Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Feliz Día del Niño!

Feliz Día del Niño! On April 30th Mexico celebrate's Children's Day.

me and my dad, a few years back ;) 
me and my dad, a few years back ;) 

Google México says Happy Children's Day as well! 
( 4/30/14)

Monday, April 28, 2014


Yesterday we went to eat birria (goat stew) at Michoacanísimo - yum! If brunch were a concept in Mexico, I think it would have applied. We got there around 12:15 but it was so packed I don't think we were seated until at least 1:00. Somehow we were seated in the patio section - a first for me since it usually specially requested and requires a longer wait.

cooking the tortillas and quesadillas
birria, prepped with cilantro, onion, and lime
the boys 
"advertising" my (delicious) pineapple ice cream -
it's my favorite! 
After we ate we stopped by the Cultural Center of the UNAM. Yesterday was International Dance Day and the UNAM had three performance spaces with (free!) performances all day. The sun was brutal (hello sunburn) and it was pretty packed, so we only stayed for a bit.

In the evening I met with my reading group and then relaxed for a bit. It was a full day! 

Friday, April 25, 2014

Article: In Florida Tomato Fields, a Penny Buys Progress

An article published on the front page of The New York Times today about improved working conditions in Florida's tomato fields, thanks to the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. This Florida-based farmworkers advocacy group is featured in the documentary "Food Chains" (Web site, Facebook page), which after showing at the Berlin Film Festival, the Guadalajara Film Festival, and (soon-to-be at) the Tribeca Film Festival, is set to be released in theaters in the US later this year. Check it out!
(And while you're at it, you can see my friend Erin's smiling face on the About The Crew page as the editor. So proud!!) 


In Florida Tomato Fields, a Penny Buys Progress

APRIL 24, 2014
The New York Times

IMMOKALEE, Fla. — Not long ago, Angelina Velasquez trudged to a parking lot at 5 each morning so a crew leader’s bus could drop her at the tomato fields by 6. She often waited there, unpaid — while the dew dried — until 10 a.m., when the workers were told to clock in and start picking.

Back then, crew leaders often hectored and screamed at the workers, pushing them to fill their 32-pound buckets ever faster in this area known as the nation’s tomato capital. For decades, the fields here have had a reputation for horrid conditions. Many migrant workers picked without rest breaks, even in 95-degree heat. Some women complained that crew leaders groped them or demanded sex in exchange for steady jobs.

But those abusive practices have all but disappeared, said Ms. Velasquez, an immigrant from Mexico. She and many labor experts credit a tenacious group of tomato workers, who in recent years forged partnerships with giant restaurant companies like McDonald’s and Yum Brands (owner of Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and KFC) to improve conditions in the fields.Photo

By enlisting the might of major restaurant chains and retailers — including Walmart, which signed on this year — the Coalition of Immokalee Workers has pressured growers that produce 90 percent of Florida’s tomatoes to increase wages for their 30,000 workers and follow strict standards that mandate rest breaks and forbid sexual harassment and verbal abuse.

The incentive for growers to comply with what’s called the Fair Food Program is economically stark: The big companies have pledged to buy only from growers who follow the new standards, paying them an extra penny a pound, which goes to the pickers. The companies have also pledged to drop any suppliers that violate the standards.

So far, the agreements between retailers and growers are limited to Florida’s tomato fields, which in itself is no small feat considering that the state produces 90 percent of the country’s winter tomatoes.

But gaining the heft and reach of Walmart — which sells 20 percent of the nation’s fresh tomatoes year-round — may prove far more influential. To the applause of farmworkers’ advocates, the retailer has agreed to extend the program’s standards and monitoring to its tomato suppliers in Georgia, South Carolina and Virginia and elsewhere on the Eastern Seaboard. Walmart officials say they also hope to apply the standards to apple orchards in Michigan and Washington and strawberry fields in many states.

“This is the best workplace-monitoring program I’ve seen in the U.S.,” said Janice R. Fine, a labor relations professor at Rutgers. “It can certainly be a model for agriculture across the U.S. If anybody is going to lead the way and teach people how it’s done, it’s them.”

Since the program’s inception, its system of inspections and decisions issued by a former judge has resulted in suspensions for several growers, including one that failed to adopt a payroll system to ensure pickers were paid for all the time they worked.

But progress is far from complete. Immokalee, 30 miles inland from several wealthy gulf resorts, is a town of taco joints and backyard chicken coops where many farmworkers still live in rotting shacks or dilapidated, rat-infested trailers. A series of prosecutions has highlighted modern-day slavery in the area — one 2008 case involved traffickers convicted of beating workers, stealing their wages and locking them in trucks.

