Luis Rubio on Class in Mexico and the U.S.

By Jerry Kammer and Jerry Kammer on September 6, 2011

Mexican scholar and social critic Luis Rubio is known for his columns in the newspaper Reforma that help explain his country's failure to emerge as a dynamic democracy capable of offering opportunities to its people rather than pushing so many to emigrate. He provided another fascinating example in Sunday’s paper, writing that Mexico is plagued by a "classism" that is powerfully illustrated by a video available on Youtube.

The video, apparently shot with a cell phone camera, is ironically titled "Las Ladies de Polanco vs Policias del DF" ("The Ladies of Polanco vs. the Police of the DF" -- Polanco is Mexico City's most affluent neighborhood and DF is Mexico's Federal District, equivalent to our District of Columbia). You don't have to understand Spanish to get the gist of the vulgar and viciously insulting verbal assault by two women on a Mexico City policeman whose response is a pitifully intimidated silence.

Writes Rubio: "The episode neatly sums up some of the problems that keep us from prospering: disregard for authority, impunity, the classism in our society, and the absence of a police system that is relevant, that fits our reality and circumstance."

Rubio offers a contrast between social life in Mexico and the United States to illustrate the classism that he says is, "without a doubt, one of our great ills." He cites the workplace environment of Mexican migrants in the U.S. hotel and restaurant industries.

"Anyone who has observed the relationship between the Mexicans and their American co-workers or bosses can attest to the fact that the communication is respectful, conducted in the same terms that characterize those among the Americans. What is interesting is how this changes when a Mexican customer arrives at the establishment."

Rubio writes that while a Mexican customer will typically address a Mexican worker with the informal "tu" for "you," he expects the worker to respond with the formal "usted." He adds that while the American communication style makes such an exchange one "among equals, when we travel, we take our cultural and classist structure with us and immediately reproduce it in another setting."

Rubio also describes a situation in which a Mexican businessman visiting the United States spoke insultingly to an American policeman. He says the policeman took the man by the arm and took control of the situation. "There was no doubt about the personification of authority," he writes. "Nor was there doubt about the nature of what the Mexican said: they weren’t of the same class."

Rubio's reflections on class help explain not only why millions of Mexicans want to leave their country, but why so many of them feel attracted to life in the United State. You can find much of his work translated into English at the website of the Mexico City think-tank, the Center of Research for Development, where he is president.