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MEXICO: Shoes as a status symbol

I mentioned ties as a status symbol; the Argentine "shirtless" wore shirts but no tie. David Crow discusses shoes as a status symbol in Mexico: "The comment about the "descamisados" in Argentina reminds me of the derogatory appellative "descalzo" (shoeless) in Mexico. It usually modifies the substantive "Indian", so a "shoeless Indian" (indio descalzo) is the lowest of the low: on top of the misfortune of poverty, a shoeless Indian is also bereft of culture and civilization.

Don Pablo González Casanova, the first Mexican to receive a Ph.D. in sociology (so I've heard), points out in his 1965 classic La democracia en México (re-edited many times since then) that population surveys had used footwear as a rough proxy for social status. The questionnaires would ask the respondent if he or she wore shoes, sandals, or nothing at all on the feet. They also asked whether one ate bread or tortillas.

I remember meeting a Mixe community leader from Oaxaca who aspired to local political office. He was wearing a well-made pair of shoes (Mexico leather products are of very high quality, on a par with Argentina to my mind), on which I complemented him. He replied that they were good for the city, but preferred the comfort of his huaraches (leather sandals) in the countryside, of which he had several pairs in different styles. He took pride in having appropriate footwear for both the urban and rural settings, and of moving well in both worlds. Still, he wondered why the city folks liked to suffocate their feet so much".

RH: Not just shoes, but well-shined shoes. The shoe-shine is (or was?) seen everywhere in the Spanish-speaking world. How fare ties and well-shined shoes in Latin America now?

Ronald Hilton - 9/27/02