December 19, 1924.
It is a pleasure to reply to your letter asking that something be told of the work of the American Friends Service Committee in Mexico City, as you wish to awaken the interest of your young people in this country.
Different denominations have been working in Mexico (including Mexico City) for many years. The Methodists for more than 50 years. The Presbyterians and Baptists perhaps quite as long, if not longer; also the Episcopalians and Adventists. The Friends Missionary Board, as you know, has been organized -- it may be for half a century in the State of Tamaulipas.
Neither in Mexico City, nor in [Mexico], have the American Friends Service Committee, as yet, an organization, in the precise sense of that word. It is hoped they will before many years, as they are needed here -- not to merge their gifts and their giftedness with other denominations; but to form another member of a group in Mexico City composed of different Church names, yet all working in harmony and to the same end, but with distinct and separate organizations.
Though not here in numbers, the Friends Service Committee is definitely working in Mexico City -- doing Social Center and Neighborhood House work. The Social Center where they have been working is in a part of the city where it is greatly needed. The children who come to this Center come from homes poor and unattractive -- sometimes a whole family living in one room; that room, of course, the dining room, the living room and the sleeping room, so that it is a pleasant shifting of the scenes to come to "The Lighthouse" (the name of the Social Center) at 4:30 in the afternoon to enjoy the swings and athletic sports, and at dusk, if they wish to do so, the children go into the library, the reading room, the typewriting room, or the class rooms, as the Friends Service Committee supplied a teacher in English and Stenography for eight months, or until the term closed.
There is, too, a large room with a stage and "scenery" where the children give plays and concerts. In addition to these diversions and recreations -- that they may not miss the real purpose of it all, there are classes for moral and religious teaching, and they are well attended. Catholics and Protestants attend alike, and each group as much at home as the other. Quite a number of the Catholics have been attending a Protestant Church under the influence of this Social Service work, though no effort is made to have them do so. May the "Lighthouse" long continue, and many more established for many more are needed, as it touches only one section of this city of more than a million inhabitants.
The Service Committee is also working in a Neighborhood House where they are teaching English to a class of young men whose ages range from 20 to 23 years. There were also two young women -- a young doctress and a Government [employee]. The doctress left Mexico City to take up work in a hospital, and the other young woman was not strong enough to continue her studies in English after the work was greatly increased in the Government departments by the dismissal of many hundreds of those employed that the expenses of the Government might be reduced. There are now other young women in the class. The young men are studying for the purpose of getting [page 2] an outlook, a hope, an anticipation that Mexico at the present time does not afford. Once a week they attend a lecture at the Y.M.C.A. This talk, or lecture, is always on a subject that relates directly to the constant, everyday formation of character good or bad, and their individual responsibility for the making and maintaining of friendly and beneficial international relations.
It was coming -- this chance, this opportunity for these young men, but the rebellion (1923) outran it and got here first. It has been so sad to see Mexico build up only to be torn down by the rebellionist, as all who saw for themselves the uprising of the 6th of December, 1923, and its disastrous results can testify. It is well to be careful not to call them (these rebels against an established government) revolutionists, for revolution began in 1810 with Hidalgo and his little army, and the Rebellionist, the Imperialist, have been fighting the Revolutionist ever since. Mexico has done so much for herself and goes on in spite of all the harm she must stop to repair instead of steadily following her path of progress. It is hoped she has had her last rebellion for the mutual recognition between the Mexican and the American Republic has done much towards helping Mexico to hold her own, in warding off the exploiter who wants rebellion, unrest, bewilderment, discord, indecision and everything that tends to weakness of Governmental and moral energy and the making of this country (so rich in its natural resources), an easy prey to the robber domestic and foreign.
The Service Committee has made it possible to give instruction to a class of young girls who could neither read nor write, as well as gave assistance to a young woman, who, with very little time, and less money, was trying to prepare herself to be a school teacher. She was also instructed in music as a part of this preparation.
In addition to the definite, active work just described, the "Goodwill" movement of the American Friends Service Committee consists in finding out at first hand from their own representative resident in Mexico City, what are the important needs of this country.
The most important need of Mexico is to be understood.
It is altogether important to understand this country, for Mexico must be helped to find the road that is straight and the path that is plain, as she cannot much longer be driven along a devious road by devious men and survive as a Nation. Mexico must be helped to "find herself" and if those who come here do not know where they are (for without a knowledge of the language or an unusual gift of acceptability, one might wonder for a long time) it will be the blind leading the blind.
