MEXICO CITY —- It took the theft of a chili, and an angry housewife, to get Mexicans talking about how the rich treat the poor in Mexico. Check out this video which has gone viral on social media.
Adriana Rodriguez, or “#LadyChiles” as she is now known on Twitter, is a well-to-do woman from Cancun who fired her maid last week after catching her in the act of a petty theft: stealing a 25 ingredient nogada sauce-drenched chili, which was apparently reserved only for consumption at the Rodriguez home.
The housewife posted a video on Facebook in which she grills her maid for putting the chili in a tupperware container and attempting to take it home to her kid.
“Isn’t it an abuse, when I am giving you what you want to eat here, for you to lie to me and steal from me?” Rodriguez tells her maid, who tries to apologize for taking the stuffed chili.
“We give you enough to eat here, you eat the same things that we eat here…I’m not going to feed your whole family,” Rodriguez says to the maid, who isn't identified.
Rodriguez shared the video on Facebook, indignant over what the maid “had done” to her. But the video backfired against her as it went viral, garnering thousands of views on YouTube. Hordes of Twitter users accused Rodriguez of humiliating her maid in a classist, classless manner.
“The classist treatment that this family gives to their maid, whom they call a girl, infuriates me,” wrote Genaro Lozano, a well-known political scientist in Mexico.
Rodriguez also became the subject of several memes:
But, was the online criticism of Rodriguez too harsh? Wasn’t she just trying to shame a thief and promote respect for private property?Vale Villa, a psychologist who studies discrimination in Mexico, said that she did not agree with the theft of the stuffed chile. But she said Rodriguez’s decision to fire the maid, and to humiliate her publicly, underscores the challenges domestic workers face in Mexico.
“Their jobs are tenuous, and the lack of a legal framework for these employees facilitates abuse,” Villa said.
A study conducted by Mexico’s National Commission to Prevent Discrimination (CONAPRED) in 2010 found that only 10 percent of Mexico’s 2.2 million domestic employees have a formal labor contract. Most make verbal agreements with their employers.
Maids in Mexico generally earn between $40 and $90 a week and often work overtime without extra pay, Villa said. Few receive healthcare benefits.
“It’s not like a normal labor relationship, as you’d see with a cleaner in the States,” Villa said. “But more of a paternalistic relationship, where families feel they are doing maids a favor by taking them in.”
Guido Lara, an expert in communication theory who has also written about discrimination in Mexico, went through the #LadyChiles video with us. He noticed some interesting language patterns:
“[Rodriguez] tells the maid that she is allowed to ‘eat the same things’ they eat, as if it was something special or some big act of generosity,” Lara said.
“It’s as if she’s telling the maid that they are different, that they are not equal human beings,” Villa added.
Villa and Lara both argue that in Mexico, it is common for the rich to think of themselves as superior to Mexicans who are poor, less-educated or look indigenous. These attitudes surface in everyday situations like the one shown in the #LadyChiles video.
Lara noted that classist attitudes can also lead to violent behavior. Over the last two years, Mexican media have reported on several scandals involving wealthy Mexicans who have physically or verbally abused doormen, domestic help staff and other working-class Mexicans.
In this video for example, a man from the wealthy Lomas neighborhood beats and insults a doorman who refused to leave his post to help the man change his car tire.
Two women from the affluent Polanco neighborhood were captured on this video insulting a police officer who attempted to hand them a ticket for a traffic violation. “You are a mere salary man,” they tell the cop, as if it was a bad thing to make a salary for a living.
Similar incidents have drawn widespread criticism on social media, but continue to regularly surface, revealing just how frequently they occur.
The daughter of Mexico’s own president even faced a barrage of angry comments two years ago when she took to Twitter and called her father’s critics a “horde of stupid proletariat, who criticize what they envy.”
“In Mexico we live with class prejudices, and discriminations as if it was something normal,” said Lara, who is also the CEO of Lexia, a public opinion research firm. “What you see [on social media] is a struggle between the old Mexico, in which classist attitudes prevail, against the new Mexico that supports equality and human rights,” he added.
“Social media at least raises awareness of the problem,” Villa said. “But many people who comment on these videos are just doing so for entertainment…deeper reflections and actions to tackle discrimination are needed.”
Manuel Rueda is a correspondent for Fusion, covering Mexico and South America. He travels from donkey festivals, to salsa clubs to steamy places with cartel activity.