As the global coronavirus pandemic hit and school classes moved online, economic disparities became evident in education access. With almost 7 percent of its population living on less than $3.20, Mexico bears witness to the gap.
“The university had the possibility of launching the virtual system through platforms such as Zoom, Moodle and Classroom,” said Mariana Hernández, a law school graduate from the Villa Rica University and a professor for seven years. “Even so, it was too much pressure because the teachers weren’t trained. We carried on with it regardless.”
More than 30 million students in Mexico, at all educational levels, were forced to take classes online during the health crisis, according to the National Institute for the Evaluation of Education. It was a great challenge, partly because Mexico does not have the necessary infrastructure to provide remote education.
School principals across the country hired premium services on platforms allowing teachers to host unlimited video conferences with their students. But this solution was not at hand for everyone and did not solve all the problems.
The emergency has underlined the country’s inequality. High levels of poverty in Mexico are reflected in access to technological tools, making public school teachers and students disproportionately affected by the pandemic.
“My respects go to teachers at public schools,” Hernández said. “For many students, distance education is difficult or impossible. Several families do not have computers or Internet access, and many parents or guardians are unemployed and cannot pay for an online connection.”
In collaboration with television stations, the Mexican government launched a public education program covering preschool to high school, but many believe that students do not take advantage of it.
Students attending online classes with their teachers and classmates have been feeling discouraged after moving to remote education.
“I do not want to imagine what education our children and young people following the television classes can get,” said Hernández, who also has a master’s degree in education.
Hernández thinks the problem is not exclusive to Mexico, although its inequality further complicates the challenge.
“Without question, the educational quality in our country collapsed, both in public and private schools,” she said.
(Translated and edited by Gabriela Olmos. Edited by Carlin Becker.)
LARGO, Fla. — Entrepreneur Daisy Bedoya is facing tough times. Like many other small business owners both Hispanic and otherwise across the country, she’s been slammed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, she’s determined to keep fighting and not give up.
Bedoya, 66, says she can barely pay her bills and keep open GraphX Designs & Concepts, the business she started 16 years ago in Largo, on Florida’s west coast. The company sells promotional products for businesses and events, and sales of such items have been in a slump due to pandemic-related restrictions.
“I have survived so far, but it is challenging. There are no sales, but one has to pay bills, rent, electricity and supplies,” said the Panamanian businesswoman, who runs the business by herself, or sometimes with the help of her son.
The pandemic has turned into a double whammy for Latino small businesses, which already faced “systemic barriers” to access resources and financing, according to a new study by Small Business Majority.
Despite federal and state efforts to provide emergency funding, small businesses continue to suffer heavy losses. As a result, many have been forced to make tough decisions to stay afloat, according to the organization’s report.
Bedoya insists she won’t close.
“I’ve lived from it, and I wouldn’t want to close it because if I do, life will be even more difficult,” said Bedoya, who was one of the 300 entrepreneurs participating in Small Business Majority’s study.
The businesswoman said that last summer, she applied for federal aid and was approved for a Paycheck Protection Program loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration, but not for the amount she needed to face several months of crisis.
“I wish the money had lasted longer, but it didn’t,” said Bedoya.
Now that the federal government has made more emergency resources available, she is planning to apply for another PPP loan but says more needs to be done. The maximum amount that a company can borrow is 2.5 times its average monthly payroll costs.
“We need a long-term plan from Congress that helps vulnerable businesses. Another PPP loan is a bandage to keep us from sinking, but what will happen when the funds run out?”
Despite all the challenges, the entrepreneur sees the future in a positive light.
“I feel quite healthy, despite being 66 years old. I am a woman who likes to work, and I know that as long as I am healthy, I will keep going.”
It’s one of the most important celebrations for millions of Latin American girls.
Various versions of the quinceañera celebration’s origin exist, but the most likely one comes from the Aztecs’ pre-Colombian traditions.
