Prior to actually living in Mexico, I thought it to be a third-world country, with all the attendant problems faced by a nation with that bottom-of-the-heap moniker: government systems crippled by chronic corruption and a lethargic economy. Dirt roads and dusty towns, with most vehicles looking like they were ready for the crusher, people spending long hours of toil with little to show for the effort.
Having traveled around western Mexico and Baja for decades, I look back at the lack of prosperity that seemed to overshadow the culture 50 years ago. The country was so mismanaged, the value of the currency was predisposed to plummet at any given moment, all but wiping savings out. Even those who grew their own food and raised some livestock were impacted by the rampant incompetence which ensured the economic failures.
Around the margins of most modern-day Mexican cities and small towns, the tar paper shacks and shanties are a stark reminder of the poverty which still seems so brutally persistent. However, the statistics over the past 20 years show a Mexico that is coming of age within the contemporary world’s economies, with the poverty rate overall steadily declining since the late 1990s.
There are also large billboards in Guadalajara and Mexico City that implore the public not to bribe tránsitos, along with a free number to report corruption. The steps are small and progress is slow, but it’s a positive effort to transform the shady side of Mexico.
After relocating from Idaho to Mazatlán, my first few years were spent getting to know the town, the culture and, of course, the people. One thing instantly apparent was that most automobiles were of a late model and in good condition. Another indicator of growing prosperity was the ongoing construction of both commercial and residential buildings, which was happening throughout the municipality.
Further revelations included the numerous clean and well-stocked supermarkets that would be an anomaly in a supposed third-world country — places where the floors are always being cleaned and the food handlers wear sanitary masks (pre-Covid) and gloves. These 30,000-square-foot temples to abundance would not be found in any of the truly third-world countries where food holds more value than the swiftly declining currency.
Even in the crowded centro mercado, the quantity and quality of both fresh and processed food is impressive.
Of course, the main reason decent automobiles and major appliances are now within reach of the average Mexican is that first-world invention called easy credit. Buying big-ticket items with credit is a relatively new concept in Mexico.
With prevailing interest rates from 20% to 45%, people are funding their prosperous lifestyle with yet-to-be-earned pesos. Hopefully, the moneylenders won’t corrupt this open and friendly culture with the continuing cycle of debt that has become a way of life in some first-world nations.
The entrepreneurial spirit flourishes in Mexico; small businesses and individual vendors are literally everywhere. If there were not an expanding economy, these enterprising people would not be so numerous. While the trinket vendors swarm the tourist beaches of both coasts, most vendors peddle their wares in neighborhoods throughout Mexico, focusing on the needs of residents.
Coming from a culture where the automobile is an essential shopping accessory, I have found servicio a domicilio to be quite refreshing. The list of goods and services that can be delivered to your door is indeed phenomenal, from agua to zanahorias (carrots).
Want to have a party? The beer distributors will deliver all the beer you and your friends could possibly consume, as well as a sufficient quantity of tables and chairs to accommodate the bottles and bodies of the drunken mob.
Need ice for all that beer? No problem. For a very reasonable price, the ice company will drop off enough blocks to build a small igloo. Is your fiesta going to be on a hot day? Just have carpas (tents) delivered. How about some music? A fully loaded Rockola jukebox or an eight-piece band is just a phone call away. (For large parties in certain parts of Mexico, body bags and a professional cleanup crew can also be arranged.)
But for the rest of us, bottled water, fruits, vegetables, fresh seafood, homemade tortillas, ceviche, tamales, along with a host of both recognizable and obscure goods, are available for home delivery throughout modern Mexico. These inventive vendors are friendly and energetic folks who have created an economic niche by providing convenience at a reasonable price.
There are auto mechanics and tire repair people who, along with many doctors, will also make house calls. Try finding a doctor north of the border who would willingly come to your home — certainly not in this century.
The only professional service persons who do not come to you are the dentists, but I am sure someone is working on that.
In the countries north of the border, the driving forces to compete and succeed have imposed an economic servitude upon their citizens, which can negatively impact the overall attitude of the population. However, here in Mexico, it appears that even many of the poor people are content with their lives and country.
There is not the sense of despair and hopelessness that is rampant in most of the true third-world nations. Just because you live in a first-world country does not necessarily mean that your overall sense of well-being is greater than the average Mexican citizen.
Mexico is a struggling country with both economic and social problems to overcome, and Covid-19 has certainly left its mark, but the overall outlook is promising. The greatest resource this country has is its companionable and compassionate people. Even government corruption and poverty are taken in stride as this emerging nation jockeys for position within the world community.
So, if you still think Mexico is a third-world country, go spend a couple of weeks in Somalia.
The writer describes himself as a very middle-aged man who lives full-time in Mazatlán with a captured tourist woman and the ghost of a half-wild dog. He can be reached at [email protected].