What A Grind: Traveling Knife Sharpeners Fading Away

What A Grind: Traveling Knife Sharpeners Fading Away

When a reed flute whistles in the distance, Mexicans born before the 1990s may know that an expert in the art of knife grinding could be around. For many, the knife grinders’ whistle triggers as many memories as the music of a typewriter or the tune of a train crossing.

Upon arrival, the knife grinder (also known as a sharpener) will hone the client’s knives using a round whetstone that rotates when the cutler pedals a stationary bicycle.

Knife grinding has long been a respected trade in Mexico.

Knife sharpeners carry their whetstone on their bike or a truck, riding through neighborhoods and sounding their whistle to let people know they are there. (Christian Valera Rebolledo/Café Words)

“You can surely find knife grinders surrounding the Hidalgo Market,” said Silvia Nicte-Ha Pérez, from Veracruz, Mexico, remembering that their services are usually inexpensive.

However, it’s becoming harder to find such sharpeners on the streets today, especially in big cities. Contemporary lifestyle may be killing the craft.

“We live in the era of consumerism and, if a pair of scissors or a knife no longer works, we buy another,” said Pérez.

The traditional way to sharpen a knife in Mexico is to heed the call of the traveling grinder. (Courtney Cook/Unsplash)

The trade might have originated in Europe centuries ago, with men walking from house to house, sharpening knives on a whetstone that they carried on their backs. The artifact evolved, and sharpeners could roll it around like a wheel, although it was still awkward to drag.

The 20th century brought the solution for the burden of carrying the stone: sharpeners discovered they could move it on a bicycle, truck or motorcycle.

Knife grinding is considered an art. One has to grab the knife by the handle, moving the blade back and forth to hone it. The trick is to place the knife so it barely touches the whetstone. This way, one can sharpen the utensil without ruining it.

“It’s not easy,” says Genaro de Jesús Álvarez, the owner of a machine repair shop in Veracruz and a knife grinder himself. “You have to practice a lot to be quick and effective. Those who made a living from sharpening used to walk all day; they went throughout the whole market offering their services: scissors, knives, cutting instruments. [They worked] not only for restaurant owners but also for merchants.”

Several art pieces have highlighted the beauty of this trade, including Francisco Goya’s oil painting “The Knife Grinder” (1812). Russian avant-garde painter Kazimir Malevich expressed his admiration for the craft in “The Knife Grinder,” which he completed in 1912.

Writers have also fallen under the sharpeners’ spell as well. Mexican novelist Elena Poniatowska mentioned the trade as a symbolic one in her 1994 work, “Luz y luna, las lunitas.”

(Translated and edited by Gabriela Olmos. Edited by Matthew Hall)



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Internet-Based Education Suffers Due To Lack Of Access

Internet-Based Education Suffers Due To Lack Of Access

As the global coronavirus pandemic hit and school classes moved online, economic disparities became evident in education access. With almost 7 percent of its population living on less than $3.20, Mexico bears witness to the gap.

“The university had the possibility of launching the virtual system through platforms such as Zoom, Moodle and Classroom,” said Mariana Hernández, a law school graduate from the Villa Rica University and a professor for seven years. “Even so, it was too much pressure because the teachers weren’t trained. We carried on with it regardless.”

More than 30 million students in Mexico, at all educational levels, were forced to take classes online during the health crisis, according to the National Institute for the Evaluation of Education. It was a great challenge, partly because Mexico does not have the necessary infrastructure to provide remote education.

Both teachers and students had to switch to online learning tools, with very little preparation. *** Tanto profesores como alumnos tuvieron que adaptarse a herramientas de enseñanza en línea, con muy poca preparación. (Lucas Law/Unsplash)

School principals across the country hired premium services on platforms allowing teachers to host unlimited video conferences with their students. But this solution was not at hand for everyone and did not solve all the problems.

The emergency has underlined the country’s inequality. High levels of poverty in Mexico are reflected in access to technological tools, making public school teachers and students disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

“My respects go to teachers at public schools,” Hernández said. “For many students, distance education is difficult or impossible. Several families do not have computers or Internet access, and many parents or guardians are unemployed and cannot pay for an online connection.”

