BY CAROLINE ROUSE
Mexico City is saturated with colors of youth.
Pastel hopscotch paint decorates the cracked sidewalk. Bright playground bars stand alongside abandoned buildings. Neon soccer balls bounce across church plazas. Graffitied skateboard ramps and rails twist underneath Periférico overpasses.
Over 4.2 million people living in Mexico City proper are under the age of 30. This young population holds immeasurable potential, but also faces significant challenges.
Ivonne, a vivacious 20-year-old student studying broadcasting and communications at UNITEC, talked with me over naranjadas and pizza. “At least three of my friends from high school didn’t start university. They didn’t know what they wanted to do,” she explained. “You have to know what you want, and fight for it.”
About 6 of every 10 young people in Mexico City live in poverty. Under pressure to support themselves and their families, the majority of young people leave school before the age of 18. While some find employment, many struggle. More than 4 of every 10 between the ages of 18 and 29 are unemployed.
“The question is, what can we do for the ones who are doing nothing?” asks María Fernanda Olvera Cabrera, the General Director of the Institute for the Youth, INJUVE. She recognizes inactivity makes for vulnerability, and has made it her mission to energize young Mexico City.
I met María Fernanda during a meeting at INJUVE headquarters, a geometric concrete building painted green and purple and yellow and orange. She walked me through INJUVE programs designed to help young people contribute to their communities and connect with their city. One initiative pays monthly scholarships for consistent community service; one offers free public transportation passes for participation in mentoring sessions; another stages peer-run workshops in computer skills, foreign languages, and even styles of dance.
Currently, INJUVE programs serve over 13,000 teenagers and twentysomethings in Mexico City.
INJUVE is also the leading voice for young people in the development of city policy. In the past several years, Mexico City has become one of the most progressive capitals in Latin America. Abortion was legalized in 2007, and same-sex marriage in 2009. Smoking in public places was banned in 2008, and targets for greenhouse gas emissions were mandated in 2010. Currently, the city legislature is contemplating legalization of marijuana. Mexico City is evolving to keep up with the pulse of its young population.
But the demographics are starting to shift. In 2000, the average Mexico City resident was 27 years old; by 2010, the average age had risen to 31. At this rate, the city could soon resemble New York, average age 35, or London, average age 37. The youthful hues that have shaped policy and society are changing.
Mexico City is growing up.
Caroline Rouse ’15 is in Pierson College. This summer she is blogging from Mexico City. Contact her at email@example.com.