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Stuff Mexicans Like #21: La Colita (The Mexican Ponytail)

10 Dec

The Mexican ponytail is a critical component in every Mexican girl’s life from the breast to the grave. It consists of brushing wet hair back, applying a handful of gel (see: “Stuff Mexicans Like #19: El Gel”), pulling the hair as taut as humanly possible, and twisting an elastic hair band around the tail, leaving the female with a death grip on the back of her scull for 10-12 hours each day. This phenemenon can be observed in each and every Mexican school throughout the republic, viewing from the back of the classroom: a sea of dark colitas.

Why the obsession with the tight pigtail in the rear-center of the head? There are a couple schools of thought. One is that the Spanish Catholic Macho influence has left parents with the desire to make their girls seem more masculine. Another is that of control. La Virgencita (See “Stuff Mexicans Like #2: La Virgen de Guadalupe”) is the center of Mexican culture and values. The idea of control, rigidity, and simplicity all jive with the image of a virgen or “niña bien” (good girl). Hair hanging loose all over the place swinging to and fro with the wind, doing just as it pleases is not an acceptable state for Mexican tresses. Nor is a single barrette, a simple loose braid, or 2 casually ribboned pigtails. It is all-or-nothing when it comes to Mexican hairdressing.

The last theory is my own, based on the deep-seated rascism I have felt and witnessed here in Northern Latin America. A Chicana (Mexican-American or pocha: ruined one, as Mexicans lovingly refer to them) friend of mine posted to her personal internet site: “I am Mexican. If you don’t believe me, I can pull back my bangs.”  She was referring to her very low hairline and almost non-existent forehead. This is a typical look for many, if not most, indigenous Mexican people. That being said, with the combination of the low forehead being equated with Indios (an insult in Mexico. See “Stuff Mexicans Like #10: Las Güeras”) and the desire to look more European, (namely white), it makes sense that many Mexican women may want to pull their hair back as far off the forehead as possibly, thus lengthening the start of the hairline, creating a somehwat more European, less Indio look.

Whatever the reason, I am always acutely aware at Mexican children’s birthday parties & social gatherings that my child’s sloppy side braid or loose curls make a stark contrast to other Mexican children’s tight, super gel’d du’s. I wonder if other parents at the party equate the loose hairstyles of me and my child to be congruent with their ideas of loose, uncontrollable Gringas in general.

Just for today, I am ok with that. Happy Hair scrutinizing!

Exhibit A: Little Mexican girl headed to a birthday party

Exhibit B: Little Gringa girl headed to a birthday party

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Stuff Mexicans Like #9: La Responsabilidad Personal (Personal Responsability)

20 May

Despite the apparent lack of personal responsability noted in the Spanish universal accident phrases: Se me cayó; Se te olvidaron; Se me hizo tarde; etc. It fell by itself (on me); They were forgotten by themselves (on you); It was made late (on me), Mexicans truly are all about Personal Responsability. For those who live in Mexico, when was the last time a Mexican police officer told you to put on a seatbelt, to produce proof of insurance, or to strap the small child into a car seat? How many times has an officer stopped by your home late at night to ask you to keep the noise down or to remind you of the forbidden firework statute? Has an animal control representative ever rebuked your barking dog or suggested you offer more water to your small roof poodle? It just doesn’t happen. These are personal decisions that one is offered the Dignity and Personal Responsability to choose in México.

