Situation and treatment of Mixtec indigenous people; whether they are subjected to racism; whether such racism is geographically localized (1998-December 2001) [MEX38105.E]

Mixtec indigenous people live principally in the Mexican states of Oaxaca, Guerrero and Puebla (Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia 2001; Baptist Foreign Missions 2001). Estimates of the size of the Mixtec-speaking population vary. While the 1990 census stated that there were 386,874 Mixtec speakers of more than four years of age (Azteca 2001; International Mission Board 2000), thereby rendering Mixtec the fourth largest indigenous language group in the country (ibid.), other population estimates ranged from a low of 240,000 (Baptist Foreign Missions 2001) to a high of 500,000 (Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia 2001).

As a result of factors such as population growth, inequitable land distribution and low agricultural productivity in traditional Mixtec areas (Professor, University of New Mexico 4 Dec. 2001; Centro de Derechos Humanos Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez 1999), a significant number of Mixtecs have relocated from southern Mexico to other parts of the country or the United States (ibid.; University of New Mexico 4 Dec. 2001; La Jornada 18 Dec. 2000; Mexico n.d., chapter 8). According to Clark Alfaro, director of the Tijuana-based Bi-national Human Rights Centre (Centro Binacional de Derechos Humanos, CEDH), approximately 10,000 Mixtecs live in Tijuana and another 50,000 to 75,000 live in the state of California in the United States (La Jornada 18 Dec. 2000).

In a national profile of the country's indigenous people, the authors claimed that lack of investment in areas of the country with a large indigenous population has relegated

hundreds of thousands of indigenous peoples to a very low quality of life working almost as indentured servants in farms and ranches. This underdevelopment [has resulted] in multiple forms of migration among the indigenous population, very low levels of medical assistance, poor diet, and the lowest levels of educational development of the indigenous human capital (Mexico n.d., chapter 8).

In correspondence dated 4 December 2001, an anthropology professor at the University of New Mexico who has undertaken research on Mixtec workers in both Mexico and California stated that:

The general living conditions of Mixtecs in Mexico are arduous. Many of their home communities in Oaxaca are without potable water or sanitary facilities. Because arable land is not evenly distributed, ... most families are forced to send migrants to other parts of Mexico seeking work for part of every year. They often end up working as day laborers in Mexican agribusiness in the states of Sinaloa and Baja California. There they live in shanties, chicken coops, or cardboard shacks, 10 or 12 persons to a 10 by 12 space. Shanties are without windows and the door opening is covered with a cloth. Cooking is done on an open fire in the center of the room and the smoke is often debilitating. A single faucet often serves the water needs of a labor camp of many hundreds and a dozen holes in the ground constitute the toilet arrangements. The infant and child mortality rate is extremely high, with most succumbing to respiratory ailments or preventable enteric disease (dysentery, etc.). ... People are prevented from planting any of the crops they might subsist on (corn, beans). Instead they are captive to peddlers who sell highly processed and very expensive canned and packaged goods.
Field conditions are equally abysmal. There are no toilet facilities so that people must relieve themselves between the rows. Workers take their meals in these same rows which are also contaminated with pesticides (some of which are outlawed elsewhere in the world). Wages are extremely low and those who complain are often subject to harassment, even beatings by agents of the growers or unidentified "bandits."
Mixtec migrants who end up in urban areas do unskilled work, usually for a pittance and usually on a temporary basis. If they are unlucky and cannot find regular work, they beg or scrounge in dumps.

In correspondence dated 5 December 2001, a professor in the Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Geography at the University of Tennessee (Chattanooga), who has conducted field-work in Mexico since 1990 and is currently documenting changes in cultural traditions among Mixtec-speaking communities, stated that Mixtecs living in

rural areas face challenging conditions. Agriculture is their primary means of subsistence since there are few other job opportunities. Agriculture alone usually cannot support families since there is much deforestation and erosion, leading to more migration to earn cash. Although rich culturally, these villages have poor sanitation systems, few educational opportunities, and little to no health care. Typical homes are wood or cinder block with dirt floors and an outhouse. To sum it up, living conditions are generally poor - although this is a very broad generalization and depends on the specific family and village or town.

In a 30 September 2001 report, the Mexico City newspaper Reforma claimed that the return of Mixtec migrants to their home areas in southern Mexico has resulted in an increase in a number of social problems, including family disintegration, drug addiction and prostitution. Furthermore, immigration patterns have also reportedly led to a growing number of AIDS cases in the region (ibid.).

