I had the opportunity to meet and interview Miguel, a fifteen-year old street vendor in Merida. Miguel, like many of his friends is from the pueblo Chamula, composed mostly of indigenous people in the state of Chiapas. His parents are farmers, though his father has been to Merida many times to sell goods. Miguel says he came to know Merida by traveling with his father as a young child. Then one of his friends was working as a vendor of cigarettes, gum, and lighters, and he taught Miguel the trade.
Miguel said he learned by accompanying his friend through the streets of Merida. Also, the same friend made a box for him to use when he began selling.
During the summer, Miguel and many other young people from Chiapas live together in a rented room. They spend long days walking around the Centro with boxes that hang from their shoulders full of cigarettes and candy. Miguel says that they buy the items in the Mercado at a low price, and then sell to tourists who are walking around or sitting in the Centro. Miguel says that he earns the equivalent of $3-4 dollars a day, though in the winter he can make up to five dollars a day in profits. He said that this is the way that many youths from make money.
Miguel said that other youths in Chiapas learn the family business of agriculture by working on the farm. Despite this, he relates that his sisters and other females in Chamula learn cooking and housekeeping from their mothers by spending time at home while the men are in the fields. When asked about school, Miguel said that he learns in Spanish, though he and his friends speak both Mayan and Spanish. He says he wants to learn Spanish better, but it is hard because he only got a small amount of Spanish instruction in school, and he is exposed to so much Mayan language, Tzotzil dialect,in his town. He says, that he learned Spanish from his dad, who learned by selling in town.
In turn, he got better himself by learning informally from people in the city of Merida, that is trying various sales pitches or greetings and seeing how they were received. Miguel is not sure what the future holds for him, but he says that he enjoys selling for the time being.
From my conversations with Mario and his “compañeros” it seems that the way one becomes a street vendor is driven not by a formal educative format but rather an informal process driven by economic need. Mario says he sells to earn money to eat and buy what he needs to get by. Unlike learning in school, where a certified instructor leads children through sequences of topics and assessments, the children who sell learn by observation and doing the work. The assessment of the job is not a written test,but trial and error. The grades are not a set scale of percentages,rather counting the earnings at the end of a long day.
TravelYucatam.com expresses thanks to Ilvia L. Osceola University of Florida for permission to reprint this article.