I see one of my former students driving a taxi around town, and it makes me sad. I’ll call him Aldo, not his real name. Such a bright kid; what a waste, I think but would never say. I know there’s nothing wrong with being a taxi driver. And staying close to home is O.K., too. I admire the extended families I see in town, maybe even envy their togetherness: three generations living under the same roof; gathering to chat, day after day, as they sit in front of their houses on white plastic chairs.
I also laugh at the old joke about ambition that features a Mexican fisherman. You know the one---about the Harvard MBA who chides the young Mexican for being content with his simple life by the sea, a life of fishing, making love to his wife, and taking his kids to the beach.
“You should buy more boats,” the MBA says, “increase your catch, expand your market. You could make a lot more money, then retire early to enjoy the good life--- fishing, making love to your wife, taking your kids to the beach.”
Still, I thought Aldo's future held more promise. Tall, handsome, quick, book-smart, hardworking, popular, he was a sponge when it came to languages and the best English speaker among the beginners at our high school. He said he wanted to study engineering at the state university in Tepic. He had a steady job in an upscale restaurant to help pay for higher education and a family willing to support him as well. I don’t know what derailed him; other than waving to each other from car windows on occasion, we lost touch after graduation.
Lack of motivation might be the culprit. For all the four-year colleges and universities in our area, the number of professional job opportunities is abysmal. The Bay of Banderas lives and dies on tourism. No major companies are based in Vallarta. Even large hotels and development firms that operate here are branches of larger corporations and, as such, hire advance-degreed locals as peons. Talk to some of the time-share hawkers and you’ll see how many are university graduates.
To get ahead here means to relocate, assuming you are one of the lucky, light-skinned, multilingual employees offered that chance. Your other option is to build your own business from the bottom up. So maybe being a taxi driver makes good sense to Aldo, even as it disappoints his old teacher who saw his potential for more.