By Alvin Starkman, M.A., J.D.
It is a privilege, not a right, to be able to visit or reside in Huatulco, Puerto Escondido, the state capital, or elsewhere in Oaxaca as a non-Mexican. We are here at the whim of the government of Mexico. Many forget this and believe they can do whatever they want (of course legally) while in Oaxaca, no strings attached. While, subject to Mexican law, this may be true, each and every American, Canadian, Brit or otherwise does indeed have an ethical or moral obligation to contribute to the broad betterment of the people of this part of southern Mexico.
Think about it. You’re getting great climate. Your cost of living is a fraction of what it is back home. And your cultural enrichment is close to unmatched as compared to being in other parts of the world.
So how do you set and follow through with such a lofty goal as making Oaxaca a better place for its residents in which to live, thrive, and advance socio-economically if they are so inclined?
Some of us have previously written articles for The Eye in support of particular charities, suggesting why we should contribute and even how much. But donating to formal charities whereby you receive favorable tax treatment is not always the best way to give, especially for those of considerable means; avoiding a bit of tax won’t make a difference to you at the end of the day, and your heirs will always have “enough” (if you believe in ensuring they receive a healthy inheritance). In fact, assuming that one of the reasons we donate is to make us feel better about ourselves, providing direct contributions to the betterment of a person, a school or a health clinic should make us feel even better, since we can continually be witness to the actual benefit. And, there are no worries or concerns about your donation paying the salary of CEOs and staff of registered charities and other expenses subsumed under the rubric and sometimes questionable interpretation of “administrative costs.”
We all have different ways we spend our time in the state of Oaxaca. However, one common thread is that time and again we come into contact with Oaxacans who can benefit from our assistance, bright motivated people who deserve a break: the fisherman whose nets are tattered, the junior high graduate yearning to be in a private high school next year or his older sister without resources for university, the youngster who you can tell really wants to learn English yet his family cannot afford classes, the disabled whose life would be so much easier and fulfilling with crutches or with hearing aids or just an opportunity to visit a specialist.
For some of us a long-term commitment to a single person or cause or organization is preferable to willy-nilly giving a little here and a little there from time to time. In the case of the former you see your pesos at work and how they benefit, especially since on balance you will have developed a lifelong relationship with the beneficiary.
Yes, you can rationalize doing nothing by thinking that it’s enough to leave some of your hard-earned money in Oaxacan hotels, restaurants and craft shops. But you can and should do much more, no matter what your economic position. After all, you made it down to southern Mexico, meaning that you likely have much more than those around you. And don’t be so sure that your money filters down to those in need. The social safety net in this part of Mexico, if not throughout the entire country, is lacking much more so than that of your homeland.
I am not suggesting that you go out tomorrow and find somewhere to park a bit of cash. Think about it for a while. Without a doubt the right opportunity will arise, next month or next year, and you’ll recall having read this short plea.
Alvin Starkman operates Mezcal Educational Excursions of Oaxaca