Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Taking Care of Business

Starting your own business is challenging.  There is so much work to do and depending on your business, you may be the sales, accounting, marketing and PR departments all at the same time.  This is more than true in my own experience.  I update the blogs, monitor the website (in English and Spanish), get quotes on raw materials, do the budgeting, Ad Words campaigns, networking, Facebooking, product development, talent management, etc. etc. Think of an industry catch phrase and I most likely do it, have done it or will eventually have to do it.  Today was no different.  Thanks to the advice of a business savvy friend I went to the local state university to scout possible points of sale and to talk to the street vendors outside of the campus to get a feel for what they sell and how their sales go from day to day.  After I talked to some very talented crafts people I went to look for my friend who is a student at the Economics School.  Coming up on the building I saw that one entrance, a gated doorway, was closed and apparently blockaded with furniture.  Walking around  I saw signs reading “out with the dictator” and “we demand justice”.  These were signs of student protest and the building was on lock down.  The economic major students had taken over two buildings and locked themselves inside.  Outside were some students talking and they seemed to be the life lines for those locked inside.  While I waited for my friend I saw food and bags being passed through the gates.

Student sitting under protest signs on Economic Faculty Building
The first time I encountered this kind student disobedience I was baffled.  As a student I had never dreamed of doing something so bold, so aggressive, so against the rules.  It never occurred me to me that students could demand something from their schools and to be honest, I never saw it being done until I moved to Mexico.  I know that in the 60´s and 70´s students in the USA protested wars and the draft but students protesting their own school's institutional politics took me some time to understand.  These particular economic major students seem to have grievances with the department head.  In the past I have seen students prostest because they didn’t get into the faculty of their choice, which techinically means that they weren’t students protesting, but “wanna be” students demanding that they be admitted. 

Blocked entrance to the Economic Faculty Building
Under the Mexican constitution, citizens are guaranteed the right to education and education is stipulated as being public and liaca (non-religious).  Which brings me to another topic that has taken some time to understand : the Mexican public school system, in particular teachers and the teacher union.  At this moment in Mexico’s history the teacher union is headed by the stretched faced maestra Elba Esther Gordillo.  Elba Esther Gordillo is the president of the teacher’s union ad vitam, owns luxueries properties (namely a penthouse in Paris), is a frequent costumer of plastic surgeons and pretty much does whatever she wants.  Last week President Felipe Calderon gave his country a Valentine’s Day present.  He announced that all private school tuition, from pre-school to high school,  would be directly deductible from taxes.  Back in the late 80´s early 90´s a very similar issue debated in the US Congress. Nothing really came of this proposal of giving tax breaks to people who paid private school tuition but then again the situation of public schools in the USA isn't really all that comparable to Mexican public schools. Public school education in Mexico is beyond deficient, it is border line criminal.  Students in public schools are left with out classes, they are abused by their teachers, they are given limited resources and often forgotten about it.  Why does this happen? Because the teachers and the teacher’s union have millions of Mexican families literally imprisoned and the government allows it.  These are families who have no choice but to put their kids in public schools.  Education should be public and non-religious and it is the responsibility of government and civil society to monitor and provide children with academic and emotional preparation. Between teachers striking and suspending classes for all and no reason, students are left to fend for themselves and that does not change when it comes to university.  Teachers will still hold their students captive but the difference is that in university students seem to fight back and at least, from my perspective, the playing field is evened out a bit more. 

So what does this have to do with my business? Well everything and nothing.  As a member of civil society I believe my children have a right to a free, public education but they are not getting it because the public school system is beyond broken.  As a business women I see that the teacher’s union is nothing more than a business where the power is concentrated in the hands of a business oligarch.  Teachers stike whenever they want and students and parents are left to pick up the pieces.  Right now there are protests going on in Wisconsin over the governor’s attempt to limit public sector workers from bargaining powers.  In business and life negotiation is key.  Closing yourself off to negotiate is equivalent to suicide. As any negotiator will tell you, all sides must be taken into account.  When it comes to the teacher's union in Mexico the students and their parents are NEVER taken into account.  Watching those economic majors commandeer their faculty made me reflect upon power in numbers.  That power can be used for good or, as in the National Teacher’s Union case,  for evil. So for now, I am taking care of business by searching out others who want to work and grow and not at the cost of an entire country, faculty or community.

