MEXICALI, Mexico – Tension between migrant Mexican Indians and police are escalating after confrontations on the border across from the U.S., said a group of Mixtecs residing on the northern frontier.
Mexicali municipal police allegedly questioned then threatened a 10-year old Mixtec boy selling candy with jail time and confiscation, resulting in a confrontation with the Mixtecs that eventually drew additional police, the Mixtecs said.
Mixtecs said they were compelled to mob the police after jailing a 15-year old girl and 18-year old woman in a previous incident for expired vendor permits.
No injuries or arrests occurred in the Oct. 19 incident where police allegedly threatened a restrained Mixtec man lying on the ground with an automatic rifle, known locally as the “cuernos de chivo” (goat horns), for its curved ammo clip.
“They threatened his life for protecting his son with the cuernos de chivo, the famous and evil cuernos de chivo.” said Pedro Barrios, the president of the Mixtec Civil Association here.
Mexicali municipal officials did not respond to inquiries from Indian Country Today regarding the incident.
A series of images taken of the incident by the Mixtecs with a cell phone camera show a crowd of Mixtecs surrounding three uniformed Mexicali police officers, but signs of aggression are absent.
Displaced from extreme poverty in their native Mexican state of Oaxaca, the community of about 150 Mixtecs here make a living selling trinkets and snacks to U.S.-bound border crossers at the Calexico Port of Entry, America’s third busiest along the Mexican border, about 125 miles east of San Diego.
Mexicali municipal police are typically stationed near the border crossing within the city limits to control traffic.
Conflict at the border is not new to the Mixtecs here who claimed the informal marketplace eight years ago. They were ousted from the federal portion of the border in April by Mexican customs officers that resulted in risky attempts of circumventing the federal authorities to continue selling to border crossers. That was followed by the Mexicali municipality issuing, for the first time, selling permits at the border. The permits were only valid within the city limits.
Now, Mixtecs say, they are being harassed for not renewing the expensive permits.
Mexicali police have been seen enforcing the permit ordinances of Indian and non-Indian vendors throughout the city. But the Mixtecs say police are particularly and systematically aggressive to Indians.
“They take advantage of us because they have a uniform and we are a small community,” said Raul Camarillo, 37, a Mixtec Indian who sells beverages out of an ice chest at the border.
Mexicali’s Mixtecs, however, part of millions of Indians who make up the Mexican social lower-class, appear to be struggling with Mexico’s efforts of promoting a modern image, especially to the foreigners at the border.
Mixtec children routinely sell goods at the congested border, some appearing to be under 14, the legal age to work in Mexico.
“That’s the problem,” said Roberto Ching, a human rights case worker at the Baja California Human Rights office that specializes in indigenous communities.
“The police harass them, because they don’t have papers and they bring their kids amongst dangerous conditions. It’s not a good sight for tourists and this makes them more vulnerable and they constantly risk their lives there,” he said.
Camarillo said only older children over 11 or 12 years old work at the border while younger children remain in parked cars or play by the side of the border lanes during non-school days.
“We are very careful with them, said Camarillo, who has three children, including a nine-year old.
“We can’t afford to pay someone to take care of them, so we go as family,” he said.
Ching said that reflects Mixtec culture.
“The children participate in the community and do their share. That situation exists in every Indian community in Mexico.”