Cane fields and smoke rising from the sugar mills
The history of the Los Reyes region is intimately bound up with that of the Ciénega. After the Guaracha mill closed, many people, including some ejidatarios, sought seasonal work cutting cane for the Santa Clara or San Sebastian mills. It was possible to combine work in the sugar harvest (zafra) with a three month stint in the United States, but people from the main village of Guaracha focused almost exclusively on US migration after the 1950s, only a few very poor families continuing to cut cane or work in the fields of Zamora's commercial private farms. The people from Guaracha's poorer neighbour, Cerrito Cotijaran, stuck to the cane for rather longer, and several of them became labour gang foremen recruiting workers for the mills and organizing their work. But in the fullness of time, the people of the Cerrito also focused their energies on the United States.
The Santa Clara sugar mill
This is symptomatic of the low pay and prestige attached to cane cutting. If they could borrow the money to pay a coyote to help them cross the border, undocumented US migrants in the 1970s made considerably more money than a field labourer in Mexico, even if, like the Cotijaran folk, they mainly took the least attractive jobs in farm work secured through labour contractors in California's central valley. By the 1990s, the cane cut was performed by local landless families from the region, supplemented by migrants from indigenous communities in Guerrero state and other folk from poor and marginal communities. Even the younger members of the Guerrero can cutting squads now saw the USA as a better bet, and sometimes used their meagre earnings to take a bus to Tijuana.
The cane growing ejidatarios of the sugar zone were, on the other hand, often seen by Ciénega ejidatarios as considerably better-off than themselves. Some people from Guaracha had settled down in Los Reyes and acquired land or small businesses. By the 1990s, however, the Los Reyes cane growers were also feeling the chill winds of neoliberal "reform".
Los Reyes town centre from the balcony of the town hall
Video Clip of Cane Cutters, Santa Clara Mill - click on Quicktime logo to play