Category Archives: Parenting Challenges and Cultural Norms

Tiene azucar? — Diabetes in Mexico

Tiene azucar? (Do you have sugar?) is the local way to ask if you have diabetes. It’s not uncommon to see people who have had their feet or legs cut off because of complications with diabetes. The lady who talked to herself on the way to La Yacata had untreated diabetes. She died of a diabetic coma a few years ago at the age of 45. When my son was in elementary, parents were required to attend a workshop on how to diagnose diabetes in our children. We were to look for a purplish ring around their necks that looks like mugre (dirt) but that doesn’t wash off. 

According to the World Health Organization, diabetes is the number one cause of death with nearly 80,000 deaths per year. Mexicans with diabetes die on average younger, at 57 years, compared to the overall age of 69. Early death is not the only side effect. Diabetes can cause strokes, kidney failure, foot ulcers, nerve damage, and blindness.  By 2050, health care practitioners estimate that half of the population of Mexico will have diabetes.

One factor in developing Type 2 diabetes is lifestyle choices. Over the past 40 years, Mexicans have gotten fat. Soda consumption is out of control with an average of more than 176 liters per person per year. It’s hard to find a meal not accompanied by a coke, “la chispa de la vida.” Even breakfast might be served as a bolillo de trigo (wheat bun) and coke. In most areas, a can of soda is cheaper than a bottle of water. High alcohol consumption is another factor in the high sugar diet so popular these days, sugar tax be damned.

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You are what you eat!

The diet has changed as well. Moving from a predominantly plant-based diet based around corn, the average Mexican now consumes more than double the amount of meat consumed in 1960. Carnitas (fried pork) stands can be found on nearly every corner.

In addition to poor diet, Mexicans have become less active overall. Children don’t run and frolic outdoors, but instead huddle in corners playing hour after hour on their cell phones, tablets, and Xboxes leading to a rise in childhood obesity and early onset of Type 2 diabetes.

Of course, it’s not all in the diet. Mexicans also have a genetic predisposition towards developing Type 2 diabetes which compounds the problem.

And the prevalence of this disease places a burden on the healthcare system currently in place. Estimates average more than $700 USD per year per person out of pocket expenses for diabetes maintenance (insulin injections, test strips, pills) and that doesn’t include the cost of dialysis and kidney transplants that are services also not covered under Seguro Popular. Since minimum wage is still under $5.00 USD per day, this is a huge expense for many families

More education about the prevention and management of diabetes is needed. The general idea I hear is that we all die from something, we might as well die fat and happy. And you can bet, their death will be celebrated in grand style, carnitas (fried pork) and coke all around at the velorio and novena perpetuating the cycle.

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Filed under Cultural Challenges, Death and all its trappings, Health, Parenting Challenges and Cultural Norms

Schooling in Mexico

The educational system in Mexico has changed drastically in the 11 years I have lived in Mexico. Our son attended kinder (kindergarten), primaria (elementary) and secundaria (middle school). I have taught at the kinder (kindergarten) and primaria (elementary) levels here in Mexico. So I’ve been able to experience the system both as a parent and as a teacher.

A guardería is a daycare provider.

First, let’s talk about the guardería. This is NOT a school but rather a daycare. Children are eligible to attend starting at 45 days old and ending at 4 years of age. Literally, the day after a child is 4, he or she will no longer be permitted to attend. This has caught some parents unaware and lead to mad scrambling to find a kinder (preschool) that has space for their 4-year-old son or daughter. Although children can enter kinder at age 2, many parents prefer the guardería because of the extended hours.

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An estancia infantil is a government-sponsored daycare facility.

There are also estancias infantiles, which are government supported guarderías designed to provide childcare for single mothers who are working or studying. Children can attend once they are one year old until one day prior to their 4th birthday. If the child has special needs or is disabled, he or she can continue to attend until one day prior to his or her 6th birthday.

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A jardín de niños is for preschool and kindergarten aged students. 

