The municipio of Cherán is located in the Mexican state of Michoacán, which is situated in the central western portion of the Republic of Mexico and extends to the Pacific Shore. Cherán, itself, lies in the northwestern portion of Michoacán about 200 miles due west of Mexico City and approximately 123 km (76 mi) west of the state capital of Morelia; it is about 2400 meters (7874 feet) above sea level. The Municipio Cherán is reported to have a population of 16,243, while the Localidad Cherán (town) is officially accounted to have a population of 12,616, including 5,827 men and 6,787 women.
Cherán is one of a contiguous group of eleven Municipios that are demographically denoted as Purépecha. In Crossing Over, a book about the migrant community of Cherán, by Rubén Martínez, the author explains that in the Purépecha language Cherán actually means “a place of fear” alluding to its unfriendly landscape of “abrupt, irregular peaks and chasms” which bodes disaster to anyone taking a careless step. Inhabitants speak the Purépecha language, as well as the local variety of Spanish.
Cherán is in a tropical area but, because of its altitude, is cooler than the lower lying jungles and coastlands. Instituto Nacional de Estadística Geografía e Informática (INEGI) indicates that the average temperatures for Zamora between the years of 1971 and 1999 ranged between 17 and 24 Cº, or 63 and 75 Fº respectively. INEGI also records average annual precipitation in Zamora over the same period of time as being 820.3 mm, or between 33 and 34 inches per year. (Zamora is the closest city for which these statistics are given: it is about 48 km from Cherán – see third link).
Business and government statistics
Rubén Martínez describes the length of Cherán from north to south as about three-quarters of a mile. The three prominent buildings in Cherán include the church, the presidencia municipal, and the casa de cambio, or currency exchange center. The government website boasts of 2,589 viviendas, or dwellings. The Cherán website also affirms that 80% of water is potable, 60% of the roads are paved, 90% of the streets have public lighting, but only 35% of garbage, or waste, is collected. The Municipio is able to provide education from preschool through high school graduate levels. Adults have access to the services of the Instituto Nacional de Educación .
On the other hand, Rubén Martínez offers a first-hand report of the poor availability of running water with half of the population lacking house connections. He also notes that there are only around 130 private telephone lines with banks of public phones, or public casetas, of which the general public avails itself to communicate mostly with relatives who have migrated to the United States—most of these calls are paid for by the relatives. The average annual wage is estimated at about $3,000 converted to U.S. currency. Martínez reports that road conditions are poor, with large potholes in abundance and that drainage and sewage systems are inadequate with most households still using outhouses. However this report is outdated, and data may now be obsolete.
Agriculture and raising livestock account for 49% of Cherán’s economic activity: corn, wheat, potatoes, beans and oats make up the bulk of the community’s harvest while it local farmers raise cows, horses, pigs, sheep and goats. Wooden products, including furniture and furniture repair, and cork account for less than 19% of the economy. Commercial production of apples, peaches, apricots, pears and plums comprise 10% of Cherán’s economic resources. There are essentially no services besides fondas, or small restaurants, that serve local fare.
Much of the economic input in Cheran comes from legal and illegal migrant workers traveling to the United States for work and sending and bring money back to Cheran. Every spring, about one-third of the people in Cherán head to the United States for seasonal work.
Religion and healing
The town of Cheran has modern doctors, however, the people still believe in non-western forms of medical treatment from indigenous healers. The doctors and Indian healers were, at one time, enemies, however, they now work together for the good of the people. Migration has caused more work for the brujas because they must consult with migrants in the United States through modern technology while maintaining their ancient methods of healing. Cheran’s religion is a mix of Indian tradition and Catholicism. Indian Gods and Christian saints were combined and related to create what exists today.
On April 15, 2011 a group of women using rocks and fireworks attacked a busload of illegal loggers armed with machine guns associated with the Mexican drug cartel La Familia Michoacana. The vigilantes assumed control over the town, expelled the police force and blocked roads leading to oak timber on a nearby mountain which had been subject to illegal logging by armed gangs supported by corrupt officials. The new autonomous government is composed of councils elected directly by the people. This community administration is leading an effort to plant thousands of new trees. The Mexican government is treating autonomous Cherán as a legal self-governing indigenous community.
- Prince, Alan. Review of Crossing Over Archived December 2, 2006, at the Wayback Machine.
- Total Annual Precipitation Archived July 22, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2006-12-09.
- Karla Zabludovsky (August 2, 2012). "Reclaiming the Forests and the Right to Feel Safe". The New York Times. Retrieved August 3, 2012.
- Anna Maria Tremonti (2013-09-16). "Cheran citizens stand up to drug cartels". CBC.ca.