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For the Love of Family

by Tonia J. Leon
with photography by Barry Weiser
Huntington, New York

Photo by Barry Weiser.
Photo by Barry Weiser.

His name was Benjamin. He was the last born child and only son of Jacobo and Dolores Leon. His mother had died at childbirth when he was not yet three years old, so he was brought up by his father, two older sisters, his grandfather and assorted aunts and their families in the tiny town of Bendicion in the state of Puebla, Mexico. Though motherless, there was an abundance of love and caring in his life.

In reality, the family knew no other abundance. Food was tortillas, chilies, some vegetables, occasionally, eggs, chicken tamales for festive days. Water had to be brought by hand from the river half a mile away. He was considered lucky to be able to attend the rural school three hours a day till he was ten, so he knew how to read and write and arithmetic; he loved to learn about those far away places and times. No doctor or dentist had ever set foot in Bendicion. When sick, the townswomen knew all the traditional remedies – herbs, plasters, minerals, mud, maybe an aspirin.

Their family had somehow subsisted like this on their little piece of land for generations. To earn a few extra pesos, Jacobo would care for his neighbor’s turkeys. With the passage of NAFTA in 1994, things changed for the worse. The US dumped government subsidized genetically modified corn all over the countryside, under pricing the traditional corn cultivated for millennia by the native peoples. No longer able to sell their corn, the farm families were literally starving to death. The small poultry farms were unable to compete with the low prices of agro-businesses and their encaged, force- fed turkeys. To earn a little money to support his aging father as well as his wife and children, Benjamin had the following choices: look for work in Mexico City while living in the festering slums which surrounded the megapolis, work in the maquiladoras (large, mainly foreign-owned factories) on the border, or cross to the USA. Benjamin left for the Norte (USA) on October 12, 2002. A border guard found the remains of his desiccated body, half eaten by buzzards and coyotes in the Sonoran desert body on Oct. 30, Day of the Dead. In Bendicion, his father was found dead in his bed on Nov. 1, All Souls’ Day, with a tear still moist in his eye.

Published in In Motion Magazine May 18, 2007

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