By Brooke Gazer
Several years ago, a young Mexican couple staying at our B&B asked us a lot of questions about our life and our decision not to have children. We aren’t shy about talking about ourselves, so at the time, I didn’t think much about it.
As they were leaving, she hugged me, saying, “Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us because you helped us come to an important decision. Our parents have been pressuring us for grandchildren and we’ve been pondering about this over the past year. When we get home, we’ve decided to tell them not to expect grandchildren. Meeting the two of you, and seeing you’re content, has given us the courage to make this decision and to tell our parents about it.”
With this, they climbed into their taxi and drove away. Shaking my head, I said jokingly, “I hope they don’t mention us to their family when they drop that bombshell. Her mother’s likely to contract a hit on us if she discovers we’re responsible.”
There has been a growing trend in Mexico, among young, urban, well-educated couples to choose not to have children. This is still a rare phenomenon, but according to INEGI (Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geographía, which conducts the Mexican census), the number of families without children grew by 10.4% from 2014 to 2016. The director of the Municipal Women’s Institute of Xalapa (Instituto Municipal de Las Mujeres de Xalapa, or IMMX), points out that “It is increasingly common to observe couples without children or women who decide from an early age not to reproduce.”
In Veracruz, one clinic reported that doing 134 vasectomies over a ten-day period was normal, but what was unusual was that four patients were between 20-30. These men were accompanied by their wives and had not had children.
Over the past five years, realtors are seeing more couples buying homes and apartments suitable for only two people. When asked how much space may be needed for future children, a growing number reply that there may be a dog but not a child.
In the 1970’s, Mexico’s National Council on Population (Consejo Nacional de Población, or CONAPO) began promoting smaller families in Mexico. Since then, the average number of children per female has dropped from 6.1 to 2.15. But there is still social and family pressure for couples to reproduce. Perhaps thinking their smaller-family campaign was a little too successful, CONAPO subtly fosters this pressure by issuing predictions like this one: “If a couple has a child, they would live five years longer than previous generations and their quality of life would increase.”
It seems that some couples just aren’t buying into this; there are a number of reasons couples make the decision not to have children, which don’t seem to differ that much from reasons north of the border.
· Many young women have devoted years to their education and climbing the corporate or institutional ladder. In 1960, less than 1% of Mexican women held a university degree. Fifty years later (2010), it was almost 16 percent – just a fraction behind their male peers. By this point, they are reluctant to jeopardize what they have accomplished.
· A few people feel they are unable to cope with the rigors of parenting, or fear that their relationship cannot withstand the pressure a child would introduce.
· Some believe it unwise to procreate with today’s environmental, political, economic, and social problems. They are not optimistic about the future and fear for the next generation.
· In Mexico, the cost of bearing and raising a child to the age of 18 ranges from $2.7 to $8 million pesos, with about 25% of this eaten up by education. This figure does not include a university education, which better educated couples would also be expected to provide.
· A growing number of Mexican couples prefer to enjoy life and spend their income on themselves. In the 1980s Canadian advertising agencies coined the term DINKS (double income, no kids) to apply to this important market segment.
Whatever their reason, this is something Mexico may need to contend with in the future. Today in Canada, there are more seniors than children under 14, and immigration was responsible for two-thirds of the population growth from 2011 to 2016. Mexico’s birthrate has been decreasing steadily, with over 400,000 fewer births in the last decade than the decade before. Most of this is a result of the government promoting smaller families, but the trend not to have families is also a contributing factor. It is unlikely the trend in Mexico would continue towards a negative growth rate, but nothing is impossible.
Prior to reliable birth control, couples may have postponed adding to their families, but eventually babies appeared. Everyone rejoiced when they did, – regardless of the economic or emotional strain that may or may not have ensued. I’ve known people who should never have had children, as well as older women who admitted that if they had it to do again, they would not.
Today, couples who are choosing not to be parents are still swimming against the current, but most tend to be educated and are making a conscious, well thought out decision. I’m not recommending this for everyone, but I think it is easier today, even in Mexico, for couples who do not feel a strong parental pull to make this decision.
Brooke Gazer operates Agua Azul la Villa,
an ocean-view B&B in Huatulco (www.bbaguaazul.com).
By Brooke Gazer
When we first drove into Huatulco, in May of 1999, we were impressed by the wide paved streets that were bordered by green, well-groomed boulevards, and bedecked with stately palm trees. Twenty-one years later, there may be a few more potholes, but FONATUR, the federal tourism promotion agency that manages the resort, has done a superb job of maintaining the major streets in our town. What has changed is the amount of traffic. During those early years, it felt as if we had the roads practically to ourselves and more than two cars at any intersection could be considered a traffic jam.