In collaboration with television stations, the Mexican government launched a public education program covering preschool to high school, but many believe that students do not take advantage of it.

Students attending online classes with their teachers and classmates have been feeling discouraged after moving to remote education.

There is concern that many children do not have access to Internet or even a computer, and many live in poverty in very rural areas. *** Preocupa que muchos niños no tengan acceso a Internet o una computadora siquiera, y muchos viven en la pobreza en lugares muy rurales. (Aaron Burden/Unsplash)

“I do not want to imagine what education our children and young people following the television classes can get,” said Hernández, who also has a master’s degree in education.

Hernández thinks the problem is not exclusive to Mexico, although its inequality further complicates the challenge.

“Without question, the educational quality in our country collapsed, both in public and private schools,” she said.

(Translated and edited by Gabriela Olmos. Edited by Carlin Becker.)



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Puffy Tacos Vs. Gorditas: An Oily Treat That’s Popular On Both Sides Of The Border

Puffy Tacos Vs. Gorditas: An Oily Treat That’s Popular On Both Sides Of The Border

Veracruz’s people might start their day having picadas, empanadas, or any of their three types of gorditas: white, black, or sweet. They might bathe these snacks with salsa or mole and top them with grated queso fresco.

Gorditas are ubiquitous in Veracruz. Jarochos — Veracruz’s people — can find them anywhere. However, the best places to enjoy these snacks are family-owned businesses called fonditas or patios with an improvised kitchen and a couple of tables. Jarochos and tourists love to have their traditional Veracruz breakfast, accompanied by chocolate milk, coffee or a soda.

As much as Jarochos would like gorditas to be an exclusive treat from Veracruz, Tex-Mex cuisine has a variation of them, the puffy taco. The first step to make either of them is deep-frying a tortilla until it is puffed up and a little golden.

Puffy tacos became popular in the U.S. in the 1940s-1950s. “Claims for having invented this high-cholesterol treat ran from Rosita’s in Laredo to the venerable Dallas chain, El Fenix,” said Jeffrey M. Pilcher in his book, “Planet Taco.

Gorditas may be white, black or sweet. They are a traditional snack of Veracruz. (Carlos Ramírez/Café Words)

“Gorditas are Jarochas, of course,” said Ermelinda Reyes Alemán, the owner of Antojitos Linda in Veracruz. “I’ve been making snacks for 34 years in a business that my mother-in-law and I founded. This snack is from Veracruz. For as long as we can remember, nobody else has claimed it.”

Gorditas and puffy tacos have a lot in common. Corn dough is their main ingredient. Tortillerías [tortilla factories] sell it. A kilo might cost between 10 and 12 pesos [about 50 cents] in Veracruz, and that’s enough to make 14 to 16 pieces.

An essential element in these snacks is salsa. Usually, they have something for everyone: tomato for the children, ranchera or green salsa for those who prefer something mild, mole for a heavier craving or chipotle for those who dare try the spiciest. Queso fresco or ranch cheese typically provide a final touch to these traditional snacks.

“Tourists enjoy the traditional food from Veracruz here at the port. It brings great satisfaction when they recognize our work and leave, saying that everything was delicious. The most sought-after dishes are picadas and gorditas with their mandatory beans,” said Reyes Alemán.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, 60 percent of the restaurants and coffee shops in the Veracruz-Boca del Río area closed their doors, according to Santiago Martínez Dordella, president of Canirac, Mexico’s national chamber of commerce for restaurants. Hundreds of fonditas rescued diners, offering breakfast and food delivery service. Of course, they served gorditas!

Cooks mix corn dough with beans to make black gorditas. (Carlos Ramírez/Café Words)

Interested in making traditional gorditas? Follow these simple steps:

Ingredients: 

5 cups of Mexican cornmeal

Vegetable oil or lard

1 cup minced onion

1 cup grated queso fresco or ranch cheese

For the red salsa:

2 tomatoes

2 morita peppers

1 clove garlic

Salt and black pepper to taste

Preparation 

To make the salsa, boil the tomatoes with the peppers for 5 minutes. Blend them with garlic, salt and black pepper.

