One thing we’ve learned since our arrival in Oaxaca 3 weeks ago is – Mexicans like to make noise.
This was the case in Oaxaca City and Juchitan, where we heard beat-heavy music and bullet-like firecrackers late into the night. And it was the case in the much smaller town of Ixtepec.
IXTEPEC AND THE RAILROAD
Ixtepec was once a rather cosmopolitan place, in the late 19th/early 20th century, when it was located on two major rail routes. It used to see 50 trains a day passing through, but that has dropped to just one or two in recent years.
Most of the action these days is in the central market,
and on the train tracks, where at any given time there’s a crowd of Central and South American migrant workers camping out trying to grab passage to the U.S.
Today Ixtepec is small, sleepy and, at least in our case, very welcoming. Yet like its bigger city brethren, it can make a lot of noise.
For example, every morning we would wake up to the sound of steady hammering on metal – we had no idea who was doing it or what they could possibly be trying to build at that hour, and with such tenacity.
In the middle of the afternoon, we would hear emotive love ballads blaring from the dark, cave-like cantina across the street. This particular cantina seemed to be exactly the kind of place where Malcolm Lowry must have been hanging out when writing Under the Volcano.
The interior was a chaos of plastic tables, chairs and discarded items. Overstuffed room followed overstuffed room, stretching back seemingly forever. Worn men were stooped over their Corona, tequila or mezcal barely talking to one another, staring off into space or watching a soccer game.
Other than the blaring music, however, this grim scene was far removed from the rest of our experience in Ixtepec, where we met a warm, close-knit community.
AN ENERGY CO-OP
Our guides in Ixtepec were Vicente and his lovely wife Dalya, who struck us as Mexican versions of our own parents, minus the crippling neuroses and, come to think of it, pretty much everything else. (Ok, basically they’re nothing like our parents except for being about the same age.)
Vicente is one of the organizers of the collective that is trying to develop a wind energy project that would be owned by the community. Unlike in the U.S.. much of the land in southern Mexico is owned communally, sort of like a New York City apartment co-op, if you will.
While this can make developing industrial projects complicated – as it requires approval of the majority — it also, the theory goes, brings the community together as it engages in debate.
The wind farm project is now up for tender, and the community collective is up against a handful of other private proposals. The area can only handle one additional project at this time, and it’s unclear whether the Ixtepec community will win. Its proposal is less competitive from a financial point of view, and the government as of yet isn’t taking into account possible social benefits.
PUBLIC VS. PRIVATE (Who’s afraid of Karl Marx?)
The question of whether a community-led energy project would benefit the community more than a privately funded project – this is what Steph is pondering as a potential dissertation project, at least at this point in time. (Please note, Duke Cultural Anthropology faculty: research topics are subject to change.)
Very generously, Vicente agreed to take us on an afternoon tour of the site where the community would set up its project if it wins the tender.
He swung by our house in his truck, which had only two spots up front. Steph squeezed in the middle, allowing Ivan luxurious artistic freedom to take video/pictures in the window seat (gosh he’s a lucky guy!).
This meant that poor Bart had to sit in the open-air flatbed back as we tromped over potholls and speed bumps. He was a good sport about it, as he clutched for dear life.
We started out in the center of town, but as we got further out, the roads got more and more rustic. Finally we found ourselves on a dirt path passing cows, goats, sheep, stray dogs, horse-drawn carts, and for some reason, a hair salon. (Hey, everyone needs a new ‘do once in a while.)
Thinking we were arriving at the site, we got out of the truck and saw a veritable river crossing our path. With Hurricane Carlota having just passed through, this was a reminder that we arrived just at the beginning of the rainy season. (The other season, let it be noted, is called the windy season.)
THE FINAL STRETCH
To venture forth despite the risks, or pay the 28 pesos to go back to where we started and take the highway route? That was the question.
Eager to show us the site, Vicente decided to return home, switch cars, and go the fast and safe way on the newly built trans-Isthmus Express.
After about 15 minutes on the highway, in the distance we got our first glimpse of those sleek metal behemoths – a wind farm owned by a Mexican telecom magnate named Carlos Slim. (You may have heard of him – he was just named the richest man in the world.)
Truth be told, we have mixed feelings about the aesthetics of wind turbines. Do they possess a classic grandeur – windmills in modern armor? Are they truly going to help us preserve the integrity of our natural environment, as wind energy proponents claim? Or do they signify yet another violence?
As if reading our thoughts, the road presented us vestiges of game-changing development projects from various generations past – train tracks, farming equipment, telephone lines, highways, roads, etc.
Briefly, we stopped at an underpass on the highway, where a man in a sombrero rode up on a horse. It seemed like he had just stepped out of Poncho Villa’s band of roaming revolutionaries.
He happily stopped to chat with Vicente, as Ivan eagerly snapped up photos. He informed Vicente of recent cow thefts on the communal land. He said there was also a strange guy taking photos back on the dirt road, who he said looked suspiciously similar to Ivan.
As it turned out, it was Ivan. The man had spotted him when we had returned to town to switch cars.
But was Ivan the one stealing cows? The world may never know.
WILD IS THE WIND
At long last, we reached the site of Vicente’s proposed wind farm. It is a flat plot, bordered by mountains, a highway, railroad tracks and the aforementioned wind farm built by Carlos Slim.
It’s pretty clear that there will be a wind farm on this land one way or another, as it really can’t be used for much else.
The question is, while the end product will likely resemble the wind farms already there, can the future project be developed in a way that actually helps this community – instead of taking the land from the people while sending the profits to corporate headquarters?