It seems to me that Mexico’s very poor and Mexico’s very rich live beyond the reaches of its struggling government.
I first thought about this when I took a taxi to a market outside of town in a desert area; it wasn’t the market of our imaginary Mexico (with ceramics and silver and turquoise jewelry), it was the selling grounds of the hand-me-downs of the first world. There, in the vacant field, people shuffled through plastic bags full of unwanted American clothing. JC Penny’s line from last year, clothes from Target and K-Mart and I bought a swimsuit I recognized from my high school trips to Old Navy. I saw where our clothes go to die, or maybe to get a second life…
Either way, these clothes leave the regulated market when they reach Mexico’s poor. There are no taxes on them, I don’t know who is making a profit (is it the guy in the plastic chair whom I paid $1.50 for the swimsuit?).
I do know that it’s the end of their line. And then, last weekend, I saw the other end of the spectrum of detachment from the government…
Two friends of mine came to San Miguel de Allende for the weekend; a Mexican art student, Rafa, I met one summer in Rio de Janeiro and his girlfriend Mariana came and visited – we had a wonderful time.
On the first day of their visit, we took a day trip to Pozos, an old silver and gold mining town that was deserted years ago and now stands as a dusty memorial to Mexico’s working days past.
Gigantic vacant warehouses filled with cacti, street dogs, rolling hills with wildflowers and big cacti (Mexico’s national plant and, I have found out, quite tasty in a burrito); I loved this town.
We went down an abandoned silver mine, several hundred feet beneath the grown and several levels beyond my comfort zone.
“Why are they here?”
“These guys are in a war with the drug lords. These guys, the militares, are the worst. Rapists, thieves, whatever. Last week, we got stopped for speeding and they drove us to an ATM and told us to take out 5,000 pesos or they would confiscate our car. We couldn’t do that, though, because our laptops were in the car and they’re valuable so we had to give the money…”
Their disdain for Mexico’s national guard of sorts is only one aspect of my friend’s detachment from their nation and its government. When I talk with them about the future, their plans have little to do with Mexico: “It’s just too dangerous here. And people don’t make enough money, in any profession…”
Rafa wants to make art and Mariana is getting a degree in psychology. Of course Mexicans like these have a national advantage because they are educated; with this education, though, comes a link to the global network of internet, media, and travel, and through this network, Mexicans like my friends get another education: they learn that their work is of more (monetary) value elsewhere and they learn that opportunities abroad often surpass those within Mexico. They know too much to stay…