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How culture is lost

Posted on | October 13, 2007 | No Comments

I was reading something interesting from the BBC describing a decision by Mexico City to evict some 15,000 merchants from the city center. I believe that this decision might be a big mistake.

I live in the capital of street enterprise, Manila (The Philippines). A short walk down the main road leads me to an open market where I can buy (and barter) for nearly anything that I might need. Over the last few years, I’ve gotten to know the regular merchants. They see me and call me by name, play with my daughter and get my usual purchase (usually cigarettes, ice cream, pepsi and other things) together for me on sight.

There are meat packers, candy makers, produce vendors, gizmo sellers, clothing merchants and (almost) every other thing that a body needs. I like to go out at night when its cooler, every merchant is candle lit, its a great atmosphere. I’ll surely miss the atmosphere when I return to Baltimore.

If the U.S. is the ‘melting pot’, The Philippines is a cauldron. Cultures from all over the world arrive here and spread their respective influences, all of this assimilated into Filipino culture which is very strong (and quite interesting).

You could never, ever, pass such a crazy law such as what Mexico is attempting in Manila, law makers would not entertain nonsense that resulted in cultural decay.

Mexican officials want the city center cleared. They indicate that this move is for ‘a better quality of life’ within the city. How can taking away the income of 15,000 people possibly lead to a better quality of life? They aren’t kicking out all vendors, just ones who aren’t licensed. 15,000 (at least) are not licensed, I wonder why not? Selling things on the streets is part of Mexico’s culture, why do you need a license to participate in your own culture?

My own opinion (and just an opinion) is that Mexico hopes to become more ‘international friendly’, those pesky unlicensed vendors accost tourists with strong verbal phrases such as “Sir, watches” or “Sir, fruit for your baby!”. My kid likes fruit, I appreciate being accosted in such a manner.

Back home in Baltimore, I need to go to a grocery store full of people who really don’t like working there to get the stuff that I need. I wonder if Mexico realizes the end of their current means?

Globalization is upon us, its past-tense now. I really, really hope that other countries see cultural preservation as paramount during this process, such as they do here in Manila. The world needs a ‘nice blend’, it seems quite senseless to take away ingredients at this point :)

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