La Profesora Abstraída

Weblog of Michelle Dion, Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science, at McMaster University. My blog has moved to Visit my other website.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Have I mentioned the racism and classism prevalent in Mexico?

A couple of weeks ago, I took a trip out to a Sam's Club and Superama in the Santa Fe area of Mexico City. (Superama, by the way, is a funny compound word...super in Mexico means about the same thing in English, and ama de casa means housewife. So Superama is a play on Superhousewife. I doubt it's a Wal-Mart creation; more likely it was a local grocery chain that they bought.)

Both are owned by Wal-Mart. In the states, we don't shop at Wal-Mart, but it's hard to avoid here in Mexico. They own Wal-Mart, Sam's, Superama, Vip's, El Portal or Porton (I forget which), Ahorro, and probably a bunch of other restaurants and stores.

I went to this Sam's and Superama because I knew where they were and how to get there, and because the Superama is very large and has a better selection than the small one near our apartment in the Condesa. They share the same parking lot.

Santa Fe is an area of Mexico City that literally used to be a large garbage dump. Now, it is the home of high rise office buildings and headquarters for major MNC's in Mexico, such as Ford and Coke, and a really large high-end shopping mall, like Lennox in Atlanta. The area does have a few high rise condos, but mainly it's a big business park area with few residents and low density. There is no where to go if you're not in car. It's a lot like the perimeter of parts of Houston. My university is perched on a cliff that overlooks the area.

There is a lot of on-going construction of new high-rises and office buildings throughout the area. These high rise buildings are built largely by hand, hauling loads of cement up in buckets. In much of Mexico City, the workers live on-site while the buildings go up, using bootleg electricity and only minimal plumbing. I've seen it only blocks from our apartment in the Condesa, supposedly the Greenwich Village of Mexico City. The workers live on site usually because they are from the countryside or live in poor areas where the commute would be too difficult. On Saturdays, the workers get paid and get off work early, and head to the local grocery to buy food for lunch and dinner.

That is how I came to witness about 20 male workers in line outside that particular Superama on a Saturday afternoon at about 2pm. I was so confused by the line, I almost stopped to get in line myself. Then, I noticed other people were going into the store through the other doors, and I figured the workers must be waiting in line for some particular service.

Once I had all my groceries, I asked the kid who bagged the groceries and offered to push the cart out to the car why all the men were waiting still in line to enter the store. (As an aside, it is normal for kids between 10 and 14 to work as bag boys/girls at the supermarket here. They do not get paid by the supermarket and only keep the tips given to them by customers. I think it is part of their 'servicio social' for school, which requires all students (high school and college for certain, though these kids are too young for high school) to perform a certain number of hours of community service.

Anyway, I asked the 12ish boy why the men were waiting in line, and he said, quite simply, because they are not allowed int he store except one at a time because they smell bad. You see, according to him, there are lots of people who are "bien educada", which literally means well-mannered but is also Mexican code language for wealthy, who shop at this store and they would be bothered by the smell were all these workers to be allowed in at the same time. It is quite simple really, according to him.

I asked, "Doesn't that seem a little racist to you?" And he said no. It was understandable because those men were not clean and smelled bad. Only 12 and probably from a not-so-wealthy family himself, and he had already assimilated those attitudes.

So much for human rights. Next time, I'm going to get in line with them.

As an aside, my husband has noticed that whenever the workers enter our local Superama in the Condesa, the security guard follows them around. Silly, especially since the punk-rich snotty Mexican teenagers would probably be more likely to swipe a bottle of booze than those workers stealing even a can of beans.

Then, on the way home, I was harassed, again, by the transit police. But that's another story.

posted by Michelle @ 2:44 PM,


At 11/06/2004 10:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

!Pinche Superama, chinga tu madre!

At 5/01/2005 11:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, it's very sad and its classism, not racism, Americans tend to see everything through racial lenses, which is natural, but they misunderstand the patterns of social stratification in Mexico (which are also horrible, no doubt). But poor & black people cannot enter fancy malls in th US either, I've seen that happen.

At 3/05/2008 5:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Although this kind of treatment is not right, I don't think Americans are any better. Have you ever seen how they treat mexicans, blacks or any other people whose tone of skin is a bit darker? I think you could write about this...

At 8/09/2008 2:57 AM, Blogger Conejito Perverso said...

Humm yes it's very sad, but I don't think the racism iswell aproched because even if this workers were blond and blue eyed (near puebla and guadalajara they are because so many italianswent there) the thing is the smell, mexicans are very self higene concisous, (comon even the aztecs bathed daily the spanish prisioner for they awfull smell) and ok americans aren't as bad smelling as the european (sorry bathing once a week or washing ur hair once a week is not being clean ... it must be daily!! many do but more many don't) but maybe they can handle the odor better and as said the kidis the smell nt their color skin or the etniciti or that they are poor, about the guard following the poor loking well thats sad but true, lol even designers and another urban creatures are trated this way but that's because security is really an issue in mexico city, but maybe is a cultural thing and yes well maybe we aren't so righteous but u know, we don't kill poor kids in otercontinents, we mistreatour own people with our own people, so well at least we are a bit fairer than americans in that point


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