The increase in traffic is not just related to population growth; back in the early 90s, financing a car or motorbike was practically impossible, and this limited the number of people who could purchase their own transportation. A local friend wanted a car, and this was how he purchased it. He joined a group where each member put in an initial sum of cash. Every month everyone added to the kitty until there was enough capital to buy one vehicle. They drew names and the lucky member drove away with his new purchase. My friend paid into this scheme for almost two years before it was his turn to own a vehicle. Of course, everyone continued paying until all the cars were paid for, but when they got one was literally “the luck of the draw.” Today, traditional financing is much more common, but only on new cars. This explains why we see so many shiny new vehicles cruising around town.
First, I want to explain one of the quirks about driving in Mexico (or at least in Huatulco). As a Canadian, I’ve been conditioned to follow the rules, so when we began living here, I stopped at intersections with stop signs. I looked right, left, and right again before proceeding. In our first month, I learned this wasn’t the correct way to drive in Huatulco.
When a woman bumped into me from behind, I jumped out of my car and in broken Spanish, I tried to ask for her driver’s license and insurance, even before assessing any damage.
She was incensed and ignored my request. “What were you doing? What did you stop for?”
I pointed to the red hexagon on the side of the road, “Well, there’s a stop sign …”
“But there’s no traffic. Why would you stop when no one’s coming? No one with any sense stops for nothing. Are you drunk or just stupid?”
Seeing there was no real damage to either vehicle, I slunk back into my car and drove away. This was a cheap lesson on Huatulco road etiquette.
A few years ago, the town installed its first traffic light at the intersection where my mishap occurred. By this time, traffic had increased significantly in our little town, and I envisioned local drivers ignoring the new signals, sailing through a red light, and multiple crashes. The chief of police must have been on the same wavelength; he stationed officers with whistles and ropes strung across the intersection. After several weeks, local drivers understood that a red light required them to stop regardless of traffic flow.
We now have five controlled intersections and most vehicles actually do stop. Like everyone else, I wait at traffic lights but sail through stop signs as if they’re merely a suggestion. Occasionally this causes a gasp from a guest I’m chauffeuring, but I assure them it’s the only safe way to drive. People don’t always follow rules as strictly as we from up north are accustomed to; one-way streets might also be merely a suggestion, and adhering to the speed limit could cause a collision. But on the whole, traffic flows smoothly, and drivers are courteous and flexible.
The same generalization does not apply to motorcycles. Many are courteous, but a few can be unnerving. It peeves me when I leave a comfortable space cushion between me and the vehicle in front, and a motorcycle weaves around me to fill the space. However, I understand that one’s personal space in Latin America is considerably smaller than I am accustomed to, so, regardless of the safety concern, I chalk it up to a cultural difference. What I really find annoying is when a motorcycle buzzes up on my right at an intersection and cuts me off as it turns left, just as I am about to go forward. Originally, I suspected they didn’t know any better but a visit to the state police office assured me they do, and the problem is one of attitude. Some drivers either have a death wish or believe they are immortal.
Elektra and Chedraui finance these machines to young people with only a small deposit and payments as low as $250 pesos weekly. It made me wonder how many injuries and fatalities result from it being too easy to acquire a motorbike? According to state police records, nine accidents with serious injuries or deaths involving motorcycles were reported in 2019. The damages assessed totaled a whopping $180 million pesos. I was surprised by the low number of accidents, but discovered that unless a death or significant injury occurs, most are never reported. You can’t legislate common sense, but I wonder if these kids paid in advance for the motorbike would they treat them, along with their fellow drivers, with more caution and respect?
Still, by the overall standards of Mexico, driving in Huatulco is a piece of cake.
Brooke Gazer operates Agua Azul la Villa, an ocean-view Bed and Breakfast in Huatulco: http://www.bbaguaazul.com.
By Brooke Gazer
A tall and athletically built people who valued their autonomy, the Yaquis were never totally subdued by the Spanish. After a peace treaty was agreed upon in 1610, the Yaquis relinquished part of their land in exchange for a guarantee, signed by the King of Spain, acknowledging their ownership of their remaining territory in southern Sonora. At that time, they numbered between 100,000 and 200,000 people. Every Mexican government respected this treaty until Porfirio Díaz came to power.
Coveting their fertile lands, the state of Sonora harassed them, sending soldiers and surveyors into their territory, confiscating bank accounts, and burning the home of their leader. In 1894, the federal government confiscated their best land, giving it to General Lorenzo Torres, head of the Sonoran army.
Over the next few years, thousands of soldiers and ten thousand Yaquis died in battle. In 1898, government troops acquired new improved Mauser rifles, which critically overmatched the poorly armed Yaquis; surrender was imminent. Yaqui leaders were executed, and the remaining Yaquis relocated to a region that was barren desert. Without water it was uninhabitable, causing most families to scatter as wage earners in mines, on railroads, and farms. These people became solid citizens and were considered the best workers in Mexico. The remaining four or five thousand formed bands of fierce rebels who took to the hills. They were hunted down like vermin and soldiers received $100 for the ears of a Yaqui guerilla.
