The Truly Disadvantaged – being young, male and living in ‘La Independencia’

“Más vale vivir cinco años como rey, que cincuenta como buey” – street philosophy

Aside from international efforts to alleviate inequality, the gap between the rich and the poor has persisted in Mexico. This inequality has its cultural and spatial representations. Furthermore, the generally high violence indicators in Mexico tend to concentrate in deprived neighborhoods. This case study is looking at the youth experience of male youngsters in one of the historically oldest, yet, most deprived and stigmatized neighborhoods in Monterrey – La Independencia. How do the youngsters perceive the current situation of marginalization and violence? How do they respond, resist and adapt to a dominating discourse of stigmatization?

Mexico – a failed state?

Thanks to a process of market liberalization starting in the 1980s, belonging to a society of equals is still a distant dream in Mexico. Salaries in the richest decile of population are on average 27 times higher than those of the poorest (OECD 2017). Additionally, some authors claim Mexico to be a ‘failed state’ corrupted by the narco. This leads to high levels of various forms of violence, public insecurity and an ‘architecture of fear’, where areas of cities become ‘no go’-zones and citizens of the middle, middle-upper class protect themselves in the form of private policing and gated communities (Humphrey 2013).

The truly disadvantaged

Especially male youngsters from poor neighborhoods can easily fall into a ‘vicious cycle of violence’. By being confronted with intense levels of inequality, exclusion, poverty, and alienation, they often see no other option than to turn towards criminal violence in the form of youth gangs, criminal mafias, and drug cartels. In some cases, the street becomes the only realistic option for social mobility (Sanchez 2006).

This goes hand in hand with a public perception of poverty which is attributing its causes to the individual. From this vision, the poor are considered as ‘the ones to blame’ for their own situation, not doing ‘the necessary’ and being ‘lazy’. This leads to institutions of low quality, which are only designed for ‘the poor’. Particularly, it is the male youngsters from deprived neighborhoods who become stigmatized as the ‘incarnation of all socially bad and dangerous’ (Bayón 2015).

La Independencia – a cultural melting pot

Created in the 19th century and with around 35,000 inhabitants, La Independencia is one of the oldest and largest neighborhoods in Monterrey. Located right in the city center only separated by a dried-up river, the neighborhood is divided into an area of streets and a mountainous part, which is only accessible by foot. As it almost completely lacks urban planning it almost doesn’t offer public places and playgrounds. Especially parts of the upper area still largely consist of informal settlements. As from 2009, violence escalated along with the ‘war on drugs’. Still in 2016, homicides came up to 28 homicides out of every 100,000 citizens (Nuevo León 2017). It was the same year when La Independencia was named to be the most dangerous neighborhood in the state of Nuevo León.

But this place has another side – by, among other aspects, being the cradle of popular cultural production. La Independencia is the origin of Colombian music from Monterrey with national and international reputation. The music from Colombia was spread by the mass media and rural immigrants from other Mexican states who identified themselves with this music style and introduced it to ‘La Independencia where it found new variations. The cultural-expressive counterpart of the music style is found in the cholo with a specific way to dress, to speak and to behave. The cholo term is very complex and has, among others, its origins in the gang culture of Latin American descendants in California in the 1960s.

Structural violence in Monterrey

Monterrey is the capital of the Northern-Mexican state of Nuevo León. The metropolitan area of Monterrey comprises of around 4 million inhabitants. In this city, a neoliberal concept of urban development predominates, where public resources are distributed in a systematically discriminating manner. It is not unemployment but rather precarious low-paid employment the most deprived are suffering from, not providing sufficient for a ‘dignified’ life. This is complemented by an exclusionary urban infrastructure which is almost exclusively developed for the use of cars.

Deprived neighborhoods mutually co-exist to the privileged, sometimes only divided by streets (as it is the case for ‘La Independencia’ – San Pedro but true for many other areas), yet without any kind of non-hierarchical social interaction. This development mode leads to the spatial and cultural fragmentation of space and is perpetuating a ‘classist’ society with citizens of ‘first’ and ‘second’ class.

