Lonely Planet – Are Americans Safer in Mexico Than at Home?

Are Americans safer in Mexico than at home?

Robert ReidLonely Planet author

Every week or so I get asked, ‘Is it safe to go to Mexico?’ I had always said, if you’re thoughtful about where you go, yes. But after my most recent trip there, I’m changing my answer… to a question:

Do you think it’s safe to go to Texas?

To be clear, violence in Mexico is no joke. There have been over 47,000 drug-related murders alone in the past five years. Its murder rate – 18 per 100,000 according to this United Nations Office on Drugs & Crime report – is more than three times the US rate of 4.8 per 100,000. Though Mexican tourism is starting to bounce back, Americans appear more reluctant to return than Canadians and Brits (5.7 million Americans visited in 2011, down 3% from 2010 – and, according to Expedia, more than four of five bookings were adults going without children). Many who don’t go cite violence as the reason.

What you don’t get from most reports in the US is statistical evidence that Americans are less likely to face violence on average in Mexico than at home, particularly when you zero in on Mexico’s most popular travel destinations. For example, the gateway to Disney World, Orlando, saw 7.5 murders per 100,000 residents in 2010 per the FBI; this is higher than Cancun or Puerto Vallarta, with rates of 1.83 and 5.9 respectively, per a Stanford University report (see data visualization here, summarized on this chart, page 21). Yet in March, the Texas Department of Public Safety advised against ‘spring break’ travel anywhere in Mexico, a country the size of the UK, France, Germany, Spain and Italy combined. Never mind that popular destinations like the Bahamas, Belize and Jamaica have far higher homicide rates (36, 42 and 52 per 100,000). Why the singular focus?

Before you nix Mexico altogether, consider these five things:

1. Mexico may be more dangerous than the US overall, but not for Americans.

According to FBI crime statistics, 4.8 Americans per 100,000 were murdered in the US in 2010. The US State Department reports that 120 Americans of the 5.7 million who visited Mexico last year were murdered, which is a rate of 2.1 of 100,000 visitors. Regardless of whether they were or weren’t connected to drug trafficking, which is often not clear, it’s less than half the US national rate.

2. Texans are twice as safe in Mexico, and three times safer than in Houston.

Looking at the numbers, it might be wise for Texans to ignore their Public Safety department’s advice against Mexico travel. Five per 100,000 Texans were homicide victims in 2010, per the FBI. Houston was worse, with 143 murders, or a rate of 6.8 – over three times the rate for Americans in Mexico.

3. And it’s not just Texas.

It’s interesting comparing each of the countries’ most dangerous cities. New Orleans, host city of next year’s Super Bowl, broke its own tourism record last year with 8 million visitors. Yet the Big Easy has ten times the US homicide rate, close to triple Mexico’s national rate.

Few go to Ciudad Juarez, a border town of 1.3 million that saw 8 to 11 murders a day in 2010 (accounts differ – CNN went with 8). It’s unlikely to ever be a tourism hostpot, but things have been quietly improving there. By 2011, CNN reported, the homicide rate dropped by 45%, and the first six weeks of this year saw an additional 57% drop, per this BBC story.

If that trend in Juarez continues all year, and it might not, the number of homicides would have dropped from over 3000 in 2010 to 710 in 2012. Meanwhile New Orleans’ homicide rate is increasing, up to 199 murders last year, equivalent to 736 in a city with the population of Juarez.

4. By the way, most of Mexico is not on the State Department’s travel warning.

The best of Mexico, in terms of travel, isn’t on the warning. The US warns against ‘non-essential travel’ to just four of Mexico’s 31 states (all in the north: Chihuahua, Coahuila, Durango and Tamaulipas). The warning goes on to recommend against travel to select parts of other states, but not including many popular destinations such as Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, the Riviera Nayarit, Cancun, Cozumel and Tulum.

Meanwhile, 13 states are fully free from the State Department’s warning, including Baja California Sur, Yucatan, Mexico City, Oaxaca, Chiapas, Guanajuato and others.

5. Malia Obama ignored the Texas advice.

Of all people, President Obama and first lady said ‘OK’ to their 13-year-old daughter’s spring break destination this year: Oaxaca. Then Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum made snide remarks over that, perhaps overlooking that Oaxaca state has a smaller body count from the drug war than his home state’s murder rate (Oaxaca’s 4.39 per 100,000 to Pennsylvania’s 5.2).

Oaxaca state, not on the US travel warning, is famed for its colonial city, Zapotec ruins and emerging beach destinations like Huatulco. Lonely Planet author Greg Benchwick even tried grasshoppers with the local mezcal (Malia apparently stuck with vanilla shakes.)

So, can you go to Mexico?

Yes. As the US State Department says, ‘millions of US citizens safely visit Mexico each year.’ Last year, when I took on the subject for CNN, one commenter suggested Lonely Planet was being paid to promote travel there. No we weren’t. We took on the subject simply because – as travelers so often know – there is another story beyond the perception back home, be it Vietnam welcoming Americans in the ’90s or Colombia’s dramatic safety improvements in the ’00s. And, equally as importantly, Mexico makes for some of the world’s greatest travel experiences – it’s honestly why I’m in this line of work.

So yes, you can go to Mexico, just as you can go to Texas, or New Orleans, or Orlando, or the Bahamas. It’s simply up to you to decide whether you want to.

Robert Reid is Lonely Planet’s New York–based US Travel Editor and has been going to Mexico since he was three (most recently to Chacala)

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Illegal Immigration Hits Net Zero

Home again in Mexico: Illegal immigration hits net zero

Tiny Tamaula is the new face of rural Mexico: Villagers are home again as the illegal immigration boom drops to net zero

By Sara Miller Llana, Staff writer
posted April 8, 2012 at 1:16 pm EDT

Tamaula, Mexico

At this time of year in this tiny rural outpost that sits on a mountainside in Guanajuato State, most able-bodied men are gone. They’re off plucking and cutting chicken in processing plants in Georgia or pruning the backyards of Seattle.

But this year, Pedro Laguna and his wife, Silvia Arellano, are clearing rocks from their yard to prepare a field for corn. They’ve returned home to Tamaula, Mexico, with their four young children, after 20 years in the United States working illegally. Pedro’s cousin Jorge Laguna and his brothers are planting garbanzo beans in the plot behind their father’s home. Their next-door neighbor Gregorio Zambrano is also home: One recent morning he badgered a visiting social worker for funds to start a honey-production enterprise.

Since the Monitor last visited here in 2007, a major demographic shift has transformed this dusty village of 230. Migrants have come home, and with them have come other important changes. In 2007, there was no running water, no high school, no paved roads. A simple water pipeline, installed in February, runs to each of the 50-some homes. On a recent day the first high school class, including eight students ages 15 to 40, was finishing up math homework. And now, the main roads are paved.

"We can turn on the water and wash our clothes," says Pedro’s uncle, Rodolfo Laguna, who spent 12 years working illegally in a chicken plant in Athens, Ga., before returning home in 2010 after both he and his son lost their jobs.

This is the new face of rural Mexico. Villages emptied out in the 1980s and ’90s in one of the largest waves of migration in history. Today there are clear signs that a human tide is returning to towns both small and large across Mexico.

One million Mexicans said they returned from the US between 2005 and 2010, according to a new dem-ographic study of Mexican census data. That’s three times the number who said they’d returned in the previous five-year period.

And they aren’t just home for a visit: One prominent sociologist in the US has counted "net zero" migration for the first time since the 1960s.

Experts say the implications for both nations are enormous – from the draining of a labor pool in the US to the need for a radical shift in policies in Mexico, which has long depended on the billions of dollars in migrant remittances as a social welfare cornerstone.

