Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 29.djvu/33

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23
AN ECONOMIC STUDY OF MEXICO.

fitted for the uses and progress of a commercial nation; and which will inevitably constitute a very serious obstacle in the way of indoctrinating the Mexican people with the ideas and methods of overcoming obstacles and doing things which characterize their great Anglo-Saxon neighbors. It should also be borne in mind that a language is one of the most difficult things to supplant in the life of a nation through a foreign influence. The Norman conquest of England, although it modified the Saxon language, could not substitute French; neither could the Moors make Arabic the language of Spain, although they held possession of a great part of the country for a period of more than seven centuries. It seems certain, therefore, that Spanish will continue to be the dominant language of Mexico until the present population is outnumbered by the Americans a result which may occur before a very long time in the northern States of Mexico, where the population at present is very thin, but which is certainly a very far-off contingency in the case of Central Mexico.

Of the present population of Mexico, probably three quarters, and possibly a larger proportion—for in respect to this matter there is no certain information—can not read or write, possess little or no property, and have no intelligent ideas about civil as contradistinguished from military authority, of political liberty, or of constitutional government.

It is difficult, in fact, to express in words, to those who have not had an opportunity of judging for themselves, the degraded condition of the mass of the laboring classes of Mexico. The veil of the picturesque, which often suffices to soften the hard lines of human existence, can not here hide the ugliness and even hideousness of the picture which humanity exhibits in its material coarseness and intellectual or spiritual poverty. The late consul-general Strother, who, as a citizen of one of our former slaveholding States, is well qualified to judge, expresses the opinion, in a late official report (1885), that the scale of living of the laboring classes of Mexico "is decidedly inferior in comfort and neatness to that of the negroes of the Southern (United) States when in a state of slavery. Their dwellings in the cities are generally wanting in all the requirements of health and comfort—mostly rooms on the ground-floor, without proper light or ventilation; often with but a single opening (that for entrance), dirt floors, and no drainage. In the suburbs and in the country, the dwellings in the cold regions are adobe; and in the temperate or warm regions mere huts of cane, or of stakes wattled with twigs, and roofed with corn-stalks, plantain-leaves, or brush." In such houses of the common people there is rarely anything answering to the civilized idea of a bed, the occupants sleeping on a mat, skin, or blanket on the dirt floor. There are no chairs, tables, fireplace, or chimney; few or no changes of raiment; no washing apparatus or soap, and in fact no furniture whatever, except a flat stone with a stone roller to grind their corn, and a variety of earthen vessels to hold their