The Economic Adventures of a Transborder Street Musician

Heading down south for the big Pesos.

You know you’re in a big city when… December 18, 2007

Filed under: Mondays — ramonalvarado @ 2:16 am
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I have been lucky enough to be in a few big cities around the world. All of them completely different in their own little peculiarities: the architecture, the plazas, the vibe and other things make them apart, but as a busker enthusiast I have found something that just tells me whether I am in a big city or a small town. Of course it has to do with buskers or the lack thereof but it has to do with a particular kind of international buskers that can be recognized anywhere. I am talking about Andean Musicians. They usually have their pan pipes, or pan flutes, a drum or a drum machine and a guitar. They also usually have an amplifier with them and sell CD’s of the mainly instrumental music they are playing. I’ve seen them in every big city I’ve been to and they always make me smile. Today, you guessed it, I saw a group of Andean musicians busking at the same street as I was, only a few blocks north. It made me really happy to see this in Juarez. They had their whole kit including a PA system, a box with some CD’s and some pan flutes to sell and of course their unmistaken music. They looked very professional and they quickly gathered a big crowd. I hope this signals the beginning of a new trend because you know you’re in a big city, or at least an interesting one, when you see one of them Andean musicians busking at the center of it.

Day 12


Amount of money made (B.C. subtracted): $11.04

Time played: 2h

Exchange rate: 11.17 p/dollar

The busking thing hasn’t become, as you can clearly see, a pragmatic and efficient enterprise as a sole income source  for me, but it has gradually grown better from the two or three dollars I made the first days and it has been doing so because I have become better at busking, or so I like to think. It has only been a dozen of times but I feel so much more comfortable now. Now, we have to see it in a different context too, because people in NYC or LA or other cities might see a $10 day as a terrible day but one has to always contextualize busking.

Let’s see it from both sides of the border. First, the northern one: In El Paso the minimum wage is something like $5.75/h. There are many jobs in telemarketing that pay well beyond the minimum but all of the regular jobs at fast food places and retail pay the minimum wage. So if we say that I am earning, now that the busking is getting better, something like $5 or $7 dollars an hour, then we can say that it is not such a bad thing compared to having to be in a greasy, noisy and stressful kitchen burning my fingers with the french fries. I mean, I’m actually doing what many kids at those jobs would love to do. Don’t you think so?


So now let’s look at the southern side of the spectrum which is where I actually busk: In Juarez there are a lot of manufacturing and assembling jobs, and those are generally very close to the national minimum wage standard, although nobody could survive if they actually paid according to guidelines. So look at it like this: The official national daily minimum wage is a little bit under $5 dlls, that means $25 a week. OK, so that said it is impossible to even conceive of supporting a family with that income in a country such as Mexico, so the reality says that the average minimum wage in the whole of Mexico’s State insured population is about $19 dlls a day. I made that on Friday, but in two hours. So, do you see where I’m coming from when I say it isn’t that bad?