Half the Nation in Poverty
Rich and poor live elbow to elbow in the old colonial villages of Coyoacan and San Angel. Mexico has strong class divisions, but this place doesn't seem to have the socioeconomic segregation that is common in the United States. Yesterday, walking down an elegant cobblestone street lined with walled compounds -- the kind of homes in which the inhabitants have their own security guards round the clock -- I passed an organ grinder and his little boy. The boy, maybe 3 years old, was asleep in the shade of a tree on the sidewalk, sprawled on the flagstones, his clothes filthy. Does this kid have a chance? What are your odds of making it when you're the son of a street beggar in Mexico City?
My hosts, Kevin and Mary, say half the country lives in poverty. The definition of poverty might be tricky, and there are boosters who say, no, it's only four out of 10 who are truly poor, but even in that best case scenario you end up with 40 million impoverished citizens. [Kevin and Mary, I should remind those who are not already clued in, have written a book, The Prison Angel, about a Beverly Hills woman who was so moved by the conditions of prisoners in Tijuana that she reinvented herself as a nun and has spent the last 28 years working and, indeed, living in the prison. She's basically a saint. Sets kind of a high standard for the rest of us.]
I visited a professor at a lovely home in San Angel, and in the course of a long conversation about earthquakes and demographics and the expansion of Mexico City -- we had a splash of a tequila that in English goes by the name Horseshoe -- he told me something interesting about city life. People stick to their little communities, he said. Mexico City is not a single place, but a thousand villages. The other day in this space I wrote about riding in a car all the way up Insurgentes, from one end of town almost to the other, and being rather overwhelmed by the scale of the metropolis -- so many people! But the professor said he almost never goes downtown, and moreover, the woman who cleans his house has never been downtown in her entire life. That cathedral that I explored yesterday -- she'd never seen it.
I hope someday she does, and gets the full tour afforded a visiting journalist. I would love to hear that they let her see the Aztec ruins below, and let her scramble around on the roof. And just once she could see all of this phenomenal thing called Cuidad de Mexico.
[Heading home. Next blog from DC.]
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