Deep Thoughts: Mexico (Part 2) — Johnny Monsarrat Mexico Trip

13. I'm told that 10% or 20% of the young people cross illegally into the USA for education or to work. If you get caught, the US deports you to Mexico, where attempting a border crossing isn't a crime, so you go free and can try again. Middle-class people with a future and family will return to Mexico after getting their head start in the USA. Villagers with nothing to return to usually just stay in the USA.

14. Mexico is hardly a homogenous country! The three areas we visited were very different culturally: Oaxaca, Merida, and Chiapas. Poverty, agriculture, Indians, civilization, are all different.

15. It's hard to be in the first generation to leave the Indian village and take on a professional career to move into the middle class. Although high schools and colleges are free in Mexico, to attend you must move out of the village, which means being able to afford an apartment, food, and textbooks. Nobody can afford this if they live by selling handcrafts. There is a support system of social security and free housing, but there are administrative problems made worse by corruption.

16. In Chiapas, it's so mountainous that flat, useable land is extremely valuable. Unfortunately, land is primarily in the hands of a few rich landowners. Some people live with their parents because they can afford a house, but they can't afford the land for a house. Farmers will grow corn anywhere they can, even on steep slopes!

17. Religion pervades all aspects of Mexican life. There are many festivals and community traditions. Many attend morning mass daily. The religious fervor surrounding the Virgin Mary (especially the local version, The Virgin of Guadalupe), makes you feel as if the Mexicans have a deep and personal relationship with her. Perversely, the native Indians have accepted a limited amount of Catholicism, but they kill missionaries (or converted Indians) from protestant faiths. The largest conflict is probably that Catholics don't allow contraception, abortion or divorce -- although all three are legal under the nonsecular Mexican government.

18. Indians who come to the city can be very naive about modern society. As a result, they are often exploited by businesses. Drug czars recruit Indians to peddle drugs. The Indians may not even understand why what they're doing is wrong. You may not notice any native Indians in Mexico's cities, but they're usually there -- it's just that they're dressed in a modern style.

19. Mexicans can be very outgoing to one another, even strangers. There's a wonderful "laid back" and relaxed feeling about much Mexican culture. However, in many places this has changed, as people trying to better themselves have taken on a North American mode of intense competition. It's hard to know whether to feel happy or sad about this transition. For example, the culture of siesta has disappeared in modern businesses.

20. Both the very old and the very young work here. Old people are very tough and keep going until soon before they die. Kids often enjoy school and hate vacation because they must work during school vacation.

21. Mexicans can get the most modern technology, but it's expensive and there's usually a delay in availability. Biologists especially feel this pressure. The Mexican government has limited availability of common biotech chemicals that may be used to process illegal drugs. This puts academics at a disadvantage to beat their colleagues to publish cutting-edge research. It's frustrating for them because outsiders assume that Mexicans are lazy or stupid, which is just not true.

22. Gringos stick out like a sore thumb here. My pale skin, brown hair, obesity, and enormous height are all unusual in Mexico. As a result, it was easy for drunks, scam artists, or aggressive merchants to target me as probably naive. We avoided Mexico City because of the tourist crime there. Sneakers and a T-shirt also make you out as a tourist. If you're tall, it's easy to hit your head on a low doorway. Ouch!

23. It's easy for tourists to accidentally offend people, especially Indians who are distrustful of outsiders. It's best to ask permission before taking someone's picture. Often they will say yes and ask for a small payment. Trying to speak a little Spanish, even just "good day", really pleases people. It's a sign of respect. Some of the ugly tourists make demands, ridicule the indigenous cultures, and complain loudly about how Mexico isn't like home. When I see such behavior, I'm embarrassed to be an American.

24. Many areas, like most of Chiapas, lack modern medical care. The most obvious signs of this are (a) cancerous-looking growths on some people and (b) amputees on crutches, many of whom were diabetics who never got treatment.

25. The Zapatistas, who started an uprising against the Mexican government to support Indians' rights, are a very complex group. Everyone has differing reasons for like or hating them. Some feel that too many rich foreigners are trying to meddle. Some Indians just want a job and don't care about the Zapatistas’ cultural protection. Some support the Zapatistas because they hate corruption, or because they're young and get caught up in the slogans. The Zapatistas do seem to have a positive influence on Indian's rights. On the other hand, they're rebels working outside the system with guns. Zapatistas have been known to prevent the Mexican government from building schools, calling that a "half-way measure" and saying "we must hold out for full agreement." From the people I spoke with, it seems the Indians care more about jobs than culture and the Zapatistas are slowly losing influence. They exist primarily by hiding in the jungles.

26. The US-Soviet struggles in the area have had pervasive effects. For example, after Grenada, the US captured many soviet-made arms, which were given to the Contras in Honduras & Nicaragua. When the Contras signed the peace treaty, they kept their guns, selling them, and thus you can now find Indians and Zapatistas with Soviet guns in Mexico.

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