“Silver Mine Worker” is a lithograph from Francisco Mora part of the collection “What is Hispanic?” at the Haggerty museum. The picture shows a man holding a light on his left hand and slouching down in order not to hit his head with the tunnel’s ceiling. He is entering the mine and far away you can see the entrance to the tunnel illuminated by the light outdoors.The worker’s face shows sorrow and resignation.
This picture takes me back to my last trip to Mexico. During that trip we visited an old mine called “Dos Estrellas” in Tlalpujahua, Michoacan. Just as you can observe in the lithograph workers with little clothing and if lucky some sandals would enter the mine every day to extract gold and silver. “Dos estrellas” was one of the largest mines in Mexico in the early 20th century. Its owners became very rich and most of the people of the surrounding area worked at the mine under precarious conditions. The guide at the mine explained to us that many workers got sick during the years of hard work. In 1937 as the ore was dwindling, a mudslide carrying debris from the mine buried most of the town which brought mining in the area to an end.
Mining made possible the industrial revolution in the “first world” and this lithograph is a call to meditate about the cost for other countries “the third world”. At “Dos Estrellas” very few people from the community became rich from what the mine produced. Most were debt bondage workers that had to pay back for the axe, the helmet, the lantern and the oil for the lantern. If they got sick the mine had its own hospital and the workers then were in debt again to cover medical expenses. Furthermore workers were paid with currency that only could be used at the mine store. Mining is now modern and efficient yet very few people in the local communities benefit from what is extracted. Currently, mining in third world countries likeGuatemala and El Salvador is carried out by transnational companies that leave only 1% of the royalties to the country.
Mining not only affected workers lives but also the environment and the people in the surrounding areas and still does. Mining requires large amounts of water for the ore to be separated from other minerals which causes pollution of the water ways. Toxic chemicals are used in the process that later on are also washed into the rivers destroying flora and fauna. Rivers then contaminate the soil where people cultivate their food. Here in the first world we benefit from the natural resources of other countries, from the labor of their workers and the destruction of their land.
May the light of the mining worker on the litograph shine on us to help us see the injustice of the unfair working conditions in which people work extracting the materials that are used to make the batteries in our electronics devices. May we be able to see the beauty of the small things around us and be inspired to take action and create community against injustice.
Silver Mine Worker (Obrero de una mina de plata, from the portfolio
Mexican People (Gente Mexicana), 1946
171/2 x 51/4
Gift of anonymous donor
Collection of the Haggerty Museum of Art, Marquette University
Gabriela Dieguez and her family escaped from Guatemala during the
Reagan Administration wars in Central America. She is a social worker at the 16th Street Health Clinic in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.