"The massive return of migrants will have implications at the micro and macro economic levels and will have consequences for the social fabric … especially for the structure of the Mexican family," says Rodolfo Casillas, a migration expert at the Latin American School of Social Sciences in Mexico City.

The trend began with a weaker economy in the US. But even if a stronger one were to pull many Mexicans back to the US, the new pattern could persist. Migrants – and the experts who study them – say they are deterred by state laws in the US that have fueled anti-immigrant sentiment, tougher US-border enforcement, and border violence.

So, many Mexicans simply stay put. And now, the human calculus of possibility means they can stay put – or at least are more able to than their parents, who turned the US-Mexican border corridor into the busiest in the world. Today in Mexico there is greater access to education, growing per capita income, and lower fertility rates – all making a life here more viable. In turn, a life in the shadows of the US, separated from family often for years, is less palatable.

"The calculation is finally making people come back and decide to stay in Mexico," says Agustin Escobar, a demographer at the Center for Research in Social Anthropology in Guadalajara, Mexico.

‘Net zero’ migration

While the loud immigration controversy of recent years – with walls erected and sheriffs planning anti-immigrant armies – got the headlines, the powerful migration shift went on largely unnoticed.

Pedro Laguna’s odyssey is a clear and common sign of the reverse calculus on the ground.

At the macroeconomic level, Douglas Massey, founder of the Mexican Migration Project at Princeton University, has documented what he calls "net zero" migration. The population of undocumented immigrants in the US fell from 12 million to approximately 11 million during the height of the financial crisis (2008-09), he says. And since then, Mexicans without documents aren’t migrating at rates to replace the loss, creating a net zero balance for the first time in 50 years.

Mexican census and household surveys analyzed by Mr. Escobar, who is with the Binational Study on Mexican Migration, suggest migrants leaving Mexico fell from more than a million in 2005 to 368,000 in 2010.

Pedro Laguna contributed to that shift in balance when he moved from Georgia to Tamaula last summer with his wife and American-born children – ages 5, 7, 9, and 11 – after 20 years in the US.

By many measures, the Lagunas were pleased with American life. In their first US jobs – in poultry processing – they earned in two hours what they could earn in a day in Mexico (less than $15). They liked the rigorous schools, and their kids excelled – today their bookshelves are full of trophies from science, reading, and karate contests.

But with both parents working long hours, and on different shifts, "we were working the whole time," says Silvia, who often got just three hours of sleep a day.

Yet amid the financial crisis, something worse than the slog befell them: Plentiful jobs for illegals disappeared. Silvia lost her job at a plastic factory, which gave her more time with the kids. But Pedro’s weekly pay of $340 from his construction job wasn’t enough.

And the feeling of welcome changed, too. Beginning with Arizona, states began passing laws to crack down on illegal immigration. Tales of Mexicans sent home after getting stopped for speeding spread, and it even touched home: One family member was sent home to Tamaula, after being caught driving without a license, while his wife and children continue to live in Georgia. Desperate to avoid the same fate, Pedro stopped driving on national holidays to avoid police checks.

As their quality of life deteriorated, Pedro started hearing about changes in Tamaula: There was electricity, a high school, access to water. Though his children were thriving, he figured they were still young enough to uproot willingly. He wanted them to connect with their roots and see how hard life is in Mexico. They could later decide if they wanted to return to the US as legal citizens.

With their savings, the couple moved into a tidy, stone-walled home they’d been slowly constructing in Tamaula over the years. They knew they’d give up the security of paychecks, but they could grow their own food, raise goats for milk and cheese, and forgo rent and expensive energy bills.

When the family crossed the border in a van from Brownsville, Texas, in June, near where Pedro sneaked across the Rio Grande illegally in 1992 at night, it was the first time the children had ever stepped on Mexican soil.

It’s been up and down, says Pedro: "I ask myself all the time if this was the right decision."

‘American dream’ no longer the standard

Guanajuato – an agricultural state in Central Mexico – has been a typical emigration state and in the past five years has become the biggest source of Mexican migrants to the US. As such, it also has one of the highest rates of return, census figures show.

Of Tamaula’s 100 men, about 10 have returned since 2007 – some willingly, like Pedro, and others because they lost jobs or didn’t get guest-worker visas and are no longer willing to go north illegally.

Not a single person interviewed in Tamaula said he or she would go illegally today. One of them is Jorge Laguna, a cousin of Pedro’s in Tamaula, a town made up of three extended families. He’d traveled annually to the US since 2005 as a temporary guest worker to toil as a gardener in Washington State, but this year he wasn’t asked back.

In the past he might have tried his luck illegally – as he did when he was 15, spending five consecutive years in Georgia before returning home to visit his family. What was there to lose? If he got caught crossing, he could turn around and try again. If he couldn’t find a job, he could come home or bide his time until the market rebounded. Now, at 28, he says he’s not willing to risk his life: Migrants – including two from a nearby village – have gone missing. Their suitcases showed up at bus stations in northern Mexico.

"The situation would have to be really dire for me to try to go illegally today," Jorge says. Staying home is much easier, he concedes, than when his father was raising a family. At that time, all travel here was by foot or horseback. Until 2005, when the town got electricity, children did their homework by candlelight. And back then water was the central concern of daily life: With one well up the mountainside, a half-hour by donkey, families could rarely return with enough for drinking, bathing, feeding the animals, and washing clothes and dishes.

Suddenly plugged in to modern conveniences, the community has been able to turn its attention beyond subsistence to bettering opportunities. The new high school was built three years ago. (Before, most usually quit school after junior high.)

As a strategy to keep Mexicans home, the Community Foundation of the Bajio focuses on local development in 10 communities in Guanajuato, including Tamaula. The nongovernmental organization is busy creating employment opportunities for residents to produce and sell honey – as Mr. Zambrano is trying to do – baked goods, and goat cheese.

No such opportunities – nor the mind-set that goes with them – existed when Jorge was finishing up elementary school in the 1990s. Migration was the fastest ticket to social mobility, not school. So by the time he turned 15 it was logical – even expected – that he go north.

Now, beyond changes in infrastructure, his hometown’s attitude is different. His younger sister is in university, studying psychology, and his 17-year-old brother, Juan, is in high school studying computing.

Going north is inconceivable to Juan: "My friends and I don’t talk about the ‘American dream.’ In that sense the mentality has changed. Instead we talk about opening up a restaurant here, or doing something different."

Jorge, too, harbors dreams of establishing an enterprise in Tamaula "to support my family and not be so dependent on the US."

Seven kids no longer the family norm

Tamaula is not an anomaly: Like other towns across Mexico, it has been buoyed by the nation’s overall positive economic, educational, and demographic currents.

"People are recovering the hope that they can stay in their own communities and don’t see going to the US as their only opportunity," observes Adriana Cortes, who runs the Community Foundation of the Bajio.

The high school here in Tamaula is one of hundreds built with federal funds nationwide in the past five years as enrollment rates have gone up from 54 percent in 1991 to 87 percent in 2009 for secondary school. Higher education enrollment rose from 15 percent to 27 percent in that same period, according to UNESCO.

Although quality lags behind other Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries, test scores have improved and dropout rates are down.

"They have made sure there are teachers everywhere. They may not be the best teachers in the world, but there are schools everywhere. They have done the right thing at the very basic level," says Harry Patrinos, lead education economist at the World Bank.

Fertility rates have also dropped precipitously in the past half century. Women had, on average, nearly seven children in 1960; today the average is slightly more than two, according to the UN Population Division.

That, say demographers and economists, will deflate labor supply to the US in the future. But more immediately it means that more wealth is spread over fewer family members, in effect raising incomes and allowing families to invest more in their children’s social mobility.

Mexico has transformed from a relatively poor country to one that is largely "middle class" in attitude and consumption, reports Luis Rubio in "Mexico: A Middle Class Society," which he co-wrote. The report links this, among other factors, to fertility rates, trade openness to cheap imports, and new access to credit. "That is why there are so many Wal-Marts everywhere," Mr. Rubio says.

