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Let’s set the scene
Luz filled out a form to cash the check at a mahogany counter then went to the end of the line.
It moved very slowly and grew very long. Luz had ample time to look around. The bank was an elegant place of glass and darkly veined marble where people had hushed conversations. The business being transacted was too venerable for a normal tone of voice.
Luz was only about eight customers away from the teller windows when a man wearing a beautifully tailored dark suit walked into the bank. In the midst of the rough looking laborers, he stood out, tall and good looking.
He consulted his jeweled Rolex and eased into the line directly in front of Luz. No one he passed reacted at all. The security guards on either side of the line appeared not to notice.
Luz stared at the finely stitched wool in front of her. Maybe it was the boldness of knowing Eddo or the check that said she was a real artist or the fear that Marisol would punish her for taking such a long time, but she tapped him on the shoulder. “Excuse me,” she said. “The end of the line is back there.”
The soft murmur of banking conversations abruptly ceased.
The man turned around. He was younger than Luz, maybe in his early twenties. He looked her up and down, taking in the gray uniform, old sweater, short socks, scuffed shoes, high cheekbones, and flat hair tucked behind her ears. Luz tried not to wilt.
“What the fuck?” he said and sniffed as if she smelled bad. Then he turned around and walked ahead of the next three people in line. They all stepped to the side to let him pass.
Write what you know
Unfortunately this fictional scene from The Hidden Light of Mexico City is based on a real event. Like Luz, I was in a big bank in Mexico City. As I stood in line and watched the well-dressed young man cut in, I actually gasped at his rudeness.
No one else reacted. The laborers, maids, and others whose work attire betrayed their social class just numbly accepted that he should be ahead of them and avoid their long wait. I spent the next few minutes alternately fuming at the lack of reaction and convincing myself that this wasn’t my fight.
But the gasp had attracted attention. My check was invalidated by the teller.
My revenge was to capture what had happened in a novel.
I met alot of people like that rude young man in Mexico City. They enjoyed the heritage of old money and were accustomed–and wedded to–to the priviledges of the ruling class and the subservience of those on the social scale far below. The latter, in turn, appeared resigned to their status and to the economic limbo it implied.
Happily, I’m not the only one who has noticed and stronger voices than mine are talking about inequality in Latin America and its impact on development. The RAND website offers a great recap of a talk given last month by UN Assistant Secretary General and Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the UNDP Heraldo Muňoz based on the UNDP’s recent report “Acting on the Future: Breaking the Intergenerational Cycle of Inequality.”
According to Muñoz, “features of inequality have been an inheritance for hundreds of years. Inequality is very significant, very profound, very persistent, and very difficult to break. Inequality in income, education, and health pass from one generation to another.”
Although Latin America is not the world’s poorest region, it is the most unequal one, said Muñoz. It has 10 of the 15 most unequal countries in the world, when measured by household per-capita income. “Latin America is 65 percent more unequal than high-income countries, 36 percent more unequal than East Asia, and 18 percent more unequal than even the average for sub-Saharan Africa.”
The solutions aren’t easy and they won’t be fast. But the dialogue has started.
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