As an American I have always been keenly aware of Mexico. My mother studied Spanish in Mexico City in the 1960’s, at a time when she was young and idealistic and the world was a much different place.
In my twenties I ventured over the borders into Matamoros and Juarez, nervous and giggly, needing only my driver’s license to ensure my identity. But I was tall and blonde and privileged even then, although I wasn’t entirely aware of it.
Since those salad days of the 1990’s there has been a shift in the way that America and her people see Mexico. On one hand it’s the blind eye turned to the legal and illegal Mexican immigrants who produce our food, mow our lawns, and raise our kids.
On the other hand it’s a strange and wild rage at desperate people who would dare cross our borders and take these jobs from us, the ones that no Americans seem to be applying for. Mexico is both reliable and a liability, and this perceived threat has so many up in arms that it’s sometimes dizzyingly incomprehensible.
Unless, of course, you’re going to Mexico on vacation.
There’s something that is perfectly acceptable about visiting Cancun or Puerto Vallarta. There’s nothing wrong with never speaking a lick of Spanish when you order a margarita on the beach in Tulum. For many people who visit the Mayan Riviera it’s almost with a sense of entitlement; yes, you need a passport to get there but it’s really not much more than an extension of Florida in the eyes of many a gringo.
Unless you’re Mexican.
I wrote previously about why you should tip in Mexico. I mentioned that most Mexicans who work in the service industry in the Mayan Riviera have learned English themselves, they really do go the extra mile to do their jobs.
Then there were the construction workers. If you’re my friend on Facebook you may remember my often vicious posts about the jackhammers as a new development was going up across the street from my apartment. What I didn’t post was that the laborers who worked that project lived on site, in a shack hastily thrown together from tarps and sheet metal. They will live there until the project is done. They will work from sunup to sundown.
They are paid the equivalent of 5 USD a day which is the Mexican minimum wage, unless their boss is more generous.
Aside from the beaches of Mexico’s coasts, most people simply don’t think of Mexico at all. They don’t think of the lush alpine forests, the pristine canyons, the high deserts, or the wintertime snow. It’s as if nothing exists between the Caribbean and the Pacific.
Except the cartels.
It’s no secret that Mexico has a corruption problem. Many countries in the world do, including the United States. The difference is that Mexico and her people don’t deny it. They don’t pretend it doesn’t exist. They don’t blame the poor people and worship fat cat businessmen who encourage that blame. The violence that takes place in Mexico is vicious and nasty, and is in some ways very similar to the violence that is taking place in the United States.
Only here, people care.
And they are very, very vocal.
Last September, 43 students from a teacher’s college in the state of Guerrero were “disappeared”. The school they attended was known for its liberal and left wing teaching style, and someone was displeased by that. These students were passionate about change and they hoped to share that passion with their future students.
Many of their bodies have not yet been found or identified.
The entire country erupted and its populace took to the streets in mass protests. While the outrage is similar, this was no Ferguson. The Mexican people are no strangers to protest. While many of the police are just corrupt as the politicians that hand down the orders, many more are aligned with their people.
And so the protests go on, and the demands for justice continue.
And the people with the most dangerous jobs in Mexico are hard at work.
In the United States the labels of “brave” or “courageous” are handed out freely to those who choose to join the military or police service. Sure, there is a chance that there will be that time when their life is truly in danger. but they have weapons and training to help mitigate the damage.
In Mexico the bravest and most courageous have no weapons, no combat training, and no one to call for backup.
They are the journalists.
Just recently, a journalist was found dead in an apartment in an middle class neighborhood in Mexico City. He was from the turbulent state of Veracruz and wrote something that someone didn’t like.
Dead, disappeared… it’s all the same thing.
We arrived in San Cristobal de las Casas two weeks ago, home to the Zapatista uprising of twenty years ago. This is a very different Mexico than the one I left in Tulum. The state of Chiapas is no stranger to conflict, yet there is something else abundantly apparent here.
Mexican people are as fiercely proud of their country as you are of yours, but I find vast differences between the two. Everyone here will take to the streets if an injustice calls for it. No one watches on television and disparages fed-up people for doing the only thing they can.
And if you’re a journalist in Mexico who isn’t on the government payroll, then your life is on the line.
On every line you write.
For those of you who only think of Mexico as an unpleasant nuisance whose citizens keep jumping borders, think again. For those of you who have been to Cancun and were thrilled that everyone spoke English at Senor Frog’s and you could use US dollars everywhere, think again.
Mexico is a land of brave people, hard working people who only want the same things that people everywhere want. The chance to learn, grow, raise their children, and feel safe. And I’ve found that the Mexicans I know are more than willing to fight for that.
And I’ve just scratched the surface.