In San Miguel de Allende, Mexican women have traditionally been, and still to a great extent still are, relegated to second-class status. That’s not to say that the brains behind the operation in the home is not the woman, but in public, it’s very important that the woman walk behind her husband, and that she not answer if they’re asked a question together in a group setting. He’s the leader. He’s in charge. Mexican women seem to have accepted this and it’s just the role they fill without great stress, anger, or frustration.
How they treat women in San Miguel de Allende is getting better somewhat in the much younger generation, amongst the more educated and those with more material success. When you see Mexican families at dinner, this is where I notice it most. For example, in a restaurant, I usually meet middle class Mexican women. If they can afford to eat out at a restaurant, then they probably have a somewhat good job and an education- at least high school. But once you get below that level, for example, in the rural areas of San Miguel de Allende, where I spend a good amount of time, I do not see a change.
Another problem that Mexican women have with how they’re treated in San Miguel de Allende has to do with being left alone and becoming a single parent. Traditionally, there was always a marriage associated with a child, but that has changed in recent years. The women get married, have three to seven children, then the husband decides he doesn’t want that anymore and just leaves the woman. That may not be totally unlike in the States, but here in San Miguel de Allende, it’s rare that there is a formal separation agreement, or that there’s a formal divorce, so there is no support paid by the husband. The man simply leaves the woman who has, for example, five children, but with no way to support them because traditionally, she has stayed at home to raise them.
One solution to the problem of being left by the husband is that the woman can remarry, but that is very, very rare because a Mexican man does not want, and will not accept, for the most part, the children of another man, so the deck is stacked against the woman remarrying.
Here in San Miguel de Allende, because of the expat population, there are efforts and organizations that reach out to high school females to encourage them to stay in school and to provide high school and college scholarships for them. This is rare in other parts of Mexico, but it’s because of the nature of San Miguel de Allende in particular. In the smaller communities, you wouldn’t see that at all; the young girls just accept their role and situation the same way their mother had.
As far as the treatment I’ve received here in San Miguel de Allende, I have always been treated with respect. Whether it’s a taxi driver, someone on the street in town, or any of the workers. Here in San Miguel de Allende, people know that if they overstep their bounds, they lose their job, which is a great job to have.
I have a friend who is much younger than I. She’s from Oregon, and she’s blonde. She once told me that since she lives in a small Mexican community outside of Centro in San Miguel de Allende and is surrounded by Mexicans, when she walks down the street, if there are groups of young Mexican men together, she’ll get whistles from these men. She has discovered that the best way to counteract the whistles is to look right at them, and say “Buenos dias,” or “Buenos tardes,” and to call them either “neighbor” or “son,” because they would never think of doing anything negative to a mother. So my friend typically says, “Buenos tardes, ninos!” and that ends it there.
(Mother and children in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, pictured.)