Huecos (ooh-AY-koes: holes)
Shortly after arriving to live in Querétaro (kay-RAY-ta-row), I was strolling with a friend in my posh neighborhood in Juriquilla, home of one of the best golf courses in the republic. Just as I negotiated to avoid a large sink hole in the sidewalk, I said to Beto, “Ok. I love the country. Love the people. The food. The culture. The music. The architecture… But what the bleep bleep is this??” (gesturing to the deep uncovered pit in the cement.) “How about if I fall in one day? Huh?”
Beto looked amused, with a duh expression in his twinkling eyes, as if I were proposing some kind of trick question. “Evítalo,” he answered. (Walk around it/avoid it!)
How simple. So simple that I began to laugh. I told him that I liked his no-nonsense approach and would need to meditate on it a bit before commenting.
“Ok, so I’ll evitarlo,” I said. “Now how ’bout if my 2 year-old is playing outside and she falls in the hole by accident? Huh? How bout that, Beto?”
Again, the same amused, perplexed look in his face. “Cuida a tu niña,” he says, with a shoulder shrug. (Watch your kid.) 
Beto stared at me hard as I was shaken to the core with his simple genius. “¿Que harías tú en tu país?”  (What would you do in your country?) he asked, as if he could think of no other option.
“¡Demandar!” (Sue!) I informed him without hesitation.
“¿Pero no es tu responsabilidad ver donde caminas?” he asked. “¿Y cuidar a tu propia hija?”  (But isn’t it your responsability to look where you walk? And to take care of your own child?)
Beto did not understand on what grounds I would or could even consider suing the city, even after I explained that the city is responsible for the sidewalks. When I told him I would call the city to report the hole, he said, “Por qué no lo tapas tú?”  (Why don’t you just cover it up yourself?)
Topes (TOE-pays: speedbumps)
When I moved to Colonia Mexiquito here in SMA, my neighbor, the cock-fighting taxista (taxi-driver), proudly informed me, “People used to drive too fast on our street; then I built the topes.” He was concerned about the speed on our child-friendly cobble-stone street, so he personally installed two large speed bumps! As far as sweeping the sidewalk in front of my home, I, in my Gringa mind, consider the sidewalk to be property of a larger element… the city of San Miguel, for example, the state of Guanajuato. My neighbors, however, feel the Personal Responsability to go outside and clean it every morning. Chin. Damnit.
Mas Ejemplos (more examples)
When my girlfriend, Stephanie, came from Seattle to live in San Luís Potosí, one day she asked the bus driver, “Is it ok to bring my large basket of dirty laundry on the bus? …That lady has a goat.”
One day I pulled into the Oxxo (Mexican AM/PM) to get a Nescafé (instant flavored coffee beverage) but all the parking spaces were taken by vaqueros (cowboys) on horseback. You better believe I snapped a photo. (And you will enjoy it just as soon as I find it and update this post!)
On another occasion I struggled to pass the truck carrying 16 standing people in the truck bed. On the freeway.
 
