There is an extent to which my business is voyeuristic.
We stare at the pain and misfortune of others, and turn
it into stories to tell still others.
Only sometimes does it hit you how strange this proposition
can be. Fly a few thousand miles, head out to a place where
something bad is happening, stare at it, ask some questions,
try to learn something, tell a story, move on.
need those suffering people to allow me to look at them,
to allow me to talk to them. To what end? To tell people
far away, who will never see them any other way, never meet
them, never visit the place where they live, a story that
might, might, draw them in to a feeling of awareness, maybe
empathy with another human being facing situations you can
Right now our country is carrying on a vital national argument
about who gets to come to America, who gets to live there,
who gets to work, and what the terms of that bargain might
be. So here we are, a team from the NewsHour, in the country
where hundreds of thousands of people decide their opportunities
and their daily lives are simply not enough for them --
put their lives in the hands of criminal gangs, pay thousands
in savings to be moved across the border, where some die,
and some end up busing your restaurant table, cutting your
grass, killing the pig that several steps later becomes
the pork chop on your plate.
Last Sunday the Feast of St. John the Baptist was celebrated
in a tough neighborhood far from the Beaux Arts beauties
and many treasures of the historic center of Mexico City.
We were there to ask people about the coming election. One
food vendor told me his hopes for Election Day were simple:
I hope, he said, they guide the country well and that the
crisis we are in is over. So much corruption, so many thieves,
so many people who left to live in the United States. I
don't know what they are going to do over there, because
here we have everything."
Here we have everything. It's not an impression you'd get
north of the border about conditions in Mexico, but millions
do live well, have joined a global middle class, no longer
fear the periodic collapse of the peso that made their material
But below them are tens of millions who never get to relax.
Their extremely hard work just allows them to clothe and
feed themselves and their children. They don't have anything
left over to save, and have very little access to the capital
that would help them get ahead. A delivery man loads his
wheelbarrow and the strength of his back becomes pesos,
day after day. He might like to do the same work with a
mini-truck, or a small trailer pulled behind a motorbike,
but he doesn't ever have that kind of money on hand, and
no one would lend it to him. He is stuck, and what the next
Mexican president intends to do, to get him unstuck has
been at the center of the political debate heading into
the weekend vote.
We headed out past the capital city into the neighboring
state of Mexico, and arrived in a neighborhood where many
have no running water. Across a busy street from the already
difficult life in that neighborhood, a place with street
names and electric lines and addresses, stood a place that
might well be at the bottom of the urban food chain. It
is the home of the Basureros -- the garbage pickers. When
we approached them to tell them what we were doing by their
houses, some asked us not to take pictures, or at least
not to say exactly where we were. They had no legal right
to build their makeshift home from garbage pulled from the
nearby dumps. They were afraid that if the authorities saw
them they could get kicked out.
So how important was it to take pictures anyway? Important
enough, I guess. I want NewsHour viewers to imagine life
on a dollar a day. The tough part is proving that the people's
whose homes we were photographing are so powerless they
can't tell us to get lost. Maybe they should have, but they
didn't. Some eventually opened up, one, Katalina Duenac,
showed us her house, surrounded by clouds of flies, and
House might not even be the right term -- it looked like
a pile of scraps. Tiny Katalina, living 20 years from what
she can pull from the reeking piles of rubbish, told me
it was hard to get excited about the presidential election.
She said, "In reality, we're just too distrustful that
we don't even know who to support. They're all the same.
Look at this president, he promised that he would get us
out of there, that he would help us. What did he do? He
took away our jobs, sold the garbage landfill, good-bye
Katalina and her friend Leon Martinez were filthy, but
how to keep clean when water is expensive to buy and not
always available anyway. The boys, in castoff clothing,
playing with toys from the dump, were also filthy. Talking
to them lays heavy on your heart. These people are made
real by standing with them outside their hovels -- the poor,
the poor are constantly invoked by presidential candidates,
peppering their speeches with promises for more economic
security, more jobs, more education and opportunity. Katalina
doesn't believe the next president will help them, but wishes
he would provide at least some way to earn basic subsistence.
"We don't want to be rich, because they keep all the
wealth." She couldn't imagine packing a suitcase and
flying from far away to come meet her, to stand with thousands
of dollars worth of equipment and record her thoughts as
she laments the difficulty she has in earning 10 pesos,
less than a dollar.
She told her story. We thanked her and left. Our car parked
outside the barrier meant originally to enclose a neighborhood
basketball court, rather than a neighborhood itself. The
wall is covered with political and business ads aimed at
the passersby heading to other places in the low-rise sprawl
past the international airport. It says, Mexico, pais de
oportunidad -- Mexico, land of opportunity.
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