Cada quien cuenta como le fue en la feria
(everyone tells the story as they lived it).
Popular mexican saying
ePIlogue
“Everyone has a different story to tell about their time at the fair,”
goes a popular Mexican saying expressing the infinite and multiple
perspectives of each participant. This saying could also be applied to
the vastly different experiences of rural Mexicans in the period when
state-sponsored barbasco projects dominated eastern Oaxaca’s rural
development.
Although many campesinos of the Región Tuxtepec continue to
eke out a subsistence existence, for some the barbasco trade intro-
duced significant social change. As some barbasqueros gained an
increasing knowledge of what they were doing with barbasco, they
expanded their conception of their role in the countryside and in
Mexico more broadly. As members of the National Union of Pro-
ducers and Gatherers of Barbasco (UNpRB), among others, gradually
became conscious of their political value, they used this awareness
to gain public, and in some instances private, capital. The men and
women involved with the barbasco trade who managed to alter their
social condition in a major way, as opposed to those who did not,
had one conspicuous thing in common. When asked about the dios-
coreas, they invariably used a chemical term. This simple linguistic
difference proved to be a crucial element in how people shaped their
memories of the barbasco trade and crafted the narratives of their
participation.
Perhaps more telling of this inconsistent character of barbasco pro-
duction was the hesitant answer, “I don’t own land, so I don’t know any-
thing,” offered in 1999 in response to my questioning a former picker
about his experience. How was it possible that at the close of the twen-
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