For years now, whenever reports from Mexico have popped up in American news outlets, the stories have almost always revolved around the seemingly endless homicides that are taking place in the northern reaches of the country, where many of Mexico’s infamous drug cartels are based.

But an op-ed about one aspect of the Mexican cultural landscape that appeared in the New York Times recently has been earning attention for a very different, if still inexcusable, state of affairs: Much of the country, it seems, has effectively stopped reading.

As the article’s author, David Toscana, explains…

The proportion of the Mexican population that is literate is going up, but in absolute numbers, there are more illiterate people in Mexico now than there were 12 years ago. Even if baseline literacy, the ability to read a street sign or news bulletin, is rising, the practice of reading an actual book is not. Once a reasonably well-educated country, Mexico took the penultimate spot, out of 108 countries, in a Unesco assessment of reading habits a few years ago.

Toscana, who is generally considered to be one of Mexico’s most important modern authors, goes on to suggest that his country of birth “is floundering socially, politically and economically because so many of its citizens do not read.”

Toscana doesn’t offer any potential solutions of his own; perhaps it would only be disingenuous to do so. But his article is definitely worth a read, especially for those of us who live in the United States—a country that borders Mexico, and yet for the most part doesn’t often seem to know, or care, about the very real problems that nation of over 100 million people is currently facing.


  1. If the proportion of Mexicans who can read is going up, that’s a good thing. To say ‘there are more Mexicans who can’t read than there were twelve years ago’ is misleading, simply because the population of Mexico is growing so rapidly that there are more Mexicans of EVERY kind than there were twelve years ago.

    In fact it’s risen by fourteen percent in the last twelve years, so every negative social indicator measured in absolute terms that hasn’t gone up 14% represents a net improvement — and I bet there are lots of them. If illiteracy has gone up by 14% in numerical terms then all it means is that Mexico is holding its own — but I don’t see any stats in the article that would tell us this, or tell us anything beyond the activist agenda that the author wants to push. As far as I can see, this is just a ‘Bad Old Days Were Better ‘ whine.

  2. “Even if baseline literacy (…) is rising, the practice of reading an actual book is not.”

    Might that have something to do with the fact that Mexico is just about the only country in the world where copyright lasts 100 years (a frickin’ *century*!) after the author’s death? Has anyone measured how much that limits access to books?

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