Hispanic Market: El Otro Lado

12 Jul 2004|Added Value

In the last week, I was out in field exploring the customs of those who live in the small town of Matahuala in Mexico. I discovered that folks residing there live with the US as a constant part of their lives, emotionally and financially. What they call, “El Otro Lado” or the Other Side is embedded in the daily life of This Side. The US Mexican Hispanic market is also in Mexico. The relationship is co-dependent.

“El Otro Lado” is the code name for the US for millions of Mexicans who live with mixed feelings regarding The Other Side. People residing in small towns in Mexico or in the northern regions, such as Parral in Chihuahua, towns in Zacatecas, Matahuala in the Northern Region, or even the outskirts of Monterrey Mexico, live with the El Otro Lado as part of their daily lives, with hope, wonder, curiosity, fear, and resentment. On El Otro Lado, everything is coupled in extremes. The streets seem more organized, the cemeteries more dignified, the homes look bigger, and the clothing and cars are flashier. The Telenovela life appears accessible for those for which this life appears like an “ilusion” (illusion) in Mexico. Yet as one woman who had given up any hopes of dreams put it, El Otro Lado is also a “prision” (prison). Everything you know, all the codes with which one has relationships, the appropriate smile to the distant neighbor that sends out a code of respect, the favors to others in times of needs that enable one to ask for economic help in return, all of these codes are not enablers on El Otro Lado. El Otro Lado is the place that has absorbed your son. Where is he during the day? Is he safe? What if he becomes ill? How will I cross the border to go take care of him? While I was with one woman, a working mother supporting a family of 5, her thoughts were with her son, who had been away for two years and had not returned yet once. A neighbor comes running yelling, Dona Celia, he is on the phone, and they both run to the barber shop to take the call. They speak for one hour. She returns with her eyes full of tears, he is promising to take care of her one day, but will he be here for the festivities in December? El Otro Lado is where one’s father has been for the last 29 years, now a US resident, rumors say that he has another family over there, yet he is still the economic supporter of the family in Matahuala. One is constantly trying to get a visa to go there. Those that live in the cities with stable jobs, such as the woman who trimmed my split ends on Saturday at the beauty shop, succeed.

She spoke softly to me about El Otro Lado at first inquiring about my gringa accent (I am tall, dark, with a heavy US accent, “what do I do with this?” she probably thought to herself), acting as if she knew nothing about it, being quite content with her luck in Monterrey. Upon gaining my trust, she confesses that she went to Houston last year to give birth to her son, so that her son would be a US citizen. She dreams of going there with her husband to raise her son, so her son can have access to a US education. A young girl, who just finished La Secundaria or Junior high school, speaks to me, after 2 hours of silence while I chatted with her mother, about her dreams of going to la prepa, or high school, about getting an education one day. This does not seem economically feasible in the small town, where this education costs money. Although she sees her mother suffering about her son being far away, she confesses that she wants to go El Otro Lado. Her mother’s forehead wrinkles as she looks at her with a harsh stare. This is a first she has heard of it. Her daughter has worked hard at school, God will make sure that good things happen for her in Mexico. But a friend at school showed her daughter pictures of life there. She was amazed at how orderly it all looked, how beautiful the cemeteries seemed, how big the streets look. It all looks like magic to her.

Her mother maybe heartbroken, but her daughter cannot escape the influence of El Otro Lado. El Otro Lado is everywhere on this Lado in Matahuala. The streets are ordered. People stop at the stop signs. People driving give others the right of way, very different than typical Mexican driving. They are proud of these US practices that are now embedded there. There are cars with US license plates all around, while everyone else walks, rides a bike, or, if you are lucky, ride a scooter. The fashion is fast forward. The young girls all wear hip hugger jeans with tops that reveal their bellies, a la Britney Spears. Besides the Novelas, people watch self help shows such as Lo Que Callamos Las Mujeres, or What We Women Keep Silent About, Oprah Mexico style, or the Mexican version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire”. The traditional Rosterias, or roasted chicken places that exist through out all of Mexico, become Rosteria ‘Fred Chiken’ in these towns. Your neighbors are also your connectors, transporters, and in some cases, failed transporters, to El Otro Lado. One woman was still paying of the $600 debt (on a $200/month income) she incurred for the failed attempt at sending her son to El Otro Lado, while facing the sweet neighbor, who refused to return the money, on a daily basis. During the celebrations, Christmas and Holy Week in particular, folks from the El Otro Lado return with all kinds of gifts, and throw a huge party for the entire town. The common house is small, with 3 small rooms at most, yet there are these unfinished huge mansions sprawling up all over these towns. Some of these are never finished, some take years to be completed, and some become the hallmarks of a potential future for everyone else. Someone did it. They went to El Otro Lado and made it happen. They have the nice house in Mexico now, even if they can never live there full time. After all, their grandchildren are now US citizens, they cannot abandon them fully.

What most struck me is that people there understood my response when they asked me where I lived. In the crazy life of consulting and having married a person who has had clients in Mexico and the US over the years, I have found myself going back and forth US and Mexico for the last 10 years. At first I believed the situation was temporary, but 10 years have gone by, I have closed homes and opened new ones, yet I seem to find myself in a situation with two homes yet again, and with loved ones on both sides. So I responded, “a….vivo en los dos lados (oh….I live in both places), I kind of go back and forth”, to which they responded “yeah, kind of like my dad” or “yeah, like my brother” or “the neighbors downs the street do the same, they have the nicest home on the block, but they leave all the time to their home in the US” or “well, it seems the only way to have the best of both worlds right, to go back and forth, there really is no other way”. After many years of explaining to folks how I live, I finally found a community where I need not explain. They got it. And I thought I was unique.

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