My Book World
Never has an “old” book seemed so relevant. Lewis’s tome, by now, is history, but he takes five Mexican families (some of whom he has known since the 1940s) in the 1950s and makes a study of them. According to his own account, his approach is multi-faceted: 1) a holistic approach with regard to a single family 2) through the lens of one family member 3) to study a problem area in the family, and 4) another holistic method by taking in a typical day of a family.
Lewis’s process makes for a fascinating read. You feel as if you are reading a novel, that you are in the midst of each one of these families: The Martínez family living in the highland village of Azteca, the Gómez family of the Casa Grande neighborhood in Mexico City, the Gutiérrez family living on MC’s “Street of the Bakers,” the Sánchez family, “on the edge of Mexico City,” and the Castro family in the wealthiest neighborhood studied, the Lomas de Chapultepec area of Mexico City.
Lewis takes you into the various hovels that four of the families live in: earthen floors, primitive or substandard heating and cooking stoves, crowded conditions with multiple family members occupying beds or spaces on the floors. He lets us in on the daily grind of the working poor, always borrowing a few pesos from a friend, neighbor, or family member to make ends meet, and sometimes failing. The drudge of dead-end jobs or self-employment, i.e. selling off items in the street for yet a few more pesos. This all happens sixty years ago, and yet it would not be surprising to find out that many Mexicans still live the same way. No wonder they find conditions, as difficult as they are, in the United States “better” by comparison.
The final family, The Castro family, is by contrast, a representative of what Lewis calls the nouveau riche. David Castro, has come from poverty but has worked hard and successfully to bring his family to the “fringe” of one of the wealthier neighborhoods of MC. They have enough bedrooms for each of their four children, three boys and one girl. They have plenty of money, apparently, but David is largely in control of it. He and his wife, Isabel, have a “free union” marriage which is recognized neither by the government nor the church, but it suits David Castro’s needs: to control his wife and his four spoiled children. They have three servants, but nothing is ever done to Isabel’s satisfaction. David never gives her enough money, she claims, and yet what she does have she spends quite freely on expensive items for herself and her children. The Castro family stands in stark contrast to the other four, and yet there seem to be some similarities. All five families with the exception of one are ruled by a macho man with an iron fist. All except one man (and Lewis suspects he may have “homosexual tendencies”) has affairs with multiple women. Children bicker and vie for their parents’ attention in various dysfunctional ways. Nutrition is poor (fried “meat” that is the dregs of what a shopper can buy). In all, however, the book still stands as an compelling study, one that should still interest Mexico’s neighbors who live along the border of the United States of America.
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