But another factor that has helped reduce poverty is remittances. Migrants abroad sent $21.27 billion back home in 2010, according to Mexico’s central bank. And while Mexico has long developed programs to take advantage of such resources, with its 3-for-1 program, for example, which matches funds sent back to communities for local development, it is not prepared for a sustained change in migration patterns, says Rodolfo Zamora Garcia, an economist in Zacatecas State who studies migration and remittances.

"There is no public policy in Mexico to address the massive return of migrants or the reinsertion of them back into their communities," says Mr. Zamora.

Migrants who return with savings can bring back skills and become agents of change, says Carla Pederzini, a demographer at the Iberoamericana University in Mexico City. But if they’re deported or return because they are jobless, she adds, they’re vulnerable. "It’s very hard for them to start a new life."

While about two-thirds of returning migrants – the majority between ages 18 and 34 – find work within three months of returning, at least a third work in the informal sector. Most do not return with sufficient funds to become employers or small-business owners, according to research on the characteristics of returning migrants by Foundation BBVA Bancomer in Mexico. And most do not end up using the skills they acquired during their time in the US.

In the wake of the global financial crisis, Mexican states began offering support to migrants, from unemployment insurance for those who lost their American jobs to funds to help migrants create microenterprises.

Guanajuato set up a fund in 2009 that has helped 180 families, says Luis Vargas Gutierrez, the undersecretary for social development in Guanajuato State. "After the crisis, we thought lots of migrants were going to return home." So far, he says, the state hasn’t seen the influx that was anticipated. He says that while Guanajuato residents face high rates of deportation – more than 30,000 were repatriated from the US in 2011 – many are staying at the border.

But the challenge of returning could be bigger than it appears, says the demographer Escobar. "[Returning migrants] are being absorbed one by one. It doesn’t look like a major movement," he says.

While per capita income has grown by 40 percent in two decades, Mexico saw a bump in poverty levels between 2008 and 2010, and Escobar attributes that, in part, to Mexican families having to absorb returning migrants.

Reverse migration benefits families

Despite the challenges of the new migration patterns, the biggest beneficiary, says Escobar, will be the Mexican family.

"In high emigration communities, where children had traditionally been socialized to leave at any early age, the notion that children should be educated to make it in Mexico places greater emphasis on education, on investing in one’s properties and assets in Mexico, and in general in the kind of values that are consistent with a commitment to the future of these communities," he says.Indeed, for Pedro and Silvia, it was their family that drove their decision to move home.

"We never saw the children," says Silvia. "They grow up so fast; soon they will be independent and leave."

But for them, and for thousands of other migrants, this isn’t a choice between good and bad or right and wrong. It’s a crushingly hard cost analysis. Pedro says some days their children’s teacher doesn’t show up to class, and other parents don’t demand higher standards as they would in the US. It makes him second-guess his decision: "I worry I am impeding their growth."

On a recent Saturday morning the kids did extra homework assigned by their parents at the dinner table. They wrote letters in English to maintain their bilingual skills. Their 9-year-old wrote to her best friend back in the US: "We have animals. Mexico is so beautiful, but it is not like over there."


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Why Bilinguals Are Smarter

Harriet Russell

Published: March 17, 2012

SPEAKING two languages rather than just one has obvious practical benefits in an increasingly globalized world. But in recent years, scientists have begun to show that the advantages of bilingualism are even more fundamental than being able to converse with a wider range of people. Being bilingual, it turns out, makes you smarter. It can have a profound effect on your brain, improving cognitive skills not related to language and even shielding against dementia in old age.

This view of bilingualism is remarkably different from the understanding of bilingualism through much of the 20th century. Researchers, educators and policy makers long considered a second language to be an interference, cognitively speaking, that hindered a child’s academic and intellectual development.

They were not wrong about the interference: there is ample evidence that in a bilingual’s brain both language systems are active even when he is using only one language, thus creating situations in which one system obstructs the other. But this interference, researchers are finding out, isn’t so much a handicap as a blessing in disguise. It forces the brain to resolve internal conflict, giving the mind a workout that strengthens its cognitive muscles.

Bilinguals, for instance, seem to be more adept than monolinguals at solving certain kinds of mental puzzles. In a 2004 study by the psychologists Ellen Bialystok and Michelle Martin-Rhee, bilingual and monolingual preschoolers were asked to sort blue circles and red squares presented on a computer screen into two digital bins — one marked with a blue square and the other marked with a red circle.

In the first task, the children had to sort the shapes by color, placing blue circles in the bin marked with the blue square and red squares in the bin marked with the red circle. Both groups did this with comparable ease. Next, the children were asked to sort by shape, which was more challenging because it required placing the images in a bin marked with a conflicting color. The bilinguals were quicker at performing this task.

The collective evidence from a number of such studies suggests that the bilingual experience improves the brain’s so-called executive function — a command system that directs the attention processes that we use for planning, solving problems and performing various other mentally demanding tasks. These processes include ignoring distractions to stay focused, switching attention willfully from one thing to another and holding information in mind — like remembering a sequence of directions while driving.

Why does the tussle between two simultaneously active language systems improve these aspects of cognition? Until recently, researchers thought the bilingual advantage stemmed primarily from an ability for inhibition that was honed by the exercise of suppressing one language system: this suppression, it was thought, would help train the bilingual mind to ignore distractions in other contexts. But that explanation increasingly appears to be inadequate, since studies have shown that bilinguals perform better than monolinguals even at tasks that do not require inhibition, like threading a line through an ascending series of numbers scattered randomly on a page.

The key difference between bilinguals and monolinguals may be more basic: a heightened ability to monitor the environment. “Bilinguals have to switch languages quite often — you may talk to your father in one language and to your mother in another language,” says Albert Costa, a researcher at the University of Pompea Fabra in Spain. “It requires keeping track of changes around you in the same way that we monitor our surroundings when driving.” In a study comparing German-Italian bilinguals with Italian monolinguals on monitoring tasks, Mr. Costa and his colleagues found that the bilingual subjects not only performed better, but they also did so with less activity in parts of the brain involved in monitoring, indicating that they were more efficient at it.

The bilingual experience appears to influence the brain from infancy to old age (and there is reason to believe that it may also apply to those who learn a second language later in life).

In a 2009 study led by Agnes Kovacs of the International School for Advanced Studies in Trieste, Italy, 7-month-old babies exposed to two languages from birth were compared with peers raised with one language. In an initial set of trials, the infants were presented with an audio cue and then shown a puppet on one side of a screen. Both infant groups learned to look at that side of the screen in anticipation of the puppet. But in a later set of trials, when the puppet began appearing on the opposite side of the screen, the babies exposed to a bilingual environment quickly learned to switch their anticipatory gaze in the new direction while the other babies did not.

Bilingualism’s effects also extend into the twilight years. In a recent study of 44 elderly Spanish-English bilinguals, scientists led by the neuropsychologist Tamar Gollan of the University of California, San Diego, found that individuals with a higher degree of bilingualism — measured through a comparative evaluation of proficiency in each language — were more resistant than others to the onset of dementia and other symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease: the higher the degree of bilingualism, the later the age of onset.

Nobody ever doubted the power of language. But who would have imagined that the words we hear and the sentences we speak might be leaving such a deep imprint?

Yudhijit Bhattacharjee is a staff writer at Science.


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Mexico’s Middle Class is Becoming its Majority

Mexico’s middle class is becoming its majority

View Photo Gallery — While many Mexicans and their neighbors to the north still imagine a country of downtrodden masses dominated by a wealthy elite, the ranks of the middle class are swelling.

