Jose, 57. Professional singer in his twenties, architect for 25 years, Jose is starting with his German wife a new life as an organic farmer. From economic crisis to drug war, his life seems to be a negative of Mexico’s recent history.
Jose is a hardworking and focused student. Always very calm, one can still feel he is on a sort of a hurry to German fluency. When we started our conversation for this portrait, I immediately felt this impatience of properly speaking the local language. This impatience, I see it in many of my co-immigrants. But, slowly I also start to understand that Jose is a man in transition. Here in Germany, he is the one who can give a hand, not the one in charge, taking the decisions. His German wife is now seating on the driver’s seat, and he has no choice but to follow the movement. His life is transforming, but it’s not the first time Jose changed life.
“I have been a sort of alpha male; for the last thirty years, I have provided… Now I discover something else. It’s challenging sometimes, but I learn … a different way.”
The first life: all for singing, or almost
He was twenty when his talent as a singer was detected by one of this big music production company that flourished in Mexico in the seventies. As a contracted artist he follows a four-year program aiming at progressively turning him into a marketable singer and eventually releasing an album; the key to launch his singer’s career. Four years while he learns and performs a lot around the country and lives his passion to the fullest. But nothing in life is easy. As many others throughout the world, he first had to satisfy the parents’ requirements of getting an academic training, something that allows a man to ‘provide’… So he did, graduated as an architect, a field where he could express his creativity. As soon he graduated, he went all in into music, and success twinkled in the horizon. This was without counting the economic crisis that struck Mexico in 1982. The country’s economy dips into its worst recession since the 1930s…
“Suddenly money dried up, and it turned impossible to record the promised album.”
Second life: a father and an architect
The memory of families who have known one in a lifetime economic crisis showed valuable for Jose. With the dull economic prospect his music career seem to reach the bottom of the bag-end. The twist happens when he meets his wife. German, she works in Mexico as an agro engineer for a British multinational. The story goes fast – as it seems to be always the case in times of crisis. They marry and she is soon pregnant. Willing to make good use of his qualifications, he joins his brother’s construction business in Los Mochis along the Pacific Coast. With economic recovery, the town is growing, Jose draws schools, hospitals, and other public facilities. Overtime, a second boy came, his wife works only part-time as a German teacher. His business runs well, she does not have to work more. For twenty-five years he provides. Life is good in Los Mochis where Sunday mornings are spent playing basketball, and long nights at singing for friends.
The turning point: Calderon’s drug war and bright children
There is a prejudice about Mexico. Especially, when one talks about cities like Tijuana or Ciudad Juarez: Mexico would a be nation of drug lords and illegal immigrants. For Jose, drug cartels never had anything to do with his life. Los Mochis was a quiet and safe city far from the US border and its traffics. On 11 December 2006, Felipe Calderon is elected as the new President of Mexico. While governmental forces and drug cartels had often had violent contacts in the 1990s, Calderon declares full war to drug cartels. 45.000 thousands dead followed. Jose explains that the offensive results in disorganized cartels. The heads are falling, and it seems that every drug dealer in the country starts to dream to become the next baron. Bodies pile up and the mafia spreads around the country in search of new virgin territories, with less competition. Around 3/4 years ago, Jose had to start paying the equivalent of around 3.000 to 4.000 € a week (!) to the newly established mafia. The toll is too high and his 35-staff business has to shutdown. He continues working as architect and construction permit adviser… from home.
“I am lucky, my children did very well at school. They are in the best universities of the country. I am happy for them, they will have the means to be independent.”
In the meantime, his children have grown up. Around 2010, the elderly (26) finishes an automotive engineering degree at the world-class university of Monterrey and moves to Mexico City to work for multinational as a head hunter followed by the the youngest (21) one starts his Veterinary studies also in the Federal capital. In a couple of years, the lives of Jose and his wife are transformed. The children are gone. The business that was keeping Jose so busy is gone as well. It is in this context that his wife’s brother offers them to join the family organic farming company.
Landing in Nord-Rhein Westfalien and starting producing organic food
The step brother is running a small company that produces over 65 different sort of vegetables and fruits all certified organic products. As a Demeter franchised producer quality requirements are high. Direct selling in organic markets has recently boosted sales and more workforce is needed. Jose’s stepbrother needs people he can trust to delegate them some of the responsibility of managing his modern farm. With her background as an agro engineer, Jose’s wife jumps in, Jose follows not knowing what to expect, but enthusiastic about this surprising twist in hist life.
“She becomes a bit tougher. I can’t really help her. She has to bear all responsibilities alone. That changes a relationship.”
With the relocation, his relationship with his wife is transforming. She is the one providing. The language barrier prevents him from taking the decisions. Still, he welcomes that change with a feeling that something completely new is starting at an age when most people are preparing their transition to retirement.
Jose puts his architect skills to use in leading the construction of the new warehouse for the family company. But he concedes that it is not easy to run a construction in a country in which you don’t master the language. So he works hard, complains a bit about the fact that he doesn’t learn as fast as when he was younger. Overall, Jose is a happy man. A man emancipating from the traditional role of the Mexican father; his eyes and ears wide open to the country he adopted.
Looking back to Mexico?
The kids are still in Mexico. The family kept the house in Los Mochis. More than a retreat option, Jose says that he feels it’s important for his children to have a place where they know their roots are. He sounds a bit nostalgic when he mentions Los Mochis. Often he misses the long Sundays playing basketball. He is not sure he will ever find this particular atmosphere that Jose needs to sing. Still, Jose has no regret. He is just impatient. Impatient to master German, the key to being who he is here in North Rhine Westphalia.
This article has been first published in the personal blog of Adrien that you can read fully here . The article has also been published in the blog of the Migration, Culture and Identity Working Group of FYEG (follow the link here).