Only in México goes the dicho, referring to anything and everything crazy you see in day-to-day life, all related to Mexican Liberties and Personal Responsability.  
You don’t like the neighbors barking dog? You go speak to your neighbor with extreme Mexican Manners (see Stuff Mexicans Like #4: Manners). The dog continues to make noise all night long? You climb onto your roof and throw apples and limes at it until the barking ceases. Personal Responsability. (Note: This example is taken from my own life, as a 9 month pregnant woman in Colonia Allende, who was awoken like clockwork at 3am each madrugada by the ferocious Rottweilers next door.) Note 2: The hardened fruit works. Mature fruit only makes a sticky mess and the dogs will mock you in Spanish as they make agua de sabor (fresh fruit water) in their water bowl.
Pinches Gringos Idiotas (and I say that in the nicest way.)
On my friends’ first visit to San Miguel from the Pacific Northwest, they decided to take their two young children to the circus here in San Miguel. Rob, we’ll call him, the husband/father, noticed that the lions’ and tigers’ cages were right out in the open to enjoy as closely as you wanted. Naturally, he got as close as possible and began waving his arm inside the cage dangerously near the tiger’s face, growling and provoking the captive beast. His wife pulled out the camcorder to preserve the memory. On his 4th or 5th aggression toward the animal, it suddenly leaped at his white limb, bearing its teeth and roaring ferociously. Rob, the Doctor, pulled his hand out just in time and nervously laughed on camera at his bravery and his good fortune for having got it all saved on tape to one day show the grandkids.
Back at their rented home, they hooked up the camcorder to enjoy the show over and over again with popcorn and refresco (soda pop). Laughing hysterically as his fingers are narrowly salvaged from harm, it suddenly dawns on Rob. “Look at all those people watching the ‘show.’ Why are none of them sticking their arms in the cages or even getting close? Even the grown men are keeping their distance. …How very odd.” 
Rob’s wife put herself in the shoes of the Mexican circus-goers and arrived at a profound realization: “Mexicans don’t need large signs and fences telling them that it is dangerous to stick your arm in the lion and tiger cages. Somewhere along the line in life, they learned that lions and tigers can be aggressive. That they can attack or even eat other mammals. Like humans, for instance. Perhaps they saw it on Animal Planet or maybe they deduced as much in the circus show. One way or another, these Mexicans became privvy to the danger of certain wild carnivores and made the decision to become responsible for protecting themselves against them… With or without a sign.”
Read the Signs!
In the United States, we are bombarded with instructions and warnings everywhere we go. Seattle: 10 Miles. Seattle: 5 Miles. Seattle: 1 Mile. Do not Step on the Grass. The Conair 695 Hairdryer can cause electrocution and even death if submerged in water. Suffocation Risk. Keep away from Children. Deep water beyond the Buoeys. Hot coffee can cause severe burns. Speed Bump Ahead. Line Forms Here. Take a Number. Thank you for choosing Bartell Drugs. Come back soon. Open 10am- 6pm Monday through Friday. Never strap a carseat in the front seat.  Careful: wet floor. Return Policy. Do not use the  while bathing or in the shower. No U-Turns Allowed. Falling Rocks. Deer Crossing. Smoking Prohibited. Don’t Drink and Drive. Just Say No. Never use the Remington CI-95 Series Curling Iron while sleeping.  (I am not making that last one up. WHILE SLEEPING.)
When these signs are not present, often we feel lost. Confused. Insecure. Defensive. “Well, how was I supposed to know you close from 2 to 4pm? There was no sign!”  “Had I known the scalding coffee would cause 3rd degree burns on my body, do you think I would have cradled it between my thighs while driving?” “Officer, there is no sign for 10 miles specifying a speed limit. How was I supposed to know?” We not only appreciate and crave more instructions from Big Brother, we expect them and demand that someone else be responsible for our errors that could’ve been avoided using common sense when there is no sign present.
 
Evolution
My concern is that this blind faith in signs is damaging the human gene pool. We are no longer the alert, quick response, intuitive people we once were. It is like the difference between my daughter, María’s, fat, long-haired hamster, Pelusa (Fuzz), and the tiny grey wild mice in my new home. The mice are extremely fast, jump excessively high, and sense danger from 2 rooms away. Pelusa, on the other hand, is slow and confused when a threat enters his glass homefront. He is unaware of a large hand getting closer until it actually touches him, in which case he rolls quickly onto his back in surrender and waits, frozen in terror.  The mice are a far superior specimen. So who are we? Wild mice or caged hamsters?
Rescue 911
This kind of absolute faith in systems, the responsibility of others to warn me or tell me what to do, creates a false sense of security that Mexicans simply do not ever rely on. Once I asked my group of savvy, wealthy 4th grade students in Querétaro, “What is the phone number you call in Mexico in case of an emergency?” Crickets. “You know, if someone breaks in your house and you are there all alone, what is that number you would call?”
“¿Mi Papá?” they answered. “La abuela?” “El Tio Toño?”
It took several minutes and hand gestures to get the correct answer: 066. They recognized 911 immediately from television and movies but didn’t know what number to dial in their own country. There is a lack of faith and trust in the government here that runs deep and strong through the blood of all Mexicans. “Why would we call a stranger in a moment of danger? ¡Y mucho menos a alguién del gobierno!” (and much less someone from the government!) My 10 and 11 year-old students explained.
Where to go for Help
In a class for parents in a private school here in San Miguel about child sexual predators, I once suggested that when taking children to a crowded place like the feria (fair) or el jardín (town square) during días festivas (holidays), they should instruct their children that if lost, to first look for a Police Officer to help, and if none were available, to always approach a woman.
The parents burst into laughter and were unable to compose themselves or lower the murmurs going around the room for several minutes.
“What? What’s so funny?” I asked them, hand on hips.
One mother wiped the tears from her eyes and cleared her throat to explain to me slowly, “Maybe that is what children should do in your country,” she said. “Here the Police Officers are often the most dangerous characters in a crowded public place. If I want to avoid a ransom call, I’ll just tell my daughter to find a woman to help her if lost, and skip the police bit altogether.” 
 