The Washington Post

By William Booth and Nick Miroff, Published: March 17, 2012

QUERETARO, Mexico — A wary but tenacious middle class is fast becoming the majority in Mexico, breaking down the rich-poor divide in a profound demographic transformation that has far-reaching implications here and in the United States.

Although many Mexicans and their neighbors to the north still imagine a country of downtrodden masses dominated by a wealthy elite, the swelling ranks of the middle class are crowding new Wal-Marts, driving Nissan sedans and maxing out their Banamex credit cards.


Mexico’s ongoing drug war continues to claim lives and disrupt order in the country.

The members of this class are not worried about getting enough to eat. They’re worried that their kids are eating too much.

“As hard as it is for many of us to accept, Mexico is now a middle-class country, which means we don’t have any excuse anymore. We have to start acting like a middle-class country,” said Luis de la Calle, an economist, former undersecretary of trade in the Mexican government and the co-author of a new report called “Mexico: A Middle Class Society, Poor No More, Developed Not Yet.”

The stereotype is no longer an illegal immigrant hustling for day labor outside a Home Depot in Phoenix. The new Mexican is the overscheduled soccer dad shopping for a barbecue grill inside a Home Depot in booming Mexican cities like Queretaro.

When President Felipe Calderon of the center-right National Action Party won in 2006, outpolling the leftist Mexico City Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, it was the middle class that gave Calderon his wafer-thin victory.

And in the presidential election in July, Mexico’s growing economic center will again be decisive, say political analysts from all three major parties.

The Mexican middle class is heterogeneous, anxious and divided among the major political parties; its members are socially moderate but fiscally conservative, cynical about political promises and fearful that recent gains could be lost in a financial crisis or social upheaval — the kind that buffeted Mexico in the 1990s.

“The middle class in this country doesn’t want to lose what it’s gained,” said Gabriel Paulin, 30, living in a mod condo in a new subdivision in Queretaro. On his coffee table: a Spanish-language copy of Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead” — essential reading for the striving class — alongside a boxed DVD set of the “Mad Men” television series.

Mexico’s middle class thrives here in the country’s central highlands, in buzzing industrial cities that bear little resemblance to the violent border towns of the Rio Grande or tourist magnets such as Cancun.

In Queretaro, a sunny, fastidious state capital of a million residents two hours north of Mexico City, new subdivisions and industrial parks are sprouting across the cactus lands, welcoming waves of aspiring Mexican families drawn by job opportunities and safe neighborhoods.

Some of the newcomers have fled the drug violence of cities farther north, such as Monterrey, where middle-class Mexicans feel increasingly vulnerable to kidnappers, extortionists and random killings — the Mexico they are eager to leave behind.

By comparison, Queretaro is a haven of relative calm. The homicide rate here is on par with Wisconsin, about 3.2 per 100,000 residents.

It is in sunny Queretaro where you can clearly see the new Mexico of 60-hour workweeks, Costco box stores and private English-language academies churning out bilingual 14-year-olds.


It is the Mexico where the top 50 names for newborns include a lot of American-sounding names such as Vanessa and Jonathan, where people pay $5 for movie tickets at the cineplex and the public tennis courts have a waiting list.

And it is the Mexico where NAFTA dreams came true, where billions in foreign investment have fostered a flourishing aircraft-manufacturing industry anchored by companies such as Bombardier Aerospace, General Electric and Siemens.

On Queretaro’s eastern edge, developers are building a planned community from scratch, a middle-class burb-topia called “Zibata” (a made-up word) designed for 150,000 people.

Zibata will be a gated community — a gated city — with security checkpoints that use facial-recognition software to determine who can enter. But its target demographic is not the wealthy — it’s the middle class, said Zibata pitchman Miguel Vega, pointing to a scale model showing entire neighborhoods of modestly priced apartments and townhouses among bicycle paths, greenbelts and retail plazas.

“This is an inclusive community, not an exclusive one,” he said. “We’re trying to make high standards of living accessible to everyone.”

Vega said nothing symbolizes this impulse more than Zibata’s most revealing idea: a planned 18-hole, par-72 public golf course, aimed at Mexico’s upwardly mobile, with a dedicated golf academy on-site to teach the swing fundamentals to future duffers.

Off the links, Zibata plans classes in deportment and civility, and the posting of lots of rules — about curbing pets, making noise and taking out recyclables — the kind of social mores local governments in Mexico rarely bother to enforce.

The advertising slogan for Zibata is “where the impossible . . . is possible.”

“It is what Mexicans want,” Vega said.

Hard to measure

The exact size and shape of this new class of home buyer is hard to measure. Counting the middle class in Mexico (pop. 114 million) is not a straightforward calculation as it is in the United States, where a 1040 tax return and a Zip code define who’s who on the economic scale.

In the developing world, in countries such as India, China and Mexico, scholars argue, the middle class can be defined by what its members consume, and so a Mexican homeowning household with a new refrigerator, a car and a couple of cellphones is considered middle-class — even if the combined salaries of the members of the household would make them miserably poor in Washington.

Another measure is perception: You are middle-class if you think you are middle-class. A February survey of Mexicans by the independent pollster Jorge Buendia reports that 65 percent of respondents consider themselves in the middle (27 percent described themselves as lower class, and only 2 percent copped to upper-class status).

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Can Mexico Re-brand itself?

Can Mexico re-brand itself?

By Len Freeman
BBC News

A soldier in Acapulco

Drug-related violence in the resort of Acapulco has driven tourists away and put armed police and soldiers on the streets

Can you re-brand a country in the same way you might re-brand a packet of soap powder?

Some in Mexico are hoping you can after the intensive media coverage of drug cartels, violence, murder and kidnappings in the country.

Mexico’s President Felipe Calderon has called in a British expert on country branding for advice, and the country’s tourism industry is now headed by a man who has worked for some of the biggest consumer brands in the world.

More than 47,500 people have been killed since 2006 in drug-related incidents, with the numbers of tourists and investors going to Mexico well down as a result.

Flawed reputation

Simon Anholt is an expert on the branding of countries. He thinks Mexico’s image problems go much deeper than the negative reports of drug violence.

Simon Anholt

The first thing you have got to do without any shadow of doubt is fix the product.

Simon Anholt

"The psychological diagnosis is extremely low self-esteem," he said.

"Mexico has been trying for nearly 300 years to emerge in some way in the mighty shadow of the United States, and partly as a result of that it has simply never bothered to present itself to the rest of the world."

Mr Anholt has advised the governments of more than 40 countries on questions of national identity, reputation, trade, tourism and foreign relations.

He produced a detailed report on Mexico’s image for the president which concluded that Mexico had "an already weak and in some cases badly flawed reputation" which was "undergoing a further downward correction".

Much of the report was based on the 2010 Anholt-GfK Roper Nation Brands Index, which ranked Mexico 31st out of 50 countries by public perception. The US came top at number one.

Nearly 20,000 people in 20 countries are questioned each year for the poll. Respondents are asked more than 40 questions about their perceptions of the 50 countries.

Mexico got some of its best rankings from other Latin American countries but its US neighbour ranked it very close to the bottom at 42nd.

Most respondents in the 20 countries polled regarded Mexico as less beautiful than Finland, having no more cultural heritage than Scotland, less attractive as a tourist destination than Belgium and virtually on a par with the United States for being rich in historic buildings.

Hidden cameras

One man hoping to transform Mexico’s image is Gerardo Llanes, who took up the post of executive director for marketing at the Mexico Tourism Board a year ago.

Is San Miguel a model for the future of tourism in Mexico?

He has previously worked for some of the world’s biggest brands, including Kellogg’s and Coca Cola, and is credited with launching Diet Coke in Mexico.

One of his first priorities was to tackle the falling numbers of tourists from the United States and Canada – countries which Mexico is most dependent on for visitors.

