Deep Thoughts: Mexico (part 1) — Johnny Monsarrat Mexico Trip

As I said on the previous page, the following are just some of my personal observations and opinions from my trip, which took place in December of 1999. Some things may have changed since then, and my perspective might not always have been a hundred percent accurate.

1. You may be wrong to pity the poor. a) Some are merely ignorant of modern living standards b) Some deliberately reject modern society. c) Some have social status in their village and would not give that up to become a nobody in better living conditions. d) 100 years ago these Indians were essentially slaves in all but name. So they may feel they're doing pretty well.

2. You may be wrong to give money to strangers. Children learn to beg instead of to work. The old woman in the market you give some extra pesos for a handbag may really be a trickster who is exploiting Guatemalans (whose handcrafts come even cheaper).

3. The poorest Indians may prefer a television to having a leak-proof roof.

4. There's a lot of racism regarding Indians and poverty. a) The middle class try to distance themselves from the poor. Instead of a balanced quality-of-life, they may skew towards nicer clothing and a car, leaving no money for a house. b) The rich distance themselves from the Indians. They go out of their way to wear European-style clothing. But the Indian background peeks through in their attitudes. For example, they may prefer natural medicine to modern medicine. Or a lack of modern dentistry may give them uneven teeth. Or they may try a little too hard with makeup and namedropping. c) There are few people of pure European descent in Mexico. Everyone is either a pure Indian, or mixed-race. Regardless, some people with lighter skin, call themselves "ladinos", denying their Indian heritage and pretending they're better because they're Spanish. d) "Indio" is a racial insult. If you have a Mayan name, people will ridicule you for it.

5. The Indians don't have a culture of hygiene. They burn their trash or leave it scattered about. They don't repair or repaint their buildings. Tour guides told me the Indians lacked the money for home repairs, and were too exhausted from working two jobs. I got the feeling that was only half the answer, however.

6. Everyone trying to help the Indians seems to have an agenda. a) The Mexican government will build schools and hospitals, but only for towns which support the government. b) Missionaries and Catholics give aid to the Indians, but expect a religious conversion. c) The Zapatista revolutionaries expect the Indians to support their full list of demands. Zapatistas will often prevent the Mexican government from building schools, because "these are only half-measures and we must hold out for the full list." d) Coca-Cola (and other companies) will sell you cheap items with logos, or pay you to use your house as a billboard.

7. Civilizing the Indians is an extremely complex issue. To start with, perhaps the Indians should be left alone instead of "civilized" by the Mexican government. However, it's impossible to ignore that the Indians practice polygamy, religious intolerance, and gender inequality. These are bad things the Mexican government wants to change. Unfortunately, the structure of Indian society is a communal one in which religious obligations are tied very closely with family values, and the traditional Indian government of oligarchy. Mexico wants the Indians to convert to democracy, but nobody is sure how to do this without destroying the morally good or morally neutral parts of the Indian's culture.

8. Mexicans who like the USA are either: a) Young people who think anything from the USA is "cool", b) Open-minded older people who've had contact with outsiders, c) People making money off of North Americans.

9. The amount of cultural invasion is incredible. Despite the lack of snow in Mexico, they have "Jingle Bells" and "Frosty the Snowman". My theories: a) Since poverty is a problem in Mexico, everyone fixates on getting rich. Often this means emulating the USA. Unfortunately, this often means taking on the entire culture, not just the money-making attitudes. b) Companies like Coca-Cola are intensely energetic and penetrate to the most remote parts of Mexico. Their advertisements and campaigns carry along North American culture. c) Television and radio carry US culture. American movies here are in English with Spanish subtitles. d) Indians in poverty are just struggling to survive. Their culture isn't that important to them, relatively speaking. So if they have to move to the city and wear modern clothes to succeed, they will. Also, they are a little naive about being able to successfully pass culture down to their children.
10. Modern and ancient cultures mix in strange ways. You can sit on Santa's lap (in an event sponsored by Coca-Cola) right outside the modern Catholic church, whose decorations include ancient Mayan religious symbols. The Indians use cherry soda and bottled lemonade to add "color" of religious significance to their Mayan rituals.

11. Corruption is rife throughout all levels of society. Just to survive, individuals put up with it rather than fight it. The average Mexican encounters corruption primarily through police bribery (to get out of traffic violations) and local government bribery (to "expedite" paperwork for some kind of permit). One of the problems is that police and government employees don't really get paid enough to survive. It is a little like tipping waitresses who don't get paid enough.

12. Chiapas has plenty of crime. (a) corruption (b) assassination (c) drug smuggling (d) people smuggling (e) arms smuggling (f) kidnapping (g) mugging tourists (h) murdering missionaries (i) fraudulent taxis (j) the Zapatista rebellion (k) stealing cars (l) worker exploitation (m) highway robbery of tour buses (n) rape (o) jailing without trial, especially those who speak out against the government. Also (p) prostitution and (q) pornography, which are not illegal in Mexico.

See the next page for more deep thoughts.

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