It is 2:30 in the afternoon in Mexico City, and fleets of Town Cars, Cadillacs and Thunderbirds are arriving in Polanco, a neighborhood of old mansions that Mexico's economic miracle has transformed into a collection of smart little restaurants and boutiques. At Isadora's, where the glass is beveled and the pastry dough is paper-thin, businessmen in Armani suits and Hermes ties briefly lay down their cellular telephones to pick up luncheon menus. At other tables, young women with the reddest of lipstick and the highest of heels chatter nonstop over filet mignon, pausing only to pick up their own cellular phones and check on their children, their husbands, their home deliveries.
Later in the day, the sleek cars move on to Polanco Pavilion, a marble-and-glass bazaar of imports. Here English seems as prevalent as Spanish. Shops market "bestsellers," "folk art" and "popcorn," speaking to potential customers in the language of the \o7 Yanqui.\f7
The buyers are Mexico's new rich, born in the 1960s, come of age in \o7 los anos negros, \f7 the black years of the 1980s, and thriving in the government's 3-year-old, full-scale venture into a free market economy. In a country of 82 million where everyone but the rich struggles, they are conspicuous consumers of European couture, American fast food, Mexican real estate and weekends in Cuernavaca, Acapulco or newly popular resorts like Valle de Bravo.
It would be nice to say that theirs is a rice-to-riches story. But in the glittery world of \o7 los nuevos ricos, \f7 everyone seems to be only an uncle, a father or a cousin away from old money. So prevalent are contacts in this set that who you know isn't even a question. Connections? shrugs Carlos Meltzer, the son of a wealthy businessman and a budding financier himself, "Everyone has them." Their pedigree is the reason men and women like Meltzer are called "juniors." Their tastes and embrace of the go-go U. S. style explain why they are also called \o7 los yuppies. \f7 But while they often still live with their wealthy parents--after all, this is Latin America--they aren't living off them.
They are the backbone as well as the beneficiaries of Mexico's economic boom. They've learned to make money the new way. Instead of depending on government contracts and protective tariffs, they are starting up new companies and revamping older ones, moving into the office towers that seem to be going up everywhere in this capital city of 18 million. They are trading securities on the Bolsa Mexicana de Valores, the stock exchange, and paying billions of dollars for banks, telephone companies, sugar mills and anything else on the must-sell list of a government bent on privatization. Franchises for Baskin-Robbins, McDonald's and Domino's Pizza are all sold and bought by the new rich.
For fun, the young entrepreneurs might hit the racetrack on one night and a private discotheque on another. Pop concerts have become increasingly popular: The rich and their children fork out $33 apiece to hear music that runs the gamut from Diana Ross to rock bands such as La Maldita Vecindad y los Hijos del Quinto Patio (The Damned Neighborhood and the Sons of the Fifth Tenement).
But having too much of a good time is frowned upon. The day ends with friends, but it begins with the Wall Street Journal and El Financiero, a Mexico City newspaper that reports every wrinkle of the recently negotiated North American Free Trade Agreement. "They're more American in the way they do things," says Rene Espinosa, the director of international affairs for a Mexican business association.
In the country's newly bustling economy, the line between El Norte and Mexico is beginning to blur. For the Mexican upper class, life is clearly improving. "Everything is closing up there and opening here," said Adrian Robello, 34, a chiropractor who charges $20 an hour (the average Mexican wage is approximately $10 a day) and says he has no shortage of clients. Robello and others expect the Mexican boom to soar further if the U.S. Congress approves the trade agreement this spring.
The reversal in economic fortunes was sudden and marked. After heedless borrowing and spending in the 1970s, Mexico "went to hell" in the 1980s, one junior recalls, and many young Mexicans chose to watch the chaos from the sidelines. They waited it out in the sanctuary of the top business schools in the United States and Mexico. Then, in 1988, the country's former budget minister, Carlos Salinas de Gortari, a Harvard-trained economist, was elected president in a razor-thin and disputed victory. Many Mexicans believed that the Institutional Revolutionary Party--the citadel of power in modern Mexico--had stolen the election. Among the disenchanted voters, few trusted Salinas and his promises to reinvigorate the economy.