His campaign aimed at North America shows Americans, filmed by hidden cameras in taxis, talking about their holidays in Mexico.

"That has built the credibility of our message because it is not me or Mexico’s tourism board talking to you – it is real Americans telling their real stories about their vacations."

But he acknowledged that PR alone would not solve the image problem. Mexico’s problems are tied up with the international demand for drugs and a need for social reform at home.

"We need more social equality so that people who might be thinking of becoming bad guys might not think about it because they can have other opportunities."

There are signs the PR campaign is working.

Although tourist numbers are dramatically down in Acapulco , which has seen some of the worst of the violence, other areas are seeing a revival. December 2011 showed an overall 10% increase on the previous year.

International leadership

PR is fine for promoting tourism, Mr Anholt argues, but it won’t change a country’s image.

Gerardo Llanes

Gerardo Llanes: Social reform is needed

"If you are talking about the overall reputation of the country, that’s not subject to marketing because it is not a product for sale.

"There is no point in standing around moaning about Mexico’s image when hundreds, thousands of people are being killed each year.

"It is not Mexico’s fault, if it is anybody’s fault it is America’s fault, but they have still got to fix it."

President Calderon has himself pointed the finger at the United States.

He has said the problem of drugs trafficking stems from the fact that Mexico’s neighbour – the US – is the largest consumer of drugs in the world.

And many of the guns used by the drug gangs are being smuggled in from the US.

Two independent US reports have recently highlighted the scale of the problem. One by the US state department estimated that as much as 90% of all cocaine consumed in the US came via Mexico.

A second report by the US Senate, Halting US Firearms Trafficking to Mexico, suggested that some 70% of firearms recovered from Mexican crime scenes in 2009 and 2010 and submitted for tracing came from the US.

More than 50,000 troops and federal police in Mexico are now actively involved in the fight against the cartels.

Mr Anholt said one way for Mexico to boost its image would be to find new, imaginative and effective ways of tackling the drugs problem.

The country could demonstrate international leadership by offering solutions to other problems too such as climate change, poverty and inequality.

"Then people will start looking to Mexico as a place that is not a victim of its problems but a leader in resolving those problems and then the change begins to happen," he said.

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San MIguel de Allende’s Colorful, Low Key Vibe

San Miguel de Allende’s colorful, low-key vibe charms visitors

It seems I’m always defending San Miguel de Allende these days. The colonial city in the Sierra Madre northeast of Mexico City may be a UNESCO World Heritage site, but its detractors refer to it as a Mexican Disneyland. Until recently, I shared those sentiments, holding on to memories of a youthful visit in the 1980s. Recent buzz made it sound far too pretentious, like a backdrop for photo spreads in Architectural Digest, Gourmet and AARP. I was prepared for disappointment when I returned in 2010 to visit a friend, but a funny thing happened. I had such a good time I went back the following year. As San Miguel resident Jane Onstott, an Ohio/Anaheim native who’s lived in Spain, Honduras and the Galapagos says, "Life is just so easy here."

The air shimmers clear blue and the climate is mild nearly year round. Ornate pink canterra spires on the Gothic Parroquía de San Miguel Arcangel dominate a cityscape of ochre, rose and gold colonial mansions and houses lining narrow cobblestone streets. The pace is so slow bent-over ladies in blue housedresses stay in step with fashionistas in Madonna-worthy boots. Drivers are so courteous there’s no need for semaforos (traffic lights). No wonder more than 10,000 foreigners have taken up residence here. Wealthy Mexicans and expats have hired famed architects to create nouveau haciendas in hills above the city, and companies like Rosewood have opened handsome hotels and residential enclaves. Artfully dressed couples browse and graze, sipping cappuccinos at sidewalk cafes.

Chic amenities aren’t the only attraction, however. San Miguel’s faithfully restored colonial-era churches, convents and mansions are among Mexico’s most beautiful and its festivals among the country’s most lavish. Church bells chime incessantly, costumed groups from throughout the country join daylong parades and fireworks blast off at midnight. San Miguel de Allende’s combination of architecture, culture, traditions and classy hotels, restaurants and shops make it a popular weekend getaway from Mexico City and second home for expats. "The fact is it’s beautiful, it’s easy to get around and it’s charming," says Onstott, who chose the city for her base while traveling around the country for her website, "It’s close to Mexico City and not too far from the beaches. It’s ridiculously easy to get hooked on this city."

Artful Browsing

American art students first started arriving by the hundreds to San Miguel de Allende in the 1940s, when World War II veterans studied art at the Instituto Allende and the Centro Culturál Ignacio Ramírez "El Nigromante" under the GI Bill. San Miguel became so popular with vets Life Magazine published an article about this "GI Paradise" in 1948 and more foreigners arrived. Both institutions still educate a steady influx of national and international students. Photo and art workshops are held frequently throughout the city, and the literary community supports an annual writers conference.

Given San Miguel’s vibrant arts scene, shopping is a main attraction. The centro is filled with galleries and shops displaying fine paintings, sculptures, jewelry and the San Miguel shoe, designed to withstand uneven sidewalks and cobblestones. Beyond the centro’s offerings, 50 shops, galleries and studios are clustered in the Fabrica La Aurora, a former textile factory in the outskirts of downtown. There are plenty of treasures that don’t boast hefty price tags as well. At the centro’s busy Mercado de Artesanías, vendors display pottery created throughout San Miguel’s home state of Guanajuato along with tin-framed mirrors, hand-embroidered tablecloths and silky woven shawls. The selection changes constantly—these days, flowered oilcloth bags and placemats are all the rage. If you’re a folk art fiend, be sure to visit the Galería Atotonilco about five miles north of San Miguel, where collectors Mayer Shacter and Susan Page have filled a 3,000 square foot exhibition space with an amazing array of pottery, textiles, masks, jewelry and just about any Mexican craft you can imagine. Some items, including gorgeous embroidered huipiles from Chiapas and Guatemala, are for sale.

Sophisticated Pleasures

Some of the city’s finest homes now hold stylish hotels and B&Bs, offering a wide range of possibilities. Casa de Sierra Nevada set high standards for San Miguel lodgings when it opened in a house built in 1580 for the archbishop. Rooms now fill six immaculately restored mansions near the jardín, along with the town’s first cooking school, Sazón. The neighboring Casa Misha is a study in gracious living, with seven rooms in two immaculately reconstructed houses and several terraces where silver-service breakfasts are served with a backdrop of church domes. Both hotels are costly, but plenty of moderate accommodations have won loyal followings. Among the best is the inexpensive Posada Corazón set amid gardens just steps from the Parroquia. Non-guests are welcome to stop in for an organic breakfast in the hotel’s cozy library.

Two new hotels have raised the bar for service, style and sophistication. Stylish Mexicans bored with colonial digs now flock to the new ultra-modern Hotel Matilda. Sleek white buildings filled with contemporary art, including photographer Spencer Tunick’s shot of thousands of nude people gathered in Mexico City’s Zócalo, frame an infinity pool and sun deck, and the restaurant and bar draw chic locals along with guests. The new Rosewood San Miguel de Allende reflects the city’s traditional setting with massive rose-hued limestone colonial-style buildings, stone columns, arched porticos, splashing fountains and gleaming hardwood floors. The 67-room hotel is at the heart of Rosewood’s residential compound of 29 luxurious private homes in one of San Miguel’s wealthiest enclaves. The main draw for outsiders is the Luna Rooftop Tapas Bar commanding outstanding views of sparkling lights illuminating church domes and steeples and mansions scattered along high hillsides.