According to Clark Alfaro, Mixtecs suffer discrimination at the hands of other Mexicans (La Jornada 18 Dec. 2000). This information was corroborated by the University of New Mexico anthropology professor, who claimed that Mixtecs living in urban areas are

subject to the racist attitudes and treatment of the majority population, who derisively call them "oaxacos," or "indios" and regularly take advantage of the fact that they often speak Spanish poorly. For example, they are often cheated of their wages. Urban Mixtec women who sell small crafts on the streets have in the past been especially harassed by the police in US/Mexico border towns (Tijuana and Juarez), presumably because merchants object to the competition they pose. Police and others often call them "dirty" and stupid. This has improved in recent years as a result of the activism of Mixtecs themselves, but all Mixtecs regularly endure the ongoing racism of the mestizo population, especially in northern Mexico. In Oaxaca itself, Mixtecs also experience racism, as do all of the 16 indigenous groups native to that state (4 Dec. 2001).

According to the University of Tennessee (Chattanooga) professor,

Mixtec people, along with all indigenous peoples in Mexico (there are more than 100) do experience racism due to their heritage. Mixtecs and all indigenous people are at the bottom of the socioeconomic structure throughout Mexico. They come from poor agricultural regions and do not have access to education and contacts which could lead to better jobs. People frequently try to deny being "Indian" to try to improve their status in mixed (indigenous-non-indigenous) society, which leads to rapid cultural loss as people stop speaking their native language and reject Prehispanic customs. Such racism is not localized, although the three poorest states of Guerrero, Oaxaca and Chiapas correspond with the states that have the largest percentage of indigenous peoples. In general, to look indigenous with dark hair and skin and small stature, puts a person at a disadvantage, even in Mexico City (5 Dec. 2001).

Furthermore, a number of incidents have taken place in southern Mexico in which Mixtecs have experienced violence at the hands of state security forces or others; examples follow.

According to Mixtec community leader Lauro García Vásquez, 20 Mixtec activists involved in a campaign to establish an autonomous indigenous municipality in Guerrero state have been assassinated by unidentified individuals between 1995 and May 1998 (La Jornada 13 May 1998).

On 26 March 1998, military personnel in Guerrero allegedly opened fire without reason on a group of four Mixtec activists (ibid.). No additional information on this incident could be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

On 21 April 1999, soldiers allegedly shot and killed Pedro Ramirez, a Mixtec man, while he was walking to work (OCMT 31 May 1999). Family members were subsequently advised by the office of the public prosecutor in Putla, Oaxaca that Ramirez had been carrying a shotgun when he was killed (ibid.).

On 7 January 2001, Donaciano González Lorenzo, a Mixtec indigenous person, was reportedly shot and killed by three unidentified Mestizo individuals at his home in Ocote Amarillo, Guerrero (La Jornada 18 Apr. 2001). According to the Mexican League for the Defence of Human Rights (Liga Mexicana por la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos, LIMEDDH), González had earlier spoken out against impunity and militarization in the region (ibid.).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.


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Baptist Foreign Missions. 2001. "Grupo etnico: mixteco." [Accessed 4 Dec. 2001]

Centro de Derechos Humanos Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez. 1999. "Ciudadanos sin derechos en la ciudad de México." [Accessed 4 Dec. 2001]

Colombia Electronic Encyclopedia. 2001. "Mixtec." [Accessed 4 Dec. 2001]

International Mission Board. 2000. "The Mixteca Population." [Accessed 5 Dec. 2001]

La Jornada [Mexico City]. 18 April 2001. Rosa Rojas. "Grupos de sicarios aterrorizan y asesinan indígenas en la Costa Chica de Guerrero." [Accessed 5 Dec. 2001]

_____. 18 December 2000. Roberto Bardini. "Clark Alfaro, equilibrio entre el activismo y la academia." [Accessed 5 Dec. 2001]

_____. 13 May 1998. Maribel Gutiérrez. "Exigen mixtecos de Guerrero que se reconozca su cabildo autónoma." [Accessed 5 Dec. 2001]

Mexico, Governmental Work Group. n..d. "National Profile of the Indigenous Peoples of Mexico." [Accessed 4 Dec. 2001]

Organización Mundial Contra la Tortura (OCMT). 31 May 1999. "Case MEX 310599." [Accessed 4 Dec. 2001]

Professor, University of New Mexico, Department of Anthropology, Albuquerque. 4 December 2001. Correspondence.

Professor, University of Tennessee (Chattanooga), Department of Sociology, Geography and Anthropology, Chattanooga. 5 December 2001. Correspondence

Reforma [Mexico City]. 30 September 2001. Clara Ramírez. "Temen regreso de migrantes por economía." [Accessed 5 Dec. 2001]