Editorial Note by Brian Flagg: Many of the people we serve daily at Casa Maria are from Mexico, including many from the Cananea region. We at Casa Maria feel the need to tell stories from the homeland.
This is the first of a series of articles on Cananea written by Gilberto Contreras Morales.
By: Gilberto Contreras Morales
As a first generation Xican@, living between borders was something normal. My parents moved to the United States a year before I was born. My family and I made the 3 hour trip twice a month to Cananea, Sonora for years. Throughout these years, the stories that were spread about the town were about the mine.
The city of Cananea, Sonora does not have a quiet past. It was the birth place of the Mexican Revolution. The strike of 1910 at the Mina de Cananea sparked the match that enraged a nation to riot.
Back then, the mineros were fighting for equal pay and 8 hour work days. Los Mineros wanted to be paid as much as the gringos were. They began to strike and it sparked a nation that demanded change.
Now, Cananea is seeing the same desire to protest as it has in the past.
In 1990, the mine was sold to Grupo Mexico, a notorious company that has many gold, silver, bronze, and other precious stone mines from around Mexico and the US. When a mine is sold, there is a clause in Mexico that states that 5% of the amount paid for the mine goes straight to the workers.
The previous owner of the mine, Napoleon Gomez Urrutia, took that money, got caught doing so, and crossed borders. Twice. He was spotted in Canada shortly after the money vanished.
The miners felt that they were entitled to that money. It took a decade and a half for the miners to verify rumors of Napo spending all that money in Canada for them to realize the money was truly gone. By 2005, they grew tired and decided to strike.
At the beginning of the strike, the mine was at a stand still. For two years, no one was working in the mine. No workers, no revenue, no nothing.
Many of the strikers had families, mortgages, and bills. The goal they wanted to accomplish was to establish how important the miners are to the company. This demonstration by the miners would be an attempt to earn a pay raise. Same as before.
Los Mineros knew that La Mina de Cananea is the largest supplier of copper in all of Mexico. The company was losing valuable time and money the longer the miners were on strike.
It has been a decade since the strike began and the mine has only hired back less than 50% of willing and/or desperate workers. In a desperate attempt to repopulate the mine, the company brought workers from southern Mexico to work at less pay and more hours. Los Mineros who were willing to work and who were brought to Cananea work 12 hour work days.
The mine town, barely populated by 60 thousand people, has seen a major increase in population because of the shipped workers.
People from Cananea have said that the town has changed, both visual and the environment. The climate has changed from a quiet and quaint mining town, to one where it’s at one’s own risk to walk out at dusk. Cananea, since the strike began, has seen violence, a militarized state of mind and a massive chemical spill into El Rio Sonora.
The mine has continually offered money to residents of the oldest Barrio in Cananea; Cananea Vieja. They need the land to expand the mine. This threatens to erase in the name of profit the barrio where my grandmother and family still live.
It has been a rough decade for Cananea, and it is no where near done.