This article is from the December 2000 - January 2001 The Mexico File newsletter.
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The Husband Factory

by Bruce McGovern 

My wife lived until she was fourteen in a small town in rural Puebla. She was taken to the States by missionaries, to take care of kids during the Summer Linguistics Course in Norman, Oklahoma. 

We visit that little village several times a year. Since her aunt and uncles are getting old, she cooks for them. I get up in the morning and walk UPPP! and DOWNNNN! (mostly UPPP!! both ways) to buy three kilos of tortillas for the family and the dogs. 

A tortilla machine is a large, noisy device. There is a large hopper where the mash is tossed. A complicated mess of gears, cups, and rollers takes a precise quantity of mash, and rolls it into an almost perfect tortilla. Then, a series of moving metal belts move the tortillas back and forth over a gas flame. At the end of the complex cycle, the tortillas fall off the end. 

Or, they would fall off, but a person stand there and grabs the tortillas one by one, making a nice pile. Another person takes the pile, and weighs out on a scale, sometimes a modern electronic scale, the precise amount the customer has requested. Some of the more experienced ‘catchers’ count the tortillas, and pass them to the weigher in exact kilo groups. 

When I arrive at the local tortilleria, sometimes there is a long line, especially if some smart‑aleck has ordered fifty kilos. I stand in line, and watch the workers go through their repetitive motions, and discreetly observe other people in line. And, they discreetly watch me, often the only other adult male, and the only foreigner in town. 

I thought that it was strange that some of the women working in this steaming hot place were often dressed in very elegant clothes, with their hair done up beautifully. But, I attributed it to female vanity. 

Each visit, I notice most of the women in the tortilleria were new. Recently, I asked Tio if those poor women were worked so hard they could only last a few months. 

Tio laughed, and said, no, the women there usually get married right away! Well, that explained the fancy clothes and beautiful hairdos. And, it makes sense. In that culture, a woman can’t possibly look more domestic than when she’s making tortillas. And, she’s on display for every young man – and his mother and grandmother – to see.