I’ve spent considerable time over the previous 20 years in and out of Mexico and California. I now live in the Philippines, Cebu region. I don’t mean to get entirely political here, that is not my intent. I don’t want to get into how governments do this or don’t do that to either cause or abate the problem of poverty. Rather I would like to share my first-hand observations over how three different cultures respond to the issue of poverty. (Namely the US, Mexico and Philippines)
This was in the US and was the case with many single-mothers. It still is. Far too many irresponsible and missing fathers, but I’ll not digress on that. These days I heard of a far different story around me as I prepared to leave the US. Rants and demands from college age students tearing up the streets, soiling it with their feces in protest that the government should be “giving them” something for nothing. This was not the attitude that took my Mom out of poverty.
Meanwhile, in Mexico the change of drug trafficking, which had always relied upon cocaine from distant Columbia, had changed during the early 90’s to a more local, Mexican, trafficking of Meth and created strong, local cartels which then began a violent war for territory closer to the border of California. At this time I was then married to a woman from Mexico and we found ourselves there within the ‘Frontiera’ on a monthly basis. I had previously spent much time in Mexico as a single man and I could see the landscape changing before my very eyes. This was not the fun place to go and binge on tequila on public streets until 3am anymore. ATM-kidnappings, public murders of uncooperative Police Chiefs, decapitated bodies behind my Mother in Law’s alleys were stark signs that not only had crime escalated, it was not the police who controlled things anymore.
The poor just wanted to work and earn a meager, humble living. And to this day that is what many do. There is no social program. There is no real expectation of the People from their government that there will be a free check in the mail. They know they need to work. Somehow, someway. And work they do. There are some factory jobs, so many go to work there. Meanwhile in the US people will boycott or protest out of some bleeding heart empathy for Mexican wages not realizing that those factories are the best wages and conditions in the area. Maybe not compared to their own Northern California coffee shop, college areas.. but damn good wages for Mexico. So their protests and demands for ‘investigations’ over supposed civil rights violations only serve to hurt the Employer who is providing these jobs. As is often the case, these liberals end up hurting the very people they lift up as a banner for their ego-induced cause.
But meanwhile, Mexican people who cannot ‘find’ a job do the next most sensible thing.. they ‘create’ a job. They go into business for themselves. There’s a saying, “A man’s hunger will work for him.” Motivation. You don’t need a degree in Business when your stomach is hungry to look around and figure out there’s a connection between supply and demand. You look around you and see that if you can provide either a ‘product’ or ‘service’ that people around you NEED.. they will give you what little cash they have in a fair exchange for it. To the credit of so many Mexican people I have seen them work hard and do everything from selling food to servicing tires. And they do so without an education in business. They do so without consulting their local government. They just DO IT.
What I have seen in my short time here in the Philippines, regarding the willingness of the people to work is not much different. Here there are no major drug lanes (that I know of) being trafficked specifically through Philippine hands. It passes on barges along the Pacific, but is not the active trade that I see prevalent in Mexico. Now, human-trafficking.. that’s another issue. It’s a bit different from drugs and I’ll not digress into that rabbit-hole except to say that the average Filipino goes about their daily life without concerns about ‘turf wars’ between warring cartels. What the human-traffickers do is pretty isolated from daily Filipino life as a whole.
Filipinos have impressed me with their sheer determination to work and EARN a living in whatever way they can. I cannot speak for all 7,000+ islands since I have not traveled them all. (yet) However I can say that on the island of Mactan I have not once been approached by anyone asking for money. Everyone I see around me is busy about their daily routine doing what they do to earn their way in life. They are working in the malls, the call centers.. you know, the ones that are the brunt of so many jokes? Just remember that at the other end of that line is a real, live PERSON who is just doing the best they can to earn enough pesos to feed their family, ok? The Filipinos I see are out on the side of the street cooking food.. and I am so thankful for this! In a few short blocks I can sample so many types of foods. They are providing transportation with Trikes, Jeepneys, Taxis and even Bicycles with side-car. In this heat.. that’s WORK.
These people are repairing motorcycles and giving haircuts with no more than a mirror, a pair of scissors and a chair beneath a banana tree. I kid you not. They are selling loads for cell phones, selling karaoke time, selling imported flip-flops from China, t-shirts.. whatever there is a need for they are out to earn an honest Peso. Whether these people realize it or not they are esteemed by me as that class of people who are the Entrepreneurs. They aren’t waiting on the government or anyone else for a handout. They are out there.. making it happen, bringing in those precious pesos every day so they can lay an honest head on their pillows knowing they gave their best effort in providing for their families. That demands a high level of respect in my book.
But how many times in the US have I been approached by some decently dressed stranger asking me for any “extra change” or “a couple dollars to catch the bus“? Too many times. I’ve had senseless teenagers approach me at the gas station and say to me, “Can you give us five or ten dollars? We’re on our way back from Vegas and can’t make our way home.. can you help us out?” My response to these two dimwitted girls of 21 years sent by their drunk boyfriends was, “You mean to tell me that out of six of you in that car.. not one of you had the brains to set aside gas money?” They took that as a ‘no’ and moved on to ask someone else.
So.. my point in all this? I’m not here to rant on governments. And while the entitlement-minded shame of those who deserve a good tongue-lashing can rest I’ll not be giving it to them here.. (not today anyway.) … rather I am here to extol the virtues of the Working Poor. They are poor because they have very little funds to survive on. But they are not stricken with nor will they accept a condition of Poverty. They refuse to lay down and succumb to their situation because even if there are no jobs (here in the Philippines unemployment is well over 50%).. they will find a way to provide a product or service that people need. It might be a meager day’s wage that doesn’t give them a luxurious lifestyle.. but it puts food on the table and a roof over their head. And to do that, in this blazing, unrelenting, daily humidity of 80% is nothing less than outstanding. I respect the food vendors and those who provide the services I need. I and they engage in a fair transaction that benefits each of us. That’s how business is done. It’s not charity, it’s business and any such person has my unmitigated respect.
Another man I saw in the US had a bicycle with a small bike-trailer behind it. In it was everything he needed to do a car wash. A large sign announced clearly to anyone in view.. “MOBILE CAR WASH – DETAIL”. And he was getting exercise. A small amount of investment, some hard work and that man was going to sleep well that night. Exhausted, but peaceful with the knowledge he’d not let poverty become his way of thinking.
These are not just the sort of men and women who built the US.. these are the pillars of society in ANY nation. These are the people who refuse to steal your purse or break into your home or sell drugs to your children. These are the people, whether on a small scale or a larger scale who invest their time, money and effort to build a business. First to provide for themselves and eventually, providing jobs for others.
For these reasons and observations I give a heartfelt ‘Thank You‘ and ‘Congratulations!’ to the people who still believe in earning money rather than waiting for someone to give them something for nothing.
Henry ‘Reekay’ V.