By Fred Reed for the Saker Blog
American notions of Mexico are often decades out of date or just wrong. Nativists suffering from what appears to be minor mental unbalance sometimes refer to it as a Third World hellhole, which is silly. The country has problems, corruption, organized crime, uneven distribution of wealth. The bureaucracy can be maddening. The cartels engage in intramural massacres. Things are uneven: In remote areas roads have sometimes crumbled to the point that cars need to proceed at two miles an hour, while elsewhere first-rate modern highways punch through horrific mountainous terrain. Yet all in all, Mexico is reasonably prosperous, modern and, in most things competent. It is not Japan or South Korea, not a technological leader and never will be, but hellhole it ain’t.
Among outdated ideas is that the Mexican population is exploding. It is not. The CIA World Factbook puts total births per woman in Mexico at 2.17, .07 above replacement, and mother’s mean age at first birth, as 21.3. In the Fifties, the birth rate was astronomical. Now, no. Why the change?
An anecdotal explanation for the drop in fertility: When I came to Mexico twenty years ago, I met Lupita, a pretty and very Indian woman, from a family of eleven (!) siblings. She had two children. The son is now a lawyer, the daughter a doctor. Why only two children, I asked. She said she could have two, raise them well, and live in a nice house, or have a dozen and live in a shack, and said that if I tried having a baby, I wouldn’t want ten more. I might add that Lupita and her American husband founded a successful elder-care service, with Lupita handling the facility and routine nursing with hubby managing patient relations.
A broader explanation for the drop in fertility and a great many other things in Mexico is that the country is becoming middle class, loosely defined as having a house, job, husband or wife, refrigerator, and children in school. The middle class all around the world has low crime, small families, and values education.
Health in Mexico is generally good. The Fact Book puts life expectancy at birth in Mexico at 76.9 years. America: 77 years. These figures do not suggest a disease-ridden hellhole.
Another belief common in America is that Mexicans would all move to the US if they could. No. In the past the reason for emigrating northward was money, nothing else. American culture is seldom attractive to Mexicans. As the economy has improved, emigration has dropped, with impoverished Central Americans now going north.
Mexico is not a technological backwater. Landline telephones, cellphones, and WIFI work. Mexican airlines have good safety records, train their pilots, maintain high-bypass turbofans and avionics. In Guadalajara, a medical center, I have twice had eye surgery with good results, an MRI, for $150, and various instrument-heavy procedures. The poor, rural, and uninsured have less access to medical care, but this is also true in America, where many do not go to doctors because of cost.
Racialists in America believe that Mexicans lack the intelligence to run a technologically modern society. This is silly, especially given that they are doing it, but enough people believe it to make it worth examining. A little thought reveals that any visible technical service requires a long chain of tech-savvy upstream support requiring many competent people. Consider banks, which are everywhere. Banks contain people who understand currency transactions, intermediate banks, accounting, and such, and sit at computers maintained and networked within the bank by somebody the bank itself linked to corporate, probably in Mexico City, by wide-area engineers and systems programmers, all talking to each other on a telephony net involving thousands of cell towers and hierarchical switching centers run by alpha-geeks and software wizards. Similar chains could be adduced for other fields.
The Mexican government, while not at East Asian standards, does most things fairly well. For example, when Mexico started vaccinating for covid, the first vaccination was a badly organized goat rope, though everybody eventually got the injection. Months later, the second was a walk-in, the third much later well organized. To get the certification needed to fly, you enter your CURP, the Mexican social-security number, at a governmental site, and the document appears moments later by email. None of this is astonishing, being routine in modern countries. Which is my point.
Education? The World Factbook puts literacy at 95 percent, ahead of America (Ed. Dept. Baltimore.) The country is heavy on universities. For example, there is UNAM, the Universidad Nacional Autónoma e México, in Mexico City with 350,000 students. The Technológica de Monterrey, the premier technological school, has campuses in 38 cities.
In Guadalajara there are:
La Universidad de Guadalajara. La Universidad Marista. La Universidad Autónoma de Guadalajara. ITESO (Jesuit, the sciences, 11,000 students).
OK, I was going to make an exhaustive list of universities in Guad, but decided it would take too long. Herewith a list for any interested.
I can’t judge these schools on quality, but they are at least reasonably good. At the two I have experience of, the Universidad Marista where my stepdaughter Natalia did her undergraduate, and the Universidad de Guadalajara, where she earned her Master’s, the kids dressed casually but neatly. They seemed to see a connection between learning law, engineering, or medicine and making a living. The vapid immaturity of American universities is not there.