Such highfalutin accommodations seem pretentious and off-putting for travelers who favor more ethnic destinations like Chiapas and Oaxaca. But there are plenty of Mexico fans who have traveled all over the country and find themselves returning again and again to San Miguel de Allende. "Yes, I read that one guidebook called downtown Miguel de Allende Disneyland," said Onstott, who lives in a downscale neighborhood at the edge of the centro and has mixed feelings about the city’s popularity with tourists and expats. "Sometimes I wish they would all go away, but then I realize I’m just as much of a gate crasher as they are. And I’m not going anywhere soon."

Maribeth Mellin has received Mexico’s prestigious Pluma de Plata for her book Traveler’s Mexico Companion.

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How Not to Get Beheaded in Mexico


Douglas Anthony Cooper

Novelist, Amnesia

How Not to Get Beheaded in Mexico


I can’t even remember when I last experienced the beheading of a close friend. Everyone assumes it must be a weekly, or even a daily event: after all, I live in Mexico. The truth, however, is that you are as likely to have your head removed against your will in my town — Oaxaca — as you are to be murdered by roving, machete-crazed gangs in Martha’s Vineyard.

You protest: slavering butchers are thin on the ground in Martha’s Vineyard. Ah, but we do not have beheadings in Oaxaca. To be honest, they’re unconscionably lax about slaughtering tourists in this city. It just doesn’t happen. There are whole great swaths of Mexico — some 95% of the country — that are untouched by the drug war. In these places, tourists are annoyingly safe.

Take out a map. Mexico is rather large. To avoid all of Mexico because you fear drug violence, is like canceling your trip to the Napa Valley because you hear that people are flying airplanes into towers in New York City. (I’m sure a lot of Europeans did just that.)

The homicide rate in most Mexican cities is simply not very exciting. People who read newspapers — they are legion — will tell you that Mexico City is Elm Street on steroids. No way they’re taking their family anywhere near the Mexican capital. Yet these same people do not think twice about hauling their beloved brood to Disney World.

Disney World is in Orlando. Orlando, Florida.

What, you’re not trembling? The rate of violent crime in Orlando is really something. At the theme park itself you might not encounter drooling gangs with machetes, but the likelihood of getting slaughtered is much higher in the city of Orlando than it is in Mexico City. The homicide rate in Mexico City is sub-terrifying: 8.3 out of 100,000. The rate in Orlando? Honey, you don’t want to know.

If you’re truly bent on living dangerously, hit the French Quarter for a shot of faux absinthe. New Orleans is leveling humans at a rate of 58 per 100,000. To be fair, that’s an improvement upon the homicide record set in 1994: an awe-inspiring 85.8. No doubt champagne is flowing at the tourist board.

Don’t get me wrong: I worship New Orleans. It’s a lot safer than it used to be, and I
would not hesitate to visit. Still, Mayor Mitch Landrieu admitted — when discussing a local high school — that for part of last year, “a student attending John McDonogh was more likely to be killed than a soldier in Afghanistan.”

Funny that people are not dissuaded from visiting New Orleans — or Disney World — by travel advisories that read like torture porn.

Oh, you do want to know that Orlando statistic? That would be 11.7
((28 homicides, in a population of 238,300). Which is better than New
Orleans or Baghdad, but way higher than Mexico City. Ironically, Orlando receives the same kind of hyperventilating press in the UK that Mexico suffers in Canada and the US: to Brits, Orlando is The Mouse That Roared, Then Indiscriminately Dismembered.

The internet too offers exquisite advice regarding Orlando. Somehow, I suspect this is hyperbole: “Don’t be surprised if your sleeping child has been taken right out of their hotel bed in the wee hours of the morning.” I mean, come on. You have my permission to be surprised.

In fact, the capital of America is a much more dangerous place than the capital of Mexico: You are 10 times more likely to get beheaded on a school trip to the Lincoln Memorial than you are strolling through downtown Mexico City.

Okay, I’m lying. You are ten times more likely to be murdered in a drug-related crime. (The rate of actual beheadings is suppressed by travel agents on both sides of the border.)

People ask me, regularly, how they can travel safely to Mexico. Here I have impeccable advice: follow this, and you’re pretty much guaranteed to keep your head. Taking notes? Good.
Do not, under any circumstances, take a job with a major drug cartel. Just say no. You do not want to be a hit man, or a mule, or even middle management — that’s how people get killed.

I mean it: that is how people get killed. Sunbathing, on the other hand, is oddly uneventful. Yes, there are a few places in Mexico that I would avoid, unless I were applying for that gig (which I urge you to reconsider). Most border towns are not the destination of choice, except I suppose when brothel-hopping, in which case I’m told a soupçon of danger is bracing (and well-deserved). Acapulco too has declined. It was once a town in which you had a good chance of having a bad time. It is now a town in which you have no chance of having a good time.

And Mexico City, while not particularly murderous, is somewhere to be very careful: petty crime is rife, and not-so-petty crime (kidnapping) is a real issue. I travel through Mexico City all the time, and even chose to live there fairly recently, but I take the usual precautions — I restrict myself to taxis from official taxi stands; I don’t use bank machines on the street; and I suppress the urge to wave my arms around and yell, “Rob the Canadian!” (If you would like to give it a shot, that would be: “¡Saqueen al canadiense!”)

Lots of really nice cities are getting a bit hairy: Guadalajara, for instance. The San Francisco Chronicle has a useful list of places to avoid — mostly areas on the American border, and south along the Pacific Coast to the state of Guerrero. The Washington Post has another useful list: they add to this the entire state of Veracruz (which is very sad — it’s lovely). These two guides will steer you clear of all the places you have been reading about, including the very few resort towns that have become dangerous: Mazatlán, for instance, and Acapulco.

Again, however, this is a tiny part of Mexico. “Of 2,500 municipalities (what we call counties), only 80, or fewer than five per cent, have been affected by the drug war.”

Graphic anecdotes are hard to ignore, by design, but they are useless when trying to grasp the nature of a country that is not simply vast, but immeasurably diverse. You know how Los Angeles doesn’t have a whole lot in common with an Amish community in Pennsylvania? Well, multiply that difference a thousand-fold when comparing Ciudad Juarez (a genuinely dangerous place) to a Maya village in the state of Yucatán.

In fact, you are quite a bit safer in this state — which includes the ruins of Chichen Itza and Uxmal — than you are in Canada. The national homicide rate in Canada is 1.85 victims per 100,000. Sorry, kids, but that’s a war zone relative to Yucatán: .5 in 100,000.</AHREF=”HTTP:>the second most dangerous city in Canada? “Butchart Gardens” must be Canadian slang for “the place where people get butchered.”

So our family turns elsewhere. Hmm. Probably best to avoid “Edmonton’s Murder Belt.” Aiee. We’ll go east. Regina? Are you out of your mind? “Saskatchewan reported the highest Crime Severity Index, followed by Manitoba.” How about the East Coast? Not if our worried Mexican family cares about that crime severity thing: “St. John’s had the largest increase.” This is awful.

At last, after carefully considering Prince Edward Island, our sensible family decides it is just not worth the risk. (After all, homicide in PEI has skyrocketed.) You would have to be a fool to leave Mexico.

All right, all right. The beyond-exponential increase in homicide associated with Prince Edward Island — when looked at closely — is not really that alarming. One whole person was killed in 2011. As opposed to zero, in the five preceding years. Prince Edward Island is hilariously safe. The Mexican government has been decent enough to refrain from issuing travel advisories, despite the crime rates in Abbotsford and Thunder Bay. Level heads have prevailed.

The truth is that most of Canada is almost as safe as Yucatán.

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Jorge Castañeda on Mexico Today

WATCH THIS INTERVIEW with Jorge Castañeda by Charlie Rose.

This above link will take you a very insightful interview about Mexico Today.  It is a very positive and yet realistic view of Mexico.

In my lecture on What Really Matters to Mexicans and Social Protocol in mexico, I quote Jorge Castañeda.

