María Félix Nava, a 116-year-old Mexican woman, had been living off the 1,200 pesos (€58) she received each month as a low-income welfare recipient. But that all changed when new regulations went into effect forcing her to open a bank account and get an associated bank card. The computer system would not accept anyone over the age of 110. As a result, Félix Nava was left nearly destitute.
It was the latest hurdle in a life filled with adversity. María Félix Nava was orphaned as a child, right before the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1920. Left to her own devices, for two years she roamed the area of Laguna Grande, in the central state of Zacatecas. She lived off what neighbors gave her. “I used to eat nopales [a type of cactus often called prickly pear in English] and quelites [edible herbs]; beans and corn were a luxury to me,” she explains over the phone.
She was finally taken in by a family, but never went to school and to this day cannot read or write. She married at the age of 22 and had 10 children, six of whom have passed away; 20 grandchildren, 56 great-grandchildren and 23 great-great-grandchildren.
But María Félix Nava never imagined that at age 116, fate still had a new curveball to throw at her.
Despite her advanced age, she is completely independent
Fernanda, friend of the family
It happened in January, when she and her daughter Marina, who cares for her day and night, attempted to collect her monthly check. The pension, which is awarded to senior citizens 65 and over in a precarious financial situation, had until now always been delivered to a joint account for its 50,000 beneficiaries.
“But the rules changed and forced these people to have an individual bank account where they would receive the money,” explains Miguel Castro, the secretary for social development and integration of the state of Jalisco, where the woman has been living for the past 50 years.
When María Félix Nava requested a new account and an associated card, the computer system was unable to process the request because the upper age was set at 110.
“They told me that this was the limit,” explains Félix Nava in a resigned yet vigorous voice for someone her age.
The bank, Citibanamex, blames the computer system in charge of issuing new cards. “It was not calibrated to issue cards to people over 110 years old. It was the first time that such an elderly person had requested one,” said Francisco Cabellero, head of social communication at Citibanamex, a unit of Citigroup. “The system has been fixed and recalibrated, and there is currently no age limit.”
The earlier limit was in violation of the Mexican Constitution, which forbids all kinds of discrimination based on age or any other reason that undermines the rights of citizens.
Nearly three months later, the case reached the ears of the state government of Jalisco thanks to media coverage. “We found out through the local media,” says Castro. “We gave her a check and helped her with the process. But this is just one more example of bureaucracy, not just at banks but by authorities: there are 55 more people who have been unable to collect their aid following the regulatory changes.”
At 116, María Félix Nava is the oldest woman in the state of Jalisco. “And we also believe her to be one of the oldest in all of Mexico, although this has not been confirmed,” says her daughter Marina.
Until the check arrived covering the three missed payments, both women had to live off the subsidy that Marina receives, with help from their grandchildren, great-grandchildren and a non-profit group from Tlaquepaque, the town where they reside. They also made a few extra pesos from the makeshift candy stand that they operate outside their door every day.
“Despite her advanced age, she is completely independent,” says Fernanda, a friend of the family. And despite the scare, Félix Nava looks happy: “I feel fine. I just pray that everything will stay that way.”
English version by Susana Urra.