To prepare the gorditas’ dough, mix the cornmeal with a cup of water and knead by hand. Make small balls with the dough and crush them to create flat cakes.

Heat oil or lard in a non-stick skillet. Cook the corn cakes in it for two minutes and turn them over. They will puff up.

When cooked, pinch the gorditas’ edges with your fingers, creating a sort of plate. On its center, add salsa, onion and grated cheese. Enjoy!

(Translated and edited by Gabriela Olmos; edited by Matthew B. Hall.)



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President Biden To Be Keynote Speaker In U.S. Hispanic Chamber Of Commerce’s Summit 

President Biden To Be Keynote Speaker In U.S. Hispanic Chamber Of Commerce’s Summit 

U.S. President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. will deliver a speech at the Virtual Legislative Summit of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (USHCC), to be held this week, the organization reported on its website.

Biden will be the keynote speaker for the virtual event on Tuesday, March 30, according to the USHCC schedule. The president will deliver his speech at the conference’s opening, at 11 a.m. EST.

The organization tweeted it “is proud to announce that President @JoeBiden will be joining us at our 2021 @USHCC Virtual Legislative Summit.

Vice President Kamala Harris will also be a keynote speaker at the summit on Wednesday, March 31 at 11 a.m. EST, in the plenary called “Building Back America Through Hispanic Businesses.”

The annual event will also feature the participation of Janet Yellen, Secretary of the Department of the Treasury; Alejandro Mayorkas, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security; Isabella Casillas Guzmán, Administrator of the Small Business Administration agency; Rep. Nydia Velázquez, Chairman of the House of Representatives Small Business Committee; and Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Cal.), among others.

“When the #Hispanic business community succeeds, the American #economy succeeds. It’s as simple as that. Let’s work together to create prosperity not only for Hispanic entrepreneurs but for the entire country. Join the #USHCC Legislative Summit on March 30-31,” the organization said on Twitter.

Click here for the complete list of speakers, and here the event’s agenda.

Register: https://t.co/jK15bMmPy5#USHCCLegislative

Biden participará en cumbre de Cámara de Comercio Hispana de EE.UU. was first published in Negocios Now.

(Translated and edited by Gabriela Olmos. Edited by Fern Siegel)



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Working From Home: Many Can’t Wait To Get Back To The Office

Working From Home: Many Can’t Wait To Get Back To The Office

Much of the world’s population went through a difficult transition due to the COVID-19 pandemic, especially those who had to work in person — blue-collar jobs, office workers, and medical practitioners.

“Adaption was extremely difficult for me, as I had been doing the same work for 40 years now,” said José Luis Morón Hernández, a 68-year-old pharmaceutical lab worker in the city of Veracruz, Mexico. “My work was about 80 percent face-to-face since I had to visit doctors, pharmacies, hospitals, and distributors. Adapting to having to sit at a computer for half a day was quite difficult. However, as I am an older adult and have a high risk of catching the virus, I have no other choice.”

One year into the global COVID-19 pandemic, ways of life have changed drastically. Many people have had to migrate or adapt to the new ways of working.

Working from home — known in Mexico as ‘Home Office’ — meant that people had to adopt new working habits and ethics.

A computer connected to the Internet became the main tool to do a majority of jobs.

It has become routine for students and workers to avoid losing classes or productivity with the help of laptops, smartphones or PCs.

For many people, their houses become their new offices, which has presented many obstacles for some and an improvement in working conditions for others. (Grovemade / Unsplash)

But technology is not easy for everyone, and some people do not enjoy being in front of a computer screen for up to eight hours a day.

“It was difficult adapting to the new manner of working,” said Morón Hernández. “I just made calls, sent WhatsApp messages to doctors, instead of visiting them, and had meetings on Zoom, Meet, or Skype. I never got used to it and so retired at the end of the year. However, I know that this way of work will remain as long as the pandemic continues.”

Just as there are people who have not adapted to working from home, many people prefer this manner of working, although they wager they have had to do more than eight hours of work, unlike at the office.

“I work as an administrator of a water bottling company,” said Luis Caballero Morales, from the city of Veracruz. “During the start of the pandemic, I had to take all my work to my home. My house became my new office. I began to work overtime, and, obviously, the company does not pay me for those hours since I am at home.”