After 5 years in the republic, I am slowly but surely becoming more mouse-like in my decision-making. When 066 did not respond to several of my neighborhood violence emergency calls years ago, I created a back-up safety plan.  When I asked a respected neighbor what to do about the problematic gang-related neighbors beside me… whether or not I should go speak to the mother, the matriarch, she looked at me sideways and said, “Move.”  Just 15 months later, I moved. 🙂

#3: La Cleanliness

17 May
 https://i0.wp.com/images.travelpod.com/users/kupdegra/copper_canyon.1188405000.p1020554.jpg
“Cleanliness is next to Godliness” had to have been originally quoted by a Mexican. Mexicans value cleanliness so much that it is the first thing one does after arising and the last thing one does before bed. During the course of the day, one needs helpers if things are to be kept adequately clean. First things first: the sidewalk in front of your house. You don’t want your neighbors seeing a surplus of fallen leaves just outside your gate or dog urine or an empty Coke bottle. This is what “not taking care of your house and family” looks like. As for before bed, well, there are dishes and teeth to be washed, faces to be scrubbed, and showers to be had by all. One person alone could never take on all the dirst that comes your way during the day. This is why my maid has a maid. And her maid has a maid. And I’m nearly certain that if I were to investigate, I would discover that my maid’s maid has a maid. Maid service in Mexico is like having a garrafón or basic cable. It is not optional.
A male Mexican friend of mine was watching my then 15 year old sweep and mop the tile floor of my bookstore one day. I felt proud and content, like Mother of the Year. Unfortunately my friend interrupted my self-satisfaction with, “Why don’t you teach your hijo to clean?” What?!? Was my son not there, sleeves rolled up, pushing a wet soapy mop around like nobody’s business? “He is cleaning,” I replied. “I mean real cleaning,” retorted the Mexican. I gave the Mexican permission to “teach” my son “real cleaning” and I stood back to take notes. A hand-held scrub brush was produced, as well as a bucket of fuming bleach water mixed with purple Fabuloso. I pulled out the camera as the two young men rolled up their jeans, hit their knees, and began to sweat profusely while manually removing any trace of dirt from the last 500 years from my antique floor. A Mexican taught me to clean a floor.
 
I never felt so dirty as when I started dating Mexican men. The same scrubbing that applies to a Mexican floor is generally applied to the entire body, including eyelids, scalp, behind the ears, between the toes, etc. (I prefer to wash the hair once every other day to avoid dry-out.) My sidewalk woud shame even the dirtiest street person. I use only a standard mop from the tiendita when doing my twice a week rounds. My maid is called in for emergencies only, and that only being once a month on avergae. I do not wash my clothes by hand with the outside patio clothes-sink. (That is already occupied by Christmas items waiting around for next December.) It is a rare occasion that I stick my hand in the toilet, the obvious best way to get it clean, according to Mexican ways. I leave the cozy seat on my toilet, to avoid unintentional drownings. (Many-most Mexicans remove this seat with tools upon purchase so as not to pose any interference with typical hand-in-the-bowl daily cleaning.
(Note: I am pretty sure that this extreme cleanliness business ties in with the national adoration of La Virgen, also! What Virgin do you know who isn’t sparkling soapy clean?)