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Buying A Flag
email this pageprint this pageemail usIlan Benmergui - PVNN
December 28, 2010

In Puerto Vallarta, most of the locals work six days a week and do their shopping on Sundays. Consequently, on Sundays, stores are jammed. While I was waiting in line to pay for my groceries, my mind wandered and I casually observed the different groups of people. The families, looking happy; the single 20 and 30-somethings, trying to look important, talking on their cell-phones; the children running around, oblivious to the frenzy of consumption. Or are they? I wondered.

And then of course the store's employees in their ridiculous uniforms. From their expressions, I don't think they like their jobs (or their uniforms) very much. The averted gazes, the scarcely audible greetings, the insincerely mumbled Que le vaya bien all suggest low wages and long work-days. Some people have it pretty hard, I think. Well, at least they have jobs, my inner capitalist adds. Shut up, I tell him. Have some sympathy.

In the subterranean parking lot, a boy of no more than 12 is hawking Mexican flags of all sizes from a push-cart. Bumper stickers and headbands, too. He is sitting on a ledge near a window, eagerly looking at the exiting patrons. Looking at him, I marvel at the irony he represents: here is a boy who probably does not go to school, proudly selling symbols of the system that let him down, that deprived him of an education. He looks quite content, however, so I decide to ask him a few questions.

“Hi, what's your name, young man?” I ask.

“Manuel Peña,” he says.

“And how old are you, Manuel?”


“And you're selling these flags?”


“Hmmm. Do you go to school?”

“Not anymore.”

“But you're only 11. Shouldn't you be in school?”

“Not really.”

“Would you like to be in school?”


“You don't like school?”


“You like doing this better?”

“Oh, yes!” he says.

“And how is it going? Are you making good money?”


“Do you realize that if you went to school, you would probably make more money one day?”

He considers this for a moment. “Maybe,” he says.

“Wouldn't you like to make more money?”

“What for?”

This comment catches me a little off-guard. I stumble a moment, then say,

“Oh, I don't know. So you could have a nice car, take trips, buy a house...”

He looks off into the distance, then replies: “I already have all those things.”

“Really?!!” I say, bemused.

“Yes,” he answers.

“You have a car?”

“No, but I'm too young to drive, anyway.”

“Hmmm. Good point,” I say. Well, what about travel? Wouldn't you like to see Paris, Rome, China?”

He looks at me with his wide, liquid eyes for a moment.

“Last week I was in Morelia, and in a month I'll be going to Tepic.”

“But all those places are in Mexico.”


“O.K...Well, what about a house. Wouldn't you like to own a house someday?”

“I will. The house I live in was built by my great-grandfather. It was passed on to my grandfather, then to my father, and one day it will be mine.”

“Oh! That's great! What kind of house is it?”

“It's very big. We have chickens and dogs and cows and 2 horses.”

“Wow! That's great! Sounds very nice.”

“It is.”

“Well it sounds like you have a pretty nice life!”

“I do.”

“Now I understand why you sell flags of Mexico.”

“Yes,” he answered simply.

We stared at each other for a second. Our exchange didn't seem to mean much to him. His answers were automatic and unpretentious. Our conversation over, he didn't seem to expect me to buy a flag, so when I asked him how much the medium one was, he looked surprised. I paid him, thanked him and left. His 'Que le vaya bien' was sincere.

All the way home I thought about Manuel, unsure whether to feel sorry for him or not.

I felt the fabric of my new-bought flag with my thumb and forefinger. It wasn't very good quality, but the golden eagle in the centre of it shone like real gold.

Ilan Benmergui has been living in Puerto Vallarta for 2 years.

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