SALVADOR URBINA, CHIAPAS
Salvador Urbina is located in the southern state of Chiapas, which shares a border with Guatemala. It is located near the city of Tapachula on the southern tip of Chiapas. Salvador Urbina is a community of approximately 7,000 people. Urbina, as it is referred to by the locals, has been a community of coffee growers for several generations.
Coffee Growing: The Beginning
Coffee was introduced into Mexico in the late 1700’s. Workers from the nearby, German-owned, coffee fincas settled into the village of Salvador Urbina in the mid 1800s and began purchasing plots of land suitable for coffee production. In the 1900s, the German coffee fincas were overthrown and small scale coffee production became increasingly important. Traditionally Urbina residents have sold their coffee to local brokers who, in turn, have sold the coffee to coffee firms around the world.
In the coffee markets of today, small independent growers continue to sell their product to these coffee brokers. However, the brokers of today represent multinational companies who coordinate with one another ti druve down prices. The market for organic, shade grown coffee almoste entirely vanished.
Life in Salvador Urbina
Today, Urbina is still a largely residential area. Although the community has had electricity for almost 20 years, residential telephone lines have yet to arrive. The small community is also dealing with many of the same issues faced by rural communities of the U.S.: infrastructure, educational opportunities for youth, and environmental controls and legislation.
A typical family home does not include running water or a refrigerator. Water is available in a separate structure used for cleaning dishes and clothes. An outdoor water closet (toilet) is usually close by. Windows do not have screens and heating, when needed, is provided by a wood burning cook stove in the kitchen. Electric power is most often only used for lighting. More established families have coffee patios used for drying coffee beans during the harvesting season.
Bicycles, taxis, and buses provide transportation to members of the community. Chickens and other small livestock are kept close by. Small stores carry toilet paper, cooking oil, fruits and vegetables, eggs and cheese. Many folks raise their own fruits and vegetables and trade is quite common. Shopping for appliances, furniture, technology and most construction materials is done in Tapachula, located approximately ten miles down the mountain.
The opportunities for employment in Urbina are very limited, and the wages are low, often less than $0.50 per hour. Even the jobs in the larger cities pay poorly. As a result, more than 1,000 young people have left Urbina to find better paying work either on the U.S./Mexico border, or in the U.S. Cash from family members working abroad is one of the largest sources of income for those living in Urbina.