The Sorrow of a Mexi-Gringo

Mexico escaped slavery, but not servitude, socioeconomic inequality and racial discrimination

Throughout life, I have proudly called myself “Mexi-Gringo”: on my maternal side, son of the country of Benito Juárez –source of a formidable cultural, artistic, ethnic and biological wealth—, and on my father’s side of the country of Abraham Lincoln – beneficiary of a legacy of enormous intellectual and entrepreneurial dynamism.

Now, I grieve for both my maternal country and my paternal country. Abraham Lincoln sought the “better angels of our nature,” while Benito Juárez proclaimed “respect for the rights of others is peace.” But today, the worst angels of our nature and a lack of respect for the rights of others are emerging.

This is nothing new. Last year marked the 400th anniversary of the importation of the first slave to the future United States of America. James Madison, a Founding Father, called it “the original sin of the slave trade.” Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence –a slave owner himself— wrote: “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just.” Months before his assassination, Abraham Lincoln said in his second inaugural address: “Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, […] so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.’”

Mexico escaped slavery, but not servitude, socioeconomic inequality and racial discrimination. Researchers at CIDE found that the biological traits defined as race, more than the sociocultural characteristics defined by ethnicity, affect the wellbeing of Mexican. They discovered that the difference between the skin color of the lightest and the darkest skin is associated with a 51.5% drop in material well-being. In Latin America; only Ecuador and Trinidad and Tobago performed worse than Mexico with respect to this parameter, according to the Americas Barometer, and only Bolivia, Ecuador and Uruguay displayed a greater disparity in years of schooling. In addition, the Espinosa Yglesias Center for Studies (CEEY) found that babies born in the poorest quintile of society have only a 3% probability of reaching the wealthiest quintile. The situation is even worse for women and the population in the southeast region of the country.

COVID-19 has exposed enormous inequalities in both societies. The virus has a greater effect on minorities and low-income communities, where practicing social distancing is more difficult, and the nature of employment makes it impossible to work remotely. In the USA, the mortality rate among African Americans is 2.4 times higher than for white people. The Centers for Disease Control attribute this difference to living, employment and underlying health conditions. This helps us to understand the frustration of minorities in this country.

I have not been able to find comparable data for Mexico, but the situation is likely similar. People who are unable to telework are more vulnerable to losing their jobs or getting sick. A CEEY working document indicates that between just 20 and 23% of jobs in Mexico are suitable for working remotely. The distribution of these jobs varies from one region to another (they are concentrated in the center and north of the country) and by income decile (they are concentrated among the highest income deciles).

I hope we are rediscovering the better angels of our nature. So long as PresidentTrump persists in making threats, attention will focus on the violence, but in many parts of the country there are signs that the better angels of our nature are emerging. Municipal police chiefs have joined protesters in kneeling in memory of George Floyd. Houston’s chief of police offered to provide an escort for Floyd’s body when it was returned to his hometown to be laid to rest. The Washington DC Anglican Bishop and Catholic Archbishop joined together in denouncing the president’s baseness in using religious sites for a photo-op; the military has firmly rejected the unwarranted use of military force against U.S. civilians. Participants in the protests are notably multiracial. Historically, the US is a country that has been able to get back to its true North, even when it has gone astray.

Luckily, Mexico does not suffer the extreme open racism found in the US. Despite their rift, the private sector and López Obrador’s government share a common goal. As Carlos Salazar (head of Mexico’s Business Coordinating Council) has said: “nobody should be left behind”; or as López Obrador phrased it: “Nothing and no one is worth more than people’s wellbeing or happiness”. They both want a just and sustainable society for their grandchildren. Can this concurrence in objectives be the starting point for an agreement?  The problem does not lie in a disagreement about the ends, but in the means to the end.This is something that can be negotiated. 

Also published in Dinero en Imagen.

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