Wednesday, July 29, 2009

hands helping themselves

She heard about the joys of the Mexican Pacific coast from her friends in Winnipeg.

Longing to escape the Canadian plains winters, she dreamed of warm beaches and hemmorhaging sunsets. While her job kept her captive in the howling winters of her discontent.

But she was free to travel in the summer. And travel she did.

She went online and rented an isolated beach house for a week. It cost more than she wanted to pay. But this was her dream vacation.

Because she knew nothing of the local area, she had read up on a local internet board about what she should do to enjoy her vacation. One handy suggestion: stop at a large store on your way in from the airport to buy groceries for the week.

On the appointed day, her flight arrived on time. She had no trouble renting her car, and she was on her way. She found the store and bought everything she needed.

When she came out of the store, four or five children surrounded her offering to help her with her cart. She was initially caught off guard. But she was charmed.

She directed them to her car and opened the trunk. The children vied with one another to be helpful. Little hands darting all over.

She was not naive -- at least, in knowing what the children expected: a tip. She opened her purse, pulled out her coin purse, and set her purse on the bumper of the car.

The little girl, who appeared to be directing the operation, caught her attention. As the woman looked in her coin purse, while watching what the little girl was doing, another little hand entered the woman's purse.

A man sitting in the parking lot had watched the entire drama from the point the children first contacted the woman. When the hand entered the purse, he jumped out of his truck and yelled in Spanish.

The children scattered. The woman went into defense mode -- having no idea what was happening. All she knew was an upset man was running toward her yelling in Spanish.

The man explained what he saw and asked her to talk to the store manager. He was convinced the group of children had been doing the same thing in the parking lot for some time.

But she was on a dream vacation that did not include chastising charming children.

This little tale did not happen in Rome or Bucharest or Denver -- even though it could have. Every city has its share of petty crime.

And children are too often used to commit those crimes. This tale occurred near the area I live. I have seen those children. They are at the store even during school hours.

And that is the tragedy. It is easy enough for people with money simply to be more careful with billfolds and purses. That is mere common sense.

What they cannot do is address the underlying issue. Without hope -- without an education -- these children will never be anything other than petty criminals.

There are plenty of young Mexicans who are headed to marvelous careers in a middle-class Mexico. It is sad that some will be left behind.


Anonymous said...

Well done and well said. Good for you.

Anonymous said...

Somewhere there is a Fagin behind this. Tht is who needs to be stopped.


Constantino said...

As you have mentioned before; "There are a million stories....."
Mexico does no have the sole franchise to this, The Patron Saint of Travelers, must have plopped down the caring observer for her, hopefully she will become a little wiser, I did, in the Costco parking lot in Morelia about 10 years ago....
My Patron Saint was on holiday that day, and it wasn't children, but the parking lot attendant..

Steve Cotton said...

Anonymous -- Thanks.

Horst -- Always after The Primary Cause, eh?

Constantino -- This is not a cautionary tale. It is a sad tale of children's future being mortgaged.

Calypso said...

Of course in reality this is a universal story - sadly.

Larry in Mazatlan said...

Education here is a privilege, not a right. It costs money to have a child in school; uniforms, materials and lost wages.

Then there's the attitude among some that going to school doesn't really get you anything.


Larry in Mazatlan said...

Horst is right. Look for the middle-aged male sitting in the shade of a tree not too far away.


Felipe said...

Ah, Señor Cotton, you disappoint me. You have fallen, and not for the first time, into the routine of saying, in one form or another, it´s the same in the U.S. It´s excuse-making.

There is crime in the U.S., surely, but you´re not likely to run into something of this sort in Denver.

In Denver, some glassy-eyed adult lug will simply stick a pistol in your face in the Wal-Mart parking lot.

These kids can get an education and they can do honest work later in life. Both are available in Mexico. Where are their deadbeat parents? The principal problem in Mexico is the culture, not the lack of opportunities. There are opportunities. That there are not is a myth.

Surely not the degree that exists over the border, but a person with focus and drive can do well here.

My Mexican relatives and other people I know have done it. My father-in-law, now deceased, and his brothers, grew up dirt poor in a rural area. He became a doctor and his brother ended up owning much of Pátzcuaro real estate. The other brothers did well too. They had focus and drive.

The problem is the defeatist culture. And the fact it´s not that difficult to steal into the United States. I have a nephew up there right now, illegally, a guy who quit a promising, entry-level job with a supermarket chain here in Pátzcuaro because he wanted to get rich faster.

Mexicans are not victims.

1st Mate said...

There's always that moment, after I've gotten my change at the checkout and before I'm in the car leaving the parking lot, when I wish I had an extra pair of hands just to get everything safely stashed. But I have not yet been approached by a "helpful" mob of kids. That practice doesn't seem to be as prevalent here in Sonora. But there have been reports of adults breaking into cars in supermarket parking lots, even driving them away!

Charley said...

Where are their deadbeat parents?

Cleaning the house of a blogger who's falling in love with Mexico and writing a guide to Cheap Living in Mexico.

Anonymous said...

