Milpa Living Transnational Community in Cruztón

“The organic symmetry of forms belongs together; the placement of every leaf, the harmony of shapes speak their message. Respect one another, support one another, bring your gift into the world and receive the gifts of others, and there will be enough for all.” Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass.

Before we even leave the Voces Mesoamericanas office in San Cristobal de las Casas, director Miguel Angel Paz is excited. As we climb into the back of the truck waiting outside, he promises us a different look at migration when we arrive to the “transnational Chiapan community of Cruztón.”

Our group of MCC advocacy staff, on our way to Cruztón, a small Indigenous community in the municipality of Chumala, located in the highlands of Chiapas.

The impact of migration is seen everywhere in Chiapas: in stories, in the car bought with remittances that the family moves to hold our meeting, and all the different identities represented in one place. One in four inhabitants of Cruztón currently live in the US, the majority in Cairo, Georgia. Since NAFTA’s implementation, migration in search of work has become a way of life. Members of Cruztón constantly cross back and forth, often travelling the treacherous desert route because they do not have the paperwork that allows them to enter the US legally.

"Raise your hand if you have relatives living in the United States."

Community members introduce us to their children, many who were born in the United States and have the right to dual nationality. Instead of navigating the dangers of the desert, their parents are trying to find their way through the complicated bureaucracy of civil registry offices and government officials on both sides of the border.

While not as dramatic as the desert, the results have very real impacts on daily life.

If children only have US documentation, they are not able to study in Mexico. If they only have Mexican documents, that do not list dual nationality, the Mexican state considers the documents to be falsified and families can face legal problems. Without proper birth certificates that list dual nationality, children are also not able to apply for their Mexican national ID card when they reach age 18. Without an ID, they cannot go to university, gain formal employment or easily access health care. Additionally, presenting a US passport allows for safe and legal border crossing if children choose to return to the United States, thus avoiding the desert all together.

Christian Diaz Santiz is a dual citizen who is part of the documentation process.

MCC partner Voces Mesoamericanas accompanies the families as they advocate in civil registry offices for proper documentation under the project, “The Right to a Binational Identity.” The Mexican state has instituted a new program, Soy Mexico, which allows people to register themselves online as dual citizens. In reality, none of the local registry offices maintain a database of dual citizens or understand how procedures should take place. Community members face constantly changing regulations each time they visit the office. Some officials attempt to charge for issuing birth certificates, a practice that directly goes against the Mexican constitution. Families end up spending more time at a government office in the next municipality over because employees appear to understand the regulations more than in the office in their home town, yet even in another location, mistrust over incompetent service continues. Parents are afraid that if they leave their official documents at the office, as requested, they may never see them again.

Many times, the Mexican offices are also required to contact registry offices across the United States. Each state in the US also has their own requirements and particularities, making a complicated process even more difficult.

The deep seated racism against Indigenous people in the region also plays a role. Community members feel dismissed when they try to obtain official documents. When the Voces team accompanies the community, the process is much smoother than when they go alone. For Voces, however, it continues to be a challenge to monitor a registry system that doesn’t have systematized regulations and is difficult to access.

Backyard milpa

In the Cruztón backyard, corn stalks wave in the breeze over a brick fence. I ask if I can take a picture and am invited into the milpa. Milpa is an ancient form of reciprocal relationship between squash, beans and corn. The corn provides the support for the beans as they twine upwards. The broad squash leaves shade the soil at the base of the beans and corn, providing protection from other plants and helping to conserve moisture. The bean roots transform the nitrogen in the atmosphere into a rich fertilizer that in turn nourishes all three plants. According to Robin Wall Kimmerer, this way of intercropping produces more food acre for acre, than if the three plants were grown apart.

As I reflect on the milpa, I think about the interactions between all the different identities found in Cruzton.

Within the official definitions of dual Mexican/US citizenship, Cruztón is also a Chamulan Maya Indigenous community. During our meeting, community members spoke in Tzotzil, others interpreted to Spanish, which we then interpreted into English for the non-Spanish speakers in our group. Even without our presence all three languages, and identities circle throughout the community. Miguel tells of young children, born in the US and raised with Chiapan traditions, who return to Cruztón to proudly proclaim in English, “I am Chamula!” in response to teasing accusations by other children that “Vos sos gringo!”

Part of belonging to a collective society is performing voluntary community service. While the jobs can vary from security to accountant, every community member must respond, including those living in Georgia. Those called from Cruztón may pay a set amount to the community instead of returning from the United States, while in other communities, members must return to maintain their community standing. Official documents allow for an easier practice of ancient customs in a modern world.

Navigating these multiple identities is not easy. In his family’s restaurant, we have lunch with Rufino Santiz Diaz, a young man born in Cruztón but who migrated to the United States when he was five years old. Over fajitas, Rufino shares his story. He choose to leave the United States to try to study in Mexico when he graduated from high school because, without documents, he could not enter university. When he tried to cross the border into Mexico, however, Mexican authorities tried to stop him because he did not have Mexican documents either. He was, for all accounts, stateless. Eventually, Rufino was able to make his way into Mexico. Without proper documents or employment, however, it took him a number of years before he was able to study.

In 2014, the New York Times documented his journey.

For a long time, Rufino felt in between cultures: not Mexican nor Estadounidense. When he applied for work in San Cristobal, potential employers hesitated to hire him, despite his fluent English, because of his Indigenous background. Over the last few years he has carved out a new place for himself, one where he can navigate his multiple ways of beings. He laughs with his mother in Tztosil and speaks to us in English, crossing the bridges between us.

Homemade fajitas

On the ride back, Rodrigo Barraza of Voces speaks of conversations with young people who do not want to migrate north but do not see any other option. Violence, lack of access to basic rights such as education and health care, and no employment opportunities are all factors that impede people’s choices and set migration up as the only option.

The transnational children of Cruztón point to a different way of migrating and belonging, neither forced to go or to return. With dual citizenship documents, they will have more flexibility to choose when and how they would like to travel across borders. They show us that there is more than one way to belong to a community and more than one community to belong to. In the same way that all of the plants of the milpa grow together, what it means to be Mexican is strengthened by its transnational citizens. What it means to be from the United States is enriched by the presence of Chiapanecos in Georgia and a new generation of citizens that span the border itself.

Milpa is more than just a relationship between plants. It also involves the farmers who plant the seeds and the land in which the seeds are rooted. Our understanding of territory, belonging and identity must shift as we examine the myriad of ways lives are lived out in different spaces that constantly cross and redefine borders. The harmony between corn, squash, and beans reflects the possibilities that exist when we live together.


Anna Vogt, Mennonite Central Committee.

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