Monday, February 14, 2011

No knight in shining armor just a red pony

Back in 2007 I was living in León, Guanjuato.  After a very disturbing highway accident (we were run off the highway by what looked a tank but turned out to be an old Chevrolet pick up), our gas mileage friendly Volkswagen Pointer was left crunched in half at the dealer's workshop.  With no car to drive and a full time job at the UGTO Physics Institute, I had no choice but to drive around a muscle car.  Doesn't sound so bad? The muscle car and I shared our birthdays; we were "manufactured" in the 1970´s! I am glad to say that I was in better shape than that car: it leaked oil, the hydraulic steering was ever so delicate, it had no seat belts, the list went on and on. I wrote this as diary entry as a way to vent some stress and intended to post it on my blog.  Four years later and a muscle car less, I have the best memories of that 1978 Mustang, our "red" pony.  

Grey Cloud, Red Horse

1978 Mustang II
I woke up this morning with a grey cloud hanging over my head.  As I rolled out of bed, my mood was ominous and drab.  I yelled at my bedmate, I cursed at the dog.  I packed away my breakfast in clear plastic boxes and slid out the front door.  The sun was shining brightly as I took steps towards my new car.  A brand new car. New to me, and my husband and five year old son that is.  1978 Ford Mustang. Red. Hot. And as I backed out of my drive way after battling with the ignition switch and getting the car to start, I remembered what it was like to live in artic Rochester, New York, where any car older than five years had to be coaxed and prodded into starting up in the morning.   Not that any of that matters now, now I live in sunny Mexico.  The funny thing is, I still wake up with grey clouds sometimes.

As I ambled down the street, I remembered, “you haven’t paid for the car yet.”  “Be careful…” I told myself as I rounded the corner, to find myself hood to hood with a 1980 Chevrolet pick up.  I held my breath as the driver edged by my scarlet pony.  “The breaks are low…” I reminded myself as I eased over the ever present, much despised, speed bumps that are so common in Mexican streets. “A 1978 Ford Mustang, this is so cool!” I reflected as I made it over the speed bump only to slow down again as the road ended and became nothing more than dirt for about twenty meters.  Another one of my current resident city’s charms; mid-road missing pieces of asphalt. I turned left onto the street that take me out of my neighborhood complex and my grip tightened on the mini steering wheel the previous owner installed.  “You don’t have a horn to beep with…” I reminded myself as four dogs, a bicyclist and a minivan crossed my exit path.  “Deathtrap…you’re driving a deathtrap….” The American, always have insurance, never forget to buckle your seat belt panic set in as I pushed down hard on the gas pedal. “Breaks are low, oil needs changing and there is no gas…you can do this, you are going to be just fine”-my mantra until I got to the gas station. A half a tank on $100 pesos, not bad for a eight cylinder.  I was impressed, still nervously excited though because my journey to work through eight AM traffic was still ahead of me.

The orange and white barricade bar that the parking lot at work went up as I approached.  I sighed and crawled my lovely new 1978 Mustang up the ramp into the parking lot. I parked it right next to my office window.  “This just might work” I thought.  Then I remembered, “no backseat seatbelts and in about five hours I have to pick up my son from school….”  The journey continues….
My red pony

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Las Aparicio

Telenovelas, or as I knew them growing up in the USA, soap operas, have been a constant in my life ever since that fateful day I saw the Young and the Restless for the first time. Sitting cross legged on the carpeted floor of my friend Jenny's house, her mom a fan of the Y&R, would let me watch while my friend begged that we go play. However, at home, my mother never watched a soap opera or a telenovela.  She is  a rarity among Mexican women her age because she has never liked telenovelas. 

Exposure: Telenovelas
I had never seen a Mexican  telenovela until I moved to Mexico City in 1998 while studying a semester abroad at the Universidad Iberamericana Santa Fe.  My boricua (Puertorican for those unfamiliar with the term) roomate, Beatriz, was my own personal resident expert on all things Mexican and she got me hooked. Beatriz, at the time was smack in the middle of a love affair with Mexico and all things Mexican.  She convinced me to go with her to the Cervantino, she insisted I try new foods, chapulines (crickets) chilaquiles, anything instead of pizza. With Beatriz I climbed to the top of "El Cerro del Tepozteco" and once every week day, we would sit in front of our furnished apartment's  television to watch Beatriz's favorite telenovela.

