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The Epiphany: From camels to high-speed trains

I was sad again this morning to see one more sacred tradition banalized. In the past the story of the Three Kings paying homage to the Christ child was celebrated in Spain, Mexico and elsewhere in the Catholic world with touching ceremony. In Spain, gifts were taken to children in hospitals and prisoners in jail. In some places, the Three Kings actually found camels to ride around on in their benevolent mission. This year, I have not seen a camel, not even a king. In Mexico, it was all about the high price of toys, in Spain about a soccer match. Apparently it was hoped that the Three Kings would bring victory to one team. If they have been reading my postings, they would not get involved in such nonsense. They would realize that soccer teams and their owners are not poor children lying hopelessly on the ground. No such luck.

Then a recent book about a forgotten Spanish writer, Lucas Mallada, describing the misery of old Spain reminded me of the backward country I first visited in 1931. Now Spain has been caught up in the prosperity of western Europe, and it is a modern, quite prosperous country. That may be better than a poor country in which gifts brought joy to poor people. Perhaps that prosperity will now spread to Morocco, from which destitute, desperate people flee to Spain, a heart-wrenching spectacle.

There is here a parallel with Mexico. Miserably poor when I first visited it in the 40s, northern Mexico is now a relatively prosperous area. Mexican poverty is highest in the area between the capital and Guatemala. Prosperity should move slowly southward. Again, gross materialism is better than gross poverty. There is another parallel with Spain. In the Spain of the 30s, republican reformers pointed to Spain's poorest region, Las Hurdes, to prove that Spain was desperately miserable. The prosperity of Barcelona and other areas were not mentioned in this context. Likewise in Mexico, leftist revolutionaries point to the misery of Chiapas, not to the prosperity of areas north of he capital.

President Fox showed that the Three Kings mean something to him. He once more went to have a simple meal with street children. The Mexican congress passed a law raising the pensions of the poorest. He made a touching speech about the problems of old people eking out a poor, sad and lonely life. His enemies accused him of populism. To hell with them, literally. I saw no signs of similar concern among the striking university students, none of whom is truly hungry, lonely, a child or a old-age pensioner. They do not ride camels; they take over buses.

Ronald Hilton - 1/05/01