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From Chiapas to the United States and Back

Text by Dulce Gamboa
Photographs by Laura Elizabeth Pohl

It has been almost 10 years since Marvin Garcia returned to Mexico from the United States. Garcia, 52, is originally from Guatemala but is now a naturalized Mexican citizen. He owns and farms a small parcel of land at Santa Fe, a sustainable community developed by Agros International in Comitan, located in Mexico’s Chiapas state.

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Marvin Garcia, 52, worked in the United States without papers several times because of a lack of opportunities and jobs where he lives in Chiapas, Mexico. With the help of Agros, a U.S. nonprofit, Garcia was able to buy land in his hometown when he returned from the United States.

Agros helps poor small-scale farmers buy fertile land with loans that carry a very low interest rate. Borrowers have up to 10 years to repay their loans. Agros also provides technical assistance to help farmers make the land as productive as possible.

Garcia is a resilient man who is partially blind from cataracts. It is too painful for him to open his right eye. Using just one eye is especially hard during harvest season. He said once, “I think that the corn I am scorching is right in front of me, but it’s not.” He was making fun of himself but he was also sad.

He has overcome a lot of obstacles over the years--from fleeing to Mexico as a Guatemalan refugee, to crossing the U.S. border through the deserts of Arizona. And even with one eye, Garcia continues to fight for a better life for his six-member family.

Garcia moved to the United States because of the lack of opportunities and sources of income at home. He wanted to pursue his dream of someday building a house. Between 1998 and 2000, Garcia crossed the U.S.-Mexican border four times. Leaving his family behind was not easy, and he remembers this as a bitter and difficult time.

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Marvin and his son Jesús, 4, eat a breakfast of tortilla and beans before heading to the field for the day. 

Garcia worked in Florida, growing and picking tomatoes. For months, he ate nothing but one apple a day so he could save money. He managed to set aside almost an entire year’s salary ($12,000) to build his house. Garcia estimates that earning that much money in Mexico would have taken him seven to eight years, always assuming good harvests. After enduring separation from his family, Garcia now owns a modest house with a latrine.

For years, Garcia tried to buy land in Chiapas, but the federal government repeatedly denied his application. He finally got involved with Agros in 2007, and a year later he obtained his land at Santa Fe. His life was transformed. As he explains, “It’s not the same to rent or borrow land to grow for selling or self-consumption.”

After two years of becoming part of the Santa Fe community, Garcia is certain that with hard work, he can make his land productive enough to repay his loan from Agros within the allotted 10 years. He feels very proud of being able to purchase the land, where he grows corn and lime.

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Garcia harvests corn, mushrooms, coffee and limes among other products.

Garcia does not have plans to migrate to the United States again, because his future in Mexico is now brighter. He has his land to work. Within a few years, he may be able to save the $1,500 he needs for cataract surgery. He is a role model in his community.

Garcia’s story shows that investing in Mexico’s rural development is critical to easing pressures to migrate to the United States. Santa Fe is a community of men, women, and children. It is not a village of grandparents taking care of their grandchildren because a whole generation is missing—forced to seek work far from home. Santa Fe is a community with a sense of hope and confidence that residents will be able to pay Agros back for the land where they grow tomatoes, corn, onions, papayas, and more. After decades of lack of opportunities to earn a living, the men in this community no longer think about migrating to the United States. They feel confident about being able to feed their families. Thanks to Agros and its funders, Marvin Garcia and his neighbors have the possibility of development in their own hands.  

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Garcia, Jesús and their dog Chiquita walk home from the family cornfield.

 

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Comments

What a wonderful and encouraging story.

Thank you Dulce and Laura for this great piece! One wonders why this model provided by Argos International is not used more widely.

Chiapas remains one of the poorest states in Mexico. But there are some gradual change taking place. I was encouraged to learn that Gov. Juan Sabines was recently recognized for his efforts to promote the Millennium Development Goals within the state's borders.

That's the kind of commitment we need from all leaders!

The visit was useful. Content was really very informative..

Thanks, Carlos and Kathleen! Carlos, that's great to hear about Gov. Sabines. We do need that commitment from all our leaders.

-Laura Elizabeth Pohl,
Multimedia Manager
Bread for the World

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