottle and sell the cactus leaves -- once the large spines
are taken out.
Made up of some 300 Oaxacan immigrants of the close to 25,000 that reside in
San Diego, the Coalition is one piece of a puzzle hoping to create an
industry around the cactus. The effort is part of a broader attempt to
promote Mexican tradition and perk up the country's export economy.
Founded in 1994 in San Diego, “when two or three Oaxacans met in a church
room,” the fledgling coalition began with the objective to spread its
traditions and create a fund for Oaxacans. They dreamed of creating
“productive projects in Mexico to end the eternal exodus to the United
States,” said de la Vega in Enlace.
After an effort to import flowers from Oaxaca failed because of inadequate
investment and low flower yields, the group sought other options. They
contacted a Mexico City non-profit foundation that eventually put them in
touch with the Oaxacan women harvesting nopales.
The most sustainable program the Coalition has backed is Guelaguetza, an
indigenous celebration in San Diego
County each summer. Some five
thousand people attended last year’s festival, de la Vega said, and most of
the thousands of dollars raised were sent to
Oaxaca. The money was used to repair
churches and schools, and to provide care for the elderly. The event also
contributed to a fund for crop cultivation.
These works differ from the usual remesas, or remittances, that
Mexicans in the United States send back to their native country, de la Vega
said. “[Remesas] are not productive,” de la Vega said. “They do not
create jobs.” Remittances to Mexico grew 25 percent last year, according to
Tex., Spanish-language newspaper, Diario la
Estrella, and exceeded $15 billion.
Whether the Coalition’s latest idea will create jobs is yet to be seen, de
la Vega said. What is certain, though, is that the group is ready to move in
a new direction.
When the Coalition was born in San Diego, many members believed they would
one day return to Oaxaca, founding member Algimiro Morales, 51, told Enlace.
Today, however, the group has “its roots firmly planted in this region,” de
la Vega said. And it wants to fight for the wellbeing of Oaxacans in
California, as well as Mexico.
Along with the plan to produce nopales, the Coalition is considering
becoming a non-profit group to open up new sources of funding. It recently
held a workshop on immigrant health with the non-profit California-Mexico
Health Initiative, according to Enlace.
There are hundreds of groups in Los Angeles with ties to their native
communities in Mexico, said de la Vega. “Generally, what they are doing is
getting political rights,” she said. “But organizations for economic
efforts,” like the San Diego group, “I have not seen.” The Coalition is the
only one made up of Oaxacan natives in San Diego
For the first time, the group elected a woman as coordinator. Alejandra
Ricardez knows her Coalition’s members are no longer “immigrants,” de la
Vega said. “We say that we are going to return to
Oaxaca, but the truth is that we are not
going to do it, so we have to fight here,” said Ricardez in de la Vega’s
article. The fight in San Diego will now involve a partnership back home,
where the wives of men who have gone north hope to generate income of their