Here in the south of Mexico, we live in a native territory almost as ecologically rich as the Polynesian Islands with all the natural abundance and volcanic soil you can fathom (but not nearly as isolated). Yet Hawaii and Tahiti, for all its economic inequity, are rather developed and expensive. So with complexity and contradiction I had the curious impulse to ask Mexicans why they think this place is considered so poor.

Here are the top reasons I’ve been given:

+ Class warfare.
The indigenous poor are deliberately repressed. Politicians disregard this entire area, won’t build schools or infrastructure to help it grow. People are uneducated, ignorant, illiterate.

+ Complacency. Because this land is so well endowed, people have traditionally lacked the initiative to be entrepreneurial. They have inherited a paradise and live on its abundance, like PEMEX does for petroleum. Mexico does not engage in value-added industry, but rather in raw materials and trade commodities which is being replaced by China. For better or worse, people are not too angry about their poverty here and they don’t operate on survival mode.

+ No social redistribution. Carlos Slim, the world’s second richest guy, is Mexican. The income disparity in Mexico is gaping, with public officials earning at the earmark of $300,000 pesos (an incredible $30,000 USD) per month while more than half the nation lives in lack, sometimes without running water. The national minimum wage is $1,200 pesos ($120) per month but a vast percentage of Chiapanecos here live below that. $400 pesos, or a third of their income, goes to rent housing.

+ Short-term vision. Chiapanecos spend money today on rituals, social obligations, today’s wonderful meal, flowers, on liquor. Living for the present, they don’t have an interest or the foresight to save, to invest, to tend to their portfolio the way they do with their garden. But Neoliberal Capitalism is causing this place to suffer, and more and more people are becoming poor.

+ The American Dream belongs to America. The (apparently ludicrous) idea that ordinary people can simply start products and services in start-ups and grow them into companies…is purely a United States thing, and extraordinarily unlikely here. And Mexicans who do sell their companies for millions… do it in the United States…because there is a healthy financial infrastructure of loans, capitalist investments, angel donors, that is fiction in Mexico.

+ Unhealthy national envy combined with lack of direction. When Mexicans look at economic examples of China, Taiwan, Chile, Japan, they are more likely to be jealous and see it as other countries “winning” why they are “losing,” and blame the government, rather take the individual conviction to put in the long hours of hard work, the innovation and creativity to reach these goals. They do not see successful models as proof that it can be done within ten years… rather, they see it as someone else getting a piece of the pie that they wanted.

+ Disillusioned. Many Mexicans want to be prosperous and “First World,” but not necessarily “industrialized.” They want to develop as a nation, but rightfully feel burned by financial lending institutions such as the World Bank. They don’t want to move forward if it means being “like Americans.” There are fragments of culture, artisan craft and native history they desire to preserve, and there’s a lot of abstract concepts they are firmly against: Neoliberalist capitalism.

In my own opinion… I find it strange that Mexicans always consider their own country so pitifully poor—even sometimes calling itself the Third World!–but I suppose that bordering the wealthiest economy in the world and does produce a sharp sense of anger and sometimes an undeserved inferiority complex upon comparison. (For instance, even rich people feel inadequate when they’re surrounded by the super-rich.)

However. Mexico *does not* have the problem that many underdeveloped countries have: Mexicans do practice coordination and management. Have you ever been in countries so backward, that even the local corruption is horribly unsophisticated?! Like, things are done so stupidly that even the crime is ignorant. This practice of getting together and doing what you say you’re going to do in a coordinated fashion is rare in really poor countries, but not in Mexico. In villages projects often drag on because it’s so hard to get a hold of people, there’s untimeliness, lack of initiative and decisiveness, and people waste time being unproductive.

Mexico has the most crucial of characteristics that drive nations toward prosperity: (1) hope, optimism and hard work…that we are capable human beings, and the elevated expectation of what someone is able to do (2) very high emotional well-being  (3) fairly high quality of nutrition and health (4) a willingness to share intangibles such as knowledge, friends, and even jokes that keep everyone abreast of the lastest.

Still, one can always complain. I’ll borrow Leo Tolstoy’s quote that “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” and extropolate it to nations as well. Prosperous nations are alike in many ways and requires a tremendous amount of foresight, concerted effort, lucky breaks, geopolitical endowment; it is the impoverished ones that often differ in its myriad ways.

I just wanted to share the Mexican perspective of their homeland’s issues. Why a region is poor is a severely complex question, full of nuances, far easier to criticize its flaws than it is to develop it properly.

“Everyone thinks of changing the world. No one thinks of changing himself.” – Leo Nikolaevich Tolstoy

¡Cómo está en flor mi cuerpo, en cada vena,
con más aroma, desde que te he reconocido!
Mira, ando más erguido y más esbelto,
y tú tan sólo esperas…¿pero quién eres tú?

Mira, yo siento cómo me distancio,
cómo pierdo lo antiguo, hoja tras hoja.
Sólo está tu sonrisa, como muchas estrellas,
sobre ti, y enseguida estará sobre mí.

A todo aquello que a través de mi infancia
sin nombre aún refulge, como el agua,
le voy a dar tu nombre en el altar
que está encendido de tu pelo
y coronado, leve, con tus pechos.
-Rainer Maria Rilke


Spanish Words of the Day: fíjate” look, check it out, notice, pay attention…| “decepcionado” disillusioned | “comida chatarra” junk food | “patrocinador” sponsor | “migajas” crumbles