About a quarter-and possibly as much as a third-of the population of little San Mateo, Mexico, now lives in Philadelphia.
At that first meeting about a year ago, Ruben invited everyone to share their personal stories. There were many to choose from.
There were issues of local corruption and mass unemployment. The group could raise money to install streetlights, or pave the road to San Pedro, or create recreation programs to give the youth something to do. (San Mateo has a recent but growing problem with bored kids and teens inhaling paint thinner and taking veterinary drugs.)
But the most pressing problem, they agreed, was education. Ruben had graduated from a preparatorio in nearby San Pedro, but guys like Charro had attended just three years of primary school.
And while San Mateo had finally opened its own high school two years earlier, it's in a crumbling building with three overcrowded classrooms. Its location in the town center means constant noise and traffic distractions. The building is hot, the windows are broken and there's no toilet. If students need to use the bathroom they either walk to the nearby primary school or go home. Of those who finish (the first graduating class will have 26 students), most of the women will get married and have kids. The men will come to Philadelphia to support them.
|Pressure Grupo: Ozolco members Jaime (from left),Charro Negro, Ruben and Gabino meet Sunday mornings to visit the homes of San Mateans living in South Philly and collect donations for the high school project. Photo by Jeff Fusco.|
New concrete homes have replaced many of the previous era's homes that were made from a claylike material and sand. Though most new houses are still raw gray blocks awaiting further construction, a few are stuccoed and painted. Splashes of color and modernity surface here and there amid the ancient, quiet landscape.
Over in the Shalacas' neighborhood-what has historically been the poorest section of the pueblo-El Charro Negro's new two-story, six-room and two-bath home is getting its final touches.
As the sun goes down and the cold mountain air blows gusts of dirt across the bumpy roads, men and women return from el campo, as they have for decades, even centuries. Stray dogs sniff each other out in the middle of the road. Popocatepetl exhales his smoky breath across the sky. An old man, drunk off pulque, stumbles up the street laughing.
Kate Kilpatrick (firstname.lastname@example.org) is PW's arts and entertainment editor.
PW's 2015 Philly Spring Guide