How is it to grow up in ‘La Independencia’?

The male youngsters’s life chances are already largely limited by the structural setting of Monterrey. The age group considered was 16-24. Additionally, while they were growing up in La Independencia (especially in the early years during the peak of violence in 2009-2011), the youngsters were exposed to and involved in severe forms of violence. The experiences range from domestic violence, bullying, kidnapping, drug abuse, gang fights to involvement with organized crime. It needs to be mentioned that a frequent factor mentioned was also violence executed by police.

On the other hand, they are subject to particularly two forms of stigmatization – the stigma of space and the stigma of class which are interrelated. A photo experiment (see title photo) applied showed that they indeed are, as outlined before, stigmatized as the ‘incarnation of all evil’ as ‘drug-addicts’, ‘gang members’, ‘violent’, ‘with a limited horizon’ and so on. This evaluation is connected the ‘cholo’. This is interesting because the original representation of the ‘cholo’ was very striking (see Link). Even though they seem to have physically adapted to the cultural mainstream, they seem to never leave to be a ‘cholo’. Even though the ‘cholo’ is just a cultural expression, due to its origins, both historically and spatially, it is almost automatically linked to gang culture, violence and even organized crime. It is also interesting that this evaluation is not only undertaken by ‘outsiders’ but by youngsters from La Independencia itself. Furthermore some youngsters ‘self-stigmatize’ by identifying as ‘cholo’ but refuse to be ‘cholo-cholombiano’. This reflects a complex internal structure of the ‘cholo’ stigma.

In this context it is important to note that, according to their reporting, none of the youngsters is involved with youth gangs or organized crime at that time. All of them are working in high school or studying at college. This, on one hand speaks for their resilience and, on the other, is saddening with respect to the stigmata which are attributed to them. Many of the youngsters reported to have experienced discrimination, especially when the two worlds of the ‘deprived’ and the ‘privileged’ come together. This refers to those youngsters who study in university. ‘the rats from La Independencia’ and ‘Hide your things’ where usual comments. However, the youngsters reported that the discriminating practices became erased once they youngsters got to know each other. Albeit the youngsters’ general report that they have not been affected by stigmatization and discrimination they might not completely be aware of the extent of stigmatization and structural limiting factors they are subject to.

Lessons learned

However, for these youngsters, the ‘vicious cycle of violence’ is not a causality. This shall not obscure the fact that the interviewed are most probably a minority, at least when it comes to studying at a university. Still, as several youngsters mentioned – “there is a cultural change going on in La Independencia”. The youngsters have a strong desire to move forward and to turn their neighborhood for the better. This is connected to a strong rootedness with respect to La Independencia which has shown “the good and the bad side of life.” So, if those youngsters decide to stay living in their neighborhood, they can be the first seeds of a larger transformation. This is not only true for their neighborhood. Of course, the Mexican government’s efforts to provide academic education and decent jobs are far from being sufficient. However, the pressure to meet international requirements set by the United Nations is provoking a change which very slowly, yet steadily could empower the deprived youth in their citizenry and, on the long run, alleviate material, social and cultural inequality. Yet, it is still a long way to go.

To alleviate spatial stigmatization in La Independencia, the focus needs to shift from deficit to potential. The area provides an immense repertoire of cultural heritage. Specifically, it disposes of the basilica of Guadalupe, for a few days in December, attracts thousands of people to the neighborhood. Still, this is only for a few days and until a specific geographic point. However, this could be taken as a starting point to reverse the social dynamics (the case of Medellín, Colombia, Pachuca, Mexico and many other examples are positive examples). It was not mentioned in the text before that the image of La Independencia deteriorates the more one goes up in the mountain. Investing in la La Independencia as a touristic site (art corridors, viewpoint on the upper area, historic street tours, postcards etc.) and by involving the local population (young and old are telling their stories), could attract people from outside and, thus increase the cultural and social capital of the inhabitants with a potential to the reverse social dynamics and structural aspects on the lung run. Of course, security issues and a sensitive approach to avoid gentrification needs to be taken into account.