The army’s failure to secure the surrender of “a handful of renegades” prompted an extreme government action and in 1908, notices appeared in American and Mexican newspapers. President Díaz had issued a sweeping order that every Yaqui, man, woman and child, should be gathered up by the War Department and deported to the Yucatán. This was not limited to rebels – it included every living Yaqui, young and old alike.
After John Kenneth Turner heard rumors about the fate of these people, he traveled south to investigate and what he learned was not pretty.
Without warning, soldiers rounded up families and herded them to the port of Guaymas, Sonora, where an exhausting journey over land and sea began. They were stuffed into boxcars or the stinking holds of ships; they were marched over two hundred miles of Mexico’s roughest mountains. Between ten and twenty percent died of exhaustion or starvation along the way. The survivors were sold like livestock. Husbands and wives were torn apart, and children ripped away from their mothers.
On board a ship, Turner learned that over fifteen thousand Yaquis had been transported on that vessel. Speaking first-hand with Yaquis, he heard them lament that they had pled to their employers, unsuccessfully, for their release. He listened as they grieved for wives and children who dropped in the dust and died during the arduous trek across the mountains. He felt helpless when they beseeched him to intervene for their freedom.
The new arrivals were put to work on henequén plantations, where thousands of Mayans had already been enslaved. Slavery was abolished in Mexico in 1829, but when Turner arrived in the Yucatan in 1908, it was an integral part of the economy.
Semantically, the Mayans were not slaves, they were “debtors.” Professional money lenders lured poverty-stricken Mayans into debt; sometimes the debt included the entire family. They were forced to work under unbearably harsh conditions on large plantations that fueled the rich economy of the region. Once declared a debtor, no one could never buy his or her freedom – the debt continued to grow, and was passed on to future generations.
The masters never considered that they were buying or selling a person, rather they were transferring the debt and the man went with it. However, the amount the man originally owed was irrelevant, and the debt had a market price, just like machinery or cattle.
The government transferred Yaquis to landowners the same way, but at discount prices, and one owner told Turner, “We don’t allow the Yaquis to get in debt to us.” The owner received a photograph and identification papers with each individual; if one ran away, the papers were sufficient for the authorities to return the runaway. The desert terrain of the Yucatan made escape impossible.
This was a miserable existence for both Mayans and Yaquis alike. Both received equally brutal treatment; they were underfed, overworked, and brutally beaten. But It was far worse for the Yaquis; exhausted and starved upon arrival, two thirds died within the first year. The Mayans could at least maintain a semblance of home and family ties. Yaquis were exiled far from home; thrust into a hot, unfamiliar climate; and separated from family and loved ones.
For the newly arrived Yaqui women, life became especially insufferable. The worst barbarity imposed upon each wretched female, who had just been separated from her husband, was to compel her to marry and live with a man of Chinese origin. Chinese men were brought to Mexico as porters, and laborers to build the railroad. It was often a one-way ticket and later, when they fell into debt, they were also enslaved.
The Yaquis had an advanced culture that did not mix with other people, even other indigenous groups. Their religious beliefs combined Roman Catholic teachings with traditional indigenous practices; family and conjugal fidelity were integral parts of their value system. These women did not know the fates of their husbands, but hoped and prayed they had survived. In their minds, they were still married. To take a second husband was repugnant to them, as was mating with men outside their own tribe.
Yaqui women were housed separately from Yaqui men, with a dozen or more in each tiny hut. Fed meager rations, they were locked inside under pitiful conditions. Each week they took the women out, demanding they choose husbands from among the Chinese men. After several refusals, one was chosen for them. Those who resisted were severely lashed.
Many women perished from starvation and beatings, but those who survived and continued their resistance were put into the henequén fields, forced to do the same backbreaking labor as any man. This entailed harvesting two thousand henequén leaves per day and failure to achieve the daily quota resulted in 15 lashes administered by the overseer.
It seems as if the purpose of this atrocity was not only to punish the Yaqui, but to annihilate them altogether. Why else would they separate women from their husbands and force them to mate with men of a different cultural and ethnic background?
Some Yaquis did flee Sonora and avoid capture. They went north to the USA or to other parts of Mexico, and a few continued their resistance in the hills of Sonora. In 1937, President Lázaro Cárdenas granted the surviving Yaquis their own territory with access to irrigation from a newly constructed dam. Mexico’s 2000 census counted 12,467 Yaquis in Sonora plus some in Baja California and Sinaloa. In 1964, those in the USA received a smaller allocation of land and by 2008, they counted 11,324. This may be a sadly reduced number, but in spite of everything, their culture survived.
Much of this information was taken from a book titled Barbarous Mexico (1910), by John Kenneth Turner. This Los Angeles Express Reporter traveled south, posing as a potential land investor, to investigate rumors he had heard about Mexicans being enslaved in the Yucatán. You can read the entire book online with this link:
Brooke Gazer operates Agua Azul la Villa,
an oceanview B&B in Huatulco (www.bbaguaazul.com).