In this world, in all countries, there are those that prey upon others.


Steve Cotton said...

Calypso -- Thievery is sadly universal. But the addition of little hands makes it that much sadder.

Larry -- I have a Mexican friend in Salem. He is a whiz-bang mechanic. His children are getting to college age. When I asked what college they were going to, he responded why should they? I didn't. It is interesting how some cultures value formal education. A Chinese friend was appalled at his answer.

Felipe -- I make no excuses. Parents failing to assist their children can happen in any culture -- and does. Thieving hands are not the norm in Mexico, and it is sad when it happens. I agree with you that Mexico's Spanish heritage with its feudal class sructure and the Catholic church have done quite a job on the general Mexican psyche. But culture is not determinative. If it were, Mexico would not have been able to create and sustain its middle class. These children are victims to the extent that their parents are not giving them the guidance they need. I can think of a least one lately-not-so-lamented departee who fell in that category.

1st Mate -- I know I will be far more careful. I suspect I now know what happened to my wallet. The same children had their hands all over me on the afternoon my wallet went missing.

Charley -- There is that. I had a conversation with a gringa the other day about Mexico's declining economy. Her response: "What's the problem? That means we can hire help for lower wages." I fear Mexico is becoming more and more like South Africa every day.

Mom -- Too true.

Cynthia Johnson and Mike Nickell said...

1st Mate - It happens in Sonora. More than once at Ley's mall in Guaymas Mike was MOBBED by little boys wanting to help tote his bags...and they were very the point of him having to "remove" their hands from his body while crowds of Mexicans were wondering what the Americano was doing to the poor little ones...

Anonymous said...

you have keen insight on this issue.
Take care..

maria luz said...

Some friends, a couple, spend most of their year traveling to every corner of the world. He retired young from his own company and his brothers are holding down the fort. For the last 15 years they have been constantly gone and love their travels.

They have encountered this problem almost everywhere they have gone, in varying degrees. In fact, they love Italy and they adore Rome and Florence, but they have been accosted so many times by very aggressive little hordes of children trying to pull the very same stunt that they have abandoned Rome as a destination. It is an unnerving experience, at best. Italy is not Mexico and it has a different culture and a different history, but this problem has been mentioned many times, over many years, on travel boards.

Children are exploited everywhere, but I think to what degree depends on the extent of how successful law enforcement prevails and how. Not even in the U.S. is it all that successful. Cultural mentality has a lot to do with how hard the law is pressed to do something about abuse.

I have a couple of friends that work for child protective services and others that sit on the board of a very successful child help and advocacy group locally. All sadly report horrific stories of abuse and exploitation right here in the Fort Worth area. It is frequent, continuous, and never ending, and not limited to just here. It is a national disgrace. It is not controlled as well as it should be here by any cultural influences. And if it were on the news every night and in the papers, as it should be, people would routinely be in rigors. That is just it. It does not make news any more. A child has to turn up missing or be horrifically abused to make news anymore.

There are many ways to abuse a child and Mexico does not hold the record on that at all. Allowing your child to think it is OK to steal Steve's wallet is but one of many ways to abuse a child.

Withholding education is another. But for some parents affording it may be next to impossible where there is little opportunity to make a living wage, much less a decent wage. I have my own experience as a teen with this living with my Mom in D.F. after my Dad died. Her opportunities in Mexico were horrifically limited. I simply could not go to school even with the swanky job she had at the Sheraton Maria Isabel working twelve hour days and often well into the night. It was the main reason we returned to Texas after a year, then moved her mother from D.F. to Texas.

There are ignorant and lazy people everywhere and even in this land of abundance called America there are way too many who exploit their children. And there are those who never strive to encourage their children to utilize the opportunities that exist here. They just get by on whatever level is acceptable for them. That is what they teach their children and that is a form of neglectful abuse as well. Very sad, and a tragic waste of human capital indeed.

In fact and in reality, the children of these people, where ever they live, are indeed victims. Victims of a parental mentality that allows abuse and neglect of children. I used to teach second grade in the worst part of Fort Worth and I saw it every day with my own eyes. And I saw it in the affluent schools as well.

And Steve, you are right. It is not the norm to see this in Mexico. I have seen this only a few times in all 45 years of traveling all over the country. But when I see it, it breaks my heart.


Laurie said...

This story could not happen in Honduras, at least in most cities. Why? We have huge fences and armed guards in towers guarding the parking lots. If someone, anyone, is loitering in the parking lot, a group of armed guys are alerted by the watchtower sniper, and they escort the man, or or child, or woman off the premises. He or she does not stand a chance of getting close to our cars or stores. It is hard for me to impress upon my guests the importance of safety in Honduras. They all think the sniper guy is cute.

Mic said...

Marta is right...Steven-Steven-Steven.

In my opinion, you must staunch the flow of blood from your bleeding heart before it runs dry and ruins your enjoyment of MX....and you WILL burn out eventually. No ones naivety/patience can be endless.

There are correct ways to "give/share with the needy" without giving them reason/opportunity/encouragment in the belief that it's gainful employment (for them or their pimp) by stealing or begging from you because you are soft hearted/careless/foolish....rather than them looking for respectable work. Anyone with 2 hands can find work....even in MX.

