Wednesday, November 09, 2022


In some quarters—probably over the border in places like Arizona and Texas, and perhaps less so now than once before but nonetheless—there is a stereotype of the "lazy Mexican". Nothing could be further from the truth.

I have said this before and I stand by it: Mexicans are the most entrepreneurial people I have ever met. They sell everything and anything everywhere. When the Greeks and Spaniards were complaining in 2008 about austerity measures and lack of work in the wake of the global financial crisis, I remember a woman in Mexico City saying to me, "I don't understand it. Why don't they just go out and sell something?" This encapsulates the phenomenon for me. What's the problem? If you want to work, get to work!

But Mexico is not Greece or Spain or anywhere else. Regulating work opportunities here as the EU does would seem to me an impossible task. If a Mexican wants to sell snacks or pens or handicrafts on the street, she simply does so. It looks like a healthy kind of anarchy of leaving everyone to just get on with it. No one is stopping you—get out there and make something of it!

In fact, it turns out this is a naïve view. While true that the federal government has limited reach into the street, this doesn't mean liberty for regular people. As always happens in hierarchies of power, intermediary groups represent and exploit. Unions demand payments for retail space on the kerb. There have been annual teacher strikes for umpteen years, every May. It's clearly a situation of complexity not easily described. 

A Japanese woman and fellow solonaut I met in Oaxaca made the observation that, in fact, the Mexicans are not only hard working but that they work TOO hard. I don't agree with this contention either. I challenged her that the Japanese are themselves known for working too hard, by tales of sleeping in the office overnight and the preponderance of capsule hotels in Tokyo. She considers this, then says that is more about dedication to the corporation and less an expression of personal motive. Mexicans, on the other hand, are, independently, actively hawking wares morning till night, and with their children too, no less. 

First, I must preface that we are here in high season in Oaxaca with the tourists, so of course they are out morning till night to fish the teeming waters, earning perhaps half their year's wages in the week preceding the Day of the Dead. But this aside, I would argue that Mexicans in fact have a better understanding of the place of work in our lives than many of us.

Viktor Frankl's logotherapy—the Third Viennese School of psychotherapy, together with those of Freud and Adler—holds that what is central to human life (as distinct from resolving neuroses per Freud, or actuating power per Adler) is MEANING. To live for something or someone. To have a reason. Many of us in the modern West, to be sure, are lost on this front. There are several common paths to finding it, most obvious being parenting and raising good children; it is a question of living with purpose. We each find our own unique purpose, but generally speaking, the purpose is to be useful, even necessary, to the thing we care about, whether it's our plumbing business or the forest grove under our study and protection or the symphony we are writing. If we work or create for our own purposes, if we work for ourselves and not merely for the benefit of the corporation, are we not closer to living a meaningful life? Is it not a healthier space to find ourselves in, where the meaning of work in our lives might be clearer, more integrated, without exploitation? None of this is to say it is easy—Life is struggle—but to live with a responsibility we choose, we emerge happier. 

Oaxaca, as most of southern Mexico, is a poor region; there is no shortage of poverty in Mexico. And while not to underestimate its impact, Mexicans are not only entrepreneurial and hard-working but—for all the perils of saying so—they are happy.

No comments: