In a long, low building with a tin roof, people from this village turn clamshells into buttons. Beyond the broken windows lie middens of clamshells, punctuated with precise and uniform holes. The gravel mixes with broken shells and thick, pale unfinished buttons. There will be no work here until May, when the surf clams have again grown large enough to harvest. For now the workers are in Ensenada and San Diego, crewing on fishing boats, washing dishes in restaurants. It is a quiet afternoon. A boy is playing under a lime tree. Red and brown mountains rise up behind the gravel yard. There are buttons scattered over the graves at the other end of the village. The button factory is owned by a Japanese company, and, year after year, the finished buttons are exported to Japan. In a store carrying necessary items, in a town on that far-away coast, a woman’s fingers brush the polished calcium sewn to the front of a blue wool coat.
April 13, 2011 Dispatches