Generally, until violence indicators significantly decrease, it cannot be completely let go of a ‘firm hand’ approach, meaning a strong presence of police and military. Even though, aside from increasing the police budget for arms and other equipment, it needs to be made sure that the police is properly trained to attend the population and specifically male youngsters. Many reports by the youngsters showed that stigmatizing discourse prevailing among police is a main factor for police violence. This can go as far as that a police men from Fuerza Civil killed a 16-year-old boy, who was caught on drugs, by setting him on fire in 2016. Additionally, social work is scarce and poorly paid in Mexico. Still, some policies focus on achieving big numbers, instead of focusing on the quality of interventions. This could be taken up by focusing on a small group of youngsters who could be trained and turned to be ‘multiplicators’ within their neighborhood and ‘ambassadors’ outside of it. The interviewed youngsters with their reflected world view and their enthusiasm could be a perfect start!

Thanks a million for all who helped me to realize this investigation!

© Title Photo Thom Díaz

Photo 1: Monterrey’s City Slogan: “La Gran Ciudad – Somos Incluyentes” – “The Great City – we are inclusive”

Photo 2: Structural Violence in La Campana, Monterrey

Photo 3: Outside View from ‘la Independencia’







A Virgin that builds Bridges

The 12. December is a special day for Mexico. Being an incredibly beautiful and culturally diverse country, Mexico is lamentably also highly exclusive and unequal when it comes to income distribution. There is a gap between a large part of the population living in relative poverty, and a small elite holding most of the country’s wealth. But during this specific time of the year people all along the social strata come together to celebrate the Virgin of Guadalupe, (Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe or Tonantzin Guadalupe in the local indigenous language).

A legend, evangelization and Mexican syncretism

In times of bloody colonization, Spaniards tried to evangelize the indigenous Aztec population, but only a few converted to Christianity. According to the legend, as from the 12 December of 1531, a beautiful woman appeared several times to the recently baptized Indio Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, telling him to be Mary the mother of the only true God. She instructed him to tell the local bishop to build a chapel on the mountain of her appearance. The bishop didn’t believe Juan Diego. The next day, Juan Diego brought him the collection of some delicately scented flowers, which grew despite of deep winter. The bishop finally believed the supplicant, built the chapel and canonized the place.

Today the Virgin of Guadalupe is la patrona de los mexicanos, the guardian of the Mexicans, and a unique symbiosis of Spanish and pre-Hispanic rituals and believes. She appears to be dark skinned holding in her image various symbols which represent the ancient believes in several gods (the god of the sun, the god of the sky, the god of the moon and so on) as well as Christian believes at the same time.

Virgin Guadalupe is reversing the social order in Monterrey

The 12. of December (and the weeks before and after that date) is also a special time for the neighborhood or colony la Independencia, Monterrey. Formed in times of industrialization in the past century, when Monterrey became very prosperous and its industry flourished, people from neighboring states migrated to the city in search for work. The city was not prepared for that amount of people who settled in remote areas hard to reach by public services. The situation became especially precarious when steel production shut down and large part of the inhabitants of that area became unemployed.

Today, located right in the city center of Monterrey, divided from the very centric, and highly frequented point of the city only by a bridge, this area is stigmatized as a “no go-zone” and known for its high rates of delicuency and the presence of organized crime using it’s situation of marginalization for their purposes to recruit especially young men.

Another interesting fact is that the basilica of Guadalupe of Monterrey is located in la Independencia. So, during those few days in December, all reservations seem to disappear and people from different states of the country, different decent and socio-economic status pilgrimage (sometimes walking for hours) to this place and unite to celebrate the virgin of Guadalupe. Such events reversing the social order should be used systematically to combat marginalization and discrimination!


The Human – Measure of all Things?

