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In Casa Grande the monthly income per capita ranged from 23 to 500
pesos
($3 to $40 at the current rate of exchange). Sixty-eight percent showed per capita incomes of 200
pesos
or less per month, ($16), 22 percent between 201 and 300
pesos
($24), and ten percent between 301 and 500
pesos
. In Panaderos over 85 percent of the households had an average monthly income of less than 200
pesos
, or $16, none had over 200
pesos
and 41 percent had less than 100
pesos
.

Monthly rent for a one-room apartment in Casa Grande ranged from 30 to 50
pesos
($2.40 to $4); in Panaderos from 15 to 30
pesos
, ($1.20 to $2.40). Many families consisting of husband, wife and four small children managed to live on from 8 to 10
pesos
a day (64
¢
to 80
¢
) for food. Their diet consisted of black coffee,
tortillas
, beans and chile.

In Casa Grande there was a wide range of level of education, varying from twelve adults who had never attended school to one woman who had attended for eleven years. The average number of years of school attendance was 4.7. Only 8 percent of the residents were illiterate, and 20 percent of the marriages were of the free-union type.

In Panaderos, the level of school attendance was 2.1 years; there was not a single primary-school graduate; 40 percent of the population was illiterate; and 46 percent of the marriages were free unions. In Casa Grande only about a third of the families were related by blood ties and about a fourth by marriages and
compadrazgo
. In Panderos half the families were related by blood and all were bound by ties of
compradzgo
.

The Sánchez family was one of a random sample of seventy-one families selected for study in the Casa Grande. Jesús Sánchez was in the middle-income group in the
vecindad
, earning a wage of 12.50
pesos
, or one dollar a day, as a food buyer in the La Gloria restaurant. He could hardly support even himself on this amount and supplemented his income by selling lottery tickets, by raising and selling pigs, pigeons, chickens, and singing birds, and, in all probability, by receiving “commissions” in the markets. Jesús was secretive about these extra sources of income, but with them he managed to support, on a very modest scale, three different households located in widely
separated parts of the city. At the time of my investigation, he lived with his younger, favorite wife, Delila, in a room on the Street of the Lost Child, where he supported her, his two children by her, her son by her first husband, her mother, and the four children of his son Manuel. Jesús’ older wife, Lupita, their two daughters, and two grandchildren, all of whom he supported, lived in a small house he had built in the El Dorado Colony on the outskirts of the city. Jesús also maintained the room in the Casa Grande for his daughter Marta and her children, his daughter Consuelo, and his son Roberto.

Except for an old radio, there were no luxury items in the Sánchez home in the Casa Grande, but there was usually enough to eat and the family could boast of having had more education than most of their neighbors. Jesús had had only one year of schooling, but Manuel, his eldest son, had completed the six grades of primary school. Consuelo had also graduated from primary school and had completed two years of commercial school as well. Roberto left school in the third grade; Marta completed the fourth.

The Sánchez family differed from some of their neighbors by having a servant, who came during the day to clean, do the laundry, and prepare the meals. This was after the death of Jesús’ first wife, Lenore, and while the children were young. The servant was a neighbor or relative, usually a widow or a deserted wife who was willing to work for very little pay. Although this gave the family some prestige, it was not a sign of wealth and was not unusual in the
vecindad
.

I was introduced to the Sánchez household by one of my
vecindad
friends. On my first visit I found the door ajar, and as I waited for someone to answer my knock, I could see the rather dreary, run-down interior. The little vestibule which housed the kitchen and the toilet was badly in need of painting and was furnished with only a two-burner kerosene stove, a table, and two unpainted wooden chairs. Neither the kitchen nor the larger bedroom beyond the inner doorway had any of the air of self-conscious prosperity I had seen in some of the better-to-do Casa Grande rooms.

Consuelo came to the door. She looked thin and pale and explained that she had just recovered from a serious illness. Marta, her younger sister, carrying an infant wrapped in a shawl, joined her but said nothing. I explained that I was a North American professor and anthropologist and had spent a number of years living in a Mexican
village studying its customs. I was now comparing the life of city
vecindad
families with that of the village and was looking for people in the Casa Grande who would be willing to help me.

To get things started, I asked where they thought people were better off, in the country or in the city. After a few questions of this nature, which I had used to advantage in previous interviews, I began at once with some of the items on my first questionnaire. These called for the sex, age, place of birth, education, occupation, and work history of each family member.

I was almost finished with these questions when the father, Jesús Sánchez, walked in brusquely, carrying a sack of food supplies over his shoulder. He was a short, stocky, energetic man, with Indian features, dressed in blue denim overalls and a straw hat, a cross between a peasant and a factory worker. He left the sack with Marta, spoke a few words of greeting to Marta and Consuelo, and turned suspiciously to ask what I wanted. He answered my questions in short order, stating that country life was far superior to city life because the young became corrupt in the city, especially when they did not know how to take advantage of what the city offered. He then said he was in a hurry and left as abruptly as he had entered.

At my next interview in the Sánchez household, I met Roberto, the second son. He was taller and a shade darker than the other members of the family and had the physique of a trained athlete. He was pleasant and soft-spoken and gave me the impression of being unusually polite and respectful. He was always polite to me, even when he was drunk. I did not meet Manuel, the elder brother, until many months later because he was out of the country at the time.

In the weeks and months that followed, I continued my work with the other sample families in the
vecindad
. I had completed the data I needed on the Sánchez family after four interviews, but I would frequently stop at the Sánchez house to chat casually with Consuelo or Marta or Roberto, all of whom were friendly and offered useful information on
vecindad
life. As I began to learn something about each member of the family, I became aware that this single family seemed to illustrate many of the social and psychological problems of lower-class Mexican life. At this point I decided to try a study in depth. First Consuelo, then Roberto and Marta agreed to tell me their life stories, stories which were taped with their knowledge and permission. When Manuel returned, he also co-operated. My work
with Jesús began after I had been studying his children for six months. It was difficult to gain his confidence, but when he finally agreed to allow me to record his life story, this further enhanced my relationship with his children.

