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June 27, 2011

People of Clouds

In the Mixteca, one of the most impoverished regions in Mexico, migration to the United States has arrived like a storm. In a place so insular that pre-columbian languages like Mixteco, Trique, and Asmuzgos are still spoken more widely than Spanish, and where cars, electricity and indoor plumbing are recent introductions, if they exist at all, northern migration has emptied communities and transformed the lives of those left behind. Some villages have lost as much as 80% of their population to the north and have become little more than ghost towns, home to just a handful of old men, women and the left-behind children of migrants.

In San Miguel Cuevas -- or Nuyuco, Face of the Mountain, in Mixteco -- just 500 people out of 3000 remain. Its streets are largely empty, its fields stand deserted, its century-old way of life lies in shambles as families dissolve to the north, rending the social fabric of this traditional agrarian society. Old women raise grandchildren left behind by their mothers, teenage girls do the work of absent fathers, and old men sit alone, abandoned by their children. "I only think about dying," one 70 year old said, "my only worry is how my funeral will be."

Photographer Matt Black first photographed the mixteca in 2000. He has since made 12 trips to the region, and plans more. To contribute to the project, visit his Kickstarter project site. -- Lane Turner (32 photos total)


Fog settles on the deserted streets of San Miguel Cuevas, a Mixtec village in the highlands of Oaxaca. Over 80% of its population has emigrated to the United States, leaving it little more than a ghost town. (Matt Black)


The aftermath of slash and burn farming. San Miguel Cuevas, Mexico. (Matt Black) #

A drought-stunted field offers meager rewards for an elderly farm wife. San Miguel Cuevas, Mexico. (Matt Black) #

Caught in a rainstorm, an elderly man walks home from his remote corn field. San Miguel Cuevas, Mexico. (Matt Black) #

Preparing tortillas on an indoor hearth. San Pedro Chayuco, Mexico. (Matt Black) #

An elderly mother of migrant children. San Miguel Cuevas, Mexico. (Matt Black) #

Left behind by his migrant children, an ailing man lies in his yard. San Miguel Cuevas, Mexico. (Matt Black) #

In the hills above town, farmers till a newly sprouted corn field. San Miguel Cuevas, Mexico. (Matt Black) #

Dried corn is harvested by a girl and her grandmother. San Miguel Cuevas, Mexico. (Matt Black) #

A plow team is guided through a hillside field. San Miguel Cuevas, Mexico. (Matt Black) #

A farmer clears a section of forest. San Pedro Chayuco, Mexico. (Matt Black) #

Inspecting a burned field in prepartion for planting corn. El Ciruelo, Mexico. (Matt Black) #

Village women cook food for a wake. San Miguel Cuevas, Mexico. (Matt Black) #

A woman feeds her flock of turkeys outside her hand-built home. San Miguel Cuevas, Mexico. (Matt Black) #

Sisters empty the last corn from their family's crib. San Miguel Cuevas, Mexico. (Matt Black) #

A girl works at her family's farmhouse. San Miguel Cuevas, Mexico. (Matt Black) #

Sorting corn on the floor of a farmhouse. San Miguel Cuevas, Mexico. #

Dressed for ceremonial dancing, a boy awaits a Saint's Day celebration. San Pedro Chayuco, Mexico. (Matt Black) #

Awaiting the start of a burial at the cemetery. San Miguel Cuevas, Mexico. (Matt Black) #

Men dig a grave for a fellow villager. San Miguel Cuevas, Mexico. (Matt Black) #

A returned migrant leads a procession to church. San Miguel Cuevas, Mexico. (Matt Black) #

Breaking dirt clods in a field. San Miguel Cuevas, Mexico. (Matt Black) #

A goat-herder feeds her dogs in a cleared section of forest. San Miguel Cuevas, Mexico. (Matt Black) #

Cooking tortillas in a hand-built kitchen. San Miguel Cuevas, Mexico. (Matt Black) #

The father of migrant children alone at home. San Miguel Cuevas, Mexico. (Matt Black) #

Collecting chapulines, an edible grasshopper. San Miguel Cuevas, Mexico. (Matt Black) #

Herders run their goats into the hills. San Miguel Cuevas, Mexico. (Matt Black) #

Inspecting a burned field in prepartion for planting corn.  El Ciruelo, Mexico. (Matt Black) #

The patio of a village store offers a break from the heat. El Ciruelo, Mexico. (Matt Black) #

A boy plays with his dog outside of town. San Miguel Cuevas, Mexico. (Matt Black) #

Preparing tortillas in the kitchen at home. San Miguel Cuevas, Mexico. (Matt Black) #

A woman returns home laden with her infant and household supplies. San Miguel Cuevas, Mexico. (Matt Black) #


 
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