“Humanity knows nothing at all. There is no intrinsic value in anything, and every action is a futile, meaningless effort.” – Masanobu Fukuoka

Back to the roots

Born in 1913 on the Japanese island of Shikoku, the eldest son of a rice farmer, Masanobu Fukuoka goes to Yokohama, Japan’s second-largest city, for his study of plant pathology. After graduating, he examines plants for diseases and its causes. He is fascinated by the work on the microscope. Nevertheless, in 1938, at the age of 25, he returns to his native village to devote his life to agriculture. What happened?

After a severe pneumonia a constant feeling of horror creeps over him. Why should all this be good? What had he actually gained his confidence from? On sleepless nights, he wanders the streets of his city. One day he breaks down exhausted on a tree near the harbor and falls into a twilight state. He does not expect anything from life anymore. Slowly a new day dawns and the harbor wraps itself in the morning mist. Suddenly a night heron shoots out of nowhere and Fukuoka goes through a sudden realization: I know absolutely nothing. Humanity understands nothing of this world, because the complexity of nature can not be understood by the human intellect. His world view is re-merging and he knows what he has to do. He quits  his job and returns to the roots of his childhood.

Just do nothing

Everything is meaningless, comes out of nowhere and returns to nothingness. Instead of letting this thesis hover in the philosophical space, Fukuoka decides to seek proof  – in the form of his agriculture of “doing nothing”. This means, first of all, a close observation of the natural interaction under the assumption that plants do not need to be cultivated, but they do so themselves in a healthy environment. Careless intervention can result in a serious imbalance. Unnecessary work should be avoided. This approach does not mean that no hard work is required, especially at harvest time much needs to be done. However, considerably less energy is needed than with other methods.

Natural agriculture is subject to four principles:

  1. Not cultivating the soil: The earth works itself through microorganisms, small animals and earthworms.
  2. No use of chemical fertilizers, or of prepared compost, as these would disturb the natural balance.
  3. No weed killing: Grasses contribute to natural balance and should be controlled but not destroyed.
  4. No pest control: nature given to itself maintains the perfect balance.

Thy irony of science

The sciences in their present meaning have no place in Fukuoka’s philosophy. Doctors are needed when people live in an unhealthy environment. Formal education is needed in a society where this requirement is for social participation. The use of technologies in agriculture is needed when the natural balance is unbalanced and the country becomes dependent on them. A phenomenon of our time, the science of science, Fukuoka describes with the parable of the researcher, who broods over books hour after hour and thus becomes shortsighted with time. Now ask yourself the question, about which he breaks his head all the time. He works on the invention of glasses for myopia.

Nature is being researched to harness it for humanity. Experts pretend to understand the connections. In truth, however, they do not understand nature as such, but only a conception of it. To understand nature, it does not help to know the names of the plants or their metabolism. When an object is considered to be isolated from its environment, it is not really existent. A human being can analyze and examine a butterfly as long as he wants, but he can not create the butterfly itself. It is impossible for people to understand nature in its entirety, since it consists of an almost infinite number of factors. Only children are able to do so, because they look at it without understanding it analytically and wanting to name things. The irony of science is that it only showed mankind how limited knowledge really is.

As in other areas, science in agriculture is often misused to bring as quickly as possible technical innovations to the market, which are sold at the highest possible prices. Whether these are really necessary and resources are not better used elsewhere, few would ask.

Solving the problem by getting to the roots

In his book, The One-Straw Revolution, Fukuoka describes a political discussion about solutions to environmental pollution. When agricultural chemicals are used, only a very small part of them are absorbed by the plants themselves, a much larger part of them pollute domestic waters. In search of a solution, high-tech ideas are on the table. But would it not be the actual solution of the problem to completely abandon such chemicals? However, that this could happen on a broad front is highly questionable, it would deprive the chemical companies of the basis of their power and mean a fundamental socio-economic change.

