snapshots of mexico, literal and figurative

Rich Mexico, Poor Mexico
November 16, 2008, 9:00 am
Filed under: Photo, Update | Tags: , ,

Corn and Caviar

Many Americans imagine all of Mexico as a third world country, complete with donkeys roaming dusty village streets and poorly educated men in straw hats planting corn by hand. Mass immigration clearly plays a role in this perception; in large part, Mexican migrants to the United States truly are poorly educated, straw hat wearing farmers from rural villages where donkeys roam dusty streets. In some ways it’s not unlike the perception people might have of Americans if they’d only met back-country Appalachian folk and Native Alaskans—not incorrect, per say, but not exactly a balanced representation of the country’s population as a whole.

Similarly misleading, border cities such as Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez—seen by more Americans than any other part of Mexico—paint a disturbing picture of Mexican urbanity replete with drug trafficking, excessively high murder rates, and “anything goes” vice and sleaze. Again, consider the United States. While undeniably American, many of our own border cities—Detroit or Buffalo, for instance—do not provide a complete picture of urban life in the United States.

Like most of the modern world, Mexico is now a largely urban country. Nearly a fifth of the nation’s population lives in Greater Mexico City, one of the 10 largest metropolitan economies in the world. Millions more live in Monterrey and Guadalajara, two of Latin America’s wealthiest and most modern cities, while still more live in well developed cities throughout the industrial heartlands, in colonial gems and coastal resorts supporting the booming tourist trade, or in major ports shipping Mexican products worldwide. The country is the world’s 11th largest economy, has a higher per capita income than any other county in Latin America–Brazil, Argentina, Chile–and is home to the world’s second richest man. At the same time millions of Mexicans cross the border into the US, its own economic potential attracts immigrants from throughout the world.

Still, an image based solely on these positive statistics can be just as misleading as an image based solely on migrants and Tijuana. Mexico City may have luxury car dealerships, five star restaurants, and exclusive country clubs, yet it also has a veritable army of paupers willing to juggle in traffic, wash your windshield, or sell gum and cigarettes to the wealthy youth exiting the bars and clubs of Condesa or Polanco for a couple of pesos. While Carlos Slim, tycoon extraordinaire, makes billions from various enterprises, Mexico’s minimum wage is less than $4 a day (and even this only covers those with official employment; the millions of street vendors, food stall operators, and small store owners have no such guarantee). The straw-hat wearing farmers sell their hand-planted, hand-harvested corn for $13 per metric ton—it’s no wonder so many have chosen to forego this backbreaking labor to try their luck in the United States.

In a world where the gap between rich and poor continues to widen, Mexico sits firmly at the extreme leading edge—a country of billionaires and beggars; of Mercedes and donkeys; of gated communities and adobe huts.

Life here for me has, in a good sense, become largely routine. Rather than feeling like an extended vacation or a break from the real world, it has simply become ‘life in Mexico’–familiar and comfortable. My insurance project continues to creep along—I’ll restart interviews in December, while in the meantime i’ve read journal articles, continued transcription and analysis, and planned for the coming months. The patient education project I’m working on with several other people continues to develop. I’m not sure when it’ll actually be up and running, but hopefully sooner than later. Before too much else happens down here, however, I’ve got a 2 week ‘vacation’ back home for Thanksgiving 😀

Fun Mexican Word: Güero/a – If you look it up in a dictionary, you’ll see it defined as blond(e). As the number of blond Mexicans outside of Mexico City’s highest social circles is approximately zero, that’s not how the word is commonly used. Instead, it’s used to mean someone with lighter coloring in general. For example, I’m oftencalled güerito (“little blondy”) by bus drivers, street venders, etc, even though I’m neither blond nor small…

Picture: Towers of the Mexico City cathedral. During reconstruction work, a time capsule contained in the stone sphere crowning the east (in the photo, back) tower was opened. Inside were books, coins, and other artifacts several hundred years old, dating back to before Mexico was even an independent country. It has since been replaced with a new time capsule intended to be opened in several centuries’ time.

Mexico City's Cathedral - Older than John McCain

Mexico City Cathedral: Older than John McCain

Something I miss (aside from all of you, of course): Pumpkin Pie. I won’t have to miss it for too long, though! The current over-under for how many I will eat over the 12 days I’m home is something like +4.5.

Something I like about DF: The street naming conventions. It’s similar to the president streets in the Loop or Great Lakes streets in Streeterville in Chicago, except on a much larger scale. Mexico City streets in any given area tend to have names built around a common theme. Rivers of the world, famous doctors, US states, Greek philosophers, worker’s moment terms (Progess, Union, Prosperity, etc), and so on. As I write this, I’m not far from the intersection of Hamburg and Florence, just past Stockholm, in the European Cities section of town.

I’ll be flying back to the States on Wednesday and will get back to the Chi on Thursday (and eventually Ro/Ro for Thanksgiving). Hopefully on Saturday night we can festejar un poco? Let me know if you are around and free.




1 Comment so far
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Hi, I stumbled upon your blog as I was looking for some images of el DF during Christmas. This post was really well written. Thanks for sharing, it’s something people should know, but don’t.

Comment by Très Dope

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