It doesn't make you worthy of respect in their eyes to become their willing makes you foolish....and a large source of the problem you speak of. They are painting SUCKER on your forehead and will be waiting in ambush for you every time to go out...because you've made that occupation profitable.

Hire one of them (or your maid - or go to the local orphanage and give one of those kids a job) to go shopping with you and carry/guard your purchases - "gainful employment" - and let him/her know they won't get paid if anything disappears - for any reason they come up with - as it comes out of their pay and stops future opportunities for payment.

You WILL need to be willing to protect your Protector against those who will try to get to him.

.....Then I could be all wrong and totally selfish. But it's at least another perspective for thought.

el jubilado said...

I was suprised it was not Steve's story .... but he's new in Mexico.

Although many Mexicans will try to take advantage of gringos and other Mexicans (way of life for some) ... it's not quite fair use a second hand story to make your point.

So many variations on that theme as well as the value of education ... it's better understood from first hand experience

Anonymous said...

You cannot change their culture. It is what it is. I do think you would be much happier in a more "Americanized" place like SMA.

Steve Cotton said...

Cynthia -- I am sorry to hear that.

Min -- Thanks.

Maria Luz -- I really can't add anything. Thanks.

Laurie -- Ah. Dealing with the symptoms is always a handy "solution." But I am pleased that you are working on primary causations.

Mic -- These children are 6 and 7 -- or so they seem to me. You offer an interesting solution. But probably not for this collector of wounded souls.

El Jubilado -- I was positive you would see through the third party journalist voice. It is my story. And that saddens me even more.

Anonymous -- I have no desire to change any culture. I certainly hope that empathy is not a dead character trait in SMA. And I am not unhappy in Melaque. I saw sights in Salkem that tore my heart the way these children did.

Anonymous said...

It certainly is sad to see children indoctrinated in such a way. The end point is probably not a pretty place.

It's also very sad that you have to be suspicious of mere babes.


Kim G
Boston, MA

mcm said...

So Steve - I'm confused...the that you tell features a female. But in your comment, you say that it is your story. If so, sounds more like a novelistic (as in ficiton) voice than a journalistic voice.
By making the protagonist a female, doesn't this influence the reader's reaction? In particular, I hear more people talking about (steroetypes of) female "dream-seekers" coming to Mexico than male...most often, these are not flattering portraits (ditzy ladies with unrealistic expectations). By stating that your story involved a male, you could do a bit to shake up the stereotypes, no? Just saying...

Steve Cotton said...

Kim -- Watchful, not suspicious.

MCM -- Ah. You have cast me in the wrong role. Put me in the truck.

Mic said...

I do enjoy the discussions you engender here; and after mulling the topic over, I wanted to make one more comment.

Being a wise person, you probably realize there was ".....the rest of the story." to my comment based largely on experiences from living in the PI....another heartbreaking local. The lesson impressed on me repeatedly - tho I've broken the rule many times - was that it's working at cross purposes to help those who are not making an effort to help themselves first....and thieving & begging don't qualify. You need to help in a way that is lifting them out of their belief that this is the right way to live....otherwise, you are perpetuating their lifestyle. ....and you are only one person, so you must chose who & how to help them wisely.

These children are deliberately trained/dressed to look pityible and miserable....and in many cases deliberately maimed by their families to become better beggers. A lot of the kids you think look 6-7 are more often MUCH older - and you wouldn't recognize them away from their workplace. If they are successful at thievery or begging, then why should they (or their parents) stop . Like my gardener said...."you are insulting me and others who work for their living by giving to those who make their living by begging or thieving and faking how bad off they are. They are trained to appear better for begging . Do you want to encourage that?"

It is the more difficult task to turn away from little hands and stop them from stealing when you know you can afford it and it apparently means everything to them....."apparently" being the operative word. But many times, it's more difficult for you but better for them if you can say - No - or Stop - without hardening your heart.

'A man is not measured by how tall he stands but by how often he bends down to help.'

I read this quote today and thought of you, Steve. I'm glad there are caring people in the world like you.

Steve Cotton said...

Mic -- I agree with you. The people who comment on this blog are extremely thoughtful in what they have to say. And I fully agre with you that the only way out of poverty is employment. And we can often provide it. That is how I feel about Marta. She works hard for a very low salary. I add to her salary because she adds value to this household.

Islagringo said...

There is another form of "thievery" that goes on every day in Mexico. The Gringo price. I bought a bunch of radishes today for 5 pesos. Cheap, I admit. The woman next to me in line bought the same amount. Her price? 2.50! I consider it thievery on the part of the seller. (I understand that it is not going to break my bank, but I get so sick of being taken advantage of because I'm the stupid Gringo. Not to mention the total lack of integrity of sales people)

Anonymous said...

I recommend you report this case to Sistema DIF Cihuatlan

Maybe these children are being exploited by adults. By reporting this you will help these children.

Phone: (315) 35 5 25 47 - 35 5 26 29.