This past week, since we landed in Italy, has felt like a decompression period, allowing our bodies to recalibrate to the 7 hour time difference and giving our perspectives the space to adjust to cultural differences. Initially, I felt a tad melancholy leaving Mexico behind. Nation of chefs, artists, musicians and lovers. Land of eggs sold individually, free tortillas with every meal and snack vendors on every bus ride. A place where strangers greet strangers with “holas”, people refer to you as amigo whether they know you or not and the typical greeting is a hug (with a peck on the cheek if a woman is involved). Some adjectives that readily come to mind when thinking about the people of Mexico are carefree, tolerant and unobtrusive. Perhaps some foreigners may interpret those same traits as lazy, indifferent and unhelpful, but I would postulate that those folks haven’t taken the time or allowed themselves to slide below the surface a bit and get to know the true Mexican character.
If I was going to make a ranking index of ‘Least Uptight People in the World’ based on my travels, I’d have to put Mexicans at the top of that list. I’ve found that the average waiter will do the absolute minimum to make sure I’ve got what I came for in a restaurant, and most Mexicans will never extend themselves to help me unless I ask them to. However, when I have asked for help, I’ve witnessed some of the kindest, most compassionate attention that I’ve seen anywhere in the world. In one instance, we were completely lost in the city of Ixmiquilpan and had to navigate through a hectic urban center to get from one bus station to another to catch the last bus of the day to our destination. I asked a local woman on the street how to get there, and when she sensed my confusion due to the very complicated directions, she changed the course of her day and for 10 minutes, led us through the craziest, most chaotic market I’ve ever experienced, and delivered us right to the door of our bus just moments before it left. I wasn’t sure if I might offend her by giving her money for her assistance, but I did anyway out of extreme gratitude, and she was thrilled much more than most people are when they receive a buck. I was as happy as she was, as without her we probably would’ve spent the night in that dusty city. That little episode happened the day after we were rescued by an angel named Yolo.
Most countries have very specific faux pas, and perhaps Mexico does too, but in our 2 1/2 months there, I never did or even heard of any behavior that would really ruffle anyone’s feathers over there. Mexicans just seem to roll with whatever happens, and even if you do something super idiotic, the most reaction you’ll probably get is a shoulder shrug and some laughter. Make no mistake… sometimes people there are so ridiculously lackadaisical, even when working, that they can only be described as unprofessional. In those cases you just have to walk away and laugh it off, but that can happen in any country, and I found it to be the exception rather than the rule. Still, I found that a lot of foreign residents and travelers often complain about the disorderly, slow and sometimes hazardous conditions that are commonplace in Mexico, and while I can see the relevance in some of those complaints, there’s this undeniable gorgeousness in the people and the places that kind of balances it all out… ‘Beautiful Recklessness’, as I like to think of it.
The recklessness part of it is something I enjoy as a traveler, as there’s this ever-present edge of unpredictability that keeps things from getting boring. Whether it’s big holes in the ground, giant cracks in the concrete or sharp metal objects poking out here and there, you’ve always got to pay attention to where you’re going or there’s sometimes the possibility of getting seriously injured. Road infrastructure is sketchier than what we’re used to in the states, and drivers often disregard basic safety laws, but still, drivers seem to be fairly adept at avoiding accidents , so I choose not to worry about such things. There are police, and therefore machine guns everywhere throughout the country. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I saw multiple assault weapons almost every single day in Mexico. And while I’m sure I’d much rather walk around without seeing a frowning man with his hands on a gun around every urban corner, I find it interesting how my mind gets desensitized by their continual presence, and in a weird way I enjoy the process of circumventing the fear that they are there to instill. I quite enjoy chatting them up, as most cops’ harsh-looking demeanor will quickly melt into the warm, smiling nature that is typical of most Mexicans. I’m not sure if their presence actually makes Mexico safer, as they were pretty much the only menacing-looking people that I ever saw, but we generally felt very safe throughout the country. That being said, we always avoided dark city streets and poverty-stricken areas at night, but that should go without saying in any country.
