Daily Blog from 2 Mary´s, a Fay, a Jo, and a Pat....
Today is Tuesday, or Martes, the day of Mars. We started the day with a Market Basket survey and Curenavaca Quest. We were broken up into small ´family´ groups of 4 or 5 and were given 100 pesos per groupo, which is the equivalent of about $7.00, or days of pay for two average adult working Mexicans earning minimum. We were also given a shopping list and a map to get to the Market (el Mercado Lopez Mateos), with several options for transportation, including a suggested ´short cut´ that wound down and around the upward and downward back alleys of a ravine behind the center for global education. The marketplace was a colorful, interesting, exciting, sensory excursion into the unknown, especially for those of us with limited Spanish proficiency. Jo saw live roosters crowing. Hogs heads were hanging about as pork was being chopped. Everything from little bags of coal for cooking, to Huggies for the babies, and Colgate for oral hygiene, was available at the marketplace.
Upon our return to CEMAL (Centro de Educacion de Mundial something something in Spansh) we debriefed. What we learned was dramatic. After doing the conversions and calculations using comparable minimun wage for the USA, we realized it would take 4 hours worth of work at $6.50 per hour in the US to buy a kilo of avacodoes! The exercise assisted us in gauging the actual cost of living for Mexican workers.
In the afternoon, a large group took their bag lunches, and boarded the bus ride back to Mexico City to visit the US Embassy. After going through security, and being welcomed by the US Embassy field officials, there was a panel presentation with the following speakers, Mr. Jonothan Austin (Duluth native and of UMN graduate), Economic Officer, Mr. Charles V. Barclay, Minister-Counselor for Political Affairs, Mr. David Connell, Ass´t Cultural Affairs Officer, Ms. Elizabeth Detter, Ass´t Info Officer, Mr. Eric Kuss, Agricultural Attache´, and Kate Skarsten, Vice-Counsul.
Several things surprised us...for example, four of the 6 panel members of the panel looked to be in their late 20´s. Boy, did we feel old! Also, while we felt they rarely strayed from their politic-speak, they seemed genuinely passionate about their work as well as about improving relations with the Mexican people. By the end of our one and a half hour conversation with the Embassy representatives, we learned that...
the Mexican embassy is the largest in the world ...with 800 employees in the Embassy and 2,000 employees countrywide...38 agencies across Mexico...especially the tourist areas.
The embassy has 6 major divisions (represented above). The Cultural affairs office deals with the exchange of culture between Mexico and the US...bringing arts, dance, theater, musicians, etc. to Mexico. They will be busy in February as they are brining black history month festivities to Mexico. The Information Center deal with press issues both in Mexico about US policies and news and US press about US...Mexico relations. The Consular section is the largest division and focus on visa and passport issues as well as helping American citizens in trouble. The Political sector helps our own government better understand Mexican policies, politics, and how US policies will effect the Mexican people. The Foreign Ag service provides ag based intelligence and trade policy ramifications to our government as well as promote US ag products. the Econ sector deals with all issues related telecommunication and transportation.
they are awaiting Obama´s appointment of a new ambassador, but felt their core work will not change with the new administration.
An interesting discussion occurred around illegal immigration...they feel that every country has a sovereign duty and right to protect its borders. They understand that the Mexican people feel that it is more of a human rights issue. But Mexico has tight security restrictions for the Guatamalans entering their country. Ultimately, the Embassy position is that flow of goods and people across borders is good for both countries.
The Embassy reps obviously care about MEXICO and its people...and sometimes they are accused of having ¨gone native¨ which means they begin to advocate more for Mexican interests. We believe that is why American workers at the embassy has about a 2 years turnover.
Overall, they were very positive about the effects of NAFTA...which they felt had greatly increased trade across the border, with the US exporting meat, wheat, etc. and Mexico exporting fruits, veggies, etc.
Other states...about 30% of corn in Mexico come from the US. Approximately 15 million Mexicans live in the US, 90% of all tourists in Mexico come from the US, WalMart is the largest private employer in Mexico.
It was fascinating to observe in a small way, the inner workings of the Embassy. Well worth a visit!