Railroad Radicals in Cold War Mexico: Gender, Class, and Memory

By Robert F. Alegre | Go to book overview

2
“Born into the Railway”:
Patriarchy, Community, and Underground
Activism in the 1950s

Sometime in the early 1930s, a Zapotec woman from Mogoñe, Oaxaca, took her twelve-year-old son, Demetrio Vallejo Martínez, to find a job at the railway station, where she sold food to hungry men on lunch break. In these men she must have seen a career path for her son, a job with a steady wage, benefits, and prestige. Although she mainly spoke Zapotec, she knew enough Spanish to persuade the station manager to take on Demetrio as an assistant. As she sold the produce that she and her husband harvested on a nearby farm, she kept her eye on Demetrio, who quickly grew fond of his job and dreamed of becoming a telegraph operator for the railway. Little did she know that her boy would become the most prominent rank-andfile leader in the industry’s history.

Vallejo followed his sister Isaura on a path to upward social mobility. She had married a railway worker in Salina Cruz, a major railway hub. She soon gave birth to Lilia Benitez Vallejo. Like Demetrio, Benitez lived near the train station, where she played with friends and waited for her father and grandfather — both ferrocarrileros — to punch out. By the time they were in their teens, Demetrio was living in Salina Cruz with his sister and niece and working at the railway yard with his brother-in-law. The railway industry penetrated most aspects of the lives of the Vallejo-Benitez family; they lived near the tracks, depended on the industry for work, and socialized on streets bordering the station.1

Demetrio Vallejo took such pride in his work and developed such affection for his colleagues that he decided to become a union rep-

-65-

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