Jimadores [HEE-mah-doors] are the masters of Mexico’s agave fields, and the breathing crux of Mexico’s agave spirits industry. They rise before the sun, setting out with long blades to reap what they and generations past have sown: the majestic agave plant. In one day, a single determined jimador might harvest fifteen thousand pounds of agave, shaving and halving each hundred-pound plant in about ninety seconds, and then loading them into trucks. It’s remarkably taxing labor, but to complain is not in the blood of a jimador. To complain would be to pause.
Jimadores are no ordinary men, and agave is no ordinary crop. Each agave matures over a tremendously long period of time, sometimes decades, before a jimador decides to harvest. It’s a consequential decision— harvest too soon, and the spirits’ quality will be compromised, and entire ecosystems and species are jeopardized. Wait too long, and the agave will flower and become unusable. These decisions are founded on wisdom passed down through generations and make waves felt across the Mexico and by tens of millions of Americans: when the affected bat populations suffer, so do we.
These men and women display an extraordinary symbiosis with their plants, and they must — entire global industries and a delicate ecosystem rest on their backs and blades. And most of the time, they weigh heavily. Jimadores, despite their unparalleled expertise and work ethic, reap few benefits from the industries they support — by design. The structure of the industry prevents jimadores from unionizing, and opens them up to being trapped in cycles of exploitation. It’s extremely profitable for a few large foreign companies, but detrimental to Mexico’s most vulnerable rural communities and the most fervent contributors to its greatest cultural traditions. This detriment opens doors to unfathomable poverty and the roots of violence. It forces these men and women to fend for themselves and their children in the harshest of socioeconomic climates, far from progress and far from hope, with no opportunity for their children to lead better lives.