Magali was one of the first people I met when we moved to La Tigra, Felipe’s home town. The reason being, she was brave enough to come and introduce herself to me. She was nine.
I was painting the outside of a building; she walked up and asked if she could help. I said yes. I was charmed. She told me here name was Magali, her age and the vicinity of her house. I thought, oh no, I‘m stuck with a talkative kid for the afternoon. I have no children and I’m not generally interested in them, or anyone that is very talkative, but she quietly worked for the entire afternoon, speaking only when she had a question about what to do next. I was really charmed.
I asked my sister -in- law if I should offer to pay her, she said,
“No, just buy her a coke.”
Which I did, and a candy bar. Maga came to visit me occasionally while we were living in town with Felipe’s sister, waiting for our house to be built. She would ask what I was doing, and help if there was something to be done.
I have watched her grow for six years now, she and all of the young people that were children when I arrived. It’s the first time I have had much opportunity for involvement in the lives of young people. It is both fascinating and heartbreaking; fascinating to watch their transformations from gawky to gorgeous, cracking voiced and broken-out teenagers maturing into parents, voters and farmers. It is heartbreaking, because rural Mexico doesn’t have much to offer young people, especially girls.
There is no high school in town- in order to continue their education past the ninth grade they must go to a larger community. Since there is no bus system this usually requires living away from home during the school year- a situation many parents are unwilling to allow with thier 15 year-old girls. Also, high school is not free. There is no tuition but, all textbooks and equipment must be paid for by the family, and so few kids from La Tigra have more than a ninth-grade education. Since I have lived here no one has graduated from high school. At this time, there is one boy in high school. He commutes, riding his mule over an hour a day to the nearest high school.
Felipe is one of the few people from La Tigra that have a high school diploma. He left home at 11 to continue his education. His mother paid for his books by selling firewood, and he paid for his room and board working in the bakery the family he lived with owned. Felipe says the people were kind, but the accommodations were horrible, filthy, and bug and rat infested. He kept this from his mother; he didn’t want to worry her. He was taunted in school because he was from the campo (rural community), they made fun of his country accent and customs. It requires a lot of perseverance for both parent and child to make it through high school if you are from La Tigra.
For the most part, 15 year-old girls move in with a man shortly after graduation, and start having children. I did not say marry. Generally they will not marry until the man can make enough money to pay for a wedding. This is how the move often occurs.
The girl is ‘stolen’ by the boy who takes her to live in his family’s home. The girl is then disowned by her parents for being so brazen and/or because the boy isn’t considered good enough for their daughter. The boy’s family then appoints an intermediary to go to the girl’s parents with gifts, in hopes of persuading them that their son is a good match for their daughter. Depending on whether or not they agree, and the nature of the gifts they will bless the pair, or they will continue to publically shun her for whatever is considered an appropriate period of time–if your daughter is a tramp who ran off with the worst boy in town.
Maga graduated this year and she asked me to be her Madrina (her witness), at her graduation. This of course entails bringing gifts. I have been gifting Magali on all her special occasions since the day she picked up a paintbrush.
The school events in small town Mexico are lovely. They begin with a vehement oration given by the underclass as a send-off—exhorting the graduates to make something of their lives and honor their education and their nation. But the bulk of the event is intricately choreographed dances. I am astounded at what the teachers are able to get these kids to learn, and perform for the community. I am especially entertained by the teenage boys who willingly wear goofy costumes and perform a variety of traditional and modern dance steps, some of which require a lot of rhythm (which many do not have), and shaking their groove thing, which they do enthusiastically.
Magali’s graduation played out in true Mexican fashion. The event started an hour-and-a-half late, which no one but me and the one other Madrina that arrived on time seemed to notice, and was cause for spontaneity, patience and ingenuity—my favorite attributes necessary for living in Mexico. The electricity went off three times. The first failure required two girls in the middle of a presentation to stop, go to center stage, begin again and belt out what was previously an amplified performance. For the second breakdown, we were asked to wait patiently until the music came back on so the kids could finish their dance, which we did for about 20 minutes, until it returned. The third time, they gave up on the electricity, backed a car onto the dance floor, and used its stereo to finish the show.
As I stood up for Maga I was proud of her, but saddened by my hope that life would offer her a few alternatives to teenage pregnancy and being a barely-educated housewife. It’s not a judgment. I simply wish that a child with so much curiosity and motivation had an opportunity to try something else if she cared to. The only other ‘decent’ options for girls from La Tigra is working as maid which pays 450 pesos ($33.50) a week for more than 60 hours of work, plus room and board–which often involves some sort of abuse of power, or crossing the border. Though thankfully, none of the girls have chosen that route since I have been here.
I believe it is most likely that the next photo of Magali and me will be taken at her wedding, or her first baby shower.
Felicidades Magali, may you never lose your curiosity, or your confidence.