North to Colorado: Cuidad Cuauhtémoc
Editor’s note: Mexico correspondent Alexis Charbonnier visited some of the cities and towns of Mexico with heavy migration to Colorado. The following accounts were gleaned from Mexicans who emigrate north, as well as those who remain behind.Cuidad CuauhtémocThe real Wild West must have looked something like Ciudad Cuauhtémoc – but with a twist.Banks exchange Canadian dollars. Mennonites prowl the streets in run-down minivans with Alberta license plates, norteña music blasting. Tarahumara Indians they call themselves Raramuri – from the surrounding mountains cower in storefronts, begging, selling gum or sewing. Boot and hat shops line the streets, at least 30 of them in the downtown area alone. Chihuahua and Colorado license plates mingle in a pickup fashion show.
Ciudad Cuauhtémoc is Mexico’s coldest significantly populated city, and nearby Madera gets down into the low teens regularly. Dozens of people die of cold every winter in the state of Chihuahua; it’s as cold as Colorado, but they can’t afford central heating.From this God-forsaken town, El Paisano buses run daily to Colorado for $75. Top destinations are Denver and Greeley. The company has been running the Colorado route for eight years.”We get more and more customers every day. In season, buses exceed capacity,” said ticket seller Marisela Rodriguez Valenzuela, 34, as sister Erica, 27, agrees.The women say migrants from the area now live in places like Vail, Edwards and Aspen.”We don’t go to the (Rocky) mountains, but we know there’s a lot of business there,” Marisela said, adding that nobody goes north by choice.
“People emigrate to improve their way of life,” she said. “Here, they pick up garbage, they’re barefoot, they barter for food. People are very poor here. Whatever’s fallen apart in the U.S. ends up here.”José Manuel Flores, 65, is the ticket office manager for both Ciudad Cuauhtémoc and Chihuahua. He said the bus line sells nearly all Denver and Kansas tickets, with a 3-to-1 ratio. He knows his riders’ specific destinations.”People from here take care of horses in Castle Rock,” he said. “They’re farmhands, they’re good at making horses jump and run.”Diana Soto, 16, a boot shop clerk and transplant from Dallas, is typical of Mexicans who grow up on both sides of the border, following parents as they migrate back and forth. Soto was born in Ciudad Juárez, but lived in Dallas for 14 years. She missed finishing high school when family in Ciudad Cuauhtémoc brought her back to Mexico a year-and-a-half ago. She compares life in the U.S. with that in Ciudad Cuauhtémoc.”The clock’s always running up there, Soto said. “It’s very intense. Here, you don’t walk around with a weight on your shoulders. Cars cruise around with music on, there are plenty of young people, cute guys and girls, there’s more freedom. It’s ‘más suave’ here. The way I am right now, no, I don’t plan to emigrate.”
Soto, who’d like to be a reporter or photographer, has a vantage point on migrants’ return home.”They come in December. The town’s full, there’s a lot of partying, activity and dancing. They work in Denver and in Aspen, mainly in restaurants.”Apple orchards are the main industry, but salaries are too low to keep locals from emigrating, Soto said.”People here make $50 a week. In a day there, you make a week’s pay here. Most people make money there, then they open a shop, build a house or bring a truck back.”