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Privilege at Play: Class, Race, Gender, and Golf in Mexico

Interview by Nichelle Taylor

Dr. Hugo Ceron-Anaya is an assistant professor in the sociology and anthropology department at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania where his work focuses on social inequalities and privilege, specifically in everyday life. Dr. Ceron-Anaya completed his BA in History at the National University of Mexico and continued his graduate education in the United Kingdom, where he completed a MA and PhD in Sociology at the University of Essex.

“I am very interested in exploring daily life, particularly how class, gender, and race collide in a wide range of very mundane activities, from the way we speak, to the way we dress, our sense of humor, etc. And how people are conveying notions about belonging, about hierarchies, about power, through very simple things that may seem meaningless, but I would argue that they are not.”

Dr. Ceron-Anaya’s book, Privilege at Play: Class, Race, Gender, and Golf in Mexico, was published in 2019 and is based on ethnographic research in three exclusive golf clubs and consists of interviews with club members and employees. His book analyzes the inequalities in these golf clubs in Mexico City, taking an often-overlooked perspective by focusing on the privileged instead of the underprivileged in Mexico.

Dr. Ceron-Anaya grew up in Mexico City, so he knew some of the class and inequalities in the city, but he was not fully aware of the extent of the inequalities while in the city.

To fully understand this setting, it is important to note that Mexico City ranks second internationally in having the largest number of privately owned helicopters. Additionally, some of the country clubs in which he conducted his research have a fee of $35,000 to be a member, and sometimes this can be even more.

“In contrast, 20% of the population in Mexico lives below the poverty line, which means that this portion of the population earns less than $3 per day.”

 Dr. Ceron-Anaya decided to conduct research because of the huge contrast between a lot of wealth and a lot of poverty, but he decided to explore the side of those who are privileged because, in his opinion, so many of the social sciences focus research on the underprivileged, so this has given us a very limited understanding of affluent communities and their influence across the world.

However, Dr. Ceron-Anaya found that conducting interviews with the club members was more difficult than he had anticipated.

“It was the opposite of interviewing workers or marginal communities. Interviewing people who are wealthy takes a lot of labor and time. First you need to build trust and then chase them because they frequently cancel the appointments, and it might be another two weeks of phone calls and emails to reschedule the meeting.”

The members asked many questions about his background, education, and his family to place him in the local context and get a sense of who he is. He found that it is not easy to get these interviews without having class oneself, and most of the time, one needs contacts in order to speak to those who are wealthier. Dr. Ceron-Anaya attributes his success in getting interviews to studying and living in London because others might have read it as a similar class experience.

During the observations and interviews at the golf clubs, Dr. Ceron-Anaya found that there are many ways that Mexican elites reflect dynamics of domination and subordination in their culture, and one of the largest and most impactful is through language. For example, throughout Latin America, last names are very important, and people use them as a sign of status, to identify others. At the country clubs, the caddies and other workers must refer to elites by their profession and last name while members use first names or nicknames for workers.

“That marks, linguistically, a distinction of who belongs and who doesn’t,” says Dr. Ceron-Anaya, also explaining that this is shown through the interactions at the country club, “Elites show up any time at the club, and they expect that everything will be ready for them to start eating, drinking, and playing golf, so workers must be there waiting. Just waiting, waiting. I had a conversation with a worker who told me that his job was exactly that; waiting. Sometimes they wait for days. They show up in the early morning, even on holidays, and they will wait the whole day, and no one comes. But they know they need to do exactly the same the following day. In this way, they use time as a communication of social hierarchies. If you are part of the upper class, you don’t need to wait. In contrast, if you are part of the working class, you are socialized into learning that you need to wait, that it is not up to you to challenge that order.”

Dr. Ceron-Anaya also found distinctions in gender in these privileged spaces. Women have more restrictions at the country club. While men use the bar as a place to discuss their golfing skills, women are generally not encouraged to participate. A lot of these women who are members only work because they do not want to depend on their husband who make enough money to support both of them.  

The social dynamic between Mexican elites and the workers in Mexico is shown in the mindset towards the country club as it has become an upper-class identity. The upper-class recognizes country clubs and golf as something they deserve because they work hard for it. They may not easily consider that others work just as hard but with lower salaries. This is also seen in the inequalities between men and women in the golf clubs.

Dr. Ceron-Anaya first found interest in the subject because of the significance he sees in golf and social order. He explains that golf is one of the few “global sports”, meaning that it has been globalized in this age of technology, and in its expansion, it has become a sport both played and watched by so many countries. Additionally, it has become a capitalist sport as it attracts executives, especially since it can cost a lot more to play in other countries.

Dr. Ceron-Anaya wants to make it clear he is not trying to ban golf in any way, but that this should become a topic of discussion because this space of privileged culture reproduces patterns of what it means to “belong.” In these spaces, it is important to be one in the crowd. Dr. Ceron-Anaya provides an example that in Mexico City, there are some stores without prices, and one must be so wealthy that they need not worry about the cost, and this indicates whether one belongs with the crowd of those who shop there. If one worries, then one does not belong.

This research is important because there are a lot of countries who have an unequal distribution of wealth. Among 160 countries ranked based off their unequal distribution of wealth, Mexico is #19 while South Africa is #1 and the United States lies at #49. Dr. Ceron-Anaya says that there is a lot to do research on about this growing wealth gap, which does not include politics of democrats and republicans. This needs to be researched in order to understand the trends we see in the data, that in the last twenty years, the wealthy are becoming wealthier, while the middle class is becoming smaller and the upper working class and working class are expanding.

In these communities, Dr. Ceron-Anaya has found an inverted glass-ceiling, which he calls a “glass floor.” People who are in highly privileged communities, always find ways to find jobs that prevent them from downward mobility, and Dr. Ceron-Anaya is interested in why this happens in many different countries, not just in Mexico. He believes there needs to be more research done to understand why this occurs more and more.

Dr. Ceron-Anaya also wants others to recognize that though it is a very different world in the golf clubs in Mexico, it is not as far away as Americans might think because some of these patterns between the wealthy and the poor apply in the United States as well, specifically looking at the wealthy’s viewpoint of the poor. There is an internalized superiority, so it is difficult to find the flaws in the status quo. Dr. Ceron-Anaya says he does not understand the stereotype that the wealthy are smart and the poor are lazy, but by opening up the conversation more, we might be able to gain a better understanding of the wealthy and how their relationship with the poor contributes to the inequalities.

About the Author

 Nichelle Taylor

Nichelle Taylor is an Anthropology major at UNC and enjoys writing anything and everything—prose, essays, novels, and now interviews! She loves anthropology because she learns something new about humans in every class, and it allows her to practice understanding viewpoints other than her own. When she is not studying or writing, Nichelle enjoys drinking hot tea and cuddling with her dog, Izzy.