Moving on to preschool. What is known as el jardín de niños (Garden of children) in Mexico is both pre-school and kindergarten. Some schools even offer guardería levels. Children between 45 days old and 2 years are considered lactantes (milk drinkers). Those between two and three years old are categorized as maternales (mothering). And beginning from age 3 years to 6 years the children are divided into three groups: primero (first grade), followed by segundo (second grade) and tercero (third grade).

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A private school offers both kindergarten and elementary levels.

The age placement has been a little troublesome to me because all children born in the year, whether on January 1 or December 31 were grouped together. This means that some children were a full year younger than their classmates. This age lumping continues through elementary, which seriously impacts the overall success rate of children born later in the year. Recently, some efforts have been made to close that developmental gap. Beginning in 2018, children entering primero must be 4 years old prior to August 1.

Third graders, mostly 5-6 years old, are taught to read and write. This may seem a little young for English speakers who typically learn to read at about age 7, however, Spanish is more of a syllabic language rather than whole word language and therefore easier to learn phonetically.

Although 3 years of kinder attendance is mandatory it seems only attending tercero (third grade) is strictly enforced in Mexico. From what I’ve seen, a child’s kinder attendance eases the transition to primaria (elementary school). After all, a kinder trained child already knows to line up, sit in a chair, work on classwork, listen to the teacher, ask to use the bathroom, do homework and so on. Most parents in our area try to send their children to a private kinder rather than one run by the government, mostly because of classroom size. Although by law, there can only be a maximum of 20 students per classroom, if there is a teacher’s aide, that number can be increased by 10. In reality, this number is often even larger.

Kinders tend to have more parent involvement than the other levels. There are usually parent/child events scheduled each month centered around the holidays. The school year runs parallel to the primaria school year which is currently 200 days.  Most kinders have a school day that runs from 9 am to 1:30 pm.

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Primaria is elementary.

Entering primero (first grade) at the primaria (elementary) level most students know how the basics of reading and writing in Spanish. Again, there is the issue of younger students who are just not at the same level as older classmates and fall behind although as of 2018, students entering first grade must have already turned 6 before August 15

Both public and private schools follow a SEP mandated curriculum. Private schools are considered better because of the smaller classroom size. However, having taught at a private school, I can tell you there is a trade-off. Although most of my classes had less than 20 students, about 3/4 of them had some sort of behavior or learning issue. Whereas my son’s classes at the public elementary school had anywhere between 30-40 students with 3 or 4 students having behavioral or learning issues.

Grades at all levels, with the exception of kinder which uses satisfactory/unsatisfactory,  follow the same protocol: 80% attendance is mandatory for grade completion. Students are evaluated on a scale of 10 with 6 being the lowest passing grade. At the primaria level, students can not be held back unless both teacher and parent get a waiver approved from SEP (board of education) so the lowest possible grade for an elementary student is 6.0 regardless of actual understanding of a subject.

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Notice the two names, one above the door and one in front of the door. Two schools share this building.

Attending primaria is mandatory until age 14. School times vary. In many areas, there are matutino (morning) and vespertino (afternoon/evening) schools using the same building. The hours for the matutino run from 8 am to 12:30 and for the vespertina 2 pm to 6:30 pm. Everyone wants the morning classes it seems, although there is no reason to think students learn any better in the morning. Besides, the teachers are usually also working two shifts at different schools, so even the teachers are the same.

There is also what is known as Primaria de Tiempo Completo (full-time elementary). The school day begins at 8 am and may either finish at 2:30 or 4 pm. The extended hours are meant to provide other extra classes that the regular school day does not leave time for, like English or computer classes.

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Secundaria is middle school.

The next level is secundaria (middle school) which is 3 years. Students may be as young as 11 when they begin but the typical age grouping is as follows: Primer año de secundaria: 12 años, Segundo año de secundaria: 13 años, Tercer año de secundaria: 14 años. Remember, schooling is only mandatory up until 14 years of age in Mexico, so there is a large drop-out rate at this level. There are also matutino (7:00 am to 1:40) and vespertino (2:00 to 8:10 pm) sessions at this level since many schools share the buildings.