For travelers, Mexico offers one of the best playgrounds on the planet. Budget accommodations are plentiful all over the country, and while hotels and guesthouses are quite common, we used Airbnb for most of our stays. There is an abundance of hosts throughout the country and we were generally able to get great accommodations between $10 – $30 for the two of us, and these were often private apartments. Public transportation is frequent, safe and very affordable. There’s a plethora of bus companies that connect every major city and town in Mexico with luxury coaches that are super comfy and generally on time, surprisingly. Something like a 5 hour ride will probably cost you $15 – $20. Unfortunately, Mexico’s public transportation infrastructure is still built almost entirely around gas guzzling options, but Mexico City does have a very extensive Metro network that allows one to ride anywhere in the city for 5 pesos (25 cents) and if you’re over 60, you ride for free! Taxis are prevalent in every town and city, and even in a lot of rural areas. We learned early on to always confirm the price before getting in the cab, or many drivers will take you for a ride, so to speak. The quality and value of food is generally outstanding in Mexico, and this is what makes it such a joy for us to travel here. Each region has their own unique cuisines and delicacies, and if you’re willing to explore the market and street food options you can easily feed yourself for under $10 a day here. And when we’re not eating, sleeping and traveling, we’re checking out cool art, ancient structures, beautiful architecture and astounding nature. In a word, Mexico is Loaded, and that little edge of sketchiness underlies it all… Beautiful Recklessness.
For Haruka and I, there’s no doubt that we’ll return to that land of Beautiful Recklessness, and hopefully not before too long. I know that for many North Americans and Europeans, Mexico equals Cancun, Acapulco, Mazatlan and other such mega-resorts, and that’s all fine and good if that’s what floats your boat, but I’m not sure that the genuine Mexico lives in the giant hotels of those resorts. I bring this up because I know from my own experiences growing up and living as an adult in U.S. states where many Mexican immigrants live and work, that generally speaking, there is a collective prejudice among white Americans toward Mexicans. I believe that this pervasive discrimination is present in each and every one of us to one degree or another, and we all have our very own individualized levels of discrimination that change along with our life experiences. And to be perfectly fair, I believe that every human being on the planet lives their lives with some form of prejudice toward the various other races on the planet… It’s just an inherent part of being a human being within a collective whose members are continually influencing one another. The question is not whether prejudices exist, but rather how we evolve as people and how we choose to shape our lives in the presence of those prejudices.
My parents raised me to resist racism and to treat everyone as my equal regardless of skin color, religion, sex or nationality, but I’d be lying to myself if I didn’t admit that I’ve had moments of believing in the stereotypes that the collective discrimination in my country places upon Mexican people living north of their border. Indeed, being conscious of that discrimination is the only possible way to work through those distortions and release their hold on me. Common prejudices I’ve heard my whole life are that Mexicans steal our jobs, and they’re poor, dirty, dangerous, distrustful, of lesser intelligence and generally just a drain on our great society. I’ve had years to work through these prejudices imposed upon me by the collective, and how they shape me as an individual, and to be sure, I’ve made many Mexican friends over the years.
I feel like our extended travels around Mexico have given me a deeper understanding of the people and their culture, and have helped me put to rest many more of the demons of prejudice. Here’s the thing: Mexicans aren’t poor, dirty, dangerous, stupid or distrustful. At least not more than any other nationality on the the planet. And as I see it, this notion that they steal our jobs and create a drain on our society is based on fear much more than it is on reality. We are all each responsible for creating our own individual realities, and when we start blaming entire groups of people for our problems, then we are clearly not doing our most important job as human beings, which is to create our world from a place of compassion and love rather than from a place of hate and fear. I’m going to generalize here, but from what I’ve seen and experienced, there’s not a whole lot of fear guiding the collective culture in Mexico. These people are wealthy in so many different ways and their traditions are rich and real, and very intriguing. They’re relaxed, resilient and slightly reckless, but also so very beautiful.
Feel free to leave a comment about your impressions or experiences in Mexico…