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Good news from Mexico: helping migrants' families and creating local jobs

In a year when cartel violence and corruption have produced such terrible news out of Mexico that some in the U.S. seem to be giving the country up as a lost cause . . . the Corner Institute of Malinalco has grown and extended our services to an increasing number of our region's families of migrants' to the U.S.

Though Malinalco has thankfully not been affected by the violence devastaing parts of Mexico, we share the concern of friends working to help migrants in the most afflicted regions of this country. In national workshops on these issues we have been honored to share our methods with other organizations exploring community-based efforts like ours to strengthen their own local communities.

This past year of economic crisis and anti-migrant crackdowns in the U.S has increased demand for services to the families of our region's migrants to the U.S. We have expanded our team, provided crisis assistance to more families than ever, and, at the same time, extended our projects into new areas, including services to families with U.S.-born children and a new artisan initiative to create jobs through the design and production of Aztec-inspired silver pendants -- our first-ever export that can be produced in quantity! Here are a few recent highlights from the Corner Institute:

Helping migrant returnees with U.S.-born children

 

An increasing number of returning migrant families are bringing U.S.-born children to Malinalco, who must be registered in our municipality's vital records office before they have access to public health services such as vaccinations, or be registered in schools. However, the vital records office can only register birth certificates that have been "apostilled," i.e., certified genuine by the issuing U.S. state -- a process that in practice is virtually impossible to get done from Mexico without paying lawyers' fees our campesinos can't afford.

 

Parents of these U.S.-born children requested our help, and the Corner Institute teamed up with our municipal and state governments to organize a free public "Apostille Day" in Malinalco. We publicized the event in our region's most remote settlements by enlisting the help of our region's schools and parishes. Grateful parents were lined up outside the door before the event opened.


Harvard alumna Jimena Fernandez helps at Malinalco's "Apostille Day" for families with U.S.-born children

Museum-quality crafts, new jobs for Malinalco

 

Malinalco's most skilled master artisans have worked with the Corner Institute team to adapt traditional woodcarving techniques to create new, museum-quality handcrafted items.

We're excited about our team's newest creation: a pendant inspired by the stone eagles of Malinalco's famous Aztec temple, carved by master artisan and Corner Institute team member Gary, then cast in silver by Helio, one of Taxco's most skilled silver artisans.

The Taxco artisans are enthusiastic about this project, as well. The fact that their region shares Malinalco's historically Aztec roots adds a level of meaning to applying their craft to our artisans' Aztec-inspired designs which goes beyond their usual task of carrying out designs from New York or Tokyo.

For the first time ever, we have a museum-quality export that can be produced in quantity. Artisan designers will receive royalties on every pendant sold, while earnings from sales will help support the crisis assistance we provide free of charge to migrants' families. In the coming months we will be training migrants' wives and mothers to assemble these and other pendant designs into finished jewelry for export to the U.S.

Our U.S. fair-trade importer (One World Projects) will have a page for our Malinalco eagle pendant very soon: watch our website for a link where you can order these on line. Meanwhile, our Aztec-inspired hand-carved jewelry can be viewed on our own website, which has a link to One World's on-line ordering page: Aztec-inspired jewelry and scarves

Finding lost migrants

 

One of the most frequent requests we receive comes from families seeking help finding migrant relatives they have not heard from for too long, and can't locate. Though all too often there are tragic reasons for a migrant's vanishing, we are frequently able to give the good news that we have located a migrant and the family can expect their relative's return soon.

 

When Margarita came to get help finding her husband Constantino, we investigated and learned that he had been stopped for a traffic violation and was in jail, but would probably be deported soon. A prison social worker helped us place a call so Margarita could talk to Constantino and assure him that she and their children were well, which was clearly a huge relief to him. While waiting for his return, Margarita helped support the family through a Corner Institute stitching project. The photo shows the couple's visit to our office to offer their thanks after Constantino's return.


