Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Mimosa Cortez: Crab Picker With a Heart

Mimosa Cortez in her crab picking plant.  Nearly 40 neighbors work for her here.

Gentle tapping and cracking sounds fill a small crab picking plant in Manapla, Negros Occidental, as 40 pairs of hands skillfully separate the meat from crab shells and claws. At about six this morning, the crabs, caught by fishermen working all night, arrived alive and fresh from the sea, their claws and swimming legs immobilized with rubber bands. They were steamed for about half an hour and now their meat is being carefully picked out of the shells and packed in ice boxes. 

It takes patience, nimble fingers and good eyesight 
to be a crab picker because no one appreciates 
having bits of shell in their crab cake, 
salad or soup. Crab meat from here 
eventually appears on dinner plates in the US.  
Later in the day, a quality control person from an exporting company in Bacolod will inspect the meat. If it passes his scrutiny, the crab meat will be transported to a facility in Bacolod where it will be pasteurized and canned. Eventually, it will appear in dishes such as chili crab, crab and corn soup, and linguine crab in homes and fancy restaurants in the United States. 

Quietly overseeing the crab picking operations is Mimosa Cortez, 41. She used to work as a picker for a crab exporting company beginning at age 16. When the company closed when she was 35, she wisely used part of her separation pay to buy herself a fishing boat. Shortly afterward, she learned of and joined the CCT Credit Cooperative. She has since received nine CCT loans, most of which she used to buy more boats of various sizes. 

Mimosa now owns a fleet of 11 bangkas (motorized boats with outriggers) and eight barotos (paddle boats about five feet long). The bangkas are used by fishermen who go far out into the Guimaras Strait and the Visayan Sea in teams of five to catch fish, crabs and shrimp. The barotos  are used by fisherman who paddle out a short distance of about 20 minutes from shore to catch squid. 

Mimosa began her crab-picking business in 2015 after realizing that she could open and manage her own crab picking station rather than sell her crab catch. She has created jobs for about 80 individuals in her community, half in the crab picking plant and half on boats.  

Mimosa's crab meat is inspected by a quality
control worker from an exporting company
in Bacolod. If he gives it a thumbs up, the meat
 is transported to the company's plant where it is
pasteurized and canned for export.  
One of Mimosa's dreams is to get to travel to Manila, a faraway city she's only seen on TV. But she has a far greater dream: to see her nephews and nieces all earn college degrees. Mimosa sends three nieces from her husband’s side of the family and a member of her church to college. One of the nieces is a senior studying office administration, another is a sophomore studying to be a teacher, and the third is a freshman studying nutrition. The church mate is also studying to become a teacher.

In an unwritten agreement the students are expected to earn their degrees and not get married until after they have found jobs and helped their own families substantially.  

At the beginning of each school year, Mimosa likewise provides school material  for 21 younger nephews and nieces on her side of the family. Just this June 2017, she spent P30,000 to buy them new school bags, uniforms, shoes and socks, notebooks, pencils and crayons.

She also gives loans at the beginning of the school year to the men and women who work for her. This allows them to buy back-to-school supplies for their children as well. They pay her back in small amounts.  

"I only studied until sixth grade," reveals Mimosa who has two young children of her own. "I pray that -- because they have this chance I never had  -- all of them finish college."

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