Jul 1, 2012

What does #Iam132 mean for Mexican youth?

El Pais: Americas Program Original Translation by Anna Moses
See Spanish Original.
The aspirations of young Mexicans are very different, and equally real, like the slogan of a student protest in Mexico City- "Be informed, vote, and turn off the stupid television"- and painted on a wall in a provincial town: "I would prefer to die young and rich than old and broken like my father."

The first phrase is a slogan of the "I am #132" movement, the first far-reaching political youth movement of the century, the modern, urban and technological face of the new generation. A critical wave that began in the social networks in May, the movement took to the streets of the capital with a tide of young people that denounced the supposed alliance between the big communication networks and the PRI candidate, Enrique Peña Nieto, front runner for the elections on July 1st.

The movement threw the PRI campaign into confusion and damaged the PRI’s voting expectations, however, not bringing it down from its first place in the polls, and had such an influence that three of the four candidates- with the exception of Peña Nieto- participated in a student-organized debate.

The other phrase is on a wall in Culiacán, capital of Sinaloa province. The quote is from the writer, Humberto Padgett, winner of the Ortage and Gasset 2012 prize for the book "The Lost Boys" which was based on interviews with young prisoners. "When I was asking them what they wanted to be, they said “El Chapo” Guzmán, the boss of the Sinaloa cartel, the one who kills most, who f---- most, the worst b------, and they were asking me if it was worth the effort of studying to end up selling tacos in the street, like their older brothers."

Employment and education are the crux of this generation. Mexico grows 3.5% a year but this did not lead to an increased demand for work. According to the economist Roland Cordera, between 2000 and 2010, 10 million young people entered the job market and only three million found formal employment. And the informal sector is saturated, said Cordera, which greatly reduces the options for a "small yet significant" portion of young people who are vulnerable to criminal groups as indicated by statistics: Of the 15,200 deaths in 2010, 39.5% were young people.

Magda Coss, author of Gun Trafficking in Mexico (Grijalbo, 2011) says, "the lack of access to work and education is the root of the problem," the ingredients of a cocktail that together produce the cultural roots of violence among the working classes and expose resourceless youth to the world of organized crime, or to one of mere "street survival."

Coss speaks of a society infested with guns- between 15 and 20 million, present in 20% of households-, with nearly half a million adolescents involved in gangs and approximately 40,000 minors recruited by drug traffickers. This is the same society in which Padgett has met dozens of young men that are “over excited by consumption” and dream to flaunt a beautiful woman and a diamond encrusted gun.

In a country where every 24 seconds a student drops out of high school, there are also more than seven million ninis: youth between the ages of 15 and 29 that do not attend school or work. The daily life of unemployed youth is an example of the economic suffocation. Pavel Valle, a 24 year old, said from a game room that he left his parents house with 25 pesos, or 2 euros, for the entire day. He has been a nini for four years and now looks for any job to pay his university expenses that will begin in September. He says, “right now I will take anything that comes.” He is willing to accept a salary of 3,000 pesos a month, less than 200 euros.

Others do nothing because of disillusionment. David Perez, a 19 year old that comes from a well-off family, has left the university because he saw no purpose in dedicating time to study if there were no chances of later being offered a respectable job. He says, “I know people that have gone to Europe to receive an education, but upon their return have not found work.” In Mexico, approximately 700,000 students graduate per year, but the market only generates 300,000 jobs.

Even so, graduation is still a goal for many Mexican youth, but the access to quality learning facilities is limited. Manuel Gil Anton, a specialist in higher education at the Colegio de Mexico, warns that in 2012, the UNAM (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México) had to reject 9 out of every 10 enrollment applications. Those left out, often coming from a humble background, give up or pay to study at mediocre private universities that are more expensive than the elite private universities if they were able to get in. 

"It's a generation concerned with survival," concluded Juan Antonio Pérez Islas, director of the Research Seminar on Youth in UNAM. "A conservative generation, for whom politics is secondary." The historic data indicates that of the 24 million 18-29 year olds who can vote this Sunday, around 60% live with their parents, a statistic comparable only to the elderly of over 80 years of age.

If the predictions are true, the absent youth will be paradoxically changing their image to a new group of Mexicans who will demonstrate their ability to achieve unprecedented goals, like persuading three of the candidates to debate live on the internet, without the desire to be the "worst b------" nor show off a gun with diamonds on the handle.

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