Mexican miners in UtahHalf the men trapped in a Utah coal mine were of Mexican descent. It's taken a while for the U.S. media to find the connection between Mexican towns and U.S. coal — but the link is strong, indeed.

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A Shared Tragedy: Mexican Miners in Utah

Mexican miners in UtahHalf the men trapped in a Utah coal mine were of Mexican descent. It's taken a while for the U.S. media to find the connection between Mexican towns and U.S. coal — but the link is strong, indeed.

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Miner's family in Mexico
Media in Mexico have been closely following the Utah mine disaster. Three of the six trapped miners are from Mexico. Here, Noticieros Televisa interviews Susana Salcido, a relative of miner Manuel Arturo Sanchez.
We have all been following the mining disaster that took place last Monday in Huntington, Utah ““ a tragedy intimately familiar to coal communities in the rural United States. The cause of the disaster is unclear. The roof of the Crandall Canyon coalmine collapsed, trapping six miners 1500 feet below the surface. Rescue efforts began immediately, and although the national media rarely pays sustained attention to rural issues in general, the country has followed this story for over a week.
However, we are not as familiar with a particular portion of this story ““ that three of the trapped miners are of Mexican descent. Although their immigration status has not been established — and the Mexican consul in Salt Lake City, Salvador Jiménez, refuses to release any names —family members confirm that three of the missing miners are Carlos Payan, in his 20s; Manuel Sanchez, 41; and Luis Hernandez, 23.

These miners were at first only mentioned in the U.S. English-speaking media, but they have been widely discussed in the U.S. Spanish-speaking and the Mexican media since the mine caved in. The three Mexican miners have even been included in the prayers of Mexico’s President Felipe Calderón. Last Wednesday morning, during a tour in the Mexican state of Michoacán, President Calderón said: “We pray for them, for their families, and are alert to the respect given to the work and dignity of all Mexicans in the United States."
 
The initial lack of coverage by the U.S. English-speaking media of how these three young men arrived in a Utah coalmine leaves many questions, un-asked and un-answered, about the conditions of Mexican coal miners in the United States. Fortunately, living in the South Texas-México border allows me to follow the mining tragedy from this perspective since I have access to Mexican and U.S. Spanish-language news sources. (The Salt Lake City newspaper, in fact, translated one story from the Mexican press. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times Thursday carried a good story from the hometown of one of the miners.) This is what I’m seeing and reading in the Mexican press:
Miner Manuel Sanchez on Mexican news
Miner Manual Sanchez on Mexican television
Ariana Sánchez, 16, confirmed to Hechos TV (aired by TV Azteca, the second largest television network in México) that her father, Manuel Sánchez, was among the trapped miners.
Noticieros Televisa (aired by Televisa, the leading television network in México) reported that Hernandez, a native of Sinaloa — a state located in northern México — had arrived in Huntington just nine months before the mining catastrophe. Like many of the Mexicans that arrive in the area, Hernandez found employment in one of the five local mines. Luis Hernandez, cousin and namesake of Hernandez, said his cousin had been working at the Crandall Mine for over two months, but had little mining experience.
Family friends and residents of the area also said that the number of Mexicans arriving to work in the mines has increased in the last few years. That’s not reflected in official U.S. statistics. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the general population of Huntington, Utah, has decreased since 2000 from 2,131 residents to 2,061 residents in 2006. The contradiction between resident’s claims and Census figures suggest the possibility of a neglected immigrant coal mining community. When the U.S. press has asked, nobody seems to know how many Mexican nationals are working in Utah coalmines.
 
The struggle of Mexican coal miners in the United States is unfamiliar to the American public, yet it is intimately familiar to American coal miners and their families. Gladys Gómez, a resident from a neighboring mining community, lamented that some of the Mexican miners did not speak English, a skill that would prove life-saving in this type of work. She added, “Here, we are all miners. My husband worked many years in the mines, and that is something that worries us. This is a very dangerous profession."
Unfortunately, viewers would have needed to speak Spanish fluently and watch Noticieros Televisa regularly to hear Gomez’s observation. What else is new? The image English-speaking media portrays of Mexicans and immigrants in general is that of law-breaking, welfare-dependent, “aliens" who steal the jobs of hard working Americans. When the U.S. press reaches beyond stereotypes, however, reporters find fears, risks and resilience that is common to all coal-mining communities. After all, when the roof fell at Crandall Canyon, the rock paid no attention to nationality.

 

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