Video: Mexico’s pawn culture kicks in around the holidays

Ester Ruiz Ramirez, 56, stood in line for hours in downtown Mexico
City yesterday to hock a ring and some earrings given to her by her

“I need the money to pay for my grandchild’s school fees,” she said.

Ruiz is one of an expected 800,000 people who will turn to el Nacional Monte de Piedad
in January – one of the institution’s busiest months – to borrow small
amounts of cash against personal items. The money is mostly to cover

El Monte, as it’s known, is Mexico’s largest nonprofit pawnshop that
has more than 150 branches across the country and charges relatively
low rates of interest to Mexicans who aren’t able to get out bank loans
or credit cards. As Marla Dickerson reported back in 2005, for millions of Mexicans, it’s the only credit available to them.

“In Mexico, there’s a culture of borrowing,” said Gustavo Mendez Tapia, spokesperson for El Monte.

“Grandfathers taught their sons, their sons taught the new
generation, that those people who don’t have the ability to turn to a
bank or other financial institution, they come to us and their
guarantee is the item that they bring to borrow against.”

The culture of pawning was brought to Mexico by the Spanish
Conquistadores, who in turn had followed the example of the Italians.
The first Monte de Piedad was founded in Perugia, Italy, in 1450 and
arrived in Madrid in 1702. Spanish-born silver baron Don Pedro Romero
de Terreros founded Mexico’s first branch in 1775.

On Wednesday afternoon this week, young mothers nursing babies,
leathery-skinned old men reading books to pass the time and adolescent
boys all stood in line beneath the arches of El Monte’s national
headquarters on Mexico City’s Avenida Cinco de Mayo.

All of them had something to trade, and the worth of their precious
things was decided in a matter of seconds by the line of clerks sitting
behind counters and shielded by thick glass windows.


Of the 24 million transactions that Mendez Tapia expects El Monte to
make this year, 96 % of them will be reclaimed by their owners within
the 17-month window that they’re given.

“People don’t just bring a ring or a watch – everything has a
meaning, a story, behind it. It could be a watch their father gave them
when he was alive, so they don’t want just any watch, they want that
watch or the loving promise someone gave them,” said Mendez Tapia.

Ester Ruiz Ramirez said that she got a decent price for her ring and
earrings. “It was a good price for me. Had they given me more, I might
not be able to buy them back,” she said.

— This post was written for La Plaza

Image: A clerk behind the counter at El Nacional Monte de Piedad
inspects a gold cross for its value. Deborah Bonello / Los Angeles
Times. This image is a video still taken from the video at the top of
the page. Click here for more on Flickr.