Welcome to Mexico!

By Victoria Schmidt

Labor by Hand


mexican-workersSometime I take my dog for a walk in the early morning light just as the sun breaks over the horizon. The village is different at this time of day. It is quiet. There are very few vehicles on the road. I may pass an early morning jogger, or another dog walker, but I see very few people. One constant in the half-dark moments of the early morning are the people who clean the streets.

One day I realized that late risers probably don’t give a second thought to the people that rise before the sun, and show up at their assigned street to clean it. The workers collect the trash others have carelessly tossed to the ground, and with brooms, they sweep the streets. I watch them as they make their way down the street, working meticulously, bagging, bending, sweeping, and bagging some more. It is hard work that is tedious, repetitive and boring. Yet they are there each morning.

As I walked, I wondered how many streets must they clean? How long do they work? What kind of pay do they get? I understand that there are some streets that they clean, and there are others that they do not. I remembered a street where I used to live that was not cleaned by the village. After walking around and through empty bottles of beer, juice or soda cans, and wrappers of all kinds and I finally began to carry a trash bag and a grabber and picked up the trash when I walked my dog.

Later that day, I noticed another Mexican hard at work at a construction site. All alone, he worked with a pick-ax. One man versus hard rock—one strike at a time he labored in the sun. I think of all the Mexicans I see using hand tools. Mops instead of vacuums, hoes instead of powered tillers, shovels, rakes, and push mowers abound. There are very few power tools used by the workmen I see. Power tools are expensive. They require electric power or gas to run. Those are expensive as well. Even the road workers use hand tools.

I was surprised when a few days later I find that the man with the pick-ax at the construction site is gone, and in his place, I see a bulldozer. Surprised, I remember all the construction in Mexico, with men making their own cement, sifting sand through a strainer screen, moving the sand by wheelbarrow, carrying bricks by hand, I had reached the point where seeing this was the norm. A bulldozer moving the earth took me back. Perhaps in the USA standard equipment included bulldozers along with spinning cement mixers, and jackhammers, electric saws, power hammers, staple guns… yes, this is a different country with its own pace. With all the power and time- saving devices in the USA, why’s everyone always in such a hurry? Mexico has its own way of doing things. There may be easier ways or quicker ways of doing things, but are they better?

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