“When I first visited Immokalee, I heard appalling stories of abuse and modern slavery,” said Susan L. Marquis, dean of the Pardee RAND Graduate School, a public policy institution in Santa Monica, Calif. “But now the tomato fields in Immokalee are probably the best working environment in American agriculture. In the past three years, they’ve gone from being the worst to the best.”

Amassing all these company partnerships took time. The workers’ coalition organized a four-year boycott of Taco Bell to get its parent company, Yum Brands, to agree in 2005 to pay an extra penny a pound for tomatoes, helping increase workers’ wages. In 2007 the coalition sponsored a march to Burger King’s headquarters in Miami, pushing that company to join the effort. Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Chipotle and Subway have also signed on.

Perhaps the coalition’s biggest success is luring Walmart, which joined the program in January without a fight. Walmart officials said they were looking for ethically sourced produce as well as a steady supply of tomatoes. The giant company’s decision coincides with its major inroads into organic foods and fresh fruits and vegetables.

“We try to sell safe, affordable, sustainable sources of food — that’s the only way we will be able to grow the way we want in the future,” said Jack L. Sinclair, executive vice president of Walmart’s grocery division. “These guys have a pretty good set of standards in place that we think will allow our growers to get a consistent level of labor.” He told of Arizona growers whose tomatoes had rotted in the fields because of a lack of pickers.

The Fair Food Program’s standards go far beyond what state or federal law requires, mandating shade tents so that workers who request a rest break can escape the hot Florida sun. Remedying a practice that Ms. Velasquez abhorred, growers must clock in workers as soon as they are bused to the fields.

Every farm must have a health and safety committee with workers’ representatives, and there is a 24-hour hotline that workers can call, with a Spanish-speaking investigator.

Under the program, tomato pickers may receive an extra $60 to $80 a week because of the penny-a-pound premium. That means a 20 to 35 percent weekly pay increase for these workers, who average about $8.75 an hour. The extra penny a pound means that participating companies together pay an additional $4 million a year for tomatoes.

“We see ourselves as a standard-setting organization,” said Greg Asbed, co-founder of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.

Established in 1993, the coalition was one of the nation’s first worker centers dedicated to aiding migrants. It has since grown steadily, to 4,500 members, and its tactics have become more sophisticated. Last spring, a group of 100 workers and their supporters marched 200 miles from Immokalee to Lakeland, Fla., to press Publix Super Markets to join the program. Publix said it already used growers that adhered to high standards.

Mr. Asbed attributes the program’s success to getting giant corporations like Walmart to join.

“We’ve harnessed their market power to eliminate worker abuses,” he said. “There has to be real and believable market consequences for growers that refuse to comply.”

In late 2007, after McDonald’s signed on, the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, an industry association, sought to scuttle the coalition’s efforts. It threatened growers with $100,000 fines if they cooperated with the coalition, stalling its efforts.

But the logjam was broken in 2010 when Pacific Tomato Growers — one of the nation’s biggest producers, with large operations in Florida — joined. Weeks later, Lipman, the nation’s largest tomato grower, also signed on, and eventually the Tomato Growers Exchange did, too.

Beau McHan, Pacific’s harvest manager, said, “We’re trying to run a business and make a profit, yet everyone wants to know they’re changing the world for the better."

Joining, he acknowledged, has cost Pacific hundreds of thousands of dollars — $5,000 a year for shade tents and $50,000 for an improved drinking-water system as well as the money to pay workers for waiting time that was once off the clock. A former New York State judge, Laura Safer Espinoza, oversees the inspection apparatus, which interviews thousands of workers, audits payrolls and conducts in-depth interviews with farm managers. There are lengthy trainings for crew leaders, and six of them were fired after her team investigated allegations of verbal abuse and sexual harassment.

“Supervisors have gotten the message, and we’re seeing far fewer allegations of harassment than three years ago,” she said.

Now that the three-year-old program has stopped much of the abuse and harassment, participants are planning to give tomatoes produced under its watch a “Fair Food” label that could reassure — and attract — shoppers who want ethically sourced produce.

A version of this article appears in print on April 25, 2014, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: In Florida Tomato Fields, a Penny Buys Progress.

Video: Rare Baby Zonkey Born in Mexico Zoo

On Monday, a baby zonkey (cross between a zebra and a donkey), named Khumba, was born in the zoo in Reynosa, Mexico.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Article: Gabriel García Márquez Memorial Brings Thousands Of Mourners To Bid Farewell

Associated Press Article published on Huffington Post site about the memorial to Colombian author Gabriel García Marquez in Mexico City yesterday. 


Gabriel García Márquez Memorial Brings Thousands Of Mourners To Bid Farewell

Posted: Updated: 

TED talk: Keith Chen - Could your language affect your ability to save money?

An interesting talk (~12 minutes) by behavioral economist Keith Chen about the connections between language and savings behavior.

