Saturday, September 14, 2013

Mexico, Land of Creativity

 

You would think that by now I would be used to the inventiveness and creativity I see around me every day here in Mexico. Yet I am still continually surprised and delighted. Yesterday in my Spanish class a discussion was initiated by a news story about Mexican migrant workers in California developing a cooperative and  becoming owners of a vineyard there.

Our teacher ( a Mexican ) said that he thought this was a very rare occurrence as, in his opinion, most Mexicans do not work well as a team and generally lack ambition. There was an outcry of disagreement from most of us in the class to this, somewhat general and biased, statement. By way of explanation he said that while he did see a lot of creativity in some of the ways poor people find to make a living, he also felt that most of them never think beyond having enough money to put dinner on the table that evening, and for this reason their businesses don’t grow.

I agree with this thinking, but only as far as to say that most Mexican people really do live in the here and now, giving little thought to the future. However, I also think that this is a cultural thing that does not necessarily denote lack of ambition. I have seen some of these odd little businesses thrive and become quite successful. Case in point, my ex-neighbour in Patzcuaro.

Florentino always had some enterprise on the go. He sold baskets of peaches on the roadside in front of his house during peach season, which makes sense as Corazon de Durazno was built on an old peach orchard, then he added soft drinks for the thirsty drivers, and then ceramic flower pots. Then plants that his wife Migda grew, and then flowers in ceramic flower pots. Next he started selling tacos. Doesn’t everyone?

 

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Flori digging out money for cotton candy

 

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Herman, it was blue cotton candy

 

But Florentino didn’t stop there. He laid a concrete floor under the trees between his yard and the road, sort of down in a hollow. Above that he built a roof and eventually tarp walls that can be lowered in inclement weather. He moved the shelf bearing the 2 liter soft drinks inside and added 500 ml sizes to go with lunch. There is room for a couple of plastic tables and chairs in case you don’t want to eat your tacos in the car.

Florentino makes some of the best tacos de bistek that I have ever tasted, but they can be messy with all the grilled onions and serano peppers and juicy meat. I think Flori may have had a taco stand at some time in the past but this one was called “The Return of Don Taco”, as if the whole world had been waiting for this event! It brought in people too, who would never admit that they had no idea who Don Taco was. The stand now also sells Migda’s homemade Birria, Menudo and Guacamole. The couple has 6 children, that’s certainly motivation.

 

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Migda with some of the gaggle

 

Now having said all this, I hope that his business is still there and doing well or I will have lost a good argument for Mexican ambition, LOL. I am returning to Patzcuaro for a week in early November, so I will see. Another brilliant marketing idea can be found in the Mercado de Artesanias, the artisan’s market here in San Miguel.

 

 

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In amongst the candle holders, picture frames and tin angels sits a display of Mary Kay cosmetics. A true entrepreneur, this young vendor knows her clientele. Certainly there will always be a market among the tourists for the pewter desk sets and handcrafted mirrors, but this young lady knows that the ( often wealthy ) ladies that visit from Mexico City every weekend are probably more interested in makeup. Ambition? I think so. Creativity in marketing? Absolutely.

Have you ever gone to a mechanic and been told that they don’t have the right part for your car? I sure have, and seeing as I tend to hang on to my cars for a long time, I have sometimes been told that the part I need is discontinued. I have then been told that if I want to leave the car they will endeavor to find a part but it will likely take a couple of weeks, or I can go searching junkyards for it, if I prefer.

The same situation here in Mexico would be handled very differently. If the part that you need is not readily available your mechanic will probably say, “No problem, I think I can make one myself, it will take a couple of days though”. Sure enough a couple of days later your car is ready and running with some new home made bits. Creative? Definitely!

What if a farmer doesn’t have and can’t afford the right type of vehicle to transport his goods? Will that stop him? Not in Mexico. Of course, in Mexico the police likely won’t stop him either, which can not be said north of the border.

 

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I once saw a gigantic bull riding in the bed of a tiny Mazda pickup truck. Never tell a Mexican that something can’t be done. They will prove you wrong.

12 comments:

  1. Great post Shannon. It's pretty hard to develop a business when your annual income, if you're lucky is $2500 a year! I'm astonished how the Mexican people can take nothing and create beauty or a business! Ingenuity is alive and well.

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    1. I couldn't agree more! Maybe it isn't ambition as much as necessity, but they do say that necessity is the mother of invention and Mexicans can invent better than anyone.

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  2. I agree that Mexicans are over-flowing with creativity. But your teacher also made a generally valid point (exceptions, of course, always exist) that Mexico is not a land where group cooperation is high on the list. There are lots of reasons for it (and lack of ambition is not one). Several writers, including Jorge Castañeda, have noted the phenomenon.

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  3. That actually is true Steve. Outside the family unit or the soccer field you don't see a lot of organised cooperation here. It's a shame too, both the campesinos and the agricultural industry would benefit from a little less of the "every man for himself" attitude.

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  4. I love the "can do" attitude. I Even people who are handicapped truck along, smiles on their faces, up and down these hills of cobblestone! Viva Mexico!

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    1. Absolutely! Mexico has taught me, among many things, to appreciate what I have, not sulk over what I don't have!

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  5. This issue is the same in Turkey. People don't form trust relationships outside of their own even large family network. That building of trust relationships is one major things that moves economies faster as it is way more flexible. This is learned very early in childhood in schools and social organizations that put kids together that come from different backgrounds... like we USE to do in public school!
    In other words, Mexico and Turkey never did this and now we are starting to forget what makes us strong.

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    1. Good point Betty. United we stand. Considering how entrepreneurial the people are here they would be even more successful if they worked together.

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  6. Shannon, I love your comments on "Flore" and his family. I was in Patzcuaro and Corazon de Durazno last month and the "Don Taco" is going quite well, thanks to the cooperative effort of Florentino, Migda, and all six children...Bob T.

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    1. Bob, I am thrilled to hear that! I really look forward to seeing them all again when I visit in November. I will be staying the "Corazon". I really enjoyed seeing you on your visit here!

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  7. Hi Shannon, I saw your post about the Red Queen on Joanna Rosado's blog, Writing from Merida. If you want to pursue the story of this amazing Mayan queen, visit my Facebook page Leonide Martin. I'm an author currently writing a book about the four great queens of Palenque, called "Mists of Palenque." First installment should be published as an ebook in November 2013. I lived in Merida for 5 years studying with elders and doing archeological research. Fascinating experience living in Mexico.

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    1. Thanks Leonide, I'll check that out.

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