I am presently reading his book Manana Forever?: Mexico and the Mexicans. I highly recommend it.

In this shrewd and fascinating book, the renowned scholar and former foreign minister Jorge Castañeda sheds much light on the puzzling paradoxes of his native country. Here’s a nation of 110 million that has an ambivalent and complicated relationship with the United States yet is host to more American expatriates than any country in the world. Its people tend to resent foreigners yet have made the nation a hugely popular tourist destination. Mexican individualism and individual ties to the land reflect a desire to conserve the past and slow the route to uncertain modernity.

Castañeda examines the future possibilities for Mexico as it becomes more diverse in its regional identities, socially more homogenous, its character and culture the instruments of change rather than sources of stagnation, its political system more open and democratic. Mañana Forever? is a compelling portrait of a nation at a crossroads.

About the Author

Jorge G. Castañeda was born and raised in Mexico City. He received his B.A. from Princeton University and his Ph.D. from the University of Paris. He has been a professor of political science at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, a senior associate of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, D.C., and a visiting professor at Princeton University and the University of California at Berkeley. He was Mexico’s foreign minister from 2000 to 2003, and is now Global Distinguished Professor of Politics and Latin American Studies at New York University. He is a member of the board of Human Rights Watch and lives in New York and Mexico City.


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How We Learn at Warren Hardy Spanish

We start with the premise that learning a language is a combination of the knowledge of the language combined with the skill to speak and understand it. 

At Warren Hardy we develop the knowledge base at the same time we develop the skill.  We have found that adult learners advance best when they have a clear understanding of what they are doing while practicing the language.  They like knowing the tenses and how sentences are put together.  At Warren Hardy there are four levels of instruction. Each level has a grammar component and a skill development component.  In our school we can take you to the high conversational level. 

Here are the courses in our curriculum.  Notice how the Foundation Courses, Levels 1 – 4 combine with the Skill development courses to move students through the stages of language acquisition.

 Level 1 – Power Verbs

The purpose of the this course is to develop the ability to appear well meaning and kind as well as comfortably get what they need and want by using Spanish.   The class is based on the usage of the 100 most common Spanish verbs with Power Verbs, time frames, and glue words.  ie.  I need to go to the store today. or I want to drink coffee in the morning.” This simple formula gives you the ability to create hundreds of sentences in Spanish.  Students develop a 300 word vocabulary and develop the ability to speak in complete sentences. The book is integrated with an audio and the method is in a paired learning environment.

Basic Communication Skills

This can be taken simultaneously with Power Verbs and provides a broader daily experience.   Or it can be taken after Power Verbs.   This course develops pronunciation.   It helps students to master all of the basic skill necessary for survival.

Master the ability to spell you name, give your phone number, address.   Learn to talk on the phone, make a Dr. appointment,  Go to a Dr. appointment.  Express symptoms.  Learn to take a taxi, give and take directions. Learn names of businesses.  Learn all the fruits and vegetables and how to buy them. Go to the market and shop.  Learn about Mexican guisados (stews) and where to eat in the market.  Learn to go to the restaurant, order, etc.  These are the basic communication needs.  You will learn them in this class.

After Power Verbs and Basic Communication Skills you are functional in Spanish.  You can get around with confidence.  Many people stop here.

However if your goal is to converse in Spanish, you have to continue to learn tenses and practice more.  You must take a more academic approach, which begins in Level 2.

Level 2 – Preterit and Pronouns

This is the core grammar course.  This is where you learn all the rules for word order and the most important tense.   The Preterit or simple past tense occupies 40% of the usage.  It also uses the pronouns more than any tense.  This class empowers you to communicate in past time.  When you leave this class you will clearly know how Spanish sentences are put together. You will be at the high functional level. You will be able to express yourself in present, past and future time.  However, you will not be conversant.


Conversation is being able to sit down at a table and tell your story; to talk about past events.  The Preterit tense alone will not enable you to do that.  The magic of Storytelling is that when we combine the Imperfect tense with the Preterit, we can tell stories and this takes us into the conversation level.  This is a transitional course.  You will learn to tell your life history, talk about historical figures and trips you have taken.   No English spoken here.  Now you entered conversational Spanish. However, you need more tenses.

Level 3 – Seven Indicative Tenses

Here you will study the major tenses.  The Present, The Preterit, The Imperfect and practice integrating them. Then you will study the minor tenses. The Future, The Conditional, The Present Progressive, and the Present Perfect.  Then you will practice integrating them.  Finally you will do exercises using the seven tenses.  ie:  I speak, I spoke, I used to speak, I will speak, I would speak, I am speaking, I have spoken.  Now you have seven tenses and you can begin to understand much better.  The key to understanding is tense recognition.  When you can separate the tense from the pronouns and the nouns, you can understand.  Problem here is that these are alot of tenses and we need to develop the ability to manage them.  Now we are really moving into conversational Spanish and can read.   We need to expand our vocabulary and apply Spanish.

The Soap Opera of Carolina

This Soap Opera was written using the Seven Indicative Tenses.  This bilingual reader is a classic Mexican soap opera with seven chapters.  The whimsical drama of Carolina, a middle aged woman from Oregon visits San Miguel de Allende, meets new friends, falls in love with the Gitano, and well… is juicy.  The Soap Opera reader is supported by a radio play audio performed by professional actors.  You can listen to the audio and read along with the book at home.  In class students take a role and act out their parts as they read from the text.  When students read out loud with emotion as they act, they move into Spanish mind.  Another transitional course, this is where you will begin to think in Spanish.   This course is a blast! Welcome to Conversational Spanish.  After this class you can begin to attend Intermediate Conversation but you are not quite complete with all your tenses, so you need one more Foundation Course.  The Subjunctive.

Level 4 – Present and Past Subjunctive

The Seven Indicative Tenses indicate realities, things that have happened, are happening or we are sure will happen.  The Subjunctive talks of things that have not happened, we are not sure if they will ever happen.  It is the subjective world, the unknown.  It talks of things that might happen or would have happened.  It takes you more deeply into the Spanish mind and the sweetness of its culture.  This course will complete your knowledge of the tenses and it will give you the ability to express yourself diplomatically.   The subjunctive comprises 20% of the usage.  It is important and has many nuances.  You miss out on a lot if you don’t know the Subjunctive.  Now you have completed your Foundation work.  You are not moving from Spanish learner to Spanish Practitioner.  You will want to read, listen to and practice Spanish. 

These upper level conversation courses are designed to be repeated.  As you continue attending this class you will begin to accelerate in understanding, vocabulary, and speaking skills.  They are never exactly the same. Your goal is to be able to engage in the Advanced conversation class.  But believe me, you will want to continue once you begin because they are fantastic in presentation and content.  They are supported by power point, streaming internet, movies.     

Intermediate Conversation

Engage in study and  conversation about Mexican history, literature, art, and politics at a simple enough level that you will be able to understand and react.  This class is never the same and engages the student through readings, listening, and sharing opinions and ideas.  It is supported by power point, streaming video, and movies. Develop you ability to converse until you are ready to move to Advanced Conversation.  Audit advanced conversation to see if you can compete at that level. 

Advanced Conversation

Cafe Literario is for the advanced student. It explores Mexican culture, past and present through the reading and discussing of newspaper/magazine articles/movies on Mexican literature, legends, fables,myths and country stories. You will learn the different ways in which the MX culture is presented through politics, society and ideology. You will interact in round table discussions as you express your views and opinions. You are welcome to attend any one day of Cafe Literario complimentary to see if it fits your level and if you like the format and presentation. It is taught by Ricardo Ruiz Correon, a master teacher.

 Total Immersion

Well, this is about all we can do for you but no one else could have brought you to this spot as quickly or as painlessly as we have. Our job has been to give you the knowledge and develop your skills to use the Spanish language. You are at a high conversational level and can read most anything.  You can practice by watching and enjoying movies and television.

