In Pictures: The Indigenous town in Mexico living on remittances
Money sent home by migrant workers in the United States has allowed their families to remain in Comachuen.
A community police officer stands guard at the main gate to the Purepecha Indigenous community of Comachuen, Michoacan, Mexico. [Fernando Llano/AP Photo]
27 Jan 2022
There are about 10,000 people living in Comachuen, a Purepecha Indigenous community nestled high in the pine-clad mountains of Mexico’s western state of Michoacan.
The town has largely been relying on the money sent home by migrants working in the neighbouring United States following the drop in local woodworking sales some 10 years ago when pine lumber started to become scarce.
These remittances have allowed their families to remain in Comachuen rather than moving to other parts of Mexico for work. That – and the fact children spend much of the year with their mothers and grandparents – has helped preserve the Purepecha language among almost everyone in town.
The traditional textiles, woodworking and construction live on, largely because such enterprises are funded by remittances sent home to build houses. Many things in the town – the church, the bull ring, the charity donations – are paid for with remittances.
The Mexican government estimates remittances sent last year will surpass $50bn for the first time. But whether the remittances allow families to just survive or progress enough so their children will not have to emigrate varies, reflecting a person’s plans and outlook.
Last week, the migrant workers were back in town because of the seasonal lull in agricultural work in the US.
Many workers from Comachuen get H2A temporary US work visas, while others go without documents. Hundreds of men from the town work at the same vegetable farm in upstate New York every year, planting onions, harvesting squash, cabbage and beans. Porfirio Gabriel, an organiser who recruits workers to go north, estimates that one farm alone has brought $5m into the town over three years, by far its largest single source of income.
A farmer rides his horse past a mural in Comachuen. Many migrants are back in town because of the seasonal lull in agricultural work in the US. Hundreds of men from the town work at the same vegetable farm in upstate New York every year, planting onions, harvesting squash, cabbage and beans. [Fernando Llano/AP Photo]
A Virgin of Guadalupe altar decorates the facade of a home in Comachuen. [Fernando Llano/AP Photo]
Residents walk along a street decorated with elaborately cut coloured pieces of tissue paper called "papel picado". [Fernando Llano/AP Photo]
A farmer drives his oxen through the streets of Comachuen. Drovers head their teams of oxen into the surrounding hills to haul down freshly cut pine trunks on narrow carts. [Fernando Llano/AP Photo]
A woman makes tortillas in Comachuen. [Fernando Llano/AP Photo]
According to Porfirio Gabriel, a migrant worker organiser from Comachuen, "Without remittances, this town would be dead." [Fernando Llano/AP Photo]
A girl hauling two buckets of water uses a carrying pole in Comachuen.[Fernando Llano/AP Photo]
Tranquilino Gabriel works on decorative wood spindles on a primitive lathe using a nail-studded piece of wood. The 59-year-old does this only on his downtime from working in the US, to keep his decades-old family business alive. [Fernando Llano/AP Photo]
Residents gather on a street corner next to a home built with money earned in the US. [Fernando Llano/AP Photo]
Jose Gonzalez and his wife Maria, wait for customers in their corner shop that he remodelled, stocked and extended with money he earned over a decade working in the US. [Fernando Llano/AP Photo]
Business administration student Andres Reyes Baltazar moves a wooden coat rack in the family’s furniture workshop. Reyes' father has been going north to work since 2011 because, he says, in the furniture trade “sometimes there are customers, and sometimes there aren’t". Asuncion Reyes Julian spends much of the money he earns in New York to pay for his son’s education. [Fernando Llano/AP Photo]