If the Mexican Republic has seemed to stand a bit too long at the turning point it is because of a defect in her mental vision. She has had three eyes -- one good eye, one evil eye which must be put out -- out of the way, and one blind eye. This may be figurative but it is not facetious, for the 15-1/2 millions of Mexico's population are divided into three classes: 1st, the Government; 2nd the class constantly (up to the present time) seeking to overthrow the Government by force of arms; 3rd the People. You find three classes when you live here. In the United States and other countries it is believed there are but two classes: The Government, and the Rebellionist Class, to which they settle it in their minds the people belong. They do not. The people are the 3rd class and they are not rebellionists. They are gentle and kindly, strange as this may sound and the exceptions one could find. [page 3]
The Goodwill movement of the American Friends Service Committee is essentially to help in the establishment of sound and unselfish international relations between the United States of Mexico and the United States of America. "Sound and unselfish" understood in their true value and meaning in their relation to international friendship, make the building of a fleet of battleships, the equipment of an army and a navy, the assembling of a bravado force of military airplanes, the cunningly scientific manufacture of gases, -- seem small -- child's play indeed in comparison with what might be expected. But it seems to be the boyish, easy things, the crude things the Governments of the world have been attempting, finding it much easier to "take a city" than to "rule the spirit." Much easier to take measures against a possible enemy than to make an enemy impossible; much easier to wear the war paint than to try to grasp the Thoughts that are as far above men's thoughts as the heavens are above the earth, yet quite within the range of reason. But the "low sun makes the color," and "we love the touch of earth."
The Friends Service Committee, therefore, in first seeking to know what are the important needs of Mexico, and at the same time seeking to help establish friendly relations between Mexico and the United States, is in a position to make it known in the States what should be done for Mexico.
The first requisite is to know the language. Young men and women go to college and study the language of every nation under the sun preparing themselves to be missionaries to foreign countries. It would be interesting to know how [men] are studying Spanish and preparing themselves to come to Mexico. One of the American bishops in charge of the Methodist Churches of Mexico could not speak Spanish. The Mexican congregations resented it, and rightly. A Spanish-speaking bishop was sent in his stead notwithstanding the first Bishop in his personality and qualifications was acceptable. Many Mexicans speak English. They are far ahead of the Americans in their knowledge of languages. In the moving picture shows the wording is thrown on the screen in both Spanish and English. This, also, is to some extent resented, for these people, even the illiterate, are astute readers of character, and they know the courteous thing to do, the friendly thing to do and the Christian thing to do is to learn their language.
The United States has been friendly to Mexico. Suppose it were to put real warmth and whole-heartedness into that friendship and do the thing that is unbusiness-like, unconventional perhaps, even unheard of -- for after all it is our great United States of America that must take the lead in putting some divinity into National measures. Cannot depend on England for that when one thinks of South Africa and now Egypt. Imagine what could be accomplished if the United States should found and endow a school for the sole purpose of training educators for Mexico and maintain each one for a pledged three-years service in Mexico. Admit no one who, on examination, could not show a sincere desire and adaptability for the work. The course to embrace a thorough study of the history of Mexico, past, present and its prospects for the future. A thorough course in the Spanish language so that it could be spoken and readily understood when spoken by others. A study of the disposition of the Mexicans -- that it may be known that they really do understand justice and kind treatment. The whole curriculum could be summed up in three words: "To Know Mexico." There is no idealization of the Mexicans in all this. Far from it. One cannot live here for more than a year and idealize them; but in that time one comes to find out what it is they need to have done for them to help them in some measure to approach the ideal. The course might well include a study of Mexican institutions that the egotistical or facetious disposition toward this country may not develop; that the student may know before he comes here that Mexico has perhaps more schools in proportion to the population than New York City. That every High School has a library and a Museum. [page 4] That there are free schools of cooking and sewing. Free night schools where carpentry and other industrial occupations are taught. All operated by the Mexican Government or by Mexicans. That in the National Library in Mexico City there are 750,000 volumes. Fifteen [percent] of these books are in English and include English and American authors, the best [encyclopedias] and all the magazines of importance. Thirty-five percent are in French, and 15% in other languages. The remaining 35% are in Spanish. This proportion in Spanish is considered too small. As can be attested by personal experience, each person going to this library to read must register on a blank given at the desk in the entrance hall, name and date of visit. In this way a record is kept of the daily attendance. It is said to be from 500 to 600 daily. In the last few years a number of new libraries have been opened in Mexico City and the attendance at the National Library has not been found to decrease, proving that Mexico is reading and studying as she has never done before. The number of libraries in Mexico City is 39. It has not been possible as yet to find more than one circulating library. One cannot take books from the National Library and the general public is not admitted to the School libraries. They are for the students. The number of libraries in the whole Republic is said to be 600.
