Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Each family group can count on an average of two hectares of land, either ejido land or their own small property. The economy is based on small-scale agriculture and wage labor. Cattle ranching is practiced on a small scale, and the production of handicrafts brings in supplementary income.
On unirrigated land the Otomí raise maize, beans, nopal (an edible cactus), squashes, and chickpeas, which form the basis of their diet, together with a juice ( aguamiel ) extracted from the maguey plant. Their diet is complemented with vegetables, fruits, the meat of wild animals, and products purchased with the scant income they obtain from selling their handicrafts and their wage labor.
It is quite usual for the Otomí to rent out irrigated land to the area's mestizo agrobusinessmen, who plant it with alfalfa and vegetables and hire indigenous people as day laborers or peons. Although the sewage waters used for irrigation are a grave health hazard, they are one of the few means by which the Otomí of the Valley of Mezquital can earn a minimal income.
Limited production and the small size of their plots have led the Otomí to emigrate. The migratory flow is directed mainly toward Mexico City and the conurban municipios of the state of Mexico, where the men are hired as day laborers in construction work and the women as domestic servants. Since the mid-1970s, the migratory flow—especially that of men—has also been directed toward the United States, where they are hired as agricultural day laborers in the state of Florida. In both cases, the Otomí make an effort to return to their communities of origin when village fiestas are held.
Industrial Arts. In Ixmiquilpan and surrounding areas, the Otomí make baskets, flowerpots, and a number of ornaments out of reeds. They make pot scrubbers and mats from maguey fiber, tortilla baskets from willow switches, and hats from palm leaves; the hats are woven and sewn by hand. They also produce dove-shaped rattles. In Alfajayucan, they make pottery water pitchers that are used to store water or pulque (beer made from maguey juice).
Trade. Commercial networks are controlled by mestizo intermediaries who buy products from the Otomí at very low prices. Since the beginning of the 1980s, the Otomí have struggled to take over the commercialization of their products. For example, women have turned their efforts to the organization of cooperatives for selling their handicrafts, and now have a store in Ixmiquilpan. Other organizational efforts—pertaining to the production and commercialization of cheeses and to the sale of birds and other products—have also been undertaken mainly by women, who have received the support and advice of government institutions and civil associations.
Division of Labor. The entire family participates in agricultural labor, and children begin to help from the age of 5 or 6. Young people, men as well as women, emigrate from the area, looking for wage labor; old men and the children are left to tend the fields. During planting and harvesting, the men return to their communities to take part in agricultural labor. Women are left in charge of small children and apply themselves to making handicrafts. They are assisted by their older daughters, who later will also form part of the migratory flow.
Land Tenure. Frequently, the same family will have a small plot within the ejido and another as their own small property, the latter obtained through purchase. In general, the total amount of land they hold does not exceed two hectares.