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With malice towards some, and charity towards none

2 September 2009

From “Maggie’s Madness” (Baja California):

If you’ve ever been on International Boulevard, the road which leads most of the tourists to the beach resorts on the north end of Tijuana you undoubtedly have seen them. These are the drug addicts, the homeless, the mentally afflicted, the crippled of Tijuana. They have nothing other than what they can beg for. They don’t have food, or clothes, or proper medical care or homes. This afternoon while the sun beat down on our little paradise by the sea, Frontera reported that a group of at least fifteen of these people including the disabled and elderly were found on the roadside leading to Tecate, ironically close to the posh Rancho La Puerta, where the very wealthy send their wives for deep massage and yoga classes.

What Tecate Police found after receiving a call were people in wheelchairs, people on crutches, people with lost limbs, all destitute. The article states there was one woman who was wrapped in a blanket with only one leg who lay in the dirt in a ditch unable to move. At that time of the day, I imagine it was at least 100 degrees in the sun, and there were no shade trees.

The group of people told the Tecate Police they had been rounded up by Tijuana Municipal Police in the north end of Tijuana early this morning and arrested, piled into a van. The Tijuana Police then took these people and dumped them alongside the road leading into Tecate.

This is one of those mind-boggling cruelties that only makes sense when you realize this is U.S. Labor Day weekend, and tourists expect a fantasy Mexico not beset by the broken and defeated you find stuck in the border towns.

I’m not naive… of course cruelty is inflicted on the disabled elsewhere in Mexico, but at the same time, there is the saving grace that charity is a virtue (and a moral imperative) and Mexicans are famous for their tolerance.

The very poor are often overlooked, but they are not swept under the rug in Mexico.  One may, of course, be annoyed by a beggar with her hand out, but one accepts that the beggar has a right to do so.

As I wrote elsewhere (in a book now being merged with another author’s work, for publication in a different format sometime next year):

The amount of poverty in Mexico is sometimes shocking. Social services for the physically handicapped and the mentally ill simply don’t begin to meet the needs. For these people, begging is a necessity, and one accepted by custom. In Indigenous Mexico, one had a legal right to food and shelter – and a right to expect others to provide it if you could not. Spain, with Roman Catholic, as well as Judaic and Islamic traditions, contributed the idea of hands-on charity (as opposed to sending a check at Christmas, or giving to an organization that sorted the “worthy” from the “unworthy” poor) as an ethical duty that gave benefits to the giver.

The nuns you see begging in the Zocalo are following an old Spanish custom – they don’t need the money (which is given to the truly poor), but are practicing the Christian virtue of “humilty:” they gain some virtue by lowering themselves in the eyes of the world, and the giver gains some virtue by freely giving whatever they can. Whether it’s a “fair trade” or even economically sensible is irrelevant in this kind of transaction.

With the blind or mentally retarded, or even with the begging nuns, those of us from the wealthier countries with our concern for giving to “worthy causes” usually don’t have much problem giving a peso or two. Some people worry that a blind man may be “faking it”, or that the fellow with one leg is somehow tricking us, but I take the Spanish viewpoint that even if he is, charity is for my benefit, not his. Besides, I’m slightly superstitious: I’ve noticed my day goes better if I give something to someone who looks like he needs it.

The Tijuana Police have not just assaulted the dignity — and personhood — of those rounded up and dumped in Tecate.  They have denied the gringo visitors the chance to reap the benefits of Charity… God knows the gringos need all good karma they can get these days, and one hopes there will be Hell to pay.

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