The youth of the Mexican elite study in schools that strengthen their relations with the world of privilege. What happens when they put themselves in the shoes of the workers of lower strata? Andrea Cortés learned that in Office Max the only chairs in the store are those that are sold to customers and that, although she was a teenager, her knees ached after two hours in a row. But what he remembers most is that in the eyes of his neighbour he became nobody. It was her second week as a sales assistant within Experiencia Laboral, a subject of the Ibero Prepa that was created so that the students, the majority of the upper class, put themselves for two weeks in the shoes of workers from lower strata – dependents, mechanics, hotel maids.
Andrea was behind the counter, dressed in uniform: a yellow polo shirt with the name of the company in black letters. The lady, with golden hair, formed in the tail. They had seen countless times, especially when Andrea leaves the penthouse where she lives with her parents and they cross in the elevator. The lady always greets him with a kiss, smiles at him, asks about the family. When he asked Andrea for five copies of a document, he did not even say good morning.
Young people of the elite in Mexico – explains the co-founder and former director of Prepa Ibero, Raquel Druker – relate to others from the privilege, to the point that through philanthropy or charity reaffirm inequalities. “They see them as little animals in the zoo to those who throw a peanut. And that only deepens the wounds”, says Druker. The Jesuit ideals of Prepa Ibero often do not reconcile with economic privilege. Therefore, Druker and another group of teachers in August 2010 integrated the Work Experience to the educational program to break the bubble that involves a large part of the students of elite schools. “Let the other stop being the other,” sums up Druker.
The first three years, however, did not turn out as expected. That the students looked beyond the safety of their homes and the walls of their schools sounded good in words. In practice, doubts multiplied. Also for Druker, who has been working in education for 50 years: “We were afraid that one of them would be kidnapped or that another would be cut, they are kids who have never worked with their hands”. It was not strange that the parents claimed him. Some called his office to point out, not always kindly, the irony of paying tuition of 16,495 Mexican pesos a month for their children to spend the mornings under a car in a garage.
Even today the academic is cautious about the success of the program she created: “We hope to play several (students), but we are calm if we touch one.” Poverty is not spoken in school, it is invisible -account Renata Aguilar, a former student of the International College-. What matters is whether you are travelling to Europe or the United States. If you do not have a good table and a good bottle in the bar, you’re a naco. The girls do not use a backpack, but Juicy Couture bags and Uggs boots.
At the desk of Dulce Echeverría, a teacher at the Westminister school, the talks of her students sometimes arrive. “My dad told me not to talk to the employees” was one of the last comments he heard. When she tried to investigate the matter, the student explained: “To have a salary is to be mediocre, you just have to talk to the entrepreneurs”. -A child from the Roble school -according to Rafa Espinoza, a former student- is a bubble child in a resort. He does what he wants, learns the minimum, takes a lot since he was 13, spends five thousand pesos in the club and wears designer clothes. It is not that inequality does not exist for these adolescents. It is, rather, that they learn to live it from the side of privilege. “The poor are worth to me mothers, they are not even close to me” -said Alejandro Ramírez, a former student of the Cumbres, imitating his classmates.
When Alexis González arrived at the Universidad Iberoamericana he thought he would never fit. With dark skin and hair dyed white with blue tones, the 25-year-old is from Iztapalapa. Every day, it arrives at the Ibero after two hours on public transport. He studies the Hotel and Restaurant career thanks to a scholarship and also works as a manager of one of the campus cafes. ‘What are you doing here? We do not want you, come in another schedule ‘, they told him when he wanted to join the musical group of the university. “I come to study, put some plugs if you do not like,” he replied.
Over time, positive experiences were added to gestures of discrimination. Alexis believes she has made real friendships. But it was not always easy. -They went to very expensive dens. They invited me, but it was uncomfortable, “he explains. He gave what he could, but the bills came to 20 thousand pesos. Once, the young man took some of his companions to Iztapalapa so that they knew their neighbours. They bought tacos, a bottle of wine and they stayed to talk music with their father. Alexis remembers that they had a great time living a strange experience among young people of the elite, who do not usually leave the confines of their world of privilege.
Private schools are designed to absorb much of the students’ time, which reinforces cohesion within the same social circle, but, according to the anthropologist Gonzalo A. Saraví, who defines this model as “total school”, foments intolerance and contempt for others. The most expensive schools, those that charge tuition between 137 and 194 thousand pesos per year (about 2,000 minimum salaries) are in Polanco, Interlomas, Bosques de las Lomas, Santa Fe or Lomas de Chapultepec. According to the Social Development Index, these are the same areas, in addition to San Ángel, where the great majority of upper-class families also live, above all businessmen and politicians.
The biggest exception is The American School Foundation, in the Álvaro Obregón delegation, a lavish location for one of the most expensive schools in Mexico City. However, his students never step on the street. The school is almost a fortification: large walls, bars over the walls, barbed wire above the bars. Trucks and family cars pick up students inside the facility. Some parents and a teacher from the center remember that, until a few years ago, a helicopter landed in the ABC hospital with students and a Suburban pickup truck picked them up on the ground floor to transport them the two hundred meters that separate the hospital from the American School.
