The Rain Comes to Tijuana – by Kau Sirenio (

~ This crónica was first published on on July 25, 2014 ~


The Na Savi (the Rain People) gathered recently on a Friday to discuss the use and abuse of their language Tuún Savi (Mixteco) at their Fourteenth Congress in Tijuana. Along with addressing their language, they would also exchange cultural experiences with more than 50,000 migrants from Oaxaca, Puebla and Guerrero.

Over three days, writers, researchers and Na Savi intellectuals – members of the Mixtecan Academy of Language – shared their thoughts about the future of their language, culture, history and world view within and beyond the lands of the Ñuu Savi (the People of the Rain).

This space – known as Ve’e Tu’un Savi – was formed in 1997 by writers, bilingual teachers, researchers, historians, anthropologists, sociologists, philosophers, farmers and agricultural day laborers who migrated to the fields of Baja California, Sinaloa, Sonora and Chihuahua. It included the workers and students who established themselves in other cities of the country. Everybody worked together to make the congress the House of the Rain.

At encuentros like the Ve’e Tu’un Savi Congress the migrants tell their story, their other reality. “Our lives,” said Tiburcio Pérez Castro at the Sixth Congress in Tlaxiaco, Oaxaca, “far from the lands where we were born, are worse than in our own hometowns because we would rather leave them than die of hunger there. From the moment we leave we are faced with a society that refuses to accept us because we are indigenous.”


 The Na Savi have become more visible in northern Mexican states and in California after various indigenous associations united across the border, demanding the organization of their community. Instrumental to making the Na Savi visible was the support of the Binational Oaxcan Indigenous Front (FIOB), an organization founded in California in 1991.

Few people know Tiburcio Pérez’s history of the Na Savi (Desarrollo Histórico Político de la Comunidad de San Juan Yolotepec). Pérez is now organizer of the Fourteenth Tu’un Savi Congress in Tijuana. Those that do know his history have done little to create conditions so that the Na Savi don’t have to leave their ancestral lands and subject themselves to exploitation.

The articulation of indigenous associations, and the agreement between the leaders of the Binational Oaxcan Indigenous Front prompted analysis and sparked the process of identity formation around being Na Savi: how to define oneself as migrants and indigenous laborers based on cultural identity and a reappraisal of how to organize the struggle. The FIOB mobilized the Na Savi simultaneously from Oaxaca, Baja California, and California, showing that even outside of their ancestral lands migrants can maintain their community organization based on the communities they came from.

Migration to the United States did not imply a break with Oaxaca or with Mexico but the adjustment to new forms of social organizing in a context of movement and continuous change.

During the ‘seventies, the inhabitants of the Ñuu Savi shaped a complex set of migratory routes that enabled members of this indigenous community to disperse all over Mexico and the United States. In the ‘seventies, thousands of Na Savi workers came north, mostly to the states of Sinaloa and Sonora, brought by the promise of work in large scale agro-business.

At the end of the 1970s, agricultural work stretched from Sinaloa to Baja California, mostly to the San Quentin Valley, and brought with it the migration of Na Savi workers. Michael Kearney and Carol Nagengast – researchers of the Na Savi migration to the north of the country – calculate that around 90,000 Na Savi work in Sinaloa and Baja California during the high season, meaning that around 80% of the region’s workers comes from Ñuu Savi. In the 1950s, some pioneering families established themselves in border cities like Tijuana, Nogales, and Mexicali. Currently around 25,000 Na Savi live in three cities.

On the eve of the ‘seventies, the Naa Savi moved to California – most to the tomato fields in San Diego and Riverside’s vineyards – putting themselves at the service of the most established border communities. That’s how they established the new routes that served as a springboard for more migrants coming from the same communities.

In the last two decades, the Ñuu Savi migration has spread throughout the United States. The population of Na Savi agricultural workers in California in the high season rises to around 50,000, according to Michael Kearney, meaning about five percent of the agricultural hand labor in the state. Carol Zabin says there are between 20,000 and 30,000, according to her calculations.

“In Californai, the Na Savi encounter precarious working and living conditions. As recent migrants they are on the lowest rung of the labor market on both sides of the border. This position makes them especially vulnerable to labor abuse with excessively long working days, low pay and no protection in high-risk work areas like the application of toxic pesticides,” says Lorena Rosas Chávez, in a letter published in the magazine Tu’un Savi in July 2003.


Of the 40,000 Na Savi children who live in Tijuana, the city’s Human Rights and Vulnerable Groups Commission estimates that around 26,500 don’t go to school. The supervisor of Indigenous Education for this region, Bartolomé Cano Allende agrees with that figure.

On 22 March 2009, the professor said that only 3,500 Na Savi study in two indigenous educational zones with twenty primary and pre-school campuses. Baja California has 62 towns and Na Savi reside in 52 of them. The Ñuu Savi come from Oaxaca, Guerrero, and Morelos.

The students of the 3,500 Na Vali (the Children of the Rain) number only 11.6 percent, while 88.4 percent of children work in the fields. “If they don’t have anything other to do than study, then they are sent to the field,” the bilingual teacher says.

The main reason why 88.4 percent of Ñuu Savi children don’t go to school is that many of their parents include them in work activities, and because of discrimination by mestizos.

Children from the age of fourteen certainly complain of being discriminated against in regular schools, says Ñuu Savi community member and teacher Jaime Amador Aparicio Ramirez. It’s the main reason why they drop out of schooling.


 The thousands of Na Savi in Tijuana came first from Oaxaca, then from Guerrero, and little by little they integrated themselves into border life, shaping the cultural diversity that blankets the city.

The first Na Savi arrived in Tijuana at the beginning of the 1970s, hailing mostly from Huajuapan de León, Silacayoapan and Juxtlahuaca, all located in the Low Mixteca region of Oaxaca (Velasco, 2002: 59). The Mixteca are spread over three states: Oaxaca, Guerrero, and Puebla. The Na Savi from Guerrero came later, around 1984, energizing the first groups enough to unleash the migratory flow.

The social networks between these countrymen and women became more secure after the arrival of the first people from Guerrero at the border. The strengthening of these ties increased the possibility of migration and eased their intersertion into those places where they were received. When migrants can rely on support the decision to move to other cities is simpler; the solidarity flowing from these networks is one of the advantages of being part of an indigenous community.

For Tiburcio Pérez, the attendees at the Fourtheenth Congress of the Ve’e Tu’un Savi have a huge task ahead of it because at the different working groups the day laborers related how they survive and issued a proclamation.

Journalist Kau Sirenio is a native-born Na Savi who speaks Tu’un Savi and may be followed on Twitter @KauSirenio. This article first appeared in Spanish under the title, “La luvia cae en Tijuana,” and is available at:

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP), a quality selection of Spanish-language journalism about Latin America rendered into English. Follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons.


About Michael Lettieri

Program Officer at the Trans-Border Institute

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