Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 29.djvu/34

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24
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

food and drink, and for cooking (which last is generally performed over a small fire, within a circle of stones outside, and in front, of the main entrance to the dwelling). The principal food of all these people is Indian corn, in the form of the so-called tortilla, which is prepared by placing a quantity of corn in a jar of hot water and lime (when it can be got) to soak overnight; the use of the lime being to soften the corn. When it is desired to use it, the grain is taken out and ground by hand on the stone and the roller before mentioned, into a kind of paste, and then slightly dried or baked on an earthen tray or pan over a small fire. Everybody in Mexico is said to eat tortillas, and their preparation, which is always assigned to the women, seems to employ their whole time, "to the exclusion of any care of the dwelling, their children, or themselves." Foreigners, especially Americans, find them detestable. Another standard article of Mexican diet is boiled beans (frijoles). Meat is rarely used by the laborers, but, when it is obtainable, every part of the animal is eaten. Peppers, both green and red, mixed with the corn-meal or beans, are regarded as almost indispensable for every meal, and, when condensed by cooking, are described by one, who obviously speaks from experience, as forming "a red-hot mixture whose savage intensity is almost inconceivable to an American. ... A child of six or seven years old will eat more of this at a meal than most adult Americans could in a week eating it, too, without meat or grease of any kind; merely folding up the tortilla of wheat or corn-meal, dipping up a spoonful of the terrible compound with it, and hastily biting off the end, for fear some of the precious stuff should escape. Should one be fortunate enough to have anything else to eat, these tortillas serve as plates, after which service the plates eaten."

With all this, the agricultural laborers of Mexico, both Indians and mixed bloods, are almost universally spoken of as an industrious, easily managed, and contented people. By reason of the general mildness of the climate, the necessary requirements for living are fewer than among people inhabiting the temperate and more northern latitudes, and consequently poverty with them does not imply extreme suffering from either cold or starvation. When their simple wants are satisfied, money with them has little value, and quickly finds its way into the pockets of the almost omnipresent pulque or "lottery-ticket" sellers, or the priest. "If they are too ready to take a hand against the Government at the call of some discontented leader, it is not because they are Indian or Mexican, but because they are poor and ignorant."

One noticeable peculiarity of the Mexican laborer is the strength of his local attachments, and it is in rare instances only that he voluntarily emigrates from the place of his nativity. This circumstance found a curious illustration in the experience of the recent railroad constructions in Mexico, where the builders found that they could rely