This ancient culture marked the entry to womanhood and the new responsibilities of adult life. When young women turned 15, they left their families for the Telpochcalli schools, where they learned history, traditions and other subjects to help ready them for marriage. When they returned home, they celebrated their quinceañera party.
The Aztecs lost many of their traditions when the Spanish conquered them, as they changed their beliefs to Catholic ones.
How has the tradition changed?
“The celebration that we see today, with the large dresses, makeup and slippers, differs greatly from the origin that this celebration had,” said Gilberto Pérez Argüello, a professor of history and graduate of the Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla. “According to some historians, cultures such as the Aztecs and the Mayans performed various rituals to indicate that girls were entering adulthood, so when they turned 15, they had to be stopped being treated as girls, and they were ready to be married.”
“When girls turned 13, they were taken to different schools to be prepared for marriage. However, the violent arrival of the Spanish brought with them an imposition of Christianity, which was not able to eliminate the cultural practice of this solemn event,” said the professor. “It later mutated, becoming a matrimonial agreement between families.”
By the 19th century, Emperor Maximillian, and his wife Carlotta, introduced the waltz and elegant dresses in Mexico. The dresses became part of the celebration, as the first dress that a girl uses when stepping into womanhood.
The ceremony begins with a Mass, where the young woman receives blessings from the priest and God. The celebrant then expresses gratitude for her childhood experiences and asks for spiritual guidance for the future.
In 2007, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops approved a specific liturgy for the quinceañera celebration. Moreover, they started to consider girls who reached the age “adult person, entitled to receive a blessing that includes: the commitment of the quinceañera with God and the Virgin Mary, living a life according to the teachings of Christ.”
After the Mass ends, attendees go to a party, which begins when the birthday girl dances a waltz with her family and friends.
Later she does one or more dances alongside a group from 1 to 15 people of her choosing. Many times, she changes dresses for each dance. Afterward, she typically gives an emotional speech, and all then enjoy lunch or dinner and more dancing.
Upon reaching the age of 15, an adolescent has more responsibilities and privileges than before. These celebrations are usually expensive and, in many cases, exceed the budgets of the families involved. However, to prepare for those costs, many decide to save up for it one or two years in advance.
Many Latin American girls look forward to turning 15 and having their party. However, in recent times, more and more young women are opting to take a trip instead, which represents another cultural twist in this Latin American tradition’s long history.
(Translated and edited by Mario Vázquez. Edited by Matthew B. Hall)
Charro beans are one of Mexico’s most appreciated dishes. Charros, or traditional Mexican horsemen, bequeathed their name to the plate.
The charro figure goes back to the 19th-century rural noblemen who raised cattle in ranches. Charros had a set of values, including bravery, fraternal sentiments and honor. They have always been very proud of their clothing, including big, decorated sombreros.
Charros became an emblem of Mexico in the 20th century. Beans are one of Mexico’s most important crops. So, Mexicans consider charro beans to have a double Mexican heritage; they are “twice as Mexican.”
Working in a land that experienced periods of intense heat and drought, charros sometimes had to improvise at mealtimes. Legend has it that they once mixed leftover vegetables, spices, peppers and beans into a stew that had to feed a whole ranch. This dish came to be known as charro beans.
To prepare charro beans, Mexicans cook together kidney beans, peppers, onion, garlic, cilantro, sausages, bacon, chorizo, ham and pork rinds. Some people add other types of cold cuts. These days, it is easier to prepare the dish in a slow cooker.
“Charro beans are a dish that is, as people say, hearty,” said Gilberto Lara Ochoa, a gastronomy graduate from the Universidad de Oriente, in Veracruz. “Having so many ingredients, charro beans are considered an entrée with a very intense flavor. Depending on whether you add avocado leaf or cilantro, the flavor will be more intense.”
Through trade and travel, the charro bean recipe spread throughout the country, and today different states serve variations of the stew. In Jalisco, people let it dry and top the dish with salsa ranchera (made with tomato, chili and onion.) In the center of the country, Mexicans enjoy their beans with broth and serve them as a side dish with carne asada or tacos.
