Saturday, July 20, 2024

Mexican Boogeymen: The Nini

There are many cultural archetypes in Mexico. Like everywhere, they tend to be polarized: universally revered, or universally despised.

Revered? Look no further than the all-sacrificing, all-involved mother, her children her highest adoration.

Children are, of course, treasured by Mexicans everywhere. Until they don’t get a job, anyway. (Isaac Esquivel/Cuartoscuro)

Despised? In today’s article, we’ll be talking about the infamous figure of the “nini.” Sometimes written as NINI, it stands for “ni estudia ni trabaja” (doesn’t study, doesn’t work).

NINIs, NINIs everywhere

First of all, it’s important to note that when people use this term, they’re referring to young people. Officially, a “nini” is a young person between the age of 18 and 24. As of 2022, they made up about 20% of the population in that age bracket (some sources count ages 14-28).

They’re Mexico’s answer to the Anglo figure of the “bum,” except they’re not the stereotypical 50-something dude. The stereotype here is young, lazy, disrespectful, and (usually) male. Dudes sitting around staring at their phones in the middle of the day is not what anyone wants to see around here.

But who are they really?

In reality, most NINIs in Mexico are women. Part of the reason for this is simple biology. If you get someone pregnant, your life can, in most cases, go on as it normally would. If you become pregnant, then your opportunities become quite a bit more limited.

So too, if you suddenly have the duties of “wife” thrust onto you. Though hard to believe, there are plenty of communities in which the “selling” of minor daughters to husbands is not unheard of. Unfortunately, sexism still abounds in many places of the country. It’s not great for creating opportunities for young women.

Crime

As you might guess, organized crime also has a way of swooping in to fill the vacuum. In areas of the country where educational and economic opportunities are low, recruiting, unfortunately, becomes much easier.

For a little perspective, organized crime is the fifth highest employer in Mexico. As you’d probably guess, no one lists “Las Zetas” as their employers in official polls.

Attempts at solutions

AMLO was elected in 2018 in part with a mandate to help NINIs. His ideals came from the heart, but the policies that sprung from them fell far short of their goal. The initiative “Jóvenes Construyendo el Futuro” (Young People Building the Future) was popular. It was and is a scholarship program for young people to get paid while they learn a trade. However, the already small budget for it shrank quite a bit during the pandemic. With schools and workplaces closed, many young people missed out on vital years of development.

AMLO at morning press conference
President López Obrador has tried (unsuccessfully) to remedy the Nini problem.  (Cuartoscuro)

Still, he tried. He bet on not disturbing organized crime in the hopes that they’d cool down. Conclusion: unsuccessful. He ensured that the minimum wage was raised several times during his term. He was not responsible for the pandemic, of course, but the missed opportunities and lack of government support during that time hurt many.

Half a bet that didn’t pan out, half bad luck? Anyway, it’s back to the drawing board for now.

Mejor nada

Even for those young people who work hard to finish school (though secondary is required), opportunities can be slim.

Even college graduates can expect to see low offers for professional posts. That is, if they have the proper connections. If they’re from poor families and don’t have a “palanca” to help them get a leg up, meaningful opportunities are slim.

Meanwhile, employers paying minimum wage complain that they can’t find quality workers.

Gee, if only there were something more they could do!

I often think about how I’d feel if I were a young poor person. Perhaps I’d watched an aunt or an uncle work their butts off only to toil 6 days a week plus overtime to barely provide for their families.

It would almost seem not worth the effort.

Sarah DeVries is a writer and translator based in Xalapa, Veracruz. She can be reached through her website, sarahedevries.substack.com.

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