Que barbaridad.” they looked disgusted with Morella, a Mexican powdered chocolate brand, that was bought out by Nestlé, which launched an argument against big companies acquiring smaller ones.

What bothers you about it? That Morella was bought by a bigger company, or that it was bought by Nestlé?” I probed, aware that Nestlé was a sensitive topic in Latin America because of the infant formula scandal that had caused innumerable deaths and permanent damage in this region, for the destructive sake of profit. Apparently, the topic of acquisitions were not provoking enough of an outrage for me.

No,” in a tone that indicated I was missing the obvious, “the point was that it was a Mexican enterprise and it was bought. It’s terrible.” Hm. So *any* buy-out. I guess I understand, but I really don’t… not in the deepest feeling of resentment, controversy and how this affects the people, no I don’t.

…And for today’s post another dimension of local Mexican attitudes in Chiapas.

For me buy-outs could be respectable, even desirable, depending on how they execute it. The owners of the Morella likely received a sizable profit, and in turn, Nestlé got a successful product for which they have the infrastructure to mass produce a recipe and make it affordable for more people. Nestlé has the distribution network and branding infrastructure for which more people could enjoy this traditional food, they had professional commercialization strategies. I mean, many start-ups are founded with the intention and dream of being bought out by some bigger company… any!

I thought about Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, how the two founders were rather inept (or uninterested) with commercialization, and after the buy-out merger, how anyone–across the modern world, really–could now purchase a creamy and luscious pint. But “takeover” is how many people here see it. It was a Mexican brand, and now it’s not. What was causing all this reactionary anger, this indignation, this cause for which they could fight… without even asking how this acquisition was carried out?


First Explanation

Unlike the “gringos,” Mexicans have a strong rooted sense of nationality and the “Mexican people” which has to do with blood and race and indigenous peoples. This strong pride of identity exists with or without the definition of a political country, (just as Germans, Peruvians, and Iranian people feel tied to their common ancestry and would remain the “[Slovakian] people” even if the country itself ceased to exist, as did happen with Poland, or with present day Gypsies in Italy, or with the Jews of Israel)… I’m not sure if I would still feel American if after war all laws suspended and the country ceased to be on the international political map. So in their DNA they feel distinct from other peoples, in which they feel a need to protect their own as a matter of filial blood identity.

Extrapolating then, for me if I’m doing philanthropy, personally it doesn’t matter if it’s Asians, Africans, Hispanic, Middle Eastern, indigenous or not. I identify with people mostly the same, of course feeling more connected and empathetic towards people with whom I’ve had more direct interaction (Mexicans, Vietnamese, Guatemalan) and more alienated from those with whom I have no experience (Latvians, Estonians, Azerbaijans). But generally need is need, and I don’t restrict it to my own nationality.

But many times over here I’ve heard something from privileged locals: “Why should I care about poor people in India or Africa when my own people need help?” and it would seem so selfish. They were quick to call other people racist, but didn’t consider their logic racist at all. After all, it’s about familia. And sangre. Even when people had a decent standard of living, this rooted and instinctive concept of blood-loyalty meant they would ignore other nations’ sufferings. (Hey with this argument, why should any industrialized countries ever lend a hand to poor countries at all, I’m sure that even in Japan or Switzerland there are urban problems to be solved and they can help “their own blood.”)


Second Explanation

Small businesses just can’t compete, and it’s horrible…” I found this to be a very crude and unsatisfactory view of how businesses work in a capitalist environment...but it’s the perspective adopted by most toward corporate buy-outs. To my understanding, small businesses are not supposed to grab the same market with the same strategy—in that sense, yes profits will dwindle and you can’t “compete.” But small enterprises have wide margins of mobility to innovate, to shift products and customize things for a special roster of clients that big multinational corporations really can’t cater to… at least not so fast, and not so intimately, not so personally. Each has its advantage and niche. Small guys have to think and re-frame businesses differently, but yes they often do thrive, but not if you think about “competing” with the big guys.

