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The Emerging Mexican Middle Class

by Darryl Silva

Mexico's middle classI have always been a people watcher. I love to study human behavior. Understanding and learning about different cultures, what they have in common and most importantly, their differences have always intrigued me. Living in San Felipe has and continues to give me an opportunity to see up close and personal the incremental evolution of generations of Mexican people. Many of us that have lived here for a number of years can attest to these subtle and sometimes not so subtle changes. To some these changes might be imperceptible. It is easy to see things like all the Pemex Stations that seem to saturate our town. The sudden almost overnight building of OXXO stores (pronouced "Ox - so" not Hug, kisses, kisses hug Stores) seems to the Americans as overkill. But this is the culture in which we have chosen and are blessed to live.

Through it all, I am beginning to see the emergence of a new economic class of Mexican. The middle class. Not so long ago in the Mexican culture, there was no such thing as being middle class. A family was either very poor or very rich. There was not too much room for anything in between. What is amazing is to compare this with the U.S. The U.S. is going through its own socioeconomic changes. However, just the opposite is happening north of the border. The rich that managed to survive the economic crisis in tact find themselves comparatively wealthy. While the U.S. middle class for the most part, may find themselves sliding backwards into a much lower economic strata. The middle class is almost a thing of the past. The Chasm between the rich and poor is disappearing. Instead a void has appeared. The culture is changing before our eyes. Perhaps never to return to its glory days we all remember not so long ago.

Mexico's emerging middle classI have asked myself what would cause such a dramatic change in the average American and Mexican people’s lives? Even within their respective cultures? In the case of the U.S. the answer is much simpler if not more sinister. Greed, bailouts, mismanagement, out of control spending, partisan politics to name just a few. All of these factors are of course on the negative side of the scale as it relates to the economic health of a society as a whole.

Granted there are a few fat cats that were rewarded, are being rewarded, and will continue to be rewarded by these unfortunate happenings. However, the culture, the average U.S. family sees only more economic misery and backsliding in their immediate future. In many instances, the new generation of Americans don’t have that “eye of the tiger” mentality and drive as Rocky used to call it. Instead, they have become tamed, de-clawed, house cats waiting for their next scheduled feeding of cat chow from some government entitlement program. Some perhaps may have lost the innate ability to fend for themselves. Their government has taught them well!

In Mexico the change is much easier to pinpoint and arguably more positive. These changes are driven not by negative economic circumstances, as much as by the natural, generational changes within the family unit. And of course out of necessity. Not too many safety nets here in Mexico.

Oxxo storeAs one generation of Mexican hands off the family business or as the breadwinner of the family ages, a new mentality makes itself evident. Perhaps they have seen the need for change for a long while. But due to the respect shown their elders no changes would be made until the reigns were officially handed off. Now it is time for this new younger group to have their hand at making a better life for themselves and their family. Many are more educated, perhaps more mobile than their parents and so can take charge of their own destiny. They see opportunity where their fathers and even their fathers may have only seen obstacles and roadblocks.

I find it ironic that many opportunities exist now in Mexico due to the influence of the Americans that have made San Felipe and Mexico in general their home. Even those Americans that every year choose Mexico as a prime vacation area have a vital part in the emergence of this new economic group. Many of the Americans that now call San Felipe their home are from that disappearing American middle class. Such irony! A U.S. middle class disappears in the north only to create another south of the border in Mexico! And they said NAFTA wouldn’t work! Ha!

I find it interesting to see kids going to school dressed in their clean pressed school uniforms. Many are carrying cell phones and Ipods. Not so many years ago kids their age would have been at home or working. Knowing that this was the best they could ever hope to attain. Their eyes now open, many dare to dream. Some found the “eye of the tiger” that many of our U.S. children have lost. And so it goes. One generation learning lessons from the previous. In the case of Mexico or at least San Felipe it seems to be a more positive “yes we can” lesson, message and attitude.

Not all is lost in the U.S. Just as not all is a panacea in San Felipe. However, if things do not change and do not change radically soon the U.S. will not be the wonderful place we as young people so long ago were blessed to inherit.

I look with pride at a young Mexican family that has overcome so much hardship from generations past. It is the same type of pride I have for a U.S. family that has overcome so much to attain their goals and dreams. These young people, be they American or Mexican deserve all the best we can give them. Not in handouts and welfare. But in respect, education, and pride as we go along our everyday activities.

Let us all remember that we are the foreigners here. No matter how long we might be blessed to call this place home, it is THE home of the Mexican people. They are our hosts. We are their guests.

This attitude of positive influence makes itself evident everyday as I observe Americans interacting with their Mexican neighbors. This just another reason I am so proud to call our Little Village by the Sea our home. Let us never forget just how blessed we are! If you don’t believe things can change for the worse overnight, just look north!