“I usually make them for meetings or parties. It is a stew that adapts very well to [different] meat cold cuts,” said Guadalupe Ramírez Jácome, a housewife based in the city of Boca del Río, Veracruz. “However, I also add pork rinds. My friends really like that I serve them as a starter before carne asada. People get a little full, and they don’t just eat meat.”
Cooks from the Coahuila area in northern Mexico do not prepare their charro beans with kidney beans, but instead with mayflower beans. Meanwhile, in Monterrey, people use canary beans. In addition to the original ingredients, they add pork skins, which they consider the dish’s outstanding element.
All the varieties bear witness to how essential charro beans are to Mexican cuisine.
“It is one of the favorite dishes of all Mexicans,” said Lara Ochoa, and Mexicans all over the country might agree.
(Translated and edited by Gabriela Olmos. Edited by Carlin Becker and Melanie Slone.)
The Mexican Revolution was grounded in the overthrow of a dictator and a fight for workers’ rights.
And its genesis began in Veracruz.
Workers at the Rio Blanco textile and yarn factory in Orizaba, in the state of Veracruz, went on strike in 1907. The strike soon spread to other factories in the city and was a precursor to the Mexican Revolution, which erupted three years later. However, the strikes had a dire consequence: the execution of all participants.
The movement started with the creation of the Sociedad Mutualista de Ahorros, two years before the strikes, with the formation of the Gran Círculo de Obreros Libres, in 1906. José Neira Gómez and Juan Olivar, delegated promoters of the Mexican Liberal Party, were the masterminds behind these organizations.
The goal was to oust the stranglehold of Mexico’s president, Porfirio Diaz.
The Mexican Liberal Party’s upper echelons had secret meetings with the Revolutionary Board’s president Ricardo Flores Magón. Flores Magón had based his Board in San Luis, Missouri, as Diaz had exiled him. These groups sought to remove Díaz from his almost three decades of power.
What happened in Rio Blanco?
Rio Blanco was not the first strike in the country.
Several workers in the states of Tlaxcala and Puebla had already gone on strike in 1906, seeking to improve their work environment. In response, the owners went on lockout and stopped paying salaries to the workers. Desperate, they appealed directly to Diaz, who ordered a renewal of activities on January 7, 1907, but did not decree an improvement in working conditions. The workers, once again, protested and demanded both freedoms of the press and association.
“The strike sought to enforce workers’ rights, their working conditions, and a salary increase,” said Salvador Rodríguez, a historian from Veracruz. “These protests, although considered rebellions, were peaceful until the president turned his back on the workers to give more benefits to the owners.”
The Rio Blanco workers’ response was to reject the president’s resolution, as 1,000 workers started a riot outside the factory. The burned and looted property belonged to Victor Garcín, a businessman who owned the factory and two warehouses. The workers then ran to the local jail to free the inmates.
“The workers were in the right,” said Rodríguez. “They worked in precarious and inhuman conditions. The working hours, at a minimum, were 14 hours a day. They were barely given any time to eat or rest, and the salaries were quite low. They were paid only 35 cents per day of work.”
Soldiers opened fire against the workers, who managed to escape and flee to a nearby city, where they looted a store, stopped the city’s tram service, cut off the city’s electrical power, and robbed the wealthy. The federal forces executed all those who had tried to flee — men, women, and children.
There was no exact record of how many people died that day, as neither the state nor the Díaz Government released any official statement. However, it is believed that between 400 and 800 workers lost their lives. Witnesses claimed they had seen bodies loaded into trains so the government could pretend as if the riot had never occurred. Further, about 240 workers were locked up in prison.
Díaz then offered a dinner to foreign businessmen to quell their fears of further rioting and, by doing that, turned his back on his people. That indifference fueled the Mexican Revolution in November 1910. Though despised by workers, many Mexicans laud Díaz as the man who brought “modernity” to Mexico.
(Translated and edited by Mario Vázquez. Edited by Melanie Slone and Fern Siegel.)
Arturo Adonay entered the business world from a young age in his native Mexico.
“Since I was a child, I have worked in all sorts of businesses. I have sold gold, body creams and clothes. I have had taquerías, pizzerias, as well as advertising and marketing agencies. I have also been in distribution,” said Adonay, who is currently a managing partner of Sara Capital Group.
After 23 years of living in the U.S., Adonay has become a renowned entrepreneur in the Southeast. His love for doing business has led him to discover another passion — helping other entrepreneurs.
“I consider myself a facilitator, a bridge for our community and our people. I like to take them by the hand while they create a sustainable business. I love that. That’s my passion,” said Adonay.
Adonay considers himself a natural businessman. He is one of the masterminds behind the idea of commercial plazas for Hispanics. Plaza Fiesta and Plaza de las Américas, in Atlanta’s metropolitan area, and Plaza del Sol, in Kissimmee, Florida, are examples of his creative endeavors.
Adonay wanted to build shopping plazas similar to those in Latin America and Europe, where large and small businesses converge, “dedicating a part of the shopping center to promoting small businesses,” he said. He had done something similar in Mexico and was lucky enough to meet people in the U.S. who agreed with his vision. Together, they made “the magic happen. It was a blessing, luck; you name it.”
After living more than two decades in the U.S., Adonay has seen many success stories highlighting Latinos’ “magic and creativity.” But he is aware that Latino businesses often follow a particular path.
“Americans are very structured. They make a business plan in advance, project more and give the company some time to grow. If in that span the business doesn’t grow, they close it up saying, ‘It didn’t work, what’s next,’” said the businessman.
Latinos are different.
They “often jump into the pool without knowing how to swim. They usually don’t know what they’re doing. However, through thick and thin, they learn to swim while trying to survive. When they see that the business is sinking, magic, creativity and family support come through, which is something I don’t see among other ethnicities.”
In times of crisis, “the whole family rolls up their sleeves and says, we have invested here, now we have to keep the business afloat, whatever it takes.” At this point, an exciting transformation happens from the business and community perspectives, he said.
“What we — and all the small entrepreneurs — are facing is unprecedented,” said Adonay, referring to the pandemic.
He believes companies must reinvent themselves, for example, doing business online. However, “not all businesses are prepared to do it. That is where we, as leaders, have to work with them, looking for alternatives, such as new distribution channels,” he said.
Being afraid of what the future might bring is a big mistake. “When you start focusing on the catastrophe before there is a catastrophe.” An entrepreneur cannot be afraid of what will happen tomorrow,” Adonay said.
Not seeing an opportunity is another mistake. In challenging times “businesses succeed if you are creative. When things are going down, you can dive in and rise with the wave. Sometimes, in times of crisis, small businesses come to a standstill rather than proactively looking for ways to grow the business,” he said.
A big mistake is not being austere in personal expenses. There are people who, in challenging times, “still have cable television with 300 channels and make unnecessary expenses. Instead, you have to tighten your belt, lower your spending and set money aside to continue supporting your business. Eventually, it’ll give you a monthly profit,” he said.
Not reinventing yourself is a mistake, too. “Wherever there is a challenge, there is an opportunity. But you have to look for it proactively,” he said.
Tips for those seeking to become entrepreneurs
“Businesses start from the inside out.” First, you have to organize the family or personal economy, he said. “Set aside some money and invest it [in the company] hoping for a return. Keep your personal budget straight to continue investing your extra money in your business, so you can support and fuel it. Little by little, it will give you a return. … Eventually, that return will allow you to live the lifestyle you had when you started. If you can’t handle your finances, you can’t run a business,” he said.
Passion is important. His advice is to open a business dealing with those things one cares about most. “If you know how to paint, create a business where you teach painting classes and sell painting supplies,” he said.
Do not be afraid of banks. “There is the fear of asking for a loan, often because of the language barrier,” he said.
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