The Middle Class

The Middle Class

The middle class occupied an equivocal position. It ran the gamut in prestige and position from truck drivers and petty merchants to highly paid professionals and business owners and operators. Almost as much range existed within this class as between the two adjoining groups. For lack of common criteria, the middle class was defined largely in terms of occupational specialization and economic status: its members were successful merchants, white-collar workers in commerce or government service, and educated professionals lacking the family requirements for upper-class status. At its lower levels, the middle class faded into the more prosperous elements of the working class. In many ways, the differences between the middle class at its fringes and the adjoining upper and lower groups were of degree rather than kind. Both in ethos and in livelihood, the middle class shared much with those above and below it on the social scale.

Social mobility and elite exclusiveness were the dynamics that formed the middle class. The group emerged from the upheaval of colonial society both through intermarriage between Spaniards and Indians and through the general influx of Indians into cities and towns. The modern middle class, however, received its impetus from the tin-mining boom. Tin mining created demand for educated administrators and expanded the opportunities available to the middle echelons traditionally tied to commerce. Between 1900 and 1950, the composition of the country's university-educated elite changed. Its percentage of clergy, doctors, and lawyers declined, while that of teachers and engineers grew. As with other wage earners, salaried professionals remained vulnerable to economic reversals.

The wealthier members of the middle class tended to follow elite mores and aspired to an upper-class life-style and acceptance into that group. As one moved down the social scale, these values became less pronounced. Cholos, who were typically bilingual in Spanish and one or more Indian languages, made up the lower levels of the middle class. They adhered less to Hispanic norms than did other members of the middle class, and they actually reflected the influence of their Indian heritage. A dichotomy existed between the identification and values of cholo men and women. Men adhered to Hispanic norms and values more closely, attempting to emulate that life-style. Women adopted an identity that blended indigenous and Hispanic elements. They often engaged in commerce and were formidable businesswomen.

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