Classes include algebra, Spanish, English, history, and Formación Cívica y Ética (Mexican moral values) just like in elementary school. There are art, music and P.E. classes as well. The best addition to the curriculum was the elective carpentry class my son took. The students in his school were given the options of electricity, carpentry, auto mechanics, bookkeeping or clothing design for their elective and had a taller (workshop class) twice a week for the 3 years they were enrolled at the secundaria (middle school) level. The idea was to provide marketable skills for the students should they not continue their education past this level.

Some rural areas do not have middle schools but do have telesecundarias where students are in a classroom and the teacher teaches from another location and class is broadcasted to the students. Believe it or not, students who attend telesecundaries have some of the best educational outcomes. Perhaps the fortitude it takes to learn this way is a good predictor of ultimate success?

Mexico has a fairly good setup to provide opportunities for adults over the age of 15 to complete their secondary education through the Instituto Nacional para la Educación de los Adultos (INEA). Considering that 63% of 25 to 64-year-olds in Mexico haven’t obtained their diploma from the secundaria, there is a huge need in this sector. Materials and classroom instruction are provided free of charge and teachers volunteer their time in both urban areas and remote communities.

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A prepa abierto offering early morning class or all day Saturday classes.

Preparatoria (high school) is the following educational rung to climb and is not mandatory. Students are usually between 15 and 18 years old and this segment is also 3 years in duration divided into 6 semesters. You may also hear the term bachillerato general used to refer to these years of study.

Considering most rural areas lack secundarias, even fewer have preparatorias. In some areas, students who are serious about their education take the bus every morning, sometimes for more than an hour, to attend prepa. Although most students still follow the traditional route, there is a relatively new online version available through SEP and other higher learning institutes. My son is enrolled in the preparatoria en línea through UVEG. He has one course per month to complete and will finish 6 months before his friends who are attending a regular prepa and with the same diploma. There are also Preparatorias Abiertas, which offer classes early mornings during the week or alternatively only on Saturdays all day to accommodate students who need to work.

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The local office of UVEG which offers online prepa and university degrees.

Similar to the U.S., a high school diploma doesn’t prepare you much for life in the real world. So students are encouraged to continue on to the university level. Although there are ample excellent universities available to choose from in Mexico, enrollment in higher education institutes is one of the lowest percentages in the world with  53% of 15-19-year-olds currently attending school past the required levels despite having the one of the largest population of young adults between these ages. This might be ok if these potential students were working, but about 20% of 15-19-year-olds are neither employed nor enrolled in school. Additionally, higher education does not equate more job opportunities in Mexico. In fact, Mexico and Korea are the only countries where more people with advanced degrees are unemployed than those who have completed only basic education.

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A satellite campus for the Universidad de Leon

Be that as it may, a 4-year bachelor’s degree at the undergraduate level is called Licenciatura, which is followed by a 2-year Master’s degree known as Maestría, and a 3-year Doctorado, followed by the higher doctorate of Doctor en Ciencias. Currently, about 23% of Mexicans aged 23–35 have a college degree.

Once you have completed a program at the university level and received your Licenciatura in the field of study you completed you can add Licenciado in front of your name. For example, I have a Bachelor’s of Science in Education from a U.S. university. Therefore, I am Licenciada (Lic.) Flores. People put great store by titles here, so if you are entitled to it, use one. Instead of Licenciado, engineers use the title Ingeniero (Ing.) and architects use the title Arquitecto (Arq.) but they amount to the same thing.

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This private school offers preschool, elementary, middle school and high school levels.

I hope this brief overview of the Mexican education system helps you navigate its murky seas a little better!

