Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Sobradamente preparados (reloaded)

Recently I had to translate this Op-ed contribution into English to be included in some applications that am working on. It was originally published in El Universal newspaper in August, 2007, and I would like to share it with y'all.

Overly educated (and fed up)

Should we pretend this is a middle and upper class Mexican immigrants support group’s first session, this is how I would introduce myself: “Hello, my name is Antonio, I hold a BA from the private Jesuit Universidad Iberoamericana, I used to live in the preppy neighborhood of Lomas de Tecamachalco in Mexico City until six years ago, but then I moved out of Mexico, and I don’t want to go back there.”

It would be really easy for me to come up with a guest-list of potential attendees to such peculiar group. For instance, I could just E-vite my close friends. Eight out of ten already live abroad. Or I could contact any of the 225,000 Mexican young professionals –holders or either BA or technical degrees—that flee Mexican soil every year looking for better opportunities elsewhere, according to Mexico’s National Population Council (CONAPO).

CONAPO also stresses out that, between 2000 and 2005, an average number of 577,000 people emigrated out of Mexico every year. Such figure equals the total population of a midsize Mexican city, like Tuxtla Gutiérrez, capital of the Southern state of Chiapas. Together, both numbers reveal something unthinkable years ago: Members of Mexico’s educated elite already add up to 40 percent of all Mexican immigrants.

Back in the days when I used to work as Special Affairs Reporter for El Financiero newspaper—between 1998 and 2000—I travelled throughout several Mexican states, like Michoacán and Puebla, whose poorest regions where deeply impacted by the massive phenomenon of emigration. The life conditions there were so brutal it was hard to imagine a better way for their inhabitants to overcome their lack of opportunities but leaving: they had no jobs, no hospitals, no education options beyond sixth grade, no tap water in most cases. These towns were the perfect location for a John Steinbeck story on Mexican immigrants: young men were no longer there. They had already gone, leaving the young ladies, the children and the elderly behind. Oh, and the starved street dogs too.

A decade has passed since then and Mexico’s consistent inability to find ways to distribute its GDP in a more balanced manner—my country ranks 12th among the largest world economies—, has spread the immigration effects beyond the rural landscape. Urban Mexicans are now also eager to find their way out of the country.

--Are you nostalgic about Mexico?—I asked in 1999 to a former gang member who had emigrated to New York from the violent lower-class suburban neighborhood of Ciudad Neza in Eastern Mexico City. He had settled down in Hispanic Harlem with his wife and his little daughter.

--No way!—he said sharply—. Would you feel nostalgic about a place where starved kids wander around on the street with no clothes at all, covered with mud from head to toes?

According to numbers from United Nations, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund cited by The New York Times (NYT), Mexico’s total number of emigrants ranks first among Latin American countries. According to CONAPO, the main reason to leave the country for 47 percent of all young professionals is to stay away from poverty.

The emigration phenomenon has now reached out traditional upper-class Mexico City neighborhoods such as Pedregal, Del Valle and Ciudad Satélite. Private universities that used to be known for the posh attitude of its students are now also producing Inmigrantes de lujo. Even middle and upper class families from small Mexican cities that used to travel many times a year to San Antonio, Texas, for a shopping spree are now leaving Mexico. The number of Mexican families that have settled down in the Northern side of the Alamo City is growing so rapidly, the area is now called Little Monterrey, in allusion to that affluent Northern Industrial Mexican City.

Ironically, these pampered immigrants take advantage of Mexico’s rampant inequality to stay away from the country’s ugliest aspects they so dislike while perpetuating them with their opting out. They are bilingual, educated and globally-oriented—which means they have what it would take to make a change in Mexico should they decide to stay there and work towards that goal—and they take advantage of the growing demand for qualified professionals in the developed world.

As the Times ran on the article ‘Rising Breed of Migrant: Skilled and Welcome’ published on August 22, 2007, “the number of college-educated migrants in rich Western countries rose 69 percent from 1990 to 2000, according to a World Bank analysis prepared for the The New York Times […] Of 52 million migrant workers in those countries, 36 percent had some college education, up from 31 percent a decade before.”

Immigrants are, by no means, natural born Whysayers—I am not including here, needless to say, refugees nor political exiles. You can’t help trying to run away from the hopelessness of such desolated places like La Mixteca. Trying to escape from the nightmares of Mexico City’s underprivileged suburbia is a call for survival. But there’s something quite disturbing, rather broken and in great need to be fixed about these privileged young men and women who were born and raised in the most pampered segments of a society that, they were told since they were kids, was planned to be at their reach, and their growing eagerness to become emigrants. They were supposed to take advantage of their predominant position in such unequal society, and actively working to reduce its rich-and-poor gap—not rather looking for emergency exits out of it.