Today is an Official Holiday here in Mexico. It is the day set aside this year to celebrate the birthday of Benito Juarez. He was actually born on March 21st, 1806, the child of Zapoteco Indians. He is very revered political leader. In fact, he was Mexico’s president during Mexico’s Napoleonic war. (One of the major battles was on May 5, 1862, a defeat that is more celebrated as Cinco de Mayo in the US than in Mexico). Eventually, France was ousted and Maximilian was executed, allowing Benito Juarez to become the first President of an independent and democratic Mexico, much like George Washington in the US.
If you travel throughout Mexico, you will discover that nearly every community, no matter how small, has a Benito Juarez street or avenue. It is invariably one of the major thoroughfares. Here in my city, Benito Juarez is the major street through the oldest part of town (which happens to be where I live). This street was the major tourist attraction here.
This is a quiet holiday; one without much fanfare. Banks, schools, and public offices are closed, but any business that is based on tourism is open. I find it so disheartening to see how few visitors we have. When we first moved here, tourism was in full glory. We heard fireworks nearly every night and our weekends were subject to what seemed to be a war of bar noises, escalating all night until around six in the morning. We didn’t appreciate the noise because it made sleeping a little difficult.
Now, almost every night is so peaceful, we can hear the surf on the beach two blocks away; good for sleeping, but disastrous for business. There is a saying here: When the United States gets a cold, Mexico catches Pneumonia. It seems to be true. The terrible financial conditions in the US are having huge repercussions here. Combine that with the warnings that are being publicized about the narco-wars here and business dries up.
Although Mr. M and I cannot save the tourism business here, we do try to do our part to help support the local community. We donate to help support children of a local orphanage. Another interesting way we help support the local families comes about when we shop at the local markets.
In Mexico, the Mayor of a city is called a Presidente, and his wife is considered to be the city’s First Lady. Our First Lady is in charge of a program that supports the children of the poorest Mexican families. This program pays for their education and, as part of their opportunities, they are allowed to work after school as “baggers” in our local stores. Any tips they receive are theirs to keep. Needless to say, I am a shameless big tipper. It is my way of congratulating that child for his or her good academics, which is a major requirement for participation in the program.
What a huge cultural difference from the US, where children are never allowed to work for corporations while they are in elementary or secondary school. These children are from the most destitute of families, but because they have great academic potential they are allowed to go to public school (which, by the way, is not free here) and to learn life skills while contributing to the support of their families.
Today, no children are bagging at the store. Today is a school holiday. It is a dia del descanso, or day of rest. I hope the kids are outside playing football (soccer to Americans) and thinking about what opportunities they may have. After all, if a child of an indigenous tribe could become Mexico’s first President, what opportunities might they have?