Ixim Nunez, son of Xochimilco landlords and student of Business Engineering at the ITAM, says that the fear of stepping on another reality is well founded. -If you move on public transport, you know what to do to avoid getting your wallet or cell phone. If you’re not used to moving in these contexts, you’ll notice. Unlike Alexis, and although he has also been accepted into the “Itamita circle”, he has not invited any of his companions to share his daily life. It is difficult for him to even imagine them there. Segregation, Saraví explains, exists beyond economic differences: entering certain elites implies a challenge that is sometimes impossible. Getting out of them is not easy either. “See the crayon in the bathroom and say, ‘Yes, I have to clean that.'” The speaker is Alejandro Ramirez, a student who, during his work experience, was employed by the Novotel hotel in Santa Fe. There he cleaned dirty rooms, collected condoms and finished with his back “made ointment”. He felt in his own body what it takes to have a clean room. He also worked in the restaurant of the same hotel and saw the cook spit on the food of a client who had mistreated one of the waiters.
Mariana Olmos, human resources manager of the Hilton Santa Fe hotel, received the young people assigned to perform the Work Experience. Olmos says that the model is good, but that the assigned time – two weeks – is insufficient. In addition, young people, between 15 and 16 years old, “are at the party”. She had to remove cell phones during her workday because students were constantly distracted and an area manager reported that two of the students were always late for breakfast at Starbucks. For Domenika Alfaro, training manager at the Sheraton Santa Fe hotel, the program did not work. “Children do not give it the value they should (work), because they are never seen in these positions,” he says. One day she saw one of the young people in the Work Experience hide because she was ashamed that someone recognized her doing that work. At the Office Max of Plaza Zentrika in Santa Fe, he came to work, within the work program, a group of several young people, including the nephew of the owner of the company. Salvador Gómez, in charge of furniture area, tells how when the young people arrived, the employees of the place took a “lejitos” posture.
“The truth,” says Salvador, “we all thought they were very upheld. When we realized how they were, our perspective changed. ” So, while the young man carried boxes and helped with homework, he talked about his home and the sports car he had. In the end, the student of the Ibero High School even invited them to his graduation party, but none of his new friends from Office Max could attend because it was in Cuernavaca. Salvador admits that knowing the young man caused the label of “the nephew of the owner” to be diluted. “He told me that he was going back to the Office, to his uncle’s company, to work in human resources, and to have him with what I was offered,” he recalls.
During the Work Experience, two social strata are led to live together for a couple of weeks. It is an artificial situation, but one that provokes genuine behaviours. The goal is that both worlds can understand that there are more similarities between them than they could have imagined. -The project has a ghost that worries teachers and directors from the beginning -explains Yuri Sánchez, deputy director of Prepa Ibero-. What worries us is that the program is like a “passing sentimentality”. Young people leave Prepa, and we know little of what happens next. With six generations of graduates, the Work Experience is an incipient project: its future and transcendence are still unknown. For now, you can look for dozens of errors and inconsistencies and, above all, the frustration of hitting a reality in which the roots of a whole society can not be modified in two weeks. Not in ten. Not in a hundred.
As Ricardo Raphael explains in Mirreynato, the other inequality , the social elevator that connects the different floors of Mexican society, will not work in the short term. It is very likely that, in a couple of years, these young people forget that they once descended to the other floors and that the Work Experience, together with all the Loyola philosophy, is cornered in a box of forgotten anecdotes. This without counting those for whom it did not mean more than one subject. José María Jiménez, a professor at the Prepa, sums it up this way: “For many, the discourse continues to be ‘I am in this privileged area and there I am fine'”.
Mariano Jiménez wears a suit and a silk handkerchief comes out of his bag. White shirt, half-grown beard and round glasses. He sleeps in a room with its own bathroom and dressing room in a three-story, five-bedroom house. The breakfast served: egg whites and vegetables because it is a diet prepared by Carmen or Rosy, the two employees who work at home. The driver -Victorio, the man who turned 20 years old with his family, the one who taught him how to drive when he was a child- is always available to start the car in the closed street, guarded by a policeman. For a few months, he has worked at the Treasury. He arrives at his office by subway. And although her mother worries about using public transport, she usually reassures her that “using a car is more insecure.” After work, he goes to eat at the university, where he does not leave until 10 at night. Dinner awaits you at home, prepared by Carmen or Rosy.
On weekends he goes to dine with the Countess with his friends. Sometimes, still, they go to the SENS, one of the most exclusive clubs in the city where you can only go well dressed, “nice”, suit, brand bags. A few years ago he passed through the Work Experience. Today he narrates that experience from the cafeteria of the Ibero, in Santa Fe. He was first in a pool chemicals company. Then at the restaurant of the Fiesta Americana hotel. It disconcerted the arrogant and disrespectful attitude of the diners. Like the time one of the clients sat at a table for eight people and when he offered to change it to a smaller one, he shouted at him. Something changed in Mariano. He does not know what. To stop being a mirrey, he says, is like leaving a vice. He no longer asks for a track table in the den. His friends are surprised that he no longer buys Ferragamo shoes. Occasionally he visits Cristian, one of the waiters at the Fiesta Americana. Something in his embrace makes him feel that “they are friends”, especially because he always refuses to charge him breakfast.
This text was originally published in Spanish on January 21 (2019), in the Digital Edition of the magazine El Espectador by Tuni Levy and Juan Espíndola Mata.
Reference: Educar a los ‘mirreyes’,