Dispatches From Mexico City: Seeking Opportunity

People from back home (reminder: I'm from Canada) ask me all the time what it’s like to live in Mexico City. I suppose it’s like living anywhere: Some days are great, others are bad. Some days it rains, others it pours. But the rainy season is just beginning, so most days it pours. If only for a few hours.

When we first arrived here the rain freaked me out. There’s just so much of it. The streets flood, the power lines hiss, and it puts a lot of pressure on the already-taxed infrastructure.

But even in the pouring rain, folks still slog their way to work and home. Even if that job is at the juice stand on the corner down the street from my apartment. They’re there every day, dutifully chopping and squeezing the best tasting and most inexpensive juice I’ve ever had.

A Land Of Opportunity

Back to people asking me what it’s like to live here. I came up with kind of a funny stock answer because explaining the nuance and minutiae of a city to someone who’s never been there is hard. So I tell them it’s like how I imagine New York City was in the 80’s: It’s pretty dirty, there’s still a sense of danger, there is a thriving arts and culture scene, there are great restaurants, but most of all, there are a lot of opportunities.

Now, I’ve never been to New York City in the 80’s. But through the magic of films like Tootsie, Trading Places, Ghostbusters, Short Circuit 2, and pretty much every Scorsese film, I’ve painted a pretty good (and, I assume, accurate) picture in my imagination. So I think it’s a pretty apt comparison.

Finding Success

Two friends of mine, one from the U.S. and one from Mexico, just opened their restaurant’s second location, a highly successful Texas BBQ-style joint called Pinche Gringo BBQ.

I have musician friends here who get flown around the country to play. Another pair of friends is well on their way to owning their own hostel. And places like the Washington Post are wondering whether Guadalajara, Mexico is the next Silicon Valley.

It’s stories like these I'm referring to when I talk about the amount of opportunity that exists here. There’s an entrepreneurial spirit that should warm the heart of any good capitalist.

Facing The Problems

I’m not trying to discount the amount of poverty, corruption, and crime here. They remain very real problems. The disparity between segments of society is massive thanks largely to an abysmal minimum wage. According to a study of member countries of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Mexico's richest 10% earn more than 30 times what the poorest 10% make. The bottom 20% of earners don’t make enough to eat three meals a day.

Facts like these are too often swept under the rug when people espouse the magic of Mexico. Not being from here, I’m not privy to many of the cultural subtleties that created these problems so I won’t presume to offer a solution. But I listen a lot. A friend of mine told me he believes providing better access to education is the biggest hope for future generations.

There may be something to that. According to a 2016 study from World Education News & Reviews, “gross enrollment ratio at the secondary school level has increased from just 54 percent in 1991 to 90 percent in 2014.” The enrollment ratio for university-age students has risen from 15% in 1991 to 31.2% in 2016. That still lags behind the regional average, but things are changing.

It’s an exciting time to be here. More needs to be done, definitely, but opportunities appear to be increasing. Hopefully, it’s a trend that continues.

For now, there isn’t any other place in the world I’d want to live.