Our new sterling silver
Malinalco eagle pendant

 

 

 

 


Constantino and Margarita
reunited in Malinalco

Helping families when migrants die in the U.S.

 

Helping families whose migrant relatives have died in the U.S. is one of the saddest services we provide, yet perhaps the one that is most appreciated by our region's families. Most often we are contacted by the families themselves, who come to us for help bringing home their migrant relatives' bodies for burial in Malinalco -- though on occasion we are contacted by Mexican government agencies seeking help locating families of migrants who have died in the U.S. Then we take on the heartbreaking task of notifying local families of their migrant relatives' deaths.

Yet some of our most encouraging stories have come in the wake of these tragedies. We have been able to create jobs for migrants' widows so they could keep their children in school while figuring out how to move forward with their lives, and to help them receive their due insurance benefits.

 

Bringing U.S. and Mexican lawyers to the rescue

 

Our migrants' vulnerability makes them easy prey for exploitation and abuse. When we found that an unprincipled lawyer was helping a non-beneficiary claim the insurance compensation due to the widow and children of a migrant killed by a drunk driver in California, another lawyer helped our Malinalco migrant's widow receive the benefits legally due to her and her two young sons, providing the Malinalco community with it's first free legal assistance -- and then this concerned lawyer decided to send his Mexican associate to visit our office on a regular basis to help with other cases.

 

Thanks to this support and the help of a series of good-hearted, fair-minded lawyers in Mexico and the U.S., our migrants have received help in getting just treatment after workplace accidents, wrongful deaths, inappropriate incarceration, and other abuses.

 

Keeping migrants' children in school


Funeral for Malinalco migrant
who died in U.S. detention


Puebla lawyer Jesus Torreblanca
reviews cases with a Corner Institute team member

When Don Guillermo came to us for help bringing his migrant son Genaro's body home for burial after a logging accident in Virginia, he noticed photos of Genaro's sons on our bulletin board -- including the photo at the top of this page of his grandson Daniel proudly showing off the keychains he'd carved in our summer program for migrants' children.

Their father's death left Daniel and his brother Jovani without support. Daniel dropped out of school to go to work, but returned thanks to the emergency scholarship fund we were able to raise to cover costs. We helped their mother apply for the insurance benefits she qualified for under Virginia workers' compensation law, and created a special Saturday workshop to develop Daniel and Jovani's after-school earning potential through their artistic skills.

Last summer Daniel joined our summer program staff, helping to support his family while assistant-teaching the younger migrants' children. He and his brother are now receiving insurance benefits that will continue until they are 23, provided they stay in school - - thus fulfilling Genaro's dream that he would be able to provide his sons with the education he never had.

Daniel joined our staff to help teach the younger migrants' children

Reuniting migrants' families

Gustavo, Alexis and Janet radiated happiness at being together when they visited our office in February. Their hope for their future together, even in the midst of a bureaucratic nightmare that kept their family separated for over two years (except when Gustavo could save enough from his job operating a forklift in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to bring Alexis to visit his mother in Malinalco) inspired me and my team. We decided to do what we could to help our neighbor Janet return to Gettysburg to be with her U.S.-citizen husband and little boy (now four years old, and showing the stresses of living without his mother since he was two).

A quick call to the congressional office Gustavo believed was helping with his case revealed they had done little beyond taking Gustavo's name and information and checking a list when he happened to call. When we convinced them that the bureaucratic delay was creating serious problems for this young U.S.-citizen son of our Malinalco migrant, the congressman's aide made calls that seemed to get the process moving: Janet finally received notification of the scheduling of her long-awaited appointment with the U.S. consulate. When she reported to the consulate, she was given her visa. Gustavo called us from Gettysburg to let us know Janet was back home at last, and happily reunited with her husband and son.

Migrant talent: teaching our migrants' children while advancing academic understanding

Malinalco migrant Dulce Medina first contacted the Corner Institute after finding our website on the Internet. She emailed us about her work in a California nonprofit and her interest in helping out -- and clearly meant it, for she followed up the call with a donation.

