It is common to hear many people in Mexico refer to themselves as part of the Baby Boom Generation. Some also identify as members of Generation X, Y and Z; and, of course, millennials. To me, this is perplexing since I use these categories to describe people who belong to American society, but hardly to Mexican nationals. Let me explain why I hold this view.
Whenever someone in the United States asks me whether I am a baby boomer, I usually say that I was born in Mexico: therefore, I can’t be considered part of that generation. There are also other Mexican migrants who reside in the American Union and, like me, do not fit into the generational schemes thought up in the USA. For example, my father worked as a bracero from 1943-1945. He played a pivotal role that helped the United States win World War II by helping to feed the nation and its soldiers who fought the Axis Powers, yet I don’t consider him a member of what Tom Brokaw calls the Greatest Generation. I’m sure my father would have agreed: él era mexicano hasta las cachas, a son of the Mexican Revolution.
So, when I read in the national press in Mexico or hear people on television label themselves as members of one of the many generations Americans have invented to describe their society, I wish they would explain how it is that they fit into these patterns since they were not born and raised in the USA. That is, they haven’t lived and experienced the socio-cultural, historical and political periods that Americans use to categorize their succession of generations.
It is obvious that Mexico has had a very different historical, political, socio-cultural life from that of its northern neighbor; therefore, our generations should not mirror theirs. If we look at the last one hundred years of Mexican history, we can define various cohorts that can be characterized distinctly from those of the USA.
For instance, there might still be some survivors of the Generation of the Revolution, who experienced directly this historical event between 1910-1920. This cohort is followed by the Sons of the Revolution that came of age in the 1930s and 1940s. World War II didn’t have the impact on Mexico that it had in Europe, Asia, and the USA, yet we can speak of the Bracero Generation that played an important role in winning the war and establishing the U.S. as the foremost economic power in the world. This grouping extends from 1942-1964, just about the same period of the famous American baby boom.
Mexico didn’t experience a baby boom after the Second World War as other Western countries. However, we can note that it did experience a huge rise in its population’s birth rate, but it appeared after military hostilities of the Revolution began to wane in the 1920s. The revolutionary governments of the following decades promoted prolific families in order to replace the loss of life during the war years and also to populate the vast regions that remained unoccupied since it was believed that half the country had been lost in the previous century due to a lack of settlement of those lands. This policy was in place for the next fifty years and led to a massive increase in the Mexican population. If there are Mexican baby boomers, these are the best candidates. The Americans are very acquainted with them since many of these Mexican baby boomers were forced to abandon the country after the so-called Economic Miracle went bust in the 1960s and 1970s. They have impacted the USA more than any other Mexican cohort and continue to do so today.
I’m sure there are people in Mexico who feel marked by the Student Movement of the summer of 1968, which ended with the massacre of students at Tlatelolco. They have served as a model for political activism in universities until the present. Then there are those who might see themselves as children of the Crisis of 1982, who grew up in the country at the edge of the economic abyss. Last is the NAFTA Generation, a cohort that has experienced Mexican life through an American prism or, better yet, through an American prison, created by the avalanche of goods and ideas from El Norte that since 1994 have invaded the country and been adopted by the people at every level of Mexican society.
The NAFTA Generation can be said to mirror in some ways the characteristics of the X, Y and Z Generations in the USA. This is true to some extent, especially when it comes to their relationship to technology and the use of social networks. However, these characteristics are not as generalized among the youth as in the U.S., and Mexicans seem to be always lagging behind in whatever is trending. Still, for the most part, Mexican young people who may see themselves as millennials or Generación Z are not experiencing life under the same social-political and economic conditions as their young neighbors to the north, which give meaning to these cohorts. In fact, if we define these American kids as the children of the baby boomers, then definitely their Mexican counterparts do not fit the mold. For this reason, the millennials and Generación Z in Mexico aren’t echo-boomers but we could call them echo-Americans, because of their infatuation with all things American.
The filósofo michoacano, Samuel Ramos, asserted long ago that Mexicans have a penchant for importing political models from abroad, which were designed to suit the needs of the members of societies that invented them. He was referring to the absurdity of our nineteenth-century leaders adopting (some would say plagiarizing) constitutional and other political models from western countries that failed miserably when governments tried to implement them in Mexico. We can apply the same logic to the generational schemes we’re copying from the USA. Americans are obsessed with inventing cohorts that eventually suit their capitalist needs. Mexicans, on the other hand, are obsessed with importing these schemes, and they desperately try to fit into them despite the fact that, like a suit, they may be too big or too small in size, and hardly fit our needs.