Tag Archives: values

Stuff Mexicans Like #17: Las Curvas

2 Jun
In many societies, the thinner the woman, the more attractive one considers her to be. (Just watch the latest Victoria’s Secret fashion show to get a glimpse of what the USA considers feminine and sexy these days.) Here’s a lil hint: 32-24-32. As for Mexico, turn on your television between the hours of 8am and 11pm tuned into any telenovela to see what Mexicans consider attractive for a woman. Hint: 38-27-40