As always, end users are ultimately responsible for unnatural farming practices and the use of chemicals. Food should be fresh, cheap and always available and look good too. To meet these requirements, a fruit or a vegetable is literally “turned through the mill” and treated in Japan with up to six chemicals before it reaches the counter. In particular, not seasonally grown food scored high prices. To make them look fresh, they are sprayed with a dye, artificial sweeteners and preservatives are added to them and, last but not least, a layer of wax makes the product shine. It then moves into the customer’s bag via long supply chains. This has almost nothing to do with a fresh product. The daily diet is peppered with other extravagant desires, such as imported foods and meats. The latter becomes an absolute luxury item if its production requires land that could be directly available to human consumption under other uses. If on a quarter of a mile of land (one acre of land equals 4047 sq.m.) 22 bushels of rice and 22 bushels of winter crops are harvested using a natural method of cultivation, then this land can feed up to ten people, each investing less than an hour of work per day.

People who limit themselves to a simple, local diet with natural foods need less work and less land to meet their needs. We often forget that our taste is conditioned anyway. For example, goat’s milk is far healthier than cow’s milk. The latter, however, is much more in demand. A fundamental change of values in consumption is needed!

Just serve nature and all is well

What do we need economic growth for? Does a growth rate of 5 to 10 percent of a country mean that the satisfaction of its people increases by this value? Does not growth of 0 percent mean that it is a stable economy? Has not this growth so far caused our planet to be polluted and people to be confused?

If we stick to our extravagant needs, chances are high thath we will shovel our own grave. However, if a person is content with what is locally available and enjoys life itself, then it can be true joy. After all, man is the only living thing on earth that has to work for his survival. If we return our claims, we have much more time to enjoy the moment and it opens up new worlds. It is very likely that human existence on earth will serve no purpose and we will never be able to answer the great spiritual questions. The more we try, the more we move away from nature and the world appears as an awesome, abstract complex. However, if we choose to serve nature, sow the seed, and take good care of the plants, there will always be enough food to eat, and we will have plenty of time to enjoy our freedom and life.

At the end

Masanobu Fukuoka’s theses are radical and it will not be possible to prove them in their entirety, but his success proves him right. On average, he harvests 22 bushels of rice and 22 bushels of winter cereals per year, among other products. When the harvest reaches 29 bushels, its land per unit is as productive as the largest agricultural and industrial enterprises in Japan. Modern science has nothing to do with it.

Fukuoka died in 2008 at the age of 95 years. He has published numerous books, the most famous work is probably The One-Straw Revolution. His writings are regarded as the basic literature of permaculture. In 1988, Fukuoka received the Ramon Magsaysay Prize, which is considered the Asian Nobel Peace Prize.

from: Masanobu Fukuoka. The One-Straw Revolution. 2009. New York.


„The time has come. When the house is burning, we should find a way to get out!“ – Rob Hopkins 

Are the limits of growth reached? These questions were raised in 1972 by a research team headed by US economist Dennis Meadows. Scenario technique has been used to test the thesis that on a finite planet there is not infinite material for the production of goods and for the absorption of emissions. Various developments were played through.The prospects in a business as usual scenario, so just keep going as before, were bleak: the limits of the carrying capacity of our earth would soon be exceeded. Possible consequences – uncertain. At least, a drastic decline in the world’s population and a concomitant loss of wealth was suspected.

The limits to growth in a today’s perspective

Even today, the study has lost none of its relevance. The limits of the carrying capacity of our earth have already been partially exceeded. Exponential increases in population growth, resource consumption and amount of waste make the issue particularly explosive. So an action is required, even when everything still seems ok. Here worldwide financial, economic and environmental crises show that we are extremely late. Harald Welzer and Klaus Wiegandt, two experts in sustainability, illustrate the explosiveness of the topic in one sentence: with its current development the global economy is heading for a massive wall  and is even picking up speed.

What happened already?

The sociologist Bernd Sommer describes the industrial metabolism as the interaction between the man-made part of our planet and the rest of the earth. The relationship between man and earth is shown by the consumption of resources, that is, what man removes from the earth (input side of production), and the waste, that is, what man supplies to the earth (output side of production). On the input side are, in particular, the fossil fuels, especially oil, but also gas and coal, which industrial companies need for their goods production. The output side looks at the space available on earth for the uptake of industrial production waste, in particular CO². It seems obvious that both sides are limited.

