“It’s life that is hard: waking, sleeping, eating, loving and dying are easy.”   Marvin Bell

I moved to Mexico for the lawlessness . The first six years I lived here I saw a NO sign twice. Now they’re popping up like kudzu . So when Graco was elected (Felipe voted for him) and the Nuevo Vision implemented, I cringed. Because it looks to me like the new vision is to become a U.S. clone, even though most of this country’s citizens aren’t welcome there.

To be fair, the new vision’s focus is to eliminate government corruption. Our only experience with the initiative is that of a family member, arrested on his way to help a neighbor slaughter a pig for having a pistol lying in his front seat (no comment). Rather than the standard negotiation, a bribe to the arresting officer, he was jailed and advised by his lawyer to bribe the judge. A judge’s bribe is ten times that of a local cop. A new vision indeed!

Mr Graco’s program also includes enforcing revenue generating regulations like car insurance. Not say, public health programs (also revenue generating) like sewer systems.

I have a fundamental problem with the insurance concept. We buy insurance to protect ourselves, if we feel the need for protection the bedrock of this feeling is fear. And fear is the enemy. Not the adrenaline get out of the way of an oncoming bus fear; but the low grade buzz of anxiety that makes us inclined to insure everything from a parcel to our pets. It is the fear of loss, and the possibility of injustice.

If we aren’t willing to trust people to act responsibly we can’t expect to live in a healthy society. If we fear financial ruin and pay a company to protect us, we don’t believe in our own self-reliance. Though I realize having insurance is a near inescapable necessity of life in the U.S., which is one of the reasons I am willing to forgo triscuits and electricity to live here.

In our area, we’ve been introduced to Morelos’s Nuevo Anglo Vision with Roadblocks.
We are stopped on a remote intersection by state police, our cars and their contents searched by surly(perhaps due to their pay cut?) officers with rifles and are asked for proof of insurance. A driver’s license is requested but it’s not as important as insurance. I assume because the Nuevo Vision is more interested in installing the multi-billion peso insurance industry than driving expertise.


Blessedly, Mexico can still come to my rescue. Its wayward heart still thrums. The scene above occurred at the same corner that the day before we were harassed for the third time in a week, but this day we were waylaid by friends.

They’d set up a makeshift bar in their van. We stopped to drink a beer, filling our palms with semillas, spitting the shells on the stickyhot blacktop. Cows passed, plopping massive piles clomping, syncopated rhythms. We talked about La Tigra, Mexico, and Mezcal. There was spontaneous singing.

We had to move on and as we departed they invited us to a party. In Mexico, there is always a fiesta on the horizon. Much later we met again, and I sat in exposed bulb light gnawing chewy ears of feed corn prepared for people. The moths danced a shadow quadrille above us and I talked with my neighbors about women’s roles and why I live in La Tigra (an endlessly fascinating topic it seems).

Several of the people there had both wronged and helped us. Felipe had stood in debate with them and the Auydante, some things were settled amicably– others not. In La Tigra, rather than insurance, we rely on the Ayudante(mayor). If your neighbor transgresses you, you talk with them about it. If you’re not satisfied with the results the Auydante intervenes to restore accord…sometimes.

But that night we ate and drank together, we talked and laughed, because we’re neighbors. Today we celebrate; tomorrow we may quarrel, because we’re human.

Disasters will occur. Health is its own reality. Tragedy, loss and injustice are as fundamental as joy and satisfaction. We cannot protect ourselves from life. We cannot invest in fear and a lack of confidence in humanity (to the benefit of corporations and fear mongers) and ever hope to live in a world of peace and equality.

The quote is from the poem; Poem After Carlos Drummund De Andrade, by Marvin Bell.

Interested in what else I’m up to? Visit me at my Etsy Store and Face Book page Eloquent Remains.

© 2013 Abby Smith, Writer


I have failed more since living in Mexico than in the rest of my life put together. Good examples; are my struggling garden and abysmal Spanish. It is, however, making a living that is by far the hardest part. If you consider that we’ve lived without running water, a toilet, and went for almost a year with no electricity, you have an idea of how difficult it is for the average person to make money in Mexico. The evidence was certainly clear prior to our arrival. This is a photo of our first bathing facility.

our first shower

our first shower

Felipe left Mexico for the U.S. at 18 and lived there illegally for 12 years in hope of a better life. Of his friends and family,  nearly 75% have risked their lives for a more prosperous future in the United States. We all know that thousands of Latin Americans (an estimated 350,000 Mexicans) a year cross the border illegally. As it now costs $7,000 to pay a coyote (runner) to deliver you across the U.S. border safely, (Felipe’s trip 18 years ago required three attempts) it is a measure of the desperation for decent pay and reasonable work.

