Friday, August 23, 2013

Una Gringa en Mexico

Statue in Guanajuato
There is no substitute for travel. It is a way to feel part of a world so much greater than yourself that opens up a vast array of cultural norm and shines a light on the things we take for granted and fact that these assumptions are not universal in nature.

Although many of their lives are harder, people tend to be much kinder in Mexico. They will readily help friends and family and go out of their way for foreigners. Folks put up with our grammatically flawed Spanish, answered our stupid questions and walked us to places we couldn’t find.  There is a warmth, a generosity of spirit, that is totally unlike anything I’ve experienced in the USA.

This is a laissez-faire capitalist country and hard-working people sell everything from folk art to food to bathroom use, which comprises a national industry. Imagine a job in the US where individuals spend their days giving out toilet paper and cleaning toilets that individuals may use for a fee of 3 to 5 pesos a shot (about 15 to 30 cents). The poverty in Mexico is astounding but so is the growth of a rising middle class.

When it comes to ethnicity, there is an obvious caste system. The darker skinned, indigenous people predominate in the service industry as maids, shop employees, lower level restaurant workers. Yet being an individual entrepreneur is pretty much unregulated. Folks can set up a artisan booth, a taco stand or a public bathroom without government intervention or guidelines.

Mexico is a place where you are on your own in many ways. Real estate taxes, even on mansions tend to run about 30 to 50 dollars a year. Due to lack of genuine police protection, the cops don't get paid much and there is widespread bribery and corruption. The rich and middle class create their own gated communities and hire private security. It is a libertarian dream state. It is left to the individuals to protect themselves and their property because, to quote Bob Dylan, “the cops don’t need you and man they expect the same.”

Deborah and I met up with a relative of a friend who had been living in San Miguel for over ten years. She had increased the height of a wall between her place and her neighbor’s because the adolescent males next door kept trying to break into her place. She said they were bored rich Mexican kids who just wanted a challenge. She also believed that the police had earmarked her as the problem because the family was wealthy and influential. And, in spite of the fact that she is of Mexican-American descent and speaks Spanish, she is considered a perpetual outsider.

That is the dark side of family bonding; the relative ostracism of the expatriate community which, in turn, tends to stick together like any minority group. To American eyes, there is an appalling lack of public safety regulations. Children ride in open backed trucks.  Everything you eat is at your own risk. The potholes in the street are treacherous and there is no such thing as a lawsuit for tripping and falling anywhere, even on government property. I can’t begin to imagine what disabled people must endure. Fireworks punctuate the night like gunshots and dogs run wild.

I have finally come to terms with the fact that I could never live in Mexico. As a long-limbed, big-footed, somewhat sexually-indeterminate, pink-skinned creature, I stood out in every crowd. I longed for the anonymity of blending and the luxury of simply seeing others on the streets who looked like me. I am very happy to be back home but also grateful for the cultural experience of Mexico our close, yet very different, neighbor to the south.