Mazahua - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. A large percentage of the Mazahua population performs agricultural labor, mainly planting maize, beans, and chilies. Because they inhabit an interethnic area with great economic diversity, they also work at other jobs, as wage earners. Work opportunities in the major Mazahua municipios are in agriculture and cattle herding, or in factories and shops that produce clothing, chemicals, paper products, packaged foods, and electrical appliances. They also work at wood and lumber production and in gold and silver mines. Temporary migration is another work option. In the cities, Mazahua men are often employed in the construction industry, and women in domestic service.

Handicrafts. Handicrafts are yet another Mazahua activity, especially the production of woolen textiles, pottery, and basketry. In some areas, brooms and brushes are made from zacatón roots ( Muhlenbergia macroura ).

Commerce. Zacatón-root products, as well as handicrafts in general, are intended mainly for the market. Many Mazahua products are marketed by intermediaries; generally nonindigenous, these middlemen make most of the profit. In view of this situation, the Mazahua have looked for other options: one alternative is to organize cooperatives, among which women's cooperatives are the most prominent. Some Mazahua choose to become traders themselves, first trading local handicrafts and later industrially produced products, which Mazahua families transport throughout Mexico. They learn trading skills from the nonindigenous peoples for whom they work as helpers. Among the inhabitants of the municipality of Temascalcingo, this is an increasingly important option. Many of the Mazahua who trade on the northern and southeastern frontiers of Mexico come from that area.

Division of Labor. Every member of a Mazahua family works. Besides caring for their children, women tend to their homes and collaborate with their husbands on some agricultural tasks—harvesting, for example. In the production of pottery, women paint or adorn the pots; men prepare the clay, take charge of the ovens, and oversee the firing. Children help the parent of the same sex. In the fabrication of textiles, women tend the sheep, card the wool, and weave; men perform other related tasks.

All members of a family participate when it is involved in trading. In the cities, Mazahua saleswomen ply the streets in traditional costumes, offering their handicrafts. Others, accompanied by their children, sell sweets and chewing gum on street corners. Men dress less distinctively; they sell auto parts, ceramics, and domestic utensils (china, pots and pans, plastic utensils, etc.) from ambulatory stalls or sell fruit or ice-cream sticks from small carts.

Land Tenure. Land tenure among the Mazahua is mainly through an ejido. The amount of land available for each family varies: it may be less than one hectare or more than six hectares. It is usually unirrigated land, dependent on seasonal rainfall. Ejidos consist of land divided into plots and lands for common use. Mazahua families cultivate their crops on the plots; the common lands are used for grazing, gathering wood, collecting medicinal and edible plants, and, sometimes, exploiting the timber.

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