I will tell what I know to be the truth about this situation.

Why the desperation? Though minimum wage in Morelos is only 75 pesos a day, about seven dollars, the average rate of pay is 150 pesos(about 13$) for  10 hours a day, six days a week to make the average weekly income 900 pesos, approximately $80.  If you are fortunate enough to find work. Steady work is especially scarce.

This is an idea of what basic essentials costs here:

Milk- 35 pesos a gallon  ($3.25)
Electricity- 200 pesos per month ($18)
Water service – 100 pesos per month or an additional 200 pesos per month if you want drinking water for a total of 300 pesos ($28)
Tortillas – 10 pesos per lb., with an average household consumption of 4 lbs. per day ($3.75 per day)
Eggs – 2 pesos per egg ($2.20 a dozen)
Gasoline – 40 pesos per gallon ($3.75)
Hamburger – 45 pesos per lb. ($4.25)
Rent – 1000 pesos per month ($90)
Total:  2,184 pesos ($153.20)
(Approximated conversion)

It is not difficult to see it’s not possible to live on 900 pesos a week when the average tortilla consumption, the greater portion of most people’s diets, is almost a third of the weekly income. With the exception of rent, things cost about the same as they do in the U.S., although most luxury items cost more and are of lower quality. Products like coffee, technology, and shampoo are the kinds of things I bring back from the US for this reason.

Although Felipe has undertaken every form of work available, (and manufactured numerous others from his creative and resourceful mind) were it not for the small payment (500 pesos a week, $48) on an investment we sold, and the fact that we have no bills, we would be forced to return. Soon this payment will end, and we each have projects that we hope will succeed in filling the gap. I have recently finished writing a memoir about our experiences in Mexico, and Felipe is raising pigs.

This is Felipe’s sow, Empire. He bartered for her. He and a neighbor made mescal in a homemade still, and he paid with his product, mescal’s market value is solid in our community.  With Empire, he plans to build his pork enterprise. As the photograph reveals, she rose to the challenge by birthing 13 healthy piglets.


Raising pigs requires much more labor than feeding them twice a day. Felipe has spent a month of hours researching their health and nutritional needs, and, as seems to be the case with our animals, there is frequently drama. Pigs are high-strung creatures. When the first rains came, the piglets got wet, muddy, and cold, they responded by screaming, which agitated Empire so much she started attacking them. Felipe spent a drenched afternoon, catching, cleaning, and warming piglets, as he cooed to his overwrought sow that everything was okay. I think she has a crush on him. She isn’t interested in other humans unless you have papaya. Perhaps it is because he massaged her belly to assist her birthing rather than giving her an injection to speed up labor, which is the standard practice. Felipe avoids any unnecessary medication.

This week he castrated his boars. Male pigs must be castrated or their flesh is gamey. I assisted him with his first litter — it was horrific. It was the most brutal act I have ever committed. It was easier on everyone this time because his friend Lolo replaced me as an assistant. Incredibly, they all ran around that very night, as if nothing had happened.

Felipe has an ambitious, zero-waste vision for his pig empire that involves using their waste to make compost to grow the pigs’ green food. He will also raise fish to supply the protein and calcium needs of the pigs – the pricier portion of their diet. His production goal is to make and sell high-end, cured pork products (i.e. prosciutto, bacon, and a variety of specialty sausages), thereby increasing his profit margin and alleviating the need to send his animals to market. A practice neither of us are comfortable with. The only products of this kind are low quality and high-priced, or the ubiquitous, locally made longaniza, which anyone that has ever had a decent hot dog or bratwurst eventually tires of. Based on this fact and the experience of ordering a charcuterie platter in a fine dining establishment in Tequesquitengo and being served raw turkey hotdogs with my serrano ham and saltines, we feel the market is wide open.

In terms of making a living in Mexico, I must say it is the antithesis of very simple, or very easy, but the life at least is very good.

Do you have any questions about what it is like to live as an undocumented worker in the U.S., or why he decided to return to Mexico to live knowing how difficult it would be? Felipe would be happy to tell you about his experience there and his reasons for leaving. You may find his responses surprising.