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An indigenous community in Mexico finds its voice — and strength — in wild mushrooms


[Release date]2019-10-08[source]Los Angeles times
[Core hints]Every morning from June through October, Hctor Campanur Snchez leaves his home in Chern, in the central Mexican state of

Every morning from June through October, Héctor Campanur Sánchez leaves his home in Cherán, in the central Mexican state of Michoacán, to hunt for wild mushrooms on the steep slope of an extinct volcano.

For the duration of the rainy season, those mushrooms dominate the indigenous Purhépecha town’s Saturday and Tuesday markets, laid out in geometric piles among fistfuls of wild greens and opaline stalks of blue and pink corn.

First come the yuntas, or yokes, which grow in pairs like hitched oxen, and the ghostly white lobes of ahuachikuas, the perfect filling for corn-husk-wrapped nacatamales. Later come pale gray ox stomachs, grilled on clay comals like slabs of beef; yellow tiripitis as rich and unctuous as egg yolks; coral-like birds feet to sweat into blood-red stews called atapakuas, thickened with masa and scented with yerba buena; and bright orange trumpet mushrooms, known here as pig snouts, which, ground to a mince and fried with garlic, onion and lard, bear an uncanny resemblance to a good pastor.

“In mushroom season,” Campanur, 32, says, “you can suffer a little less.”

Campanur’s family has collected and sold mushrooms for generations, yet as recently as a decade ago, the tradition was at risk of disappearing. Illegal logging began around the edges of Cherán’s expansive municipal territory, which covers nearly 52,000 acres, in the early 2000s. In 2008, loggers from a neighboring village formed an alliance with a local cell of the Knights Templar Cartel, which was eager to clear the land for lucrative avocado farms.

Over the next four years, the loggers poured like termites over the volcanoes, sometimes clearing more than 124 acres in a week. Trucks loaded with wood rattled through town as many as 250 times each day, according to Miguel Macías Sánchez, current president of the Council for Community Property, escorted by armed guards who aimed their AK-47s at anyone who questioned them.

According to a study from the Universidad Michoacana, some 19,800 acres of woodlands were cleared by 2011, about 70% of Cherán’s total forested territory. Some in town call that number modest, saying the destruction came closer to 30,000 acres or more. Murders, disappearances, extortion and kidnapping became commonplace. Mushrooms couldn’t grow without the detritus of falling leaves, and families such as the Campanurs stopped going to collect them for fear they might not come back.

Then, on April 15, 2011, the people of Cherán rose up. Led by 15 women armed with sticks, rocks and firecrackers, they drove the loggers out, sealed five hostages in a stone chapel using only their worn cotton shawls and barricaded the entrances to town with burnt-out trucks. When the police and the municipal president — whose 2008 election, many surmise, was bought by the cartels — came with more armed men to release the hostages, the women drove them out too, along with the old political order.

Nine years later, Cherán and its democratically elected 12-person council have set an example of good governance in a state beset with mismanagement and violence. Though still recipients of federal funding, Cherán has barred entry to all politicians, political parties and state police, operating instead under a system known as Uses and Customs, which allows indigenous peoples to administer themselves by their own rules.

According to the Council for Communal Property, Cherán has replanted nearly 80% of the land devastated by the loggers, known to most as the rapamontes, or forest rapers. And the mushrooms, Campanur says, have come back, part of a powerful vindication of the town’s indigenous identity.

 
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