Our Mexican Help
By Barbara Hildt
Our speaking little Spanish can limit the conversations we have with the Mexicans who help us maintain our houses and gardens. We manage to point out the things that need cleaning and repair. We may ask “Como estas?” and say “Gracias” when they leave our homes to return to their families or go to another job. Sometimes we interrupt their work to have brief conversations about the weather or other topics. It’s a chance to practice our Spanish and to see if we can understand these Mexicans.
When I ask Maria* how she and other members of her family are, I do so with hesitation and some trepidation. Do I really want to know that her kidneys are diseased and may be failing? Then we start to worry about what would happen to her three surviving children if her kidneys do fail some day. (She already lost three babies.) Do I want to hear that her diabetic mother with asthma has to work for 30 pesos an hour because her husband can´t find work? Do I want to be reminded that her 9 year old daughter has asthma, like her mother and grandmother, and some days the child can hardly breathe because there’s no money to buy an inhaler and so she must miss school again.
I won´t go on to tell about the many other challenges of this hard working, unhealthy Mexican woman and her family of five who all sleep in one room in Chapala´s poorest neighborhood. I don´t want to give the impression that Maria complains about her life. The truth is she never even tells me about her hardships unless I ask how things are. And after she confesses that her youngest, born with cerebral palsy, has other problems too, she laughs as if to say, “I need to laugh so I won´t cry and I can keep doing whatever I can do for my kids.” We wonder how Maria keeps her resilience and positive attitude.
We have come to love and care about Maria and family. And so we give her extra money when she hasn´t enough to buy the medicine she and her kids occasionally need.
I know that many expats living here in Mexico occasionally give their maids and gardeners items they no longer need, and extra money for special needs. Some pay the school fees and buy uniforms for children who otherwise wouldn´t be able to attend school. All charity is good and appreciated. But is it enough?
Do we pay our domestic help less than we should? Less than we can really afford to pay just because so many Mexicans are poor and willing to work for so little? Perhaps we can´t do much about the large number of families living in poverty. But imagine all the children and elders supported by our maids and gardeners who could have better health and nutrition if each of us decided to increase amount we pay our devoted servants.
I sometimes hear expats exclaim, “Don’t break the system!” when I leave a generous tip at a restaurant. Yes, the system is broken – in our favor. Many of us can, and should, do more, if only out of self-interest. The poorer the Mexicans around us are, the less safe we’ll be in our various communities.
*Maria is not her real name, but the conditions of her life are all too factual.