I was sitting outside the faded colonial church in Teotitlan del Valle, a village in the beautiful, proudly indigenous state of Oaxaca in southern Mexico. I surveyed the scene, trying to decipher the source of my uneasiness. In the town square facing the church, people were going about their day: haggling over the price of beans, weaving rugs, enjoying a taste of the regionâ€™s famous black mole sauce.
And then it hit me: They were all women. OK, a few girls and abuelitas were running around, but the only man besides me was the guy inside the church hanging on a cross.
â€œWhere are all the men?â€ I asked Carla Moreno, my tour guide and the unofficial town historian of Teotitlan. I had met Carla a week earlier at a writersâ€™ conference in Oaxaca city, and over a drink of mescal she had offered to show me around her hometown.
â€œFueron al Norte,â€ Carla said with a sad smile. â€œThey went north. To the U.S.â€
I couldnâ€™t believe it. Migration seemed to have hit Teotitlan like a plague, wiping out the townâ€™s sons and fathers in one generational swoop. How was this possible?
â€œThis is how,â€ Carla said. She pulled out two ears of corn, already shucked.
One corn was yellow, the kind Iâ€™ve devoured at many a Labor Day barbecue. The other corn, however, was a color my gringo eyes had never seen before: It was blue. A royal, purplish blue, with the occasional red or yellow kernel thrown in like abstract art.
â€œThis,â€ Carla said, holding up the blue species, â€œis one of our native corns we grow here in Oaxaca.â€
â€œAnd this one,â€ she continued, now holding the yellow corn, â€œis from Iowa. American corn, subsidized by the American government, that has made it impossible for Mexican farmers to make a living. Farmers like my brother Luis.â€
Carla glanced around the village, like she was searching for a ghost.
â€œYou want to know why Mexicans are taking over America?â€ she said. â€œBecause American corn is taking over Mexico.â€