North to Colorado: Durango and Canatlan |

North to Colorado: Durango and Canatlan

mexico correspondent
Alexis Charbonnier

Durango ” Mexico, that is ” is an oasis of sophistication in this mostly rural part of Mexico. Colonial buildings abound in the spacious downtown area. As a state capital, Durango is a focus point for migrants heading north from the surrounding area.

Two Viajes America buses run from Durango to Denver weekly. La Granja, north of Durango, is the main migration crossroads. Vans pick up passengers in small towns like Santiago Papasquiaro and meet up in La Granja. From there, America buses make the direct trip to Denver ” without the border transfer ” in about 22 hours.

Denver ranks second only to Los Angeles and Las Vegas as a travel destination. Buses leave full, with an average of 40 seats taken out of 46. The reservation phone rings off the hook as Rosario Velasco, 45, explains how success has led to competition.

“There are five bus companies in Durango that I know of that go to the U.S.,” she said. “Our strength is in the small towns. People there are actually better off, since many of them have U.S. residency.”

When migrants come home for the holidays, they’re often weary, flush with dollars and not in a mood to take a bus home. They ask 19-year-old taxi driver Miguel Sarellano Alvarado, to take them to towns such as El Salto, Pueblo Nuevo, Canatlan, El Mezquital and Santiago Papasquiaro. He can net a day’s pay ” about $20 ” on just one of those trips.

Sarellano doesn’t see any reason to emigrate for the time being.

“I’m close to my family,” he said. “Besides, I don’t know anything about the U.S.”

Framed by the surrounding hills, the Canatlan Valley is beautiful on a sunny August afternoon. Orchard trees are full of ripe, juicy apples and peaches; it looks a lot like Oregon. Nonetheless, locals are leaving for the U.S. in droves.

Two buses a week run from Canatlan to Denver with Viajes America, another with Durango Express. Up and down the valley, Tepehuanes, Santiago Papasquiaro, Nuevo Ideal and Canatlan feed into the La Granja crossroads, then it’s straight on to Denver.

Maria Guadalupe Garay Ramirez, a shopkeeper from Jose Maria Morelos, a small town in the mountains, said Medina, Nogales and Martin Lopez are among local towns that send many residents off to the U.S.

Rafael Diaz Irigoyen, 54, the mayor of Canatlan and a native of nearby La Sauceda, a couple of miles down the road, said he’s trying to keep people here. Livestock corrals have been built, people have learned to make stone powder arts and crafts in Venustiano Carranza and dresses in El Presidio, and a guest ranch has opened in El Durangueno.

“There’s infant malnutrition in the mountain villages, so we’re teaching people to raise fish and grow greenhouse vegetables,” Diaz said. “We’re training people to take advantage of our community’s natural resources.”

Even so, population of the municipality ” a sort of small county of 31,500 ” is down 10 percent, with about a quarter of local residents in the U.S.

“Emigration has accelerated,” Diaz said. “We haven’t been able to retain people. The apple industry is seasonal, and most of the profits go to middlemen.”

Canatlan has plenty of spirit during the apple harvest, the town fair and Christmas, according to Jorge Nunez, 20, who co-owns an Internet Cafe in his hometown. He said people still prefer the telephone and snail mail to chat. Nunez, who is studying to be a teacher, said a quarter of Canatlan’s residents are in the U.S.

“In some families, parents push their children to emigrate,” he said. “There are hardly any families that don’t have members in the U.S.”

Nunez does not expect to join the growing number of Canatlecos who go north.

“Schoolteachers make about $750 a month,” he said of his future career. “I don’t plan to leave.”

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