Mastery or fluency is another step and requires total immersion.  Of course, if you have come this far, don’t hold back.  We are affiliated with many total immersion schools and we can guide you to the country and the school.  

Remember this:  Warren Hardy Spanish will give you a strong foundation in the Spanish language and when you enter total immersion you will feel yourself blossom with confidence.  Our students that go to total immersion always write back and say the same thing.  I was the oldest there but I knew more than anyone else.  One of the best ways to stay young is to go to another country and learn another language and culture.   We are here to help make that possible for you.

Warren Hardy

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Mexico Tourism Remains Strong

HI Friends of Warren Hardy Spanish.   Despite violence, Mexico tourism remains strong.

Also I am happy to report that our Texas Students are returning to San Miguel and to Warren Hardy Spanish. We are having a pretty good summer in spite of the fears surrounding Mexico travel.  We are hoping that by this time next year we will be back to normal.  Please read this article.

By Mariano Castillo, CNN

July 27, 2011 — Updated 0029 GMT (0829 HKT)

(CNN) — Mexico’s international image may be taking hits because of the violence produced by drug cartels, but it hasn’t hurt its tourism industry, officials say. International tourism to Mexico has increased 2.1% in the first five months of 2011 compared to 2010, and it remains the top destination for Americans traveling abroad.

Statistics from the U.S. Department of Commerce show that fewer Americans are traveling abroad, but a bigger percentage of those who do are going to Mexico. Mexico also reported double-digit increases in the percentage of visitors from Russia, Brazil and China, among others.

"The data doesn’t lie," Mexico’s deputy secretary for tourism, Ricardo Anaya, told CNN. "Tourists keep choosing Mexico."

The unrelenting battles between rival drug cartels and police and cartels have provided nearly unlimited fodder for those who write off Mexico as a dangerous destination.

The truth, Anaya said, is that the violence is limited to certain geographic areas that can be avoided by tourists.

The border area, for example, where much violence has been recorded, is 1,200 miles from the resort town of Cancun — that’s like avoiding travel to Houston because of problems in New York, he said.

According to surveys by Mexican tourism authorities, 98% of those who do visit Mexico say they will come back, and 99% recommend it to others.

Opinion: Why you should go to Mexico

Much of the growth has been fueled by new programs to incentivize tourists from emerging economies, such as the so-called BRIC countries — Brazil, Russia, India and China.

For starters, Mexico began allowing holders of U.S. visas to enter Mexico, opening up the possibility of tourists to the United States extending their trips south of the border.

Also, Brazilians, Russians and Ukrainian visitors can gain travel permission to Mexico on the Internet, with no need for a visa.

Finally, for travelers from other countries, visas to Mexico in many cases can be obtained through a travel agent, erasing the need for trips to embassies.

In 2011 to date, Mexico has seen a 40.9% increase in Brazilian tourists, a 58.1% increase from Russia and 32.8% increase from China, according to Mexico’s tourism ministry.

For U.S. travelers specifically, the Commerce Department’s most recent data — for 2009 — shows that 31.7% of all U.S. international tourists go to Mexico. From 2002 to 2009, while U.S. tourism to Canada fell by more than 27%, tourism to Mexico from the U.S. increased by 5.1%. This happened even though the overall number of Americans traveling abroad decreased, from a peak of 64 million in 2007 to 61.4 million in 2009.

When Kendra Young, a high school teacher in Texas, told her friends that she and her husband’s family were going to Cozumel for a yearly retreat, she was met with skepticism. Are you worried, they would ask? Are you still going?

"I think people see all of Mexico as one entity," she told CNN.

It was the third straight year that she traveled to the same resort, and security was not a concern for her. Young is pregnant, and she was more worried about food-borne or water-borne illness.

She was aware of several State Department travel warnings to Mexico’s cartel hot spots, but she also knew that the area she was traveling to was not affected. Her group planned to stay on the resort, where they felt safest, but on the advice of resort staff they trusted from the previous trips, they ventured into the city without worries.

"Unfortunately, there are the headline-grabbing things — the drugs, the violence — but I don’t think that’s indicative of what’s happening in the entire country," Young said.

Anaya pointed out that Americans are not unaware of the violence — 80% of Americans who travel to Mexico go to six places, none of which have had travel alerts. The destinations are Cozumel, Riviera Maya, Cancun, Puerto Vallarta/Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico City and Los Cabos, he said.

Some beach destinations, like Acapulco, have been the scene of some of the drug cartel bloodshed, but still managed to increase its tourism 3% in the first five months of 2011 compared to last year, thanks to national, rather than international, tourism.

But some pitfalls of tourism in Mexico persist.

Tucson, Arizona, resident Denise Hermosillo and a couple of friends made the six-hour trek last week from her home to Bahia de Kino in the state of Sonora, Mexico. This area is not under a travel warning, but is not among the top destinations for American tourists.

"I was scared out of my mind to go there," Hermosillo said. Friends of hers who are in the military are not allowed to cross the border and urged her not to do the same. But she wanted to go to the beach to write for a book she is working on, and Bahia de Kino is the closest one.

On the first day of her vacation, her group was pulled over by a police officer, who promptly asked for $100 in exchange to letting them go. In the moment she was frightened, all those stories about bloody ends in Mexico rushing to her mind. But she negotiated the bribe down to $20 and her group was allowed to continue on their journey.

"It was pretty pathetic, I thought. What are you going to do with 20 bucks?" she said. Still, she was unable to relax during her vacation.

Would she go back? She doesn’t know.

Would she recommend Mexico to a friend? Maybe, but only if you are traveling with someone who could act as a guide.

икониПравославни икониикони на светци

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Petition – Mexico Matters

The reputation and image of Mexico is under attack by a negative corporate media campaign focusing almost exclusively on drug violence and US immigration issues. Relentless coverage of these problems is only increasing xenophobia, stoking racism, polarizing politicians, ruining international commerce, and imperiling the relationship between the US and Mexico. The world needs to hear the positive news of Mexico–which vastly eclipses the negative in relevance but not in coverage–to inspire these countries to work together to solve their mutual problems.
So I signed a petition to Roger Ailes, President of the Fox News Channel, Ken Jautz, President of CNN (Cable News Network), Phil Griffin, Presidents of MSNBC and Anne Sweeney, President of ABC News, which says:
"Moderate the US media’s sensationalistic and damaging reporting on Mexico to promote a healthier relationship between these important neighboring countries."
Will you sign this petition? Click here:

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Problems in San Miguel de Allende

An American was thinking of visiting San Miguel de Allende but he was afraid. He contacted a native of SMA, saying he had some questions.
The American said, "I’m afraid to travel to central Mexico. Is there drug cartel violence in San Miguel?"
The SMA native replied, "No, most of the drug cartel violence is along the border with your country."
"What about earthquakes, then?" asked the American. "I hear there have been some bad ones in Mexico."
"Yes," said the SMA native, "but we don’t have earthquakes in San Miguel—most of the earthquake activity is around Mexico City."
" Hmmm," said the American, "I’ve read about the devastating hurricanes you have there during the summer, though. I’m very concerned about that."
"No," said the SMA native, "We’re located in the center of the country; the hurricanes occur along our coasts. The hurricanes bring us rain but we’re are grateful for that—we need the rain!"
"Well," said the American, "then you must have TORNADOES!"
"No, no", said the SMA native, "We’re located in the mountains and it’s very dry and warm here in the Spring. We don’t have the weather conditions for tornadoes here."
By this time, the American was becoming exasperated. In the States, news reports were filled with all the terrible things happening in Mexico. "Well, look," he said, "San Miguel de Allende must have SOMETHING."
"We do," The SMA native replied. "Fiestas."

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