Sunday, October 16, 2011

Not Your Father's Mexico
By Michael

Windy and the girls exiting one of several Starbucks in
Puerto Vallarta. This one was near our villa and when the
Internet was unavailable at the villa (as it often was), I
would escape here to post to this blog or do other
business, usually late at night. The place was always
packed, up until midnight, with middle-class Mexicans
and their ubiquitous wi-fi devices.
Ah Mexico, the land of minivans, dog walkers, and joggers.
Sound familiar?
It wasn’t to me either, but it’s true—and surprising because I thought I knew Mexico. Before 2010, I made at least a dozen trips here, ranging from 3 days to 4 months. But only my 4-month trip (1997) found me on the mainland; all my other visits were up and down the Baja. So the Mexico I knew was based primarily on my Baja travels—and Baja is in a class by itself. The Mexicans refer to it as la frontera, the frontier. Baja is akin to mainland Mexico as Alaska or Hawaii is akin to the United States. And furthermore, until 2010 I hadn’t travelled anywhere in Mexico for 11 years. So my perceptions were both narrow and dated.
I first noticed the cars. Heading south on Mexico's Interstate 15 this summer, the cars that passed us (and everyone passed us) weren’t held together with chicken wire like the ancient Datsun pickups I knew from my time in Baja pueblos. These cars were identical to the cars that passed us on U.S. Highway 101, except for the Mexican license plates. Granted Interstate 15 is a toll road and therefore exclusive, but having spent more than two months driving the non-exclusive streets of Puerto Vallarta, La Cruz, Bucerias, and Mezcales, I can report that new and late-model Honda Odysseys, VW Jettas, Ford Focuses, Toyota Siennas, Jeep Cherokees, and Nissan Sentras are common. When I drive our 1999 Ford Escort to the Home Depot, ours is usually among the sorriest of vehicles in the lot.
I remember reading and preparing in the years before we sailed south on our first cruise in 1996. We didn’t have an animal aboard, but I remember pet food being a topic of conversation among cruisers preparing to depart, about how difficult it was to find in Mexico and about strategies for provisioning large quantities for Fido. Those days are gone. In Banderas Bay, pet stores are everywhere (even in the local mercado behind the PV Walmart, and even in tiny La Cruz). And is your pooch is too good for Purina? You want Science Diet or Iams? It’s here.
Of course, my point is that these stores aren’t here to cater to U.S. tourists or expats who bring their pets down. Mexicans are keeping dogs and cats. This year, I have seen many more well-fed dogs on leashes than I have skinny street dogs.
And sometimes, Mexicans with dogs on leashes are jogging. And I see Mexican joggers without pets. And I see Mexican joggers in pairs. Until this trip to Mexico, I had not seen anyone out on the street jogging along simply for the sake of exercise. But after two months, it seems as normal as back home (and the number of joggers is surely lower in this summer season of oppressive heat and humidity).
All of my observations support the fact that there is now a large (and growing) middle class in Mexico. A while back, I stumbled on a New American Media article by Louis E. V. Nevear that Latitude 38 published online almost a month ago—it’s worth a read.
From my own research, I learned that Mexico is the 13th or 14th largest economy in the world, by nominal gross domestic product (GDP), according to data from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and the CIA (and these rankings list and rank the European Union (E.U.) states individually, the Mexico ranking would be much higher were the E.U. ranked as one entity).
My 1970s education had me thinking in terms of first world countries and third world countries. I figured Mexico must be somewhere in between, but I didn’t know where. Well, those terms are passé. Today, countries are grouped into one of four categories by Gross National Income (GNI) per capita: Low Income, Lower-Middle Income, Upper-Middle Income, and High Income. Mexico is an Upper-Middle Income country.
For perspective, I compared Mexico’s GNI per capita to the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China) that dominate economic headlines. All but India are classed with Mexico as Upper-Middle Income (India is classed Lower-Middle Income). Comparing the GNI data used to group countries, Mexico is a close third behind Brazil and Russia.

2010 GNI Per Capita (in USD),
World Bank Data
United States
$47,240 (high income)

Mexico (with Brazil and Russia) is classed with 51 other countries as Upper-Middle Income, and just beneath the threshold required to join the 70 states in the High Income category.
In fact, as Nevear reported in his New American Media article, the head of Mexico’s Central Bank managed the Mexican economy so well over the past few years, that he gained attention as a possible successor to Dominique Strauss Kahn at the IMF (a position since filled by Christine Lagarde). And Mexico’s Finance Minister is credited with policies that have successfully concentrated growth domestically, thereby insulating Mexico as much as possible from the economic troubles of the U.S. and the world. To wit, Mexico’s GDP grew 5.5% in 2010 and is on track for a 4.5% increase this year.
Thankfully for diversity's sake, despite her economic prowess and progress, our neighbor to the south isn’t morphing into a reflection of the United States. Mexico is still delightfully Mexico, with all of her lovely differences intact and apparent—just with a Starbucks around the corner.

These guys are just finishing loading a 15-foot box truck with
pinapples, stacked 14 high and 18 wide. They may not be
a part of the middle class I'm noticing, but are likely part
of a lower-income working class that plays a big role in
powering the economic engine of Mexico. 


  1. Hi Guys! We've been at Gma and Gpa Travis' for a few weeks, leaving tomorrow. Reading your blog entries, I hope a year from now, your mantra for this adventure isn't a quote from a recent picture - "It turned out to be a
    bigger job than I anticipated."

    Don & Beverly with Lee & Dottie

  2. Great blog entry. It does a very credible job of articulating the progression of the Mexican economy and its' impact on the Mexican people, both economically and culturally. It breathes reality into a changing, but vibrant, Mexico. While I'm nostalgic about Mexico of the 60's and 70's, the people today are just as genuine and hospitable as ever and the country has lost little, if any, of its' charm.

  3. Hi guys...I've been catching up reading all about your many adventures.
    I am more than relieved to know that Jova had no negative impact on any of you and your plans.
    I also want to say Happy B-Day to both Eleanor and Windy…Hope you have a great birthday month.
    Love you all to pieces.
    P.S Do you have a phone number I can call?


Thank you for taking the time to comment; we look forward to reading your feedback. Don't forget that you may also contact us directly at (please type DEL VIENTO in the subject line)

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...