Mexico - The Foreign Invasion
( Originally Published 1912 )
MEXICANS being naturally averse to all business enterprise or energetic action, have for years past left the development of their country to the strangers within their gates. Unless he is a man of wealth, the Mexican usually has one ambition, and that is to become a government employee. With this satisfied, he cares little about banking, trading or mining; at any rate, he does not care enough about them to put himself out and work hard. Thus it is ,that while the foreigners in Mexico form a comparatively small percentage of the population, yet their importance is not to be reckoned by mere numbers.
The English-speaking population of Mexico City is about six thousand, of which a very large proportion are Americans. What is true of the capital is also true of the country at large, and throughout Mexico there are more Americans than any other foreign nationality. Within the past decade they have been simply swarming in, and with them have come millions of dollars of American money, which Mexico is destined to find a serious factor some day. Formerly, Americans were engaged simply in mining and railway building, but to-day they are to be found in nearly every branch of commerce. In Mexico City one sees American banks, and agencies for all kinds of American goods, such as sewing-machines, typewriters and agricultural machinery; there are American grocers, druggists, booksellers and fancy goods stores, also tailors, hotels and restaurants. So large a number of Americans are collected in the capital that there is an extensive American quark where there are modern houses and flats, an American club and several American churches.
During the winter season several of our railway companies advertise Mexico extensively as a winter paradise. They give away tens of thousands of beautifully illustrated booklets describing the wonders of the land. They run cheap excursion trains to Mexico and bring down thousands of sight-seeing tourists, most of whom come from the Western states. The newspapers in Mexico City publish, everyday, lists of people stopping at the various hotels. I noticed that the American visitors usually came from such places as Kalamazoo, Mich., Tombstone, Arizona, Cross Roads, Iowa, or Jaytown City, Neb. To most of these people Mexico must certainly seem a land of wonders; they have never been in Europe, and for the first time in their lives they see old churches, cathedrals and ruins, and mingle among people who have a different language and strange customs.
When I first went to Mexico, an old American resident told me that I should find it a triste or melancholy country, and I really believe I should have found it so had it not been for certain of my fellow-citizens that I met. The Mexicans, both the Indians and the whites, are far from lively people and their often sullen faces are wont to de-press you ; but many Westerners whom I met were so unconsciously humorous that they kept up my spirits.
There was, however, about these Western people an air of keen mental alertness which one could not help admiring. The men were eager for information concerning the resources of Mexico, the business opportunities of the country and the chances for profitable investment, while the women displayed equal energy in their sight-seeing and quest for general knowledge. Some business women whom I encountered knew much more about Mexico than the average man, and could talk fluently about the status of its railways, its mines and agricultural developments.
Among such a large number of Western tourists as annually invade Mexico and the increasing number of permanent settlers from the Western states, it is not surprising if there are a great many rough diamonds whose crude behavior often disgraces their country. Unfortunately, the world at large often hears far more of the doings of such people than of the praiseworthy demeanor of the majority of Americans who visit Mexico or make their homes there. In the capital, and, in fact, all over Mexico, there are plenty of Americans who would be a credit to any country, — cultured people who respect Mexican prejudices, and take the trouble to learn Spanish thoroughly. They are often-times ashamed of their crude countrymen, much resenting their coarse behavior, which reflects so unpleasantly on Americans in general.
An American newspaper man, for instance, told me that, while travelling with a party of his fellow-citizens and walking through the streets of a town, they heard the click of a sewing-machine in a Mexican house. One of the women tourists walked into the patio, looked into the sitting-room and then yelled out to the party, "Why, law me, they've actually got a sewing-machine and an American organ in here. Why, they're quite civilized." The Mexican family sat dumfounded with indignation, but before they had time to express it, the intruder disappeared.
Bad as such cases are, however, there is this to be said, that the unpolished American tripper is rarely so offensive on his travels as the low-class Englishman whom one so often meets in continental Europe. There is usually something extremely amusing about the "bad breaks" of the former, and they are always made with such naivete and good nature that you half forgive them because of the hearty laugh they occasion. On the other hand, the antics of the English 'Arry abroad are almost always certain to excite wrath.
One very gratifying feature of life in Mexico is the thoroughly good feeling which exists between Englishmen and Americans resident in the Republic. The ties of language and race seem to draw them together. Not only are they associated very closely in business but also in the social life of the country. In most of the American clubs Englishmen and Canadians are also eligible for member-ship, and the fraternal feeling which exists between the three branches of the English-speaking world shows that no paper treaty is needed to bring them into alliance.
In addition to the American business men and tourists there is a numerous class of Americans in Mexico whom I should call "men with schemes." They hang about the American saloons, which are becoming so general, and are very much in evidence at the cheaper American hotels. Each of them has a scheme with millions in it. Most of them carry a chunk of gold or silver ore in their pockets, taken from some mine with possibilities of enormous wealth. If you enter one of the popular loafing places and listen to the conversation of these men, you will hear "millions of dollars " repeated so often that you might imagine yourself at a convention of the world's plutocrats.
