Interview with Tere García, a tlachiquera (a person who extracts agave nectar) from Otumba in the State of Mexico.
Teresa de Jesús García González was born 28 years ago in Otumba, a town in the State of Mexico renowned for two things: the Battle of Otumba, in which the conquistador Hernán Cortés lost many of his men and The National Donkey Fair, held on May 1 every year.
But that is not the story of Tere, as everyone calls her. As the famous pulque saying goes, she was the daughter of good parents and raised among agaves. And when she came of age and finished high school, she packed up her things to study geography at the National University of Mexico (UNAM). Now, with her blouses embroidered with flowers, her long dark hair and thick eyebrows, she is the face of a Mexican countryside that seeks to renew itself through young people.
”I am the son of good parents and was raised among agaves, I drink good pulque, not water like oxen” – popular saying.
“There are lots of women who are tlachiqueras,” she says when we point out that most of the tlachiqueros we have spoken to are men. “My grandmother was a tlachiquera. She found herself alone but supported her whole family by working with pulque, selling pulque, picking prickly pears and scraping agaves. Women have played a crucial role in the countryside since ancient times, and still do, whether directly or indirectly, because by the time their husbands come back from scraping agave, the women will already have made lunch,” she says.
This cheerful, easy-going woman can reel off popular sayings about pulque and down a pint in seconds, to the delight of those around her. But on the subject of work in the countryside, she speaks with the assurance of someone who has given the matter a good deal of thought and reached important conclusions about her life, such as the decision to go back to working her ancestors’ fields.
“On this journey between where I come from and where I’m going, I discovered land that had been eroded and abandoned. I started to look into what had happened and they told me there used to be agave here. My grandparents used to grow agave but they gave up because of a series of economic and social factors in Mexico. One day I realized that my mission was to reforest the land in this community and plant it with agave,” she said.
Four years ago, she became involved in the production of pulque agave and joined the Territorial Union of Agave Producers in the Valley of Teotihuacan. She has not looked back since, and is convinced that agave is a crop that will save future generations. The maguey or pulque agave encourages water to filter into the subsoil and is a key soil regenerator. It is also pest resistant and able to withstand extreme weather conditions, such as rain or drought.
Tere calls agave a source of wealth and a “wonderful” plant because it can be used in dozens of ways: for nectar, pulque or mead, edible flowers from the tip, known as gualumbos, thick leaves that can be used to bake food in underground ovens, and fodder and even hedgerows can be obtained from this succulent plant. As the old folk used to say: “If you grow nopal cactus and plant agave, you’ll have food, clothes, footwear and a roof over your head. You will transcend.”
But Tere denies that she and her co-workers are trying to rescue the plant that provided a drink fit for the pre-Hispanic gods since she believes the opposite is true.
“I feel that the maguey is rescuing us; what we are doing is preserving the cultivation of agave. It is calling us to go and take care of it, reforest the land, and cherish it as an integral part of Mother Earth”. She goes on to explain,
“It is important for the state to realize that agave provides life for the soil and that the soil provides life for the state. Without a living soil, there can be no state, and therefore no social organization”.