Because of the need for privacy in obtaining an independent version of each life history, most of the recording was done in my office and home. Most of the sessions were recorded individually, but on my return visits to Mexico in 1957, 1958, and 1959, I managed to have group discussions with two or three family members at a time. Occasionally, I recorded at their home in the Casa Grande. However, they talked more freely when they were away from their
vecindad
. I also found it helpful to keep the microphone out of their sight by attaching it to their clothing; in this way we could carry on our conversations as if it weren’t there.

In obtaining the detailed and intimate data of these life stories, I used no secret techniques, no truth drugs, no psychoanalytic couch. The most effective tools of the anthropologist are sympathy and compassion for the people he studies. What began as a professional interest in their lives turned into warm and lasting friendships. I became deeply involved in their problems and often felt as though I had two families to look after, the Sánchez family and my own. I have spent hundreds of hours with members of the family; I have eaten in their homes, have attended their dances and festive occasions, have accompanied them to their places of work, have met their relatives and friends, have gone with them on pilgrimages, to church, to the movies, and to sports events.

The Sánchez family learned to trust and confide in me. They would call upon me and my wife in times of need or crisis, and we helped them through illness, drunkenness, trouble with the police, unemployment and family quarrels. I did not follow the common anthropological practice of paying them as informants (not informers!), and I was struck by the absence of monetary motivation in their relationship with me. Basically, it was their sense of friendship that led them to tell me their life stories. The reader should not underestimate their courage in bringing forth as they did the many painful memories and experiences of their lives. To some extent this served as a catharsis and relieved their anxieties. They were moved by my sustained interest in them, and my return to Mexico year after year was a crucial factor in increasing their confidence. Their positive image of the
United States as a “superior” country undoubtedly enhanced my status with them and placed me in the role of a benevolent authority figure rather than the punishing one they were so accustomed to in their own father. Their identification with my work and their sense of participation in a scientific research project, however vaguely they conceived of its ultimate objectives, gave them a sense of satisfaction and of importance which carried them beyond the more limited horizons of their daily lives. They have often told me that if their stories would help human beings anywhere, they would feel a sense of accomplishment.

In the course of our interviews I asked hundreds of questions of Manuel, Roberto, Consuelo, Marta, and Jesús Sánchez. Naturally, my training as an anthropologist, my years of familiarity with Mexican culture, my own values, and my personality influenced the final outcome of this study. While I used a directive approach in the interviews, I encouraged free association, and I was a good listener. I attempted to cover systematically a wide range of subjects: their earliest memories; their dreams, their hopes, fears, joys and sufferings; their jobs; their relationship with friends, relatives, employers; their sex life; their concepts of justice, religion, and politics; their knowledge of geography and history; in short, their total view of the world. Many of my questions stimulated them to express themselves on subjects which they might otherwise never have thought of or volunteered information about. However, the answers were their own.

In preparing the interviews for publication, I have eliminated my questions and have selected, arranged, and organized their materials into coherent life stories. If one agrees with Henry James that life is all inclusion and confusion while art is all discrimination and selection, then these life histories have something of both art and life. I believe this in no way reduces the authenticity of the data or their usefulness for science. For those of my colleagues who are interested in the raw materials, I have the taped interviews available.

The editing has been more extensive in some cases than in others. Manuel, by far the most fluent and dramatic storyteller in the family, needed relatively little editing. His story reflects much of its original structure. The Manuel story perhaps more than the others, however, loses a great deal in transcription and translation because he is a born actor with a great gift for nuance, timing, and intonation. A single question would often elicit an uninterrupted monologue of
forty minutes. Roberto spoke readily, though less dramatically and more simply, about his adventures, but he was more constrained and reticent about his inner feelings and his sex life. In the case of Consuelo, a great deal of editing was necessary because of the superabundance of material. In addition to the taped interviews, she also wrote extensively on various incidents about which I had questioned her. Marta showed the least facility for extended monologue and for organization of ideas. For a long time she would answer most of my questions with a single sentence or phrase. In this respect she was like her father. With time and encouragement, however, both of them became more fluent and had their moments of eloquence.

Manuel was the least inhibited in using typical slum slang, with its profanity and strong sexual metaphor. Roberto, too, spoke quite naturally but he would often preface some rough expression with a polite “By your kind permission, Doctor.” Marta, too, spoke her natural idiom. Consuelo and her father were the most formal and “correct” and rarely used vulgar terms during the recording sessions.

The translation of lower-class Mexican Spanish has presented formidable and in some ways insoluble problems, particularly in attempting to find equivalents for slang expressions, idioms, and jokes with sexual innuendo. I have tried to capture the essential meaning and flavor of the language rather than to render a literal translation. Inevitably, some of the unique quality and charm of the original as well as the personal style of each individual has been lost. The English translation gives a surprisingly high level of language and vocabulary to relatively unlettered people. The fluency of language and the vocabulary of Mexicans, be they peasants or slum dwellers, have always impressed me. On the whole, the language of Manuel and Consuelo is somwhat richer than that of Roberto and Marta, perhaps because the former have had more schooling. Manuel’s use of such sophisticated terms as “subconscious,” “luminaries,” and “portentous opulence” may be surprising, but Manuel reads the Spanish version of the
Reader’s Digest
and has a flair for intellectuality. Moreover, in this day and age, even illiterate slum dwellers pick up advanced ideas and terminology from TV, radio and movies.

BOOK: The Children of Sanchez
9.39Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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