In the fall of 2009 Dulce contacted us again with the exciting news that she was about to start work on a masters in sociology at Arizona State University; she requested advice on her thesis research, which she hoped to focus on migration. Last summer she returned to Mexico to conduct research for her masters thesis, which focuses on returnee migrant families with U.S.-born children, meanwhile taking advantage of being in the region to come to Malinalco to teach the migrants' children in our summer program. Dulce finished her visit to our region by offering a fascinating public seminar about what she'd learned in her research, along with how things were looking for migrants in Arizona. We are delighted to count Dulce as the Corner Institute's first migrant associate in the U.S .

The Corner Institute proposes policy fixes

Last spring Mexico's National Migration Institute invited Corner Institute founder Ellen Calmus to speak at the Regional Conference on Migration's seminar, convened this year in Tijuana. It was quite an honor for the coordinator of a small community organization, as well as a welcome opportunity to share our experience with policy-makers representing immigration authorities from all the countries of the region, from Panama through Canada, including Mexico and the U.S.

In fact, our team had been thinking for months about how to turn what we've learned from working in a migrants' home community into policy improvements. So many of the problems we help migrants' families with are created by what we call "family-breaking" policy, which works to nobody's advantage. Given the success we've had resolving these problems in coordination with the many government agencies who saw the practical advantages of our proposed solutions, why not apply the methods we use in resolving problems for migrants' families toward creating policy fixes?

The seminar's attendees responded so positively to our ideas that the Corner Institute's team is continuing to work on policy proposals. Last fall Ellen was invited to speak at four universities in New York and Maryland, and was delighted with the interest expressed by students and faculty from the State University of New York, Notre Dame College and Loyola University of Maryland, and the Johns Hopkins Global MBA program.

Malinalxochitl and us - and you?

Last summer our program for migrants' children celebrated Malinalco's historic Aztec culture in two ways: first, our usual bilingual vocabulary studies in English and Spanish became trilingual, offered now in English, Spanish and Nahuatl (including such well-known though rarely attributed Aztec words as aguacatl, tomatl, and chocolatl). It was the most successful vocabulary class we've ever had.

Then the children painted cut-out murals of legendary Aztec personages such as Malinalxochitl, the warrior goddess said to have founded Malinalco. You should have seen the picture-taking at our program's closing event by the proud parents and grandparents of all our migrants' children!

Next time you visit Malinalco you might like to stop by to have your portrait taken as the Aztec goddess Malinalxochitl, the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl, or as a heroic Aztec eagle warrior. (Now is that cool, or what? Our students say there's no doubt about it: in Malinalco, Aztecs rule.)

Providing crisis assistance free of charge

Migrants' families who seek the Corner Institute's crisis assistance are usually in severe economic distress due to their usual support from migrant relatives being cut off by whatever crisis they are facing. We provide the needed help regardless of families' ability to pay, feeling that our best reward in these cases comes from seeing migrants' children remain in school and migrants' families surviving a crisis intact.

Our increasing emphasis on job creation and the economic development of this region looks forward to the day when our efforts can become self-sustaining. We're not there yet, though, so for the present it's still going to take a lot of work and some help with funding for our organization to continue making all the difference for the families of migrants from our region.

If you can help migrants' families remain together and keep migrants' children in school, you are investing in our shared future -- not only to benefit these families. but also so that the beautiful Malinalco region will not be drained of its best talents, and the wonderful inhabitants of this region will have alternative ways to earn a decent living right here in Malinalco, where they can be with their families in the place they love best.

 

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Gustavo, Alexis and Janet in our office during their two-year wait

 

Malinalco migrant Dulce Medina is researching migrant families with U.S.-born children

 

 

At SUNY-Fredonia with professors and honors student organizers

 

Children's art project celebrates Malinalco's founding goddess

 

A migrant mother brings her U.S.-born son to use our free Internet telephone