Thursday, April 30, 2009

Wow a female owned Mexican business without BRIBES!

[This older segment was repeated on NPR yesterday and just made my day]

Look at my hands. Do you see pretty hands with painted nails? No. These are the hands of a working woman. —Vicki Ponce, Electronics Recycler


Ingrid Lobet

When I met Vicki Ponce, I was surprised at the level of siege she and her business partners had to endure as they fought to create a recycling shop in their town. Small towns can be insular and intolerant, sure. But the hostility in Fronteras, in the northern Mexican state of Sonora, bordered on vicious.

Vicki and her colleagues (they're known in Fronteras as Las Chicas Bravas, or "The Tough Girls") told me about a time when they when they left a meeting, and townspeople surrounded them, blocking any escape. The crowd began jeering. Someone yelled, "Tough girls! Not so tough now, are you, now that we've got you corralled?" Children held up placards. One said: Fuera Chicas Bravas de Fronteras! ("Out of Fronteras, Tough Girls!")

"How do you think it made us feel?" Vicki asked me. "These were our neighbors. All we were doing was trying to create employment for as many of them as possible."

For a while, as I poked around Fronteras, I thought there might be a religious angle hiding in this story. I've been in small towns in Latin America where Catholics and evangelical Christians spread mean rumors about each other. Maybe that would explain the rage the Chicas seemed to engender. But Vicki and the other core members of the recycling group have no church in common. Even Vicki and her husband attend different churches. Religious tolerance may be one kind that does exist in Fronteras.

So what was the Chicas' crime? Why are some locals, including the mayor, so incensed by their efforts? I think it's partly the fact that Vicki and the others have refused to pay bribes. And that they have the temerity to insist on working into middle age. In Mexico, job ads still openly require attractive, young candidates, and older workers find it almost impossible to compete.

But I suspect that their biggest transgression is simply refusing to accept their circumstances. They are striving. Their entrepreneurialism is subversive. They dare to have modest, rather than truly low, expectations. And for that they inspire envy, and resentment.
But Mexico is changing, and the Chicas, with their can-do spirit, no longer find themselves alone. There's the lay lawyer who defended them in court and who also refused to pay bribes. There's the judge who ruled against the mayor, telling him that the era of the omnipotent cacique (political boss) is over. No, he said, the mayor had no basis for evicting Vicki and her coworkers from their building.

Vicki told me she's changing, too. She was never a firebrand. Her favorite activity is cooking, and she used to enjoy volunteering at the local health clinic. Standing up for herself went against her girlhood training in subservience – to men, to the way things are, to the powers that be. Now she goes to the governor's office, and meets with executives from the multinational metals giant, Grupo Mexico.

Her change was a question of necessity, she told me, not choice. Three years ago she and her husband were selling tamales on the street, sometimes crossing the Arizona border to clean houses. She was desperate for a job, but there were none. So she made one.

Now the recycling business is growing, and Vicki is earning money. And, quiere o no quiere — whether she wants to or not — she's helping make Mexico a place where success isn't only about bribes, birthright, and connections. Sometimes, Vicki says, effort and steadfastness are enough to get you through.

LINKS: Retroworks

"People" over 30 struggling to find work except for in Vermont - O man, we can't wait to walk with you and talk with you and P (for now) with respect to bizniz about Vermont 2000 and California (arbitrarily) 1974 - OK, maybe 2007.
Baseline Peace
Big Love
- Us
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