Back-to-school: new battle cry of women's lib south of border
To understand the significance of her return to high school 20 years after dropping out, you need to know a little about Maria de Lourdes Arguelles. And to grasp what makes this dramatic step possible, you also need to know about Open Education in Mexico - and that 1 million adults are now taking advantage of opportunities for advanced learning provided by the Ministry of Education and the National University.Lourdes is an upper-middle-class wife of a physics professor at the National University in Mexico City. She has two children, Rodrigo and Anapaula, who attend Queen Elizabeth II School, a private institution that offers some instruction in English as well as preparation for a Mexican university education.Like many young women of her class in Mexico City, Lourdes has always depended upon her husband for her needs. His prestigious position and dependable income enable her to buy chic clothes and costly cosmetics, to visit the salon de belleza (beauty shop) regularly, to scoot about in her own car, and to stage elaborate birthday parties for Rodrigo and Anapaula and an annual posada (Christmas pageant) in her neighborhood, with a live donkey hired for authenticity.Lourdes, her husband Juan, and their children live just across Insurgentes Avenue from the historic and exclusive San Angel district, among the most-preferred residential areas of the city. Their modern house (which they rent) is on a private street; it has a lovely garden, wall-to-wall carpet, a marble fireplace, reproduction French furniture, a few pieces of contemporary sculpture, a few inherited treasures, and such modern appliances as the color television set that is a magnet for their relatives when an important sports event is being telecast.If such an event occurs on Sunday, Lourdes orders pizzas or other carry-out food and ice cream, explaining, ''I told Juan when we married that I will never work on Sunday.'' Other days the meals are cooked and the house cleaned and tidied by a maid.Lourdes is the eldest daughter of a middle-class family. In Mexico, the middle class is an urban class whose prosperity derives from the father's salary, not from inherited wealth. Like the nouveaux riches in other countries, members of this class incline toward conspicuous consumption. They flock to weekend resorts (often called clubs) in places like Cuernavaca, where their children swim, play tennis, enjoy walled gardens bursting with flowers, and acquire not only the gastronomic preferences but often the somewhat arrogant attitudes toward their lower-class servitors which they deem appropriate to their superior situation.Lourdes's parents stressed education only for their son, who is now getting his master's degree.When Lourdes was 14 and had finished junior high school (here called secondaria), she quit school.''It's a good decision,'' her father assured her. ''You have too much schooling already. You're a pretty girl, and you will get married. Why fill up your head with learning you don't need?''Lourdes was then sent to California for a year to live with cousins. While there she attended an American public high school for a year and became reasonably fluent in English. Later in Mexico, she worked for an interior decorator and then as a secretary. She met her husband, Juan, through her sister Alicia, who had become his secretrary at the university.Alicia, meanwhile, had discovered that some young women attended university to prepare themselves for professional careers. She regretted that she had not attended high school. She re-enrolled in high school with the intention of qualifying for university attendance. She advised Lourdes , by this time married to Juan, to do the same.Skip to next paragraph
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But studying didn't appeal to Lourdes. She was enjoying exactly the life for which her parents had prepared her, and clung to her father's reasoning that pretty girls didn't need higher education.