In Mexico, Searching For Good News Amid The Bad

Protesters shout slogans against Mexican President Felipe Calderon.

Protesters shout slogans against Mexican President Felipe Calderon in front of the National Congress where the president delivers his annual address in Mexico City,  Sept. 2. Recent opinion polls confirm that the majority of Mexicans feel that their country is worse now than it was when Calderon took over in 2006. Luis Acosta/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Luis Acosta/Getty Images

Mexico is celebrating its bicentennial this week, marking the beginning of the insurrection in 1810 that ended Spanish colonial rule.

But the festivities come at a tough time for Mexico. Drug violence is dominating the country and social problems persist.

So a group of business leaders and media companies launched a new program — the Mexico Initiative — to try to lift the nation’s spirits and highlight Mexicans who are doing good works.

Recent opinion polls confirm that the majority of Mexicans feel that their country is worse now than it was when President Felipe Calderon took over in 2006.

People are worried mostly about the spiraling drug violence. The rate of killings and the scale of the massacres appear to grow worse by the day: 2010 is on track to be the deadliest year yet in a drug war that’s already claimed almost 30,000 lives.

With so much energy focused on the burgeoning insecurity, there has been little talk about combating poverty, improving education or tackling Mexico’s numerous other problems.

Tania Esparza, director of the Mexico Initiative, or Iniciativa Mexico as it’s called in Spanish, says Mexico is a "sad country." She says Mexicans are frustrated and discouraged. "We want to recover the idea that Mexico is a great country and it's our country, and that’s why I think it’s good to do something like Iniciativa Mexico in this time," Esparza says.

The Mexico Initiative has put out a call for nominations of everyday Mexican heroes, people who in their villages or neighborhoods are making Mexico a better place: a local priest who works with street kids, an advocate for battered women, a student who wants to build a skateboard park. To Esparza’s shock, the group received 47,000 nominations.

The project is backed by the largest media companies in the country, as well as private business groups and nonprofit organizations. It’s been accompanied by an advertising campaign featuring Javier Aguirre, who coached the national soccer team during the World Cup, and the Mexican actress Salma Hayek.

In her spot, Hayek says that for Mexico to change, Mexicans have to start by changing themselves. Paraphrasing U.S. President John F. Kennedy, Hayek says, "Ask not what Mexico can do for you, but what you can do for Mexico."

The ads were met with some criticism in Mexico, given that Hayek lives in California with her billionaire French husband.

At the Mexico Initiative, Esparza and dozens of other people are sifting through the tens of thousands of nominated projects. The top 25 will be featured in spots on national television. But Esparza says this isn’t a competition. This isn’t about one person winning.

"Iniciativa Mexico is about the problems of Mexico, but also about our solutions to get this country [to] a better place, because this is our home, and we [want] the people to know that and take care of it," she says.

The projects and people the Mexico Initiative determines are doing the most to improve Mexico will be announced in November.

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