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Filed under Education, Parenting Challenges and Cultural Norms

Planning a party in Mexico

Mexico loves to celebrate! You’d be hard pressed to find a family that hasn’t shared their life events with the friends and family in the form of a fiesta! And really, why not? Life events from christening to funerals, all have their own form of celebration.

 

More often than not, parties are not held at the celebrant’s house, but at a rented Salón de eventos (party hall) or cabaña (cabin). The owner will provide electricity, bathrooms and a clean-up crew, but usually not much else.

So the next party stop is to make arrangements with a place that advertises Se renta sillas y mesas (tables and chairs for rent). You’ll request a certain number of chairs and tables and sometimes tablecloths to be delivered to the rented venue shortly before the event. You’ll need to ask specifically whether the chairs and tables will be set up for you, or if you’ll need to have that done by the nieces and nephews an hour or so before the party. Just so you know, most often the chairs are flimsy metal contraptions with not nearly enough seat for your rump marked with the Corona logo.

A lot of people have the decorations made, which adds a personal touch to the event. Weddings and Quinceañera especially have adornments from florerías and tortilla servilletas (napkins) hand embroidered with names and dates from those ladies that sit in the market. Be aware that these are meant to be gifts for attendees, along with the larger table decorations, so if you want one as a memento, set it aside BEFORE the party otherwise you might just find there’s not a single one left.

On the other hand, there are places that rent themed decorations for events. These are NOT meant to be taken as souvenirs. The decorator will charge you for missing items so make sure your guests know the decorations are rented. You might be able to rent nicer tables and chairs from these party planners as well.

 

You will be able to hire a DJ (sonido) and servers (meseros) at places that advertise those services. Often the chair and table renters can refer you to a cousin that will be able to meet your music and serving needs.

The food is ordered from an establishment that specializes in that particular food preparation. Carnitas are the most common party fare so you would make arrangements with one of the regular carnita sellers to fry you up some pig during the day so that it will be sizzling hot when lunch/dinner is served. Usually, the food preparer will make arrangements for delivery, but it’s best to check. The same is true for cakes from the pastelerías.

Tortillas are also ordered ahead of time from a Tortillería. My sister-in-law often gets orders of 30 kilos or more for events. The host (or person in charge of the food for the event) places and pays for the order and she makes arrangements for her ladies to come at a specific time so that the tortillas will be piping hot for the event. She wraps them in tin-foil and keeps them hot in a cooler. She doesn’t deliver, so someone needs to make sure someone picks up the tortillas at her establishment before the party.

More luxurious parties might have a hired bartender or maybe el primo de su tía handling drink orders. Most parties have 2-liter soda bottles scattered along the table and people serve themselves. Many party guests bring their own alcohol as well, occasionally bottles are provided by the host in the spirit of self-serve.

Plates, cups, napkins, and eating utensils, even at most fancy dancy parties, are desechables (disposable) and purchased in bulk by the host, not the meal preparer at stores that sell desechables.

If your party calls for a piñata, make sure you fill it up with a mixed selected from the Dulcería (candy shop), otherwise, the whackers will be sorely disappointed when nothing but confetti falls out.

Many salones de fiestas (party halls) have a children’s play area. You can also rent inflables or brincolines which are those inflatable slides or jumpy castles to add to the fun. Make sure you have an extension cord long enough to power the inflator.

Make sure to book a videographer for pictures and a video montage of the event. Most foto estudios offer this service.

Make-up and hairdressing are done at a salón de belleza (beauty salon) or you can hire a beautician to come to your home prior to the event for some beautifying. Manis and pedis can be set up at places that offer Aplicacion De Uñas (nail application).

While women often buy their party outfits, men often have the option to rent their suits or mariachi costumes. These however often require tailor fittings beforehand, so check with the establishment on making arrangements.