A few years back, at a fiesta de quinceañera, a coming-out party for girls reaching fifteen years, I met a young woman who had popped high on her math PAA (Prueba de Aptitud Académica, the Mexican SATs, and was going to study robotic engineering. Again, I cannot judge quality and do not even know which university she planned to attend. However, tests of math aptitude, girls in engineering, and robotics do not well fit the American nativist notions of primitivism.
(For what it’s worth, the PAA consists of three parts. First, reading complex passages and making inferences from them; second, math; third, English, this part being elementary. Sample question: La recta con ecuación y – 1 = 5(x – 1) contiene el punto (0, p). ¿Cuál es el valor de p? “The plot of y – 1 = 5(x – 1) contains the point (0, p). What is the value of p?”)
In the US, though it seems to be dying, there is the idea that Mexican society is machista and oppresses girls and women. This is nonsense. Mexican feminists, who know more about it than I do, tell of residual prejudice, as do American feminists, and Violeta reports that among the Indians of the south this can be serious. Yet half of the Mexican congress is female (US, 27 percent). Since these are elected positions, with universal suffrage at eighteen years and older, the population cannot be Talibanic.
While I do not have statistics on higher education, the two universities with which I am familiar are littered with girls. Dentistry and medicine, to include specialties, are, to my personal knowledge, heavily female. Again, I am no student of the matter, but things seem to be at about the First World average. Saudi Arabia it isn’t.
I feel foolish pointing out as if displaying an exotic animal that Guadalajara, a large city, has the things that one expects in a large city. Yet so many racialists have such curious ideas about Mexico that I do it anyway: Guad has 88 bookstores (of which I know perhaps six, all good) and other regions keep up. This astonishes conservative friends who visit.
Poverty exists, some of it ugly, and should not be lightly overlooked. While (says the World Fact Book) per capita GDP is at $17,900, distribution is highly unequal, as increasingly is the case in America. “Middle class” in Mexico would in the US be called lower middle-class. Much of the economy is informal, with people washing cars in parking lots for a living, or windshields at stoplights. Not good. On the other hand, Mexico does not have America’s sprawling homeless camps on urban sidewalks but (here I am guessing) Mexico’s closer familial bonds may account for this.
The narcos are as bad as you have heard, and probably worse. They have been out of control as long as I have been here. Given the amount of money involved, there probably is no solution. Americans, in their tens of millions eager for drugs, provide the market and furnish the narcos with weaponry. Latin America, certainly including Mexico, provides the drugs. On both sides of the border, banks want the laundered money, or launder it themselves. Politicians want the bribes. DEA, FBI, and so on want the jobs. The drug trade is an integral part of the world economy, like Walmart, and isn’t going to go away.
The internet is pervasive. In the first month of 2021, there were 92 million active users, 88 million mobile users, in a population of 131 million. The social media seem as much a plague here as anywhere else. People peer at smartphones as much as anywhere.
Here I speculate but I think the Net has worked a massive transformation in Mexico. As mentioned, it is, as we used to say, all over hell and half of Georgia. Coverage is good in populated regions. Bars and the like have screens, often several. The net is a big deal.
When I came through Ajijic almost forty years ago, towns around about were backwaters barely with newspapers and a.m. radio as the only link with the larger world. Today Mexico’s teenagers, as bright and curious and larcenous as everybody else’s, are aware of the whole world. They listen to music from Memphis and Mongolia, almost live on Facebook, watch movies and soap operas from China and Japan (these are available with Spanish subtitles), and use VPNs to (I love the phrase) “espofear los servidores,” spoof the servers, to get streaming content free. For adults, major countries have news services online in Spanish. When people who once would have been called rednecks, or gente muy ranchera, have access to the net, they will use it. It makes for a different world. This morning, for example, in La Jornada, I read a Spanish translation of Noam Chomsky’s thoughts on the Ukraine. This sort of thing is normal now.
Finally, large numbers of Americans live here happily. While estimates vary, Business Insider puts the number at 1.5 million. Why? Perhaps they just like Third World hellholes. Otherwise there are reasons positive and negative. On one hand, living is easy here, somewhat cheaper than in America, with year-round good weather in many parts, friendly people, with most conveniences, shopping and so on available. On the other hand, Mexico does not have the intense anger that eats America, nor the Knockout Game, race riots, and burning cities that have become routine NOB (north of the border, as we say here). No wars. No Biden. No Trump. No wokeness.
You could do worse.