From the TED talk site: 

What can economists learn from linguists? Behavioral economist Keith Chen introduces a fascinating pattern from his research: that languages without a concept for the future — "It rain tomorrow," instead of "It will rain tomorrow" — correlate strongly with high savings rates.

Friday, April 18, 2014


Nothing like an earthquake in the morning to make sure you're really awake!

There was a big earthquake this morning around 9:30.  Mexico's National Seismological Service reported it was a magnitude - 7.0 earthquake centered in Petatlan, Guerrero (on the coast of Guerrero, about 515 km = 320 miles from Mexico City and 201 km = 125 miles from Acapulco).

from Twitter 

The U.S. Geological Survey reported it was a magnitude- 7.5 quake. Either way, it was strong and lasted a really long time: for about a minute (and felt like longer).

My roommate and I are fine though and so far I don't think any damages have been reported.

*Edit - Mexico's National Seismological Service upgraded and the U.S. Geological Survey downgraded the magnitude of the quake, agreeing on 7.2.

*Edit - Though I had seen it reported that it lasted about 30 seconds, other reports said about a minute and some videos/news clips corroborated that it was about a minute. I knew it felt longer!

*Edit - UnoNoticias (News texted to my phone by Telcel) said 48 buildings were damaged and 15 walls fell down in the DF.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Article: Undocumented Immigrants Contribute Billions in Taxes

In honor of tax day in the U.S., an article about undocumented immigrants and taxes. 


Undocumented Immigrants Contribute Billions in Taxes

American Immigration Council
Immigration Impact
Written by on April 15, 2014 
in Comprehensive Immigration ReformEconomicsUndocumented Immigration
Death and taxes, according to Benjamin Franklin, are the only things in life that are certain. And despite the prevailing myth perpetrated by nativist groups, there are plenty of undocumented immigrants facing the certainty of taxes on April 15. They pay billions in state and local taxes every year that help to fund benefits they are often unable to receive. Tax Day is a good reminder that if the House passed legislation to create a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, then it would increase the amount being paid in taxes each year while also creating a more fair system for immigrants.
One way that undocumented immigrants already pay taxes is through the day-to-day taxes of living in this country. According to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP), undocumented immigrants paid an estimated $9.4 billion in the state property and sales taxes that fund schools, police and fire stations, roads, and public services within each state. Everyone who lives in or visits our country pays these taxes when they fill up their gas tank and buy items like a car,  house, or clothes.
As people who have filed taxes know very well, income taxes require reporting income. Payroll taxes are what employers are required to pay on their employees (such as Social Security and Medicare contributions). Undocumented immigrants, and many other people who don’t have Social Security numbers, report income through their Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN). Both state and federal governments receive taxes on undocumented immigrant’s income and employment. ITEP estimates that “at least half” of undocumented immigrants pay state income taxes even though they lack legal status—an amount that totaled $1.24 billion in 2010. The Center for American Progress (CAP) estimates that “one-third of unauthorized immigrants working in the formal economy” pay more than $13 billion in payroll taxes.
What is true of both income and payroll taxes is that if Congress passed immigration reform, these numbers would only increase. ITEP’s numbers estimate that state income taxes would rise to $2.8 billion if immigration reform and CAP argues that reform would add $109 billion in combined federal, state, and local taxes over a ten year period. Legal status would “provide a net contribution” to the Medicare trust fund “for the next three decades,” totaling an estimated $155 billion. Social Security’s trust fund would increase as well, to $606 billion. That number, as CAP points out, “is enough money to fund the retirement benefits of 2.4 million native-born Americans.”
These numbers are part of the reason why CBO scores for both HR 15 and S. 744 have shown such benefits for the U.S. economy. The Senate has already passed comprehensive immigration reform. If the House does as well, then the U.S. could have a working immigration system and more money in the public treasury on Tax Days to come.
- See more at:

Pan dulce

I gave myself a craving for pan dulce after my post the other day, so I picked some up from the bakery today. Yum!

pan dulce

Monday, April 14, 2014

Visit to the Chapultepec Zoo

Yesterday we spent the afternoon at the Chapultepec Zoo, which was my first time visiting. Did you know that it's free? I didn't until yesterday! I think the animals might have had the right idea hanging out in the shade though - the sun was pretty brutal and the zoo was packed!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Friday, April 11, 2014

Blog post: "Why I’m in love with Mexican pan dulce"

Mexico has a huge variety of pan dulce (sweet bread or pastries) -- some of which I've tried, and much less of which I've photographed to share on the blog.

fancy pan dulce at a restaurant in Polanc
fancy pan dulce at a restaurant in Polanco
resobada in Maltrata
baking pan de muerto

Click here to read Leslie Téllez's post "Why I'm in love with Mexican pan dulce" on her blog The Mija Chronicles.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Choir's concert in Gryfino, Poland

Maybe we'll count today's post as a Throwback Thursday post since it's from our trip to Europe last summer...