Financing an all-out shindig comes from the pockets of the padrinos (godparents). Take, for example, the Quinceañera. Every aspect of the event has a specific madrina/padrino.  It’s important to acknowledge the contribution of each and every madrina/padrino publically so as to avoid offense. In fact, best to thank them several times in front of an audience over the course of the event. For the most part, these “contributions” make up the “gifts” to the celebrant rather than a pile of wrapped boxes. If you are asked to stand as madrina/padrino for a life event, make sure you know exactly what you will be responsible for.

I’ve seen a few invitations for events but for the most part, attendees are invited personally or brought along by someone who was invited personally or is a madrina/padrino for the event so don’t be alarmed if there is a sizable section of people you don’t know at your party. There’s always enough food and drink and if not, there’s always someone willing to go find more.

If you are dead set on invitations, you can make a master copy and have them printed out or copied at a place that advertises Se Hacen Copias (Copies made here). I wouldn’t recommend printing them on your own printer because printer  ink is extremely expensive.  Then you can spruce them up with sparkles or colors.

Parties quite often last long into the night and maybe part of the early morning. Somebody will bring the Café de olla (pot coffee) to keep you awake. The important thing is to remember is that you are making memories commemorating these transitional life events and not to be too fussed about those little annoyances (or that loud-mouth sister-in-law) that come up. Now go and have fun!

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Filed under Mexican Food and Drink, Mexican Holidays, Parenting Challenges and Cultural Norms, Small Business in Mexico

Birthday Boy

My son turned 16 in May. We opted to invite some of the family over for a cookout.  It went better than I expected. As you’ll see, Mexico does its own thing when it comes to birthdays.

In the morning, just at dawn, my husband and I crept into my son’s room to “dar el remojo” (give the soaking). Instead of birthday spankings, water is dumped on the birthday boy or girl. Way before the Catholic church arrived to baptize the indigenous people, rain was the blessing given by the gods. El cumpleaños (anniversary of completing years rather than the day you were born) deserves some liberal blessing libations, don’t you think? Of course, my son sputtered and flopped about like a drenched chicken, but a little water never hurt anyone (except the Wicked Witch of the West but she isn’t known here in Mexico).

In the afternoon, after we ate all the tacos we could eat, it was time for the cake. Instead of singing “Happy Birthday” the traditional song is “Las Mañanitas” which is also sung on Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day, the Virgin of Guadalupe’s day and saints’ days. It’s a pretty song used for serenading. Typically, only the first verse is sung at birthdays followed by a coro (cheer) “A la bim, a la bam, a la bim bom bam, (name of the person, name of the person) Ra, ra, ra.” As it’s all nonsense, no translation is needed. Remember, in Mexico, more often than not, your birthday and the day to honor the Saint for which you were named are the same day, thus “el dia de tu santo” (your saint’s day) in the song still applies although it is sometimes altered to “tu cumpleaños.”

Las Mañanitas (1)

Despierta (nombre de la persona) despiertaPasó el tiempo de dormirYa los gallos muy contentos cantaron kikirikiYa viene amaneciendoya la luz del dia nos dió.Levantarte de la mañana,miAfter the singing, the chant begins “Que le sople. Que le sople.” encouraging the birthday boy or girl to blow out the candle. The next step is “Que le muerda. Que le muerda.”  The birthday boy/girl is instructed to take a bite out of the cake which inevitably results in a face plant when someone attacks from behind. Then the chant changes to “Que le parta. Que le parta.” indicating it is time for the cake to be cut and served. 

Breaking a piñata at a birthday party is typically only found at parties for the very young, and well-to-do families, or so says my husband.  Considering he came from a family with 11 children, it really wouldn’t have been affordable to have a piñata for every child’s birthday, so I can see his point. We have had piñatas in the past, but not this year. For the same reason, giving birthday gifts isn’t one of my husband’s family’s traditions. Thus, this was my son’s lone b-day present all decked out in Spiderman, for old times sake.

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So there you have it–the low-key event marking my son’s 16th birthday.

 

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Filed under Mexican Holidays, Parenting Challenges and Cultural Norms