Nevertheless, Sommer shows that the demand for fossil fuels is currently increasing. In the 19th century, when energy demand was still largely derived from biomass, in 2010, 85 percent of the required materials were not renewable. Limits already show up with respect to oil, for example. On the output side, Rockström et al. (2009) outlined ten critical areas of Earth absorption capacity, such as the loss of biodiversity, acidification of the oceans, and climate change (see graph below). The innermost circle here stands for the safe operating space for humanity on earth. In this area, man can move without destroying his own livelihood. If, for example, the parameter climate change is considered, the accepted limit for exceeding the limit is the figure of 350 ppm (particles of carbon dioxide per million in the atmosphere). Exceeding this limit leads to global warming, this warming, for example, to the melting of the Arctic ice sheet. The complete melting of this ice sheet means a sea level rise of 7 meters.

The CO² concentration in the atmosphere is currently 390 ppm, which is already above the limit. The 2 degree climate target of international climate policy seems illusory. If the current energy mix (the ratio of renewable and non-renewable resources) is maintained, the earth will heat up by about 5 degrees Celsius with an increase in energy demand. In summary, the problem is represented by the concept of the ecological footprint. This parameter combines the input and output sides in one measure and puts the available capacity of the earth in relation to its actual use. A more detailed description of the concept should not be made here. However, it was shown that the limit of planetary capacity (the carrying capacity of the earth summarizes input and output limits) was exceeded in 1980 and already exceeded by 50 percent in 2007.

What has to happen?

Or in other words, how can a world be created in which the livelihoods of future generations, our children, are not endangered? As an aside, mention should be made of the much discussed controversy about the compatibility of growth and sustainability. Without going into the problem at this point, the implementation of green growth is unlikely, for a variety of reasons. Thus, alternatives to the current growth course must be created, An interesting concept is that of the post-growth society established by the German environmental economist Nico Paech. Roughly sketched this could be a society in which the industries are strongly reduced. These industries produce resource-saving products that are designed for longevity and ease of repair instead of planned obsolescence. In this society, individuals are not consumers but prosumers. These prosumers compensate for income losses caused by the dismantled industry by own contribution. For example, by using goods more collectively and with greater care, as well as with a focus on maintenance and reprocessing. Foods are bought regionally or even produced. Discarded objects would not simply be thrown away, but creatively recycled. A loss of income in a post-growth society would not be equated with a loss of wealth. To mention just one example, the crises in countries like Spain, where people are starting to repair things out of necessity, or are already exchanging things, are already showing the rude features of such a society.

How does the transition to such a society work?

This is a difficult question that can not be answered so easily. The question is whether the transition is by design, that is, by active design, or by disaster, by a compulsion out, for example, by current crises, is initiated. It is not very likely that the industry will suddenly begin to ignore its growth path. In politics, framework conditions are already being created. However, to mitigate the growth constraints of the economy, a profound restructuring of land, money and financial market policies is needed. It is therefore probable that politics will only act if specific crises, such as increasing climate and financial catastrophes, sensitize the broad electorate. As already briefly mentioned, however, a concrete action in the present is necessary. Thus, a fundamental, planned change (if any) will probably take place from below, from civil society. An example of this, among others, is the current grassroots movement Transition-Towns.

This blog is supposed to report about these processes of change. He should report on what is going on in terms of sustainability issues in a positive and negative sense in the world. In addition, he should address the question of whether and how a sustainable way of life is possible for the individual. This does not mean a complete self-sufficiency, but a resource-saving life, as independent as possible of oil and gas. Ideas should therefore be presented on a large and small scale, which could pave the way step by step into a more sustainable society.


Meadows, Donella; Randers Jørgen; Meadows, Dennis. Grenzen des Wachstums, Das 30-Jahre-Update: Signal zum Kurswechsel. Stuttgart. Hirzel, 2006.

Welzer, Harald; Wiegandt, Klaus (Hrsg.). Wege aus der Wachstumsgesellschaft. Frankfurt. Fischer, 2013.

Foto 1(19)


Planetarische Grenzen


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