But if the statement of what Mexico has in the way of serviceable practical culture, and the untold story of her classical culture (which she possesses in a high degree) should give the impression that, after all, there is not much that Mexico needs, it would be a serious beclouding of what should be made very clear; namely, that Mexico must be helped to become modern in the very best sense of that term. For example, her magnificent National Library does not have the Card Index system. The [catalogs] are perhaps 20 or 25 years old, incomplete, and leaving much to be guessed as to the vastness of the collection. While this is one of the richest collections in America, the system controlling it is one of the poorest. A stranger is astonished to find that when needing to consult an [encyclopedia], the question is asked "What word do you wish to find?" That particular volume is then brought. If a dozen words enter into the information sought, then a dozen [encyclopedias] are brought to the table. Aside from [encyclopedias], a reader is allowed to have one book on his table at a time in the National Library. Oftentimes more than one book is needed for the sake of comparing notes. But this regulation must be submitted to as a time-honored inconvenience no matter what the exigency.
It would be a serious misunderstanding to suppose that because Mexico City and all the large cities of the Republic have a sufficient number of schools (although opinions differ on this point), taught by competent instructors (and here opinion differs), that thoroughly competent teachers are not needed from the States -- for instance from that imaginary "To Know Mexico" school dreamed of as being founded by the United States Government, for the country districts are in desperate need of well trained teachers. The teacher in the country is paid a very small salary, sometimes only 20 pesos ($10 American money) a month, and often such teachers know very little more than to read and write, and that imperfectly.
The illiteracy in the whole Republic of Mexico is said to be 70%, but as this includes children not of school age, it is not correct. In the State of Guerrero, where the population is almost half a million, the illiteracy is actually 80% or 85%; but in the State of Vera Cruz, for instance, with its population of 1-1/4 million, there is almost no illiteracy; so that 50% illiterate (that is not able to read nor write) might be a fair estimate for the whole Republic of Mexico. [page 5]
Outside of the realm of education help is also needed, for not one word has been said in this letter of the Industrial Home Schools that should be founded for [waifs] (both boys and girls); not one word of the appalling death rate of children in the face of an appalling birth rate; not one word of the need for baby hospitals; not one word of the destitution seen, like a cadaver, everywhere one looks -- that makes one wish for a thousand helpers and a million dollars that Christmas eve and Christmas Day might be such as the destitute of Mexico City had never known before. Little pinched faces looking in the store windows at the Christmas books, toys, dulces and dolls and all the things they want but cannot have, because for so many of them there is not even enough to eat at home. Oh, Christmas is sad, so sad here in Mexico City if one will let it be. Not one word has been said of the bodily defects in so many Mexicans -- oftenest with the eyes. These defects are the result of ignorance of physiological laws, of inability to employ a physician; or of treatment by a fake doctor, of whom there are, unfortunately, in Mexico City a large number -- although ↑steps↓ are being taken by the Government to put them out of business.
Now, just as though it were a dream come true, will not the "To Know Mexico" College please send as soon as possible, a group so wisely trained that they will know how to bring some of these magnificent cultural institutions of Mexico right up to date that they may exercise all the efficiency lying dormant within them -- in great measure. Then another group for the country districts in different States of this Republic where schools are so badly needed. Say three in a group for the State of Guerrero, for it is such a mountainous, wild State that just one would be lonely. Then another group of out and out trained Social Service workers from this same "To Know Mexico" School to open a Baby Hospital in at least one of the many places where they are needed; another group to open a Home for homeless boys; and after these boys have gotten a little accustomed to it (for some of them shy at a home like a horse at a fire) pass them on to the Industrial Home that shall in the meantime, have been founded by another group from the U.S. Mexican School. Another group is needed to open a Settlement House in the Bolsa ("Thieves Pocket") district. This group would have to consist of 6 or 8, for there is so much to be done there. Another group of at least ten, to be a Committee of home inspection to [teach] women how to take care of their children, and by their tactful gentleness and command of Spanish actually make these mothers believe they want cleaner homes, better homes -- minus the mud floor and the filth; homes with a few modern conveniences. They don't and that is one of the things that will have to be met and mastered for the sake of their children who must be taught to want them.
There has been no thought as to whether this letter was written in the most acceptable manner or not, or whether it was too long or too short. It has been like playing a piece of music -- not altogether, nor by means played according to the rule of the notes as they were written, but according to the response within the writer to the music itself. Just a poor little effort to show the heart of Mexico that the heart of the United States may respond, hoping that some day the American people will come "To Know Mexico."