Las Aparicio
Add for Las Aparicio

During the years that I've lived in Mexico I've shied away from telenovelas, finding those produced by TV Azteca and Televisa irritatingly bad.  They are either re-makes of old telenovelas, adaptations of other countries telenovelas or just plain insulting. Last night, however,  I sat down to watch Las Aparicio.   Las Aparicio is not produced byTelevisa or Azteca, but Argos . It first aired last year on Cadena Tres. It is is about a very unique family, The Aparicios. 

In many Latin American countries, Mexico included, children use both parent's surnames and in the case of the Aparicio, three sisters from three different fathers, fathers who each died under very strange circumstances, all share their mother's surname as their first and only last name. ( Aparicio is Spanish, Castillan if I am to believe a website on surname origens).  The word "aparicio"  is very similiar the words "aparecer" and "aparencias" which mean "to look like" and "appearances", respectively.  "Aparició" with the accent on the last o, means "to have appeared". As is the case in any part of the world, appearances are so very important to people, and the Mexican upper middle class is no exception. Las Aparicios´ world is one where appearances, as they so often do, deceive.  The family is surrounded by scandal, loss, sadness and triumph. Rafaela, the three times widow and her three gorgeous daughters, Alma, Mercedes and Julia must deal with the stereotypes placed on women in Mexican society. This program´s relevance in Mexican society stems from its portrayal of gender roles, sexuality, and sexual orientation; topics that are still difficult to discuss in Mexico. In the very first show, the youngest of the Aparicio, Julia has a hot and steamy romp with her best friend Mariana in her bedroom.  Mariana stops Julia and says "si aqui la lencha soy yo". Lencha is a Mexican slang term for lesbian and word not often used or heard on Mexican television (click here for an interesting look into lesbian life in Mexico).  If these first two shows are any indication, I am in for a lot of entertainment and topics to discuss in the future here on the blog and out and about with all those I encounter while living life in MY Mexico.

For more on Las Aparicio, please visit these sites:

Friday, February 4, 2011

Review of Il Belcanto

Il Belcanto

A couple of weeks ago I ate at a new Italian trattoria here in town. Il Belcanto, true to it’s name, has a guitar playing crooner strumming songs in Spanish and Italian.

Guitar playing at Il Belcanto
Located on Rey Ticateme #464 in Morelia, the atmosphere is very urban. How more urban can you get by having dinner in a gargage, sitting on plastic chairs and eating at a plastic table?

Street front of Il Belcanto 

Street sign that reads "pasta and salads, Tuesday-Sunday 1-6pm, Sundays live music. Cash only, reservations 443-200-4895"

Joined by my mother, we ordered spaghetti carbonara and spaghetti al pesto with shrimp (with four, yes four, shrimp). The pasta was, a las, far from al dente but the sauce’s seasoning was decent. The prices were not unreasonable at all, $70.00 pesos MXN per pasta dish that included a salad with unlimited bread (sliced bolillo) plus $35.00 MXN per glass for overly sweet sangria. The salad had  a house dressing that was a bit watered down. Over all I would say that Il Belcanto offers Italian food at cocina economica prices and that is pretty much what you get, fresh food that can be a little over cooked with quick, friendly service.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Life in my Mexico: Fibra de Coco

Life in my Mexico: Fibra de Coco

Fibra de Coco

About a year and half a go I became involved with a part of the coconut that I had never thought of before. I love coconut and everything to do with it, coconut trees, coconut forests waving in the coastal breezes, coconut oil on warm bronzing skin, coconut milk in frosty piña coladas (can I just say: YUM!, piña coladas have coconut AND rum, how can you go wrong with that combination?) and there are the ever so delicious, ever so traditional Mexican cocadas; lip smacking coconut candy. But coconut fiber? I didn’t even know it could be used like this:

Coconut fiber and cotton bags galore!
And yet here I am, today, the proud creator of a small business, an up and coming ecologically minded company that designs and produces coconut fiber products. And today also marks the day that I put some hydroponics knowledge to the test using left over coconut fiber pieces from my business.

Coconut fiber "beds" for little raddish seeds

I just figure that with all the stress and unrest the world (are narcoblocades, kidnappings, extortion, economic crisis, revolts and political unrest ringing a bell, anyone?) around me and in my own life, putting small, seemingly delicate seeds on a coconut fiber “bed” has been surprisingly soothing. Hopefully my plants will grow and in a few weeks I’ll have something to show for a couple of hours work. Here’s to that ever so tasty, ever so versatile, coco.

For more information on coconut fiber and coconut fiber products, please visit the following links: