Contempt Prior to Investigation | Mexico | Living in Mexico

Contempt Prior to Investigation

We have servants.

There. I've said it. I know it's politically incorrect to have servants. I'm prepared for your approbrium.

In fact, I already have been a target of disapproval by some of my acquaintances. Among themselves, they have been saying that hiring people to prepare meals and clean house and do laundry and gardening is somehow morally wrong and exploitative.

I'm gonna reveal all about our domestic situation. It's open kimono time. If we are to be objects of disdain, so be it.

Our first experience with servants was like a ghetto kid's first hit of crack cocaine: immediate addiction. We rented a house on Úmaran through a friend. It came with a cook and a maid. We gave the cook money and she bought groceries and prepared all of our meals.

Five weeks into our stay at the Úmaran house, I suffered a heart attack. After five days in a Mexican hospital, we made preparations to go back to California. Juanita and Lupe wept when we left. We didn't realize until much later that they thought I was going home to die. Juanita, who was pregnant with her first child while we were there, named him after me—Juanito.


(Lupe, Juanita, and my namesake, Juanito.)

The mutual warmth and affection we had with Juanita and Lupe meant more to us than the clean sheets and chicken enchiladas. Our relationship was closer than employee-employer but not as close as peer friends. Class informs all relationships in Mexico. It's unfortunate, but there it is. But even so, wonderfully close relationships grow where there are cracks in the hierarchy.

After we bought our house, we met Arlene Swift Jones, who was leaving her long-time home in San Miguel de Allende. Rosario had worked in her house for many years. She would be out of a job when when Arlene left. We hired Rosario, and she began preparing our meals and doing general housekeeping.


Rosario is 51 years old. She has had very little schooling and is illiterate. Not many jobs are open to her. She became a mother when she was only 13 years old.

In all of the homes we rented before buying the one we live in now, the staff included a second housekeeper, to do heavy cleaning, run errands and wash and iron clothes. It makes you wonder how homemakers in the U. S. do it—especially women who work outside the home as well.

Rosario's 38-year-old daughter, Ana Maria, needed work. On those occasions when she came to the house to help her mother, a warm contentment settled over our household. Things ran more smoothly. Everyone seemed more happy. This alone made hiring Ana Maria worthwhile—so we did.


Ana Maria is a single mom with three children. Her ex-husband provides no support. She lives with her mother.

We also needed a part-time gardener. A series of self-professed gardeners briefly worked at our house. When they had killed enough plants that we could accurately calibrate their skills, we fired them and hired others. One day, I met Ana Maria's 19-year-old son, Edgar, an art student. An intelligent, affable young man, he began hanging around our house, helping his mom and generally making himself useful. I realized that after repeatedly failing to find a knowledgeable gardener among the "professionals," that perhaps I could train my own. So I began showing Edgar the ropes. Today he works here part time.


Sure enough, the garden has begun to thrive. Here Edgar is standing in front of a world-class pachypodium: Its robust health is largely his doing.

The amount we pay these people is pitifully small; so small that any Norteamericano living on a moderate income could easily afford their salaries. So I guess you could make a case that we are exploiting them. Here's our arrangement:

1) We pay them about 150% of the going rate for maids, cooks and gardeners. Most people in their job categories live in abject poverty. Ours don't.

2) We increase their wages every year, by at least the Mexican Government guidelines and usually more.

3) We give them two weeks' paid vacation every year, if they want to take one. If they don't, we pay them two weeks' additional pay at the end of the year. No Mexican employer of domestic help does this.

4) We regularly pay the aguinaldo, a Christmas bonus that is mandated by law, but rarely paid voluntarily by private employers. It is equivalent to two weeks' pay.

5) They receive time off with pay for medical and other problems.

6) We cover all of their medical and dental expenses for them and their children.

7) We pay for Edgar's tuition and books at the San Miguel School of English.

8) We pay for tuition, books, uniforms and school clothes for Ana Maria's seven-year-old daughter, Teresa.


Here Teresa is wearing a dress Ana Maria made for a folk dance performance on the last day of school this year. What a sweetie!

A huge influx of Norteamericanos has provided a real boost to the local economy. A great deal of employment derives from our presence. Some of the jobs are direct: cooks, housekeepers, gardeners, handymen, drivers, houseboys, nurses and companions.

Perhaps we are exploiting these people. Perhaps we should stop exploiting them. Maybe we need to encourage them to go out into the real Mexican economy and learn to live prosperously in it.

Of course, living in the local economy can be tough. Especially if you're illiterate. Especially if your first child was born while you were a young teenager. Especially if you are a woman trying to live independently from an abusive husband. Especially in a country where there's no welfare system, no workfare system to help you learn how to be a store clerk.

Maybe Rosario and Ana Maria and Edgar feel exploited. I'll never know, because if I ask them, they'll just say they aren't. Maybe they'd appreciate the ending of their exploitation. Maybe I should give them the option to leave for a more non-exploitative job.

Oh. I forgot. They already have that option.

Our critics already know all this. They persist in their criticism. Why?

I think they're envious. They lack the courage and imagination to live adventurous lives, one small benefit of which can be getting your socks washed by someone else. They try to escape the disappointment of their circumscribed, unrewarding lives by being judgmental, by dispensing huffy criticism of those who live interesting and exciting lives.

Such people should be careful of bad karma, or they may be reincarnated as creatures with even more circumscribed lives. Instead of picking away at the success of others, they may be consigned, in the next life, to picking noses.