Musing from your Post Master General
On Saturday, September 14th, at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, the boxing world will witness history as undefeated boxing legend Floyd Mayweather squares off against up and coming Mexican sensation Saul Canelo Alvarez. Canelo, who is thirteen years Mayweather’s junior, is given a punchers chance to hand Mayweather his first career loss and shock the world. Now, with that being said, a punchers chance against Mayweather isn’t exactly much considering Las Vegas odds makers currently favor the veteran by a 5/14 margin. Still, sports fans are excited for the potential shot in the arm this match could bring to an otherwise dying sport.
Perhaps the party most excited for a potential Alvarez win are the Mexican people themselves. A win against the indestructible American Mayweather would add an interesting wrinkle to the U.S.-Mexico sports rivalry. But let’s be frank, the rivalry doesn’t stop at sports. Mexicans have long felt like the little brother when compared with the perception of American prosperity. A win of that magnitude could a boon for Mexican pride.
So what makes Canelo Alvarez’s so popular with the Mexican people? Is it his undefeated record? Perhaps, but plenty of other Mexican contenders have boasted longer undefeated streaks than him. Is it his skill set? That could be it. Despite humble beginnings, Alvarez is considered the best Mexican prospect perhaps since the great Julio César Chavez. Or could it be his appearance? Canelo, whose name means cinnamon, has striking red hair and pale European features. ESPN reporter Pablo S. Torre perhaps summed it up best “Alvarez’s rise was distinguished by the same feature his classmates had tormented him with: pigmentation. In a country colonized and ruled for centuries by Europeans, there remains a pervasive cultural preference for light skin. So while homegrown boxers looked nothing like Alvarez, the celebrity class — as reflected on television screens and magazine covers — unmistakably did.”
What Torre is reflecting on is a cold reality of Mexican society. Internally, Mexico has an image problem, and it knows it too. For almost one-hundred years Mexico hasn’t asked the race question on their census for that very reason. There is no question that Mexico is a diverse country. It is estimated that around 60% of Mexicans are Mestizo, which is of mixed Amerindian and European ancestry, 30% are Amerindian, and 9% are European of various origin. However, the division of wealth and power certainly doesn’t break along the same lines, with old White Mexican families still maintaining a stronghold on many economic sectors. Most of the Mexicans of European decent reside in or near Mexico City, the center of power in the country. On top of that, Mexican celebrities are disproportionately light skinned when compared with the rest of the population.
As recently as August 16th, a top Mexican ad agency was forced to apologize when they put out a casting notice asking for actors with only “white skin” and that “nobody dark skinned” should audition. The ad was for AeroMexico, the national airline of Mexico, and would have been seen by millions around the world highlighting an undercurrent pressure of a white cultural preference that exists in Mexican media. Where the same people who are in charge of campaigns like the AeroMéxico ad also responsible for the rise of Canelo’s star status? It’s possible.
But the fact of the matter is, Alvarez isn’t from Mexico City. He isn’t part of the upper echelon of Mexican society as evident by his manner of speech, which is described as “street inflected Spanish.” He grew up on a farm in a small town, the youngest of eight siblings. All seven boys in his family became professional boxers. Fighting is in his blood and I’m sure if you ask the shy Alvarez, race and image has nothing to do with his success in a boxing ring. On Saturday, he can prove his worth by knocking Mayweather to the ground.
In an ironic twist, American perception of Mexico has been somewhat different. Over the last couple of weeks since the fight has been heavily promoted, I’ve heard similar things from friends and strangers alike. “Is Canelo really Mexican?” “ I didn’t know Mexicans could be redheads.” “Why don’t other Mexican’s look like him?” As the resident Latino in my group of friends (I am a Dominican-American) I continue to remind them of that fact that Mexico, like most countries in the Americas is a diverse place with people from all different backgrounds. Sure there are majorities and pluralities but just like the United States, Mexicans come in all different shapes, sizes and colors.
The same confused perception can be true for Mexico as a whole. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve heard people referring to Mexico as some sort of backwater developing nation. Recently, the consulting firm Vianovo took a poll on this issue and the results, while not surprising, were somewhat sad when compared with the reality. According to the poll, only 17% of American’s consider Mexico to be a modern country. The same poll indicated that countries like Brazil and China were considered to be much more modern than Mexico. This could not be farther from the truth.
While like most countries, Mexico deals with inequality in terms of the distribution of wealth, it is no where near the bottom of the list in terms of global poverty. According to data collected by the Woodrow Wilson Center, it will take China over thirty years to overtake average income levels in Mexico at their current level of growth. When it comes to the workforce, Mexico boasts a qualified labor force much younger than China or even Russia. In terms of education, the average schooling of the working age population of Mexico is 7.2 years, compared to 4.9 in Brazil, 6.4 in China. While these statistics are far from perfect, and do not compare favorably with standards in the United States, they still hold their own both regionally and globally when compared to economic competitors.
So why the differences between perception and reality? Drug trafficking and boarder security are the main culprits. The United States has dealt with some of Mexico’s problems for years, all the while taking a hit when it comes to the views of the American people. 72% of Americans associate Mexico with drugs and violence according to the Vianovo poll. Another factor is immigration. Many of the Mexicans who move to this country are poor. Most of the time that is the reason they are moving to the United States in the first place, to make a better living for themselves and their families.
Generally speaking, the populations that emigrate from any country are in the lower half of the economic standing. In Mexico, Amerindians and Mestizos to a degree make up a larger percentage of the working class than light skinned Mexicans, and not just because of their overall numbers. In turn, it is unlikely, but of course not impossible, for the average Mexican immigrant to look like Canelo. Then again, not many people look like Canelo in Mexico either.
If there is a positive side to this dialogue, it’s that perhaps an Alvarez win could change the perception that American’s have towards Mexico. If we as a nation can understand that Mexicans can look like him, and at the same time understand that Mexicans can look a million different ways too, than perhaps there can be progress between the two countries in terms of perception. North America is a diverse place both in the United States and in Mexico. Perhaps in both countries we can just watch a boxing match for what it is, a sporting event between two individuals.
There was a time when Mayweather might not have been celebrated as the great champion he is in the United States. All anyone has to do is look back to the story of former fighter Jack Johnson, whose tale was fictionalized in both the play and film The Great White Hope. Johnson, who was the first African-American World Heavyweight Champion was treated like a hero at times in the ring, but a second class citizen out of the ring due to the color of his skin. His victories sometimes caused race riots in the United States. Mayweather, who like Johnson, is black, is seen not only as the best boxer of his generation, but also as an accomplished businessman. He can thank the battles his predecessors fought for the change in American sentiment.
Let’s hope we can live in a world where boxers aren’t judged by the color of their skin, but by how well they punch. I think largely we are there. The boxing community is known for its international diversity. However, it’s casual fans, peoples, and even nations who see a match for more than what it is. If anything, we should be celebrating the diversity of these two fighters and the nations they come from. Both countries have their issues but hopefully, when it comes to this Saturday, we will witness what we all tune in to see when we watch sports, entertainment and the triumph of the human spirit.
Who do you think will win the fight? Will an Alvarez win change your mind when it comes to Mexico? What are your perceptions of Mexico currently?
Hope you enjoyed this post. Don’t forget to like me on Facebook, follow me on twitter @ClashMcCoy, and catch up on all my other posts. Thanks
photos courtesy of epsn.com,sho.com,commons.wiki.com