I was seated in the patio of the Iturbide Hotel one day, discussing mining with a friend. He left me for a moment, and a rather seedy-looking individual, with a strong Western accent, sauntered up. "Excuse me, friend," he said, "but I overheard you talking about mines. Now, I've got a little piece of property away down in Guerrero which is worth millions to any man who puts in a few dollars." Here he produced the inevitable piece of silver ore from his pocket. "I suppose," he continued, "you ain't acquainted with no New York capitalists as would like to go in on a good thing. If you could get just a few of your Eastern millionaires interested, there would be something in it for you as well as me." I was obliged shamefacedly to confess to my would-be benefactor that my acquaintance with millionaires was exceedingly limited, and that investors usually required better credentials than a small piece of silver ore.
Most Americans have a firm impression that Mexicans love the United States and that ill-will towards us has practically disappeared. Impartial observers have, however, assured me that a strong anti-American feeling exists in some quarters, for which there are several reasons. In the first place, many Americans in Mexico are much given to boasting that American capital is getting control of all the best mines and otherwise acquiring a great hold on the country. To this is added the bragging of the low-class American - only too common in Mexico — who calls the Mexican "a greaser," and is always asserting that a few hundred Americans could beat the Mexican army and conquer the land.
An American resident told me that while he was lunching one day in a Mexico City restaurant, he heard a party of Westerners discussing the country in very uncomplimentary terms. One of them seemed to be interested in a mining company, which he thought had been unjustly treated by the Mexican government. "If these d—d greasers don't let up on this sort of thing," he said, "we Americans will have to teach them another lesson. Why, man, we could march a few regiments down here from Texas alone, and whip the everlasting stuffing out of them." At a neighboring table sat some young Mexicans, two of them sons of cabinet ministers, and all understanding English perfectly.
From their looks they did not seem to exactly relish the American's remarks.
Mexicans retaliate for this whenever the chance offers. They call Americans "gringos," a term which is said to have arisen during the war with the United States in 1846. Some Mexicans heard the American sailors singing, "Green grow the rashes 0," and tried to mock them, "Gringo" being the result. They also get even in. more unpleasant ways. A German of my acquaintance was summoned as a witness in a lawsuit to testify to a man's character. The judge said to him, "You are an American, senor." "No," replied the German, stating his nationality. "Oh, that's very different," said the judge. He then apologized for summoning him, put a few questions and told him he was at liberty to go, adding more apologies. A friend of his, an American, was next called. " What is your nationality, senor?" asked the judge. "I am an American," was the reply. The judge put on a very severe look, asked all sorts of unpleasant questions, and kept the poor fellow on the rack for about an hour.
Mexicans, in fact, are becoming so jealous and suspicious of Americans that it is likely that this alone may prevent any serious revolution occurring after the retirement or death of President Diaz. The United States has about $750,000,000 invested in Mexico; Great Britain has probably $500,000,000; France, Germany and other countries also have large sums at stake. If civil war broke out in Mexico, the United States, to protect its capitalists and Americans resident in the country, and to prevent any other power from taking coercive measures in defiance of the Monroe doctrine, would undoubtedly march an army into Mexico to restore order. Intelligent Mexicans realize this very thoroughly, and are anxious that such a thing shall never take place.
All attempts of Mexicans to halt the onward march of progress are, however, certain to end in failure. Whether Mexicans like it or not, every year is witnessing a more pronounced Americanization of Mexico, more American settlers are pouring into the country than ever before, and in two more decades their numbers and influence will be formidable. With the increasing use of the English language among the. people, and the education of the masses, old prejudices are gradually disappearing, and the commercial and social ties between Americans and Mexicans are steadily drawing them closer. It is never safe to prophesy unless you know; but it would not be strange if, under these conditions, an Americanized Mexico should some day—perhaps in twenty-five years, or so—become peacefully annexed to the United States.
In France every person who speaks English is called English. I have seen Parisian gamins point at American tourists and heard them remark, "Regardez les Anglais." That is because there are more English than Americans in Paris. In Mexico it is just the reverse. There are more Americans than English, and consequently every person who speaks English is called an American. The natives cannot detect any difference. I was once walking through the Plaza in the capital when I heard an Englishman, who owned an awful Cockney accent, abusing a cabman for overcharging him, and dropping more h's than centavos. One of a party of Mexican loafers standing near by, pointed at the Britisher and remarked, "El Americano no le gusta perder su dinero " (The American doesn't like to lose his money).
