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The River Gives and Takes Away

Artist Blog by Alí Marín

Since I was a child, I have heard the phrase “water is life”. In la Tierra Baja, where the river stood as the trigger for everything, this is the essence echoed in the recollections, chronicles, and historical accounts of the people.

The amount of fish and the geography were key to the economic development of the area. Until the beginning of the 20th century, the river was the only way to reach almost all the towns in the Papaloapan basin, it was a river highway so to speak, and commerce circulated. That generated a lot of expectations in the region and little by little many people came to live there.

With the dictator Porfirio Díaz and his plan to modernize Mexico, the train arrived and the river lost strength as a means of transportation. Goods now circulated on the train tracks. However, fishing, livestock, and sugar cane continued to generate the population's livelihood.

With river pollution, climate change, and economic crises, living here has become an act of resistance. “Only the brave are left,” says my uncle Mariano.

Although there has always been a historical dichotomy, the rainy season is increasingly unpredictable and intense, tipping the balance more and more toward overflowing the river and flooding the community. This generates a battle for the conservation of tangible and intangible heritage, identity, memory, ancestral wisdom, rituals, and everything that defines us and makes us who we are.

It's curious that it all started with the river and now, although silently but constantly, everything is at risk because of the river. That is why what Chepi said, “the river gives, but it also takes away”, makes so much sense to me.