People needed to adapt to the new lifestyle to carry out their housework while also making sure their office work was done. (Standsome Worklifestyle / Unsplash)

Although the vast majority of work continues to be online, some workers have been able to return to their offices, at least a few days per week. For many of those who can, being able to go to the office again was a relief.

“Fortunately, when the epidemiological traffic light started to change, I was able to return to my office for a few days. Interacting physically with my coworkers uplifted my spirit, and I am relaxed during the three days I can go to the office,” said Caballero Morales.

The only way to return the full workforce to their offices is to vaccinate the complete population. It remains to be seen what will happen, as many companies have also discovered the benefit of having workers doing their jobs from the comfort of their homes.

(Translated and edited by Mario Vázquez. Edited by Kristen Butler)



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To Travel Or Not To Travel, That Is The Question

To Travel Or Not To Travel, That Is The Question

The pandemic has hit the tourism sector in Mexico as hard as in other countries.

Mexican tourism consumption decreased by more than $7 billion in 2020, according to Statista. Tourist sites, airlines, hotels and restaurants have suffered the consequences.

As the pandemic hit, many companies that depended on tourism closed their facilities. Those that remained in service implemented strict sanitary measures to avoid the spread of COVID-19, and many lowered their rates seeking customers. Some people took advantage of this opportunity and visited empty beaches.

“During the pandemic, I traveled to Cancun, Puebla and Los Cabos,” said Israel Castañeda Sánchez, a lawyer and frequent traveler from Veracruz, Mexico. “Hotels were practically empty, which made my trips more pleasant.”

However, customers needed to be able to engage in tourism safely. Hotels, airlines and other providers implemented the hygiene measures and protocols mandated by the federal government.

Mexico’s Ministry of Tourism estimates that beach destinations will have a 45 to 67 percent occupancy during the Easter holiday. (Christian Lambert/Unsplash)

“In the case of beaches, hotels had sanitizing cabins where guests got disinfected upon their arrival, as well as when entering and leaving the facilities,” said Castañeda Sánchez.

But travelers had to understand that preventing the spread of the virus is not just the job of providers.

“At no time did I take off the mask, neither did my partner. We both wore face shields and masks and used sanitizing wipes. That is my main recommendation for people who decide to travel to a tourist place,” he said.

Resorts, airlines and restaurants carried out campaigns to attract tourism, with extremely cheap flight and accommodation packages compared to what they commonly cost.

These days, hotels receive only limited guests to avoid crowds in their facilities and allow for social distancing.

Restaurants operate at half capacity. Restaurant personnel take the temperature of diners and provide them with hand sanitizer upon their arrival. Diners are allowed to remove their masks only while eating.

Now, more Mexicans are daring to travel to nearby places. But with over 35 thousand COVID-19 active cases in the country, others still don’t feel safe.

“Too many people are acting with too much confidence and spreading the disease across the country. It spreads easily. It [the infection rate] decreases, and in three or fewer days, it rises again,” said Antonio Cervantes Trejo, a frequent traveler and employee of a plastics factory in the city of Veracruz.

He warns his fellow Mexicans that it is not yet safe to undertake any trip, even with precautions.

The correct use of face masks is essential. This vendor in Puerto Vallarta covered his mouth, but not his nose. This use does not prevent the spread of COVID-19. (Nicole Herrero/Unsplash)

“This is not the time to travel,” said Cervantes Trejo. “I have not been able to see my parents in Guanajuato for fear of making them sick. They are older adults. Neither have I been able to see my siblings, one of them in Tijuana and the other in San Luis Potosí.”

“We used to travel as a family, but we understand that this is not the time to do it. We could get infected with the virus anywhere,” he said. “We are still vulnerable because we do not have the vaccine yet,” Cervantes Trejo said.

Recommendations from frequent travelers 

Wear a face mask at all times.

Wear a face shield.

Use hand sanitizer or wet wipes.

Practice social distancing in public places.

Eat in open places where the tables are not close to each other.

Do not shake hands.

Avoid crowded places.

Wash your hands every time you get to your hotel room.

(Translated and edited by Gabriela Olmos. Edited by Kristen Butler)



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