We gave our final concert in Poland on July 8, 2013 at a church in Gryfino, Poland. While we had lots of fantastic concerts while on tour, this one stood out to me because the audience was so enthusiastic and filled with lots of our new friends who we had met the first few days of the trip and were reunited with at the end of our stay in Poland. It was bittersweet to be able to share this concert with them and to see friendly faces in the audience as we sang, but also knowing we'd have to say goodbye. (Fortunately they're coming to visit us in Mexico in a couple of months. Yay!!) 

One of our new friends recorded and uploaded the entire concert, which is what I want to share with you today:

The first half of the concert was sacred music. In the middle we were presented with awards from the competition in Miedzyzdroje, Poland (... I think). The second half is popular / traditional / folkloric music from various countries in Latin America. (Oh yea, and I also introduce the pieces in English in the second half. I get more nervous about speaking than singing!) 

1. Xtoles (~0:00:30)
2. Motete + Dios Itlaconantzine (~0:05:30)
3. Ave Maria (~0:10:15)
4. Locus iste (~0:13:15)
5. O magnum mysterium (~0:16:40)
6. Benedictio (~0:23:20)
7. La llorona (México) (~0:35:50)
8. Naranjitay (Bolivia) (~0:40:00)
9. Son de la Loma (Cuba) (~0:42:40)
10. Bullerengue (Colombia) (~0:46:00)
11. El Bodeguero (Cuba) (~0:49:25)
12. El Cascabel (México) (~0:53:15)
13. Cielito Lindo / Cielito Lindo Huasteco (México) (~0:56:30)
Encore 1: Bésame Mucho (México) (~1:06:00)
Encore 2: Prende la Vela (Colombia) (~1:11:15)
Encore 3: Louva a Deus (Brazil) (~1:15:55)

Also, a closer video of "Bésame Mucho" from the same concert:

Monday, April 7, 2014

Choir on "Creadores Universitarios"

A few photos from when the choir performed the songs "Naranjitay" and "Kalkadunga" on the show "Creadores Universitarios" on February 21st...

Photo of us live on TV:

Screenshots of the live online broadcast: 

You can watch the video on the show's website: 
(though it seems that it only works when watching within Mexico).

Jacarandas at the UNAM

Jacarandas outside of the School of Economics at the UNAM

Friday, April 4, 2014

Busy week!

It's been a busy week this week!

In addition to the normal thesis writing, working out, and rehearsing with the choir....

We had an extra long rehearsal to prepare for our multiple events this week and in the near future.

I made a trip to the Brazilian Consulate (more on that eventually!). Getting there and back is definitely the longest part! I also composed an email to send to Eric Whitacre (the Eric Whitacre) from our choir director (token native English speaker here!), which wasn't so much time consuming as out of the ordinary.

Just a regular day -- gym, grocery store, thesis, and rehearsal.

We had a concert at the Centro de Enseñanza para Extranjeros (CEPE) and it went really well! We even sang two encores by request!

Thursday night we went to see the movie Divergent. Edson had gotten tickets through a promotion so five of us were able to see it before it officially opened in theaters on Friday. I really enjoyed it!
I spent most of the day (11:45 am - 6:00 pm) with the choir recording two songs for a television program! We sang "Water Night" and "Cloudburst," both with text by Octavio Paz and music by Eric Whitacre. "Water Night" is the English translation of Paz's poem "Agua Nocturna" and "Cloudburst" is adapted from the poem "El Cántaro Roto" ("The Broken Water-Jug). The program will be in honor of Octavio Paz's 100th birthday (which was March 31st) and broadcast by Edusat, a non-commercial, educational television network owned by the Secretary of Public Education. I also did a reading of "Water Night" (once again, token native English speaker), so we'll see if it makes the cut. No info yet when the program will be broadcast.

"Cloudburst", behind the scenes. Not sure why our black dresses look blue
Reading "Water Night" - I'm reading in English, my choirmates are reading in Spanish
If you're interesting in listening to the songs from previous performances, click here for "Cloudburst" and here for "Water Night."

Saturday and Sunday: 
This weekend we're headed to Cuernavaca to visit friends and celebrate their exciting news. Yay!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Video: Clint Smith - "Memoir"

Upcoming choir concert

On Thursday the choir will be performing at the Centro de Enseñanza Para Extranjeros at the UNAM, where foreigners can go to take Spanish and cultural classes.

If you're local:

Thursday April 3, 2014
Jose Vasconcelos Auditorium
Centro de Enseñanza Para Extranjeros