Polish Refugees Remember Mexico’s Warm Embrace

See page for author [GFDL or CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Polish children from Santa Rosa, Guanajuato, Mexico. See page for author [GFDL or CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
By Melita Marie Garza

Chester Sawko arrived in North America in July 1943 and within days learned those words important to a child in any language.

“Lend me your bicycle!” the 13-year-old Polish refugee shouted in Spanish at the curious Mexicans who rode their bikes up to the fence of the temporary safe haven that had been set up for refugee families at Colonia Santa Rosa in Leon, Guanajuato, Mexico.

Sawko, now 66, and the president of his suburban Chicago manufacturing firm, never has forgotten the kindness of the Mexican people who obligingly let the refugee kids ride their bikes, even though most didn’t know how.

“It was a real novelty for us because we never had any toys,” said Sawko, whose family members were among 1.7 million Poles uprooted by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin and shipped on cattle cars to labor camps in Siberia during World War II when the Soviet Union and Germany divided Poland.

“Mexico was the first place we felt at home, where we realized we were still part of the human race,” said Thaddeus Piezcko, 63, who was 15 when he was resettled in Chicago at the now-shuttered St. Hedwig’s orphanage.

The journey to Mexico was a long one for the refugees, beginning Sept. 17, 1939, when the Soviet Union invaded and occupied part of Poland, then a few months later began mass deportations mostly from the northeastern half of Poland.

Each family has its own story, but they all begin like Sawko’s, with Soviet soldiers banging on the door in the middle of a cold, snowy February night in 1940.

The family was given 30 minutes to pack what belongings and food they could carry on a wooden sleigh. Sawko’s father, a forest ranger, was arrested. Sawko’s mother, then 35 and pregnant, was crying.

An older brother, Stanley, then 16, was allowed to stay and care for a sister, 14, in the hospital. But Sawko and his three younger brothers were forced onto the sleigh with their parents and driven to a city where they were put in a crowded railroad car for a four-week trip to the Soviet border.

Chicago Tribune

12,000 Year Old Human Remains in Mexico Are Oldest Ever Found In Americas

Divers Alberto Nava and Susan Bird transport the Hoyo Negro skull to an underwater turntable so that it can be photographed in order to create a 3-D model. Researchers detailed their analysis of the oldest, most complete, genetically intact human skeleton discovered in the New World.

Alejandro Alvarez’s eyes widened against the dark underwater void that would become known as the Black Hole on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.

His flashlight shined on ancient bones from extinct species, and eventually he would discover the hemisphere’s oldest, most complete skeleton, a find that may transform the way we think about the development of American man.

This view of Hoyo Negro, shot from the floor near the south edge, shows the immensity of the chamber and the complexity of the boulder-strewn bottom. One access tunnel can be seen near the ceiling at top left.

“What in the world is this?” Alvarez recalls thinking. He and two diving buddies with him knew that they had stumbled across something special.

“We immediately realized the importance,” Alvarez, now 52 and still diving, said in an interview. “It was very exciting.”

The discovery of the 12,000-year-old skeleton of a teenage girl occurred seven years ago but wasn’t announced until this month, after additional, sometimes-risky exploration and detailed scientific investigation.

Published first in the American magazine Science, then elaborated upon by Mexican scientific officials, the find has provided immeasurable evidence on the origins of the first Native Americans.

Read more at the Los Angeles Times

Mexico’s tomato-farm workers toil in ‘circle of poverty’

Landowners make big money on tomatoes, but the hard work falls to armies of workers from Mexico’s poorest states, who labor for paltry wages.

Farmworker Ramiro Castillo stands in front of his living quarters near Villa Juarez in Mexico’s Sinaloa state. Half the tomatoes eaten in the U.S. this time of year come from Sinaloa. (Javier Valdez / For The Times / November 9, 2013)

VILLA JUAREZ, Mexico — They sure do have tomatoes here in the Mexican state of Sinaloa.

Elongated red ones. Round green ones. Cherry tomatoes, yellow tomatoes, grape tomatoes.

Vast fields of tomatoes, lining the roads out of the Sinaloa capital of Culiacan, miles and miles of mesh tenting shielding the plants from the sun.

Last year, Sinaloa exported 950,000 tons of vegetables, mostly tomatoes and mostly to California and other parts of the United States, worth nearly $1 billion. Half the tomatoes eaten in the United States this time of year are from Sinaloa. The tomato is the symbol on the Sinaloa license plate.

But while a short list of landowners make millions, the planting, weeding, pruning and picking of the vegetables fall to armies of workers from Mexico’s poorest states — Oaxaca, Guerrero, Chiapas — who have little opportunity for schooling or other forms of legal employment.

So they are here in these fields, recruited by enganchadores — or “hooks” — who round them up in their home villages, and working in conditions that vary from producer to producer but that many critics say amount to indentured servitude.

Felipa Reyes, 40, from the violent state of Veracruz, has been toiling in the fields of Sinaloa for seven years. “You have to do the work they want, or you don’t earn anything,” she said. Complain? “And I’d end up with nothing.”

Carmen Hernandez Ramos is 52 and looks 80. She has been sticking tiny tomato plants into the earth, then harvesting the fruit months later, for 15 years, but still earns the same daily wage as Reyes: $10. Originally from a small village in Oaxaca, the mother of six works back-wrenching nine-hour days. “If we work, we have security,” she said, waving her thick-knuckled hands. “If we don’t, we have nothing.”

The two women live in tin-roofed adobe shacks set behind chain-link fences.

Conditions, the women said, have changed little over the years. They have electricity but no running water; some floors are tiled, others are dirt.

Read more at the Los Angeles Times