Of course within my suggestion, I’m implying a solution that contemporary Chiapas Mayan culture loathes–okay, vehemently hates!!—about the modern outside world: working harder and wiser as a start-up. The freaking point of small business in Chiapas is precisely to lay back and have the freedom to work less at a slower pace…the idea that smaller guys have to work fast to outsmart and define niche business–what!–you mean we have to think of new strategies all the time? What, working harder to build a roster of loyal clientele just because we’re smaller? What, you mean with six to ten people we’ll have to put in more hours than a big company job? (Me: Well, duh! Them: This girl is out of her mind, buyouts should be banned.)

This is related to cultural attitudes toward work and industriousness (or lack thereof) that I’ve talked about in previous posts… for which in the Chiapas region, there’s a lot of people from small towns doing nothing but sitting around, complaining about lacking jobs and staring at their vegetable stall or longaniza sausages, saying how poor they are. And here’s a crazy thing: apparently most people believe that “jobs” should be “available” and “given”—by the government, by a company, by a relative, somebody—and rarely do people take the responsibility to ideate ways to create jobs for others. Clearly “Jobs” are some vague thing they deserve that should pop into lives like manna dropping out of the sky for them, and if there are no jobs then the government is bad or it’s discrimination.

Most of the time I want to respond: “Well don’t just sit there folks! Hustle! If there are no jobs, make jobs! There’s plenty to do in this run-down place,” and I realize that the intuitive notion that jobs-equal-unmet-needs-services-and-products-for-which-people-are-willing-to-pay an indispensable part of my education for which I am grateful. For me, where there is opportunity, there must be paid work… but apparently most people don’t make that sensible connection.


Third Explanation

“…And what of the Mexican conglomerates that acquire small companies in Spain? or Venezuela? Bimbo (the Mexican bread company) is expanding to China, and coffee suppliers too,” … they pretend they didn’t hear me, and their anger with buyouts now appear self-serving. They should leave us poor Mexicans alone, but if we conquer other capitalism markets: Orgullo Nuestro! Yeah okay. I find that oftentimes, people complain and moan about being the underdog, about injustice, only in cases when it conveniences them.

…I better understood why they were so angry with Shakira when she signed to an American label. I don’t think Americans would call their artists a “sell out” if one decided to sign with a South American label.


…Ending with another view; an excerpt which I translated the other day:

“A Prevention Project for Malnutrition in Chiapas, Mexico” by Carolina Guerrero-León and Marcos Arana-Cedeño

Mexico is a land of exceptional cultural and biological diversity, but just as many other Latin American countries, it is characterized by gaping social inequities. Quite likely, the place where these three dimensions converge to gain an even larger significance is Chiapas, one of the 32 states in the republic, located in the southeast part of Mexico. This state, home to an abundance of natural resources, nevertheless confronts the highest infant mortality rate, with a greater percentage of the population living under food poverty, and one of the greatest rates of malnutrition in the country. These extreme contradictions began in 1994 with the rise of the Zapatista movement. Armed in support for the indigenous people’s rights, it has quickly converted into a non-violent struggle that continues even today.

The population’s extreme dispersion, its cultural diversity, social polarization and the entrenched inequities make it difficult for authorities and other organizations to intervene in an effort to improve the state of health and nutrition amongst the locals. In spite of the fact that there were several programs and governmental strategies over the last 30 years combating the issue of Chiapas malnutrition, it remains one of the more urgent health problems, presently complicated by the emergence of other disorders such as obesity and Type II Diabetes. The relative ineffectiveness of these programs are mainly due to the fact that they focus little on local empowerment and lack cultural relevance. In fact, the majority of these efforts had been designated toward food assistance, and though they’ve contributed to greater food availability, it has caused local dependency and discourages local food production.

In Chiapas, 10.3% of the people are underweight and 27% suffer chronic malnutrition, or roughly double national values. Yet these figures are even higher amongst the indigenous population, where in some regions, such ailments for those under five exceed 50%.


Spanish Words of the Day:trastorno” disruption, disorders | “pertinencia” relevance | “rebasar” to exceed, to go beyond, to pass, to overtake | “abarcar” to cover, to span to range | “verter” to pour, to spill, to shed