Americans are not only gradually Americanizing Mexico, but they are also altering the names of Mexican towns and districts. The Spaniards abbreviated many of the Indian names after the Conquest, and now the Americans are making them still shorter. For example, the City of Mexico is now generally called Mexico City by English-speaking people. The name certainly has the virtue of being more concise. Mexicans simply call the city Mexico Popocatepetl, a difficult name to pronounce, has been shortened by Americans to "Popo." Ixtaccihuatl is known as "Ixy." Some day Guanajuato and Guadalajara probably will be known as " Wahno " and "Wadly."
The other foreign peoples in Mexico are chiefly Spanish, French, German and English, and in a proportion accord-mg to that order. Of course the foreign element is more noticeable in the capital than in the rest of the country. The Spaniards in Mexico are chiefly engaged in the grocery trade; the French confine themselves to drapery, the sale of fancy articles, tailoring and dressmaking; the Germans are bankers, and have almost a monopoly of the hardware trade. The cheap German-made goods are eagerly bought. I myself purchased a pocket-knife which attracted me by the somewhat pretty medallion let into the handle, displaying the face of a dark-eyed senorita. I thought I had captured an example of Mexican industry, but my delusion did not last long. During my travels I happened to meet a German " drummer," and on showing him this knife as a specimen of Mexican skill he burst out laughing. "Vy, mein friendt," he said, "I sold dose knives. Dey vas made by mein firm in Berlin."
The trade of Mexico is to-day chiefly controlled by the United States and Germany, the latter country having of late shown wonderful enterprise. German drummers are encountered almost everywhere, all of them speaking Spanish fluently. The catalogues of German firms, too, are always printed in Spanish, the prices given in Mexican currency, and the goods are specially designed for Mexican trade. British trade was once supreme in Mexico, but owing to lack of proper methods on the part of English firms; this proud position has long been lost.
With decreased business interests the British colony in the capital is naturally a small one, chiefly comprising the managers of several important British companies and their subordinates. But while British influence in Mexico has thus declined, that of Canada, strangely enough, has correspondingly increased. Canada's stake in the country has recently become so large in mines and other enterprises, in fact, that it has been found necessary to appoint a Canadian commercial agent whose duty it is to safeguard Canada's vested interests and to report to the Dominion government on openings for capital, etc. The great Electric Light and Power Company, which supplies Mexico City, is a Canadian corporation. Canadian banks are rapidly extending their business in the country, and Canadians share with Americans the financing of the electric and street railway business. A Canadian company owns the Mexico City street-car lines, and Canadian investors are now taking a leading interest in water-power schemes.
The Mexican is not born to be a business man. He is not possessed of any gifts of invention or initiative, and he detests the hustle and worry of commercial life. Nearly all commerce is, therefore, in the hands of foreigners. All the modern improvements in Mexico have been established by them and with their capital.
In this connection it may be remarked that a fact which impresses most visitors in Mexico is the number of foreign clerks that are employed in American, English and Canadian offices, oftentimes in places where it would seem that Mexicans would do much better. Many of the foreign firms which employ young Mexicans complain, however, that they are lazy and frivolous. Of course there is a great deal in the point of view; and perhaps a Frenchman, an Italian or a Spaniard of the same Latin race would not find these young fellows so light-headed and inefficient as do Anglo-Saxons. It is also true that many young Mexicans who have been educated in England or the United States are attaining a high position in the professional and business life of the Republic. Nevertheless, the fact remains that most of the younger natives think too much about senoritas, bullfights and gambling and too little about their work; in short, they do not take life seriously enough. An American railway manager said to me: "It is impossible to get a young Mexican to assume any responsibility or take any initiative. He has to be told the same thing over and over again. I would rather have one bright young American in my office than three average Mexicans."
The exports of Mexico are mainly silver, gold, copper and other minerals ; hemp, mahogany, cedar and dye-woods, tobacco, coffee, hides, india-rubber, fruit, vanilla, etc. Those who have not travelled in the country can have no conception of its marvellous richness. Possessing every range of climate, and soils capable of producing every variety of fruit, vegetable and flower; with mineral wealth of amazing extent; and with vast areas peculiarly adapted for sheep and cattle, it is indeed a land of wonders. But although so potentially wealthy, Mexico is still in her in-fancy as regards the development of her resources. The success of foreign companies and the large and steady dividends they are able to pay are proving that the land of the Aztecs is a profitable field for investment. It must year by year become more so; but a fraction of its wondrous resources have been tapped, and under its present firm government the country is always going forward and must have a magnificent destiny.
An interesting feature of Mexico is the number of children of American and English parentage who are growing up all over the country and are bound to exercise a great influence on its future. Born and educated in Mexico, they are likely to make their homes there; and as they speak both English and Spanish, the Mexican children with whom they play imbibe their ideas of freedom and progress. Many Mexicans holding a high position in the Republic are of British or American descent, notably Senor Creel, the Mexican Ambassador to the United States, and Senor Pankhurst, governor of the State of Zacatecas.
