Entering fortress like wooden doors of the old train station I was flabbergasted to find shops that covered what once was a very elaborate European style train station both the first and second floors. As I walked around I stumbled one shop on the second floor, it was plastered with all type of colorful souvenirs that in some way represented some a famous monument. As I walked toward the table a basket caught my eye inside I found some rocks. I grabbed a the white chalk surfaced rock that was cut in half but was held together by an old black rubber band. As I held it in my hand I asked the sales women for the price, she quickly glanced over to the mineral rock and said “ 10 pesos”(the equivalent to the American dollar). I handed her the money and grabbed two small rocks as I detached the rubber band I was amazed to find minerals inside like quartz and silver.
History Behind the Mine
The city of Guanajuato was actually created due to it vast amount of minerals. The city was established in 1553 by the colonization of the Spanish. (Mines of Guanajuato, Merico: GEOLOGY of the MINES) Since the very beginning the Spanish came in with the purpose to extract the seven minerals them being platinum, gold, iron, copper, lead and quartz. I was able to find out that the two rocks contained both quartz and platinum, which in its natural state is black. Not only did I find out what minerals were found inside but from what mine it came from. It turns out that it came from one of the last mines that still have been in action for 500 years the “La Valenciana”. La Valenciana at one point was the leading center for mining silver in the entire world.
The mine “La Valenciana” was first opened in 1553; it was discovered by Spaniard Antonio Obregon y Alcoce. Mines of Guanajuato, Mexico: (GEOLOGY of the MINES). Antonio Obregon y Alcoce would then become the owner of the mine in which he would enslave the local indigenous population now as the “Chichimecas”. They would then be exploded to mine for the mineral in which they worked in horrible conditions.
Working in the Mine
As it was written on paper the workers were paid three Reales (Spanish Currency) for a 12-hour workday. It was stated in a 1913 Los Angeles Times Article that it was reported miners were paid 37 ½ cents per day. (Mines of Guanajuato, Mexico: GEOLOGY of the MINES) When in truth they were paid in food that was just rubbish and rags for clothing. Their workday started at 5a.m end ended at 5p.m, there only light inside the mine were oil candles that barely illuminated the mines so people could work. The mine actually went down up to 1950 ft. at that depth there is very little oxygen plus there was a huge lack of ventilation. The idea of working in those conditions is terrifying, just imagine working 1950 ft. underground not true ventilation, your already breathing hard because the lack of oxygen and your only light is a candle that is in the verge of extinguishing due to the lack of oxygen. Yet that is your only illumination. After the mining the gold or silver the worker would have to carry 143 pounds of what they just dug up on there bare backs and take a huge flight of stairs due to the fact that at the time they didn’t have carts to push on tracks. The indigenous miners would have to zigzag there way up the flight of stairs this was a technic they used to help them not fall back. Due to their heavy loads and it was way to help them breath with a little more ease.
When one of the workers did fall the injuries would be fatal or severe. If some how they managed to survive the fall miners were told to finish them off. Their mentality behind this was that they would help the poor miner by taking him out of his misery.
As I researched even deeper I found a online video of a former indigenous mine which is a tour guide and explain the life expectancy of the miners. Many indigenous boys were forced to mine as early 15 to 16 years of age. The oldest were around 25 to 26 years of age. The reason behind this was because their life expectancy was five to ten years, which was the longest. This was due to all the exposure to the deadly chemicals found in the mines. By the time they were reaching 10 years most of them were coughing blood, their lungs on the verge of collapsing.
After those four hours of lecture from my grandmother and my research I must say that I was mind blown at how much these rock symbolize to the city of Guanajuato and the indigenous miners. As I would later interview my grandmother I would find out that I personally have the blood of the oppressor and the oppressed. I have a mixture of feelings, one side of me feels anger and the other feels embarrassed for the inhuman acts that my Spanish ancestors did to extract these minerals.
Martin Vargas Vazquez is currently a freshman at California State University Northridge. He is majoring in History, and is planning to become a Military Historian in the future.