Economic Privilege

Dear Kids:

I am sitting on the porch of my casa in Mexico.  I wake early and so I have poured my coffee and am doing sudoku with my favorite mechanical pencil.

I was just admiring my pencil and thinking how much I love this particular style (I bought two extra to bring to Mexico); when Luis walked by carrying a five gallon plastic bucket.  I realize where he is going because he stopped by on his return yesterday.  He is on his way to the lagoon to catch some fish for his extended family.  If he catches enough they may sell some to the Enramadas (palapa restaurants) on the beach.

Luis, his wife, and three children live with my caretaker, Raul and his wife, Inez.  Also living with Raul and Inez are three other daughters, two other sons-in-law, and two more grandchildren. To paint the picture: Raul, Inez, Luis, Maria Jesus, Kimberli, Itzallana, Raul Antonia, Jose, Leticia, Enrique, Victoria, Estrella and Brittany are living in a house the same size as the one I am living in by myself.   .

I watch the woman from next door walk by and return with some soap powder, a coke, a sprite, a packet of cookies and a candy bar.  Breakfast?  I will have my breakfast of shredded wheat with soymilk and a banana and then go to the beach to work on English with Alda.  Many of the vendors want to learn enough English to speak to the tourists when the season begins.

Alda sells hammocks on the beach.  Every day she carries approximately 15 – 20 hammocks to this location.  She lives in Zihuatenejo so she must bring her wares on the bus and then change to the pasajeros (back of a pickup truck rigged with seats) and  return the same way at the end of the day.

She and all of the other vendors who carry great masses of jewelry, baskets, wood carvings, decorative dishes, etc., etc. make this trek 7 days a week. They do it in the off-season even though many days the transportation may cost them nearly as much as they make.

My landlady owns an enramada.  She is financially fortunate in the hierarchy here.  But EVERY morning she carries fresh food and supplies to her spot.  It is the end of the rainy season and until last Monday the lagoon water came up to her seating area.  During this slow season she is lucky if she has a customer.  But she feeds her family from there and must stay open in case a customer should pass the other enramadas and order her Sopes or Camarones a la Diablo.

This is not a poor village and they are not poor people..  They fish, have small stores, run their restaurants and/or work at shops.  One woman makes and alters clothing.  There is a thriving group of women who have received micro lending as a group and own  different businesses.  Some men drive the pasajeros or taxis.  Many are builders or construction workers.  All families have food, clothing and a roof over their heads.  Some have cars and trucks.

But it is hard to get ahead here.  Many parents have trouble affording schooling for their children because they must pay for tuition, books and uniforms.  Education is not a priority for all families.

When you were growing up I would not have called us privileged. In our economic world we were pretty low on the scale.  Certainly we had what we needed. We always had food.  Shortly after we were married, your Dad found a job and was always employed.  We may have worried about the bills in the winter, but we were always warm.

Leaving aside the different faces and types of privilege, I didn’t recognize economic privilege for what it is:  opportunity for education, opportunity to work with our minds rather than to do continual back-breaking work; being aware of resources and knowing what  resources were available; being raised with an awareness of health and the path to that health.

Is it god’s blessing?  A random luck of the draw in the gene pool of life?  Many people work as hard as we have worked and do not have what we have.   I don’t know that answer.

I do know that economic privilege is not a thing to be ashamed of.  It isn’t a reason for guilt or dismay.  But it’s sad not to recognize that privilege.  It is important to appreciate our blessings and do our best with our resources.  You all remember your childhood and realize your advantages.  I hope you pass that gratitude to your children.

As for me, I know how lucky I am to be able to choose the pencil I love and to spend even a moment in my day thinking about that choice.


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