Very few English or Americans marry Mexican women, but a large number of Germans do so. The Germans affiliate with the Mexicans much better than do the English or Americans, one reason for which is that they go to Mexico to establish their permanent residence there, while most Americans and Englishmen wish only to make their fortunes and then to return to their native lands. While travelling in Mexico I frequently heard little Teutons — boys and girls — with flaxen hair and blue eyes, speaking Spanish fluently. They were the children of Germans with Mexican wives. These German-Mexican children usually speak three languages, German, Spanish and English ; but they seem to become much more Mexicanized than the American or English children brought up in Mexico. All the European children of whole or half blood reared in Mexico appear to suffer from the climate, having a general look of sickliness, with pale, colorless faces.
Mexico is a tempting land for the business man, as it offers him large profits, for the most part easily made. The salaries, too, for commercial clerks and skilled laborers, engineers, etc., are a great deal higher than those obtainable in Europe. On the other hand, the cost of living is far greater. For the unskilled worker, the mere clerk or the day laborer, Mexico offers no opportunities. The man who has the best chance there is the small capitalist with about ten thousand dollars, who is careful in his investments. At first he must work harder than he would at home; but if he is steady, he will scarcely fail to get on. First of all he must learn the ways of the country and to speak Spanish. Of the easier ways of making money the lest are storekeeping, any sound manufacture, cattle-raising, timber, tobacco, sugar and coffee, fruit farms, rubber and mining. The country is so vast and the districts which are being opened up by the railways are so fertile and so rich in minerals that there is an almost unlimited demand for foreign capital throughout Mexico.
During my stay in Mexico I came across some wonderful instances of men of small means having become wealthy. One of the leading bankers of Mexico City, a Canadian, was formerly a railway conductor, and is now one of the richest men in the country. Another Canadian, who is the leading druggist in the capital, and has stores all over Mexico, came down only a few years ago with a small stock of patent medicines and started in a humble way. The proprietor of the biggest hardware establishment — equalling any store of the kind in the United States — is an enter-prising German who was a drummer only a short time ago. A clerk who had a salary of a hundred dollars a month and bought a small mining property which proved to be a bonanza is now one of the wealthiest men in southern Mexico.
The Mexican laws affecting investors are generous and, as a rule, are fairly administered, everything possible being done to avoid prejudicing foreign interests. If, therefore, Americans only realized the opportunities Mexico affords for the investment of capital there would soon be so much money forthcoming from this country that our national stake in Mexico's prosperity would be even greater than it already is.
There are several foreign quarters, in Mexico City, the largest of these being the American, already referred to, which is situated in the vicinity of the Paseo de la Reforma. In and about this quarter most of the English and Canadians also reside and fraternize with the Americans. The Mexican Herald devotes almost a page every day to the doings of the American colony, its dances, receptions and other social functions. There are also German, Italian and French quarters, but not so much is heard of them. All along the Paseo wide asphalted streets are being laid out, planted with grass-plots and double rows of trees. Three new districts, known as the Colonia Reforma, the Colonia Roma and Colonia Santa Maria, have been built up with American capital, and during the past ten years the value of land has advanced nearly a thousand per cent, many lucky investors having made large fortunes.
Strange to say, very few of the modern houses have fire-places or any other system of heating. Americans, who always have their houses well heated at home, evidently prefer to follow the Mexican custom and sit about shivering. I heard a good story of a young Englishman who occupied a flat in the American colony, and, determining to be comfortable, installed an American stove. His rooms were so cosey that his friends increased rapidly; men got into the habit of saying, "Let's go round to Smith's place, it's so comfortable." The Briton had only a small income, but he fell in love with a wealthy American's daughter. When she broke the news to her stern 'parent, to her surprise, he said, "Marry him, my daughter, with my blessing. I like that young fellow. He knows enough to make a comfortable home for himself, and he is bound to make one for his wife." The truth was that the old gentle-man had been one of the most frequent callers at Smith's flat on cold nights, and was determined not to lose such a comfortable lounging place.
An outgrowth of American social life in the capital is the Country Club, which has a fine club-house at Cherubusco, a beautiful suburb. It stands in the midst of large grounds and on the borders of a lake, clear as crystal, fed from an artesian well. While the golf links are the chief attraction, cricket, tennis, football and other sports are enjoyed.
American business men have an American business club in the city, and English residents have established the British Club. Football matches between American and English teams formed of members of the two clubs frequently take place during the winter season. The Germans have the finest men's club, a large new building with a splendid gymnasium, a bowling alley, a beer hall, and other Teutonic attractions. The Spaniards and French also have their clubs, the largest Spanish club being the Casino Espanol, with eight hundred members, which occupies a fine old mansion, rivalling the famous Jockey Club. Even the Chinese have established a club of their own, which has a membership of nearly four hundred.