Ricardo and Conchita got married when he was 22 years old and she a bit older. They moved in to their very own apartment right after their honeymoon. When their children were nine and seven they bought their first house outright, no mortgage, no down payment. They weren’t rich, but at that time nobody bought their house on credit. It was in the trendy center of Coyoacán at that. Ricardo had promised Conchita that they would live in the White House, and so he quickly got to work painting their yellow little fixer-upper white. It was here they lived for the next 27 years and counting. When their son got married, he lived there with his wife in the room where I am now, and when Claudia got pregnant the baby lived there too.
Ricardo Jr. eventually moved to his own place, but now it was a house bought on credit. Every month he pays double, trying to buy it off as quickly as possible, but it is a different world than his parents’.
Patti, Ricardo and Conchita’s daughter, also aspires to her own house. At 32, she must be anxious to leave. She has been saving for the past eight years, but even now the mortgage would be a heavy burden. To make extra money, she plans to rent out the rooms like her parents do.
Ten years ago credit was an unheard of concept in Mexico. Those who didn’t buy houses outright built their own, or lived with their parents. Today you can see advertisements for track homes along the freeway and banks market credit cards to university students. And debt is changing the face of Mexico. You may want to think of that next time you brag about the latest micro-credit scheme.
Still, in class the other day, as the professor was trying to explain the concept of national debt, he asked us how many of us had credit cards. Most of the class was asleep, so no one raised their hands. He prompted us a little more. Finally, my friend from California and I raised our hands. We were the only ones.