Reflection from: 9 June 2014 (Class Assignment for Writing 101)
Poverty and Beggars in the Streets of Guanajuato, Mexico
My name is Joel and I’m from Guanajuato, Mexico. Guanajuato is a beautiful, green state located in the center of the republic, full of cultural and historical sites. It is a state full of mountains and hills, with natural springs and colonial cities; a state known for it’s production of shoes and for it’s agricultural potential. It is also a state that, just like the rest of Mexico, suffers from a great social plague: poverty. Many guanajuatenses, especially the elderly, the women and children, and the rural and indigenous populations, live in poverty and have to resort to begging to make ends meet. They can be found in the parks, at stoplights, near the markets, all in plain sight…and yet remain invisible to those passing by. Those who can draw attention by offering their services or crafts do so; those who can’t, like the elderly, only stand (if they are able to) and beg strangers for spare change, hoping someone will notice them.
Poverty and the inaction of society and government officials have always bothered me. Two experiences in particular have never, nor will they ever leave me; they have been permanently marked in my mind. These are part of my earliest experiences with poverty and beggars and have become particularly memorable: 1) a middle-aged woman on a busy intersection; and 2) a frail, elderly woman who sat down by the side of a market.
I cannot remember which of these experiences came first, but I believe it was the one involving the middle-aged woman. My family is from a very small, rural town so whenever someone was sick, we traveled an hour and a half to the town of Leon to see the doctor. Normally we took the bus, but this particular day we were lucky enough that one of my uncles drove us (my mother, my brother and myself). We were on our way back home from the doctor and we made a stop at a very busy intersection. We were pretty far behind, but even from the distance, I was able to make out the woman asking for alms from passing drivers. Everyone saw her, but very few rolled down their windows.
She was dressed in the typical clothing of Mexican beggars and poor indigenous people (at least from my personal experience): long, dark-colored skirt all the way down to her ankles, with a simple white blouse and a big black rebozo (or shawl) around her shoulders, and a pair of thin-looking, dark brown shoes. As the light turned and we got closer, I could see that her hair was black, but it looked a bit gray in some areas, perhaps from the dusk. Her skin complexion was also one of the darker-skinned indigenous peoples, but I cannot say whether she was indigenous or not.
We finally came to a stop as the light turned red again and it was then that she approached us. This up close, I was able to see her face and see that she was indeed a little untidy, but not dirty. When she spoke, asking is we had any change or money to spare, I heard the sorrow and urgency in her voice. My family is not particularly giving (although they understand what going hungry is like), but they are sensitive to poverty. On this particular occasion, they were generous and gave the woman some money. We all watched her as she walked away and started wondering what her story was. The light had also turned green again, but the line was still a little long and quite slow, so we were still waiting to go. In that short amount of time, my mom and uncle kept talking about what had just happened and kept observing.
What came next was something we did not expect. She approached a taco cart that was nearby and bought some food; however, she was not buying this food for herself. She came to a stop next to a light pole by the end of the street. Sitting down in the shade were two toddlers, a boy and girl, both around four to six years old, wearing really old clothing with some dirt on their cheeks and foreheads. They reached up happily and began eating, enjoying every bite. As we finally drove away, we saw the mother go back to the intersection, asking again for help…for her and her children.
My second story, again, is about an elderly woman beggar. My mom and I were passing by the market in another town called San Francisco del Rincon, on our way to see my paternal grandma. As we approached the market, I could make see a row of beggars sitting or standing by the wall, all asking for money or offering services or small trinkets in exchange. However, the elderly woman stood out. She was wearing a similar outfit as the mother from the previous story, but her rebozo was around her head. Even though she was looking down, I could see that her faced was marked with many lines and wrinkles and a few locks of gray and white hair escaped from under her rebozo. In her outstretched hand, she held a small plastic cup where kind strangers would put a few cents or maybe few pesos.
I asked my mom if she had money to give and she said no. I insisted, however, and she ended up giving me 20 cents to give to the woman. (20 Mexican cents is about 2 US cents). Once I had given her the coin and we were far enough that she couldn’t hear us, my mom said, “When we come back, just watch. She will have hidden the coin you gave her.” I do not know if she said this to me for the sake of me knowing or if she did it as a scolding, but I did not care. A few minutes later, we passed by again, after making a quick stop at the market, and I looked. She was right; she had hidden the coin. However, what happened next almost brought me to tears. I decided to look back and I saw that she had a small pack of cookies by her costing maybe 2 pesos at most. She had grabbed one and was eating it slowly, as if savoring it for as long as she could. It was in this instant that I realized how much this injustice hurt me emotionally. I have not stopped thinking about these experiences since, especially because at times I look at my maternal grandma, who dresses very similar to the two women I have mentioned, and I cannot bear the thought of her or my mom or anyone I care about being in that situation.
Poverty is a horrible thing, a plague on our society that we need to get rid of. It targets the most vulnerable populations and it forces them to stop living and start surviving. It forces them to hope that they can survive one day at a time. It forces them to turn to begging because there is not much else they can do. It is their only option because they are being ignored by society and by the government, even though close a high number people live in poverty. Things need to change; the government and people need to take action and address this. The people have suffered long enough.