Mexico has its share of both corruption and crime. It also has a gap between well-off and poor that is shocking to most Americans. But there is much more to Mexico, 2020. The foreigner who arrives in my adopted country and looks for the real, diverse, changing Mexico will see that the sensational and over-emphasized are only part of Mexican life.
To see what’s happening in Mexico, a look beyond the headlines and travel posters pays off. To start with, you know about Mexicans coming to work in the United States but what about the ones who stay in their own country? Where do they go on vacation? What work do they do?
I live in Central Mexico, where nearly every morning a short, slender gas, man climbs the hill to find out whether anyone needs a tank of gas for the hot water and the stove. If someone says si, he goes back down to pick up a 40 kilo (nearly 90 pound) tank, climbs the lane again, delivers, collects the payment, if he’s lucky gets a tip, and goes back down again. How many lanes he climbs in a day, I don’t know. I do know from a doctor friend that this friendly, efficient man is likely to have a short work life because of the strain on his back.
A touring photographer might think the gas man with his heavy tank picturesque, but what foreigners see is not always the full reality of Mexican life. Physical labor rather than machinery is still the norm in this hilly, Mexican colonial city. On a happier note, what seems to us an exotic piñata, is an everyday custom at a child’s birthday party.
Look for what isn’t on the travel posters. The posters rarely show the hills and pine trees of Mexico yet, along with the beaches, these are the places Mexicans with better jobs than the gas man usually head for in their free time. I recently went with a Mexican group to the neighboring state of Michoacan to soak in mineral water pools surrounded by pines and later cook marshmallows over glowing coals. If I chose to live far from the beach–a choice that has its disadvantages–I can at least do what the chilangos (residents of Mexico City) are especially good at, heading for the surrounding hills.
Many Mexicans never go to the sea or more than a few miles from where they live. If transportation were the only consideration, they could manage it. Mexican still has an extensive system of buses with routes to the small towns and express buses for long-distance travel between cities. Mexicans also have a generous handful of festivals, official holidays, family gatherings, and religious events from baptism on. Finding work and money are the problems.
I still haven’t seen a travel poster of an ordinary drab street in Mexico. Seeking out the ordinary can be well-worthwhile if you want to know the country as it is nowadays. Part of everyday life is that Mexicans go to supermarkets as well as neighborhood stores. Besides, a trip to a supermarket can be a lesson in the relationship of the American and Mexican economies.
Mexico keeps changing although but you can still see street parades with children wearing masks and dancing. Traditions too are part of life in this 500 year old Hispanic-indigenous country that has more connections than you might think with other parts of the world, not only the US. Cell phones are extremely popular here and there are social changes, for example, now some university students come from families where the parents didn’t go beyond primary school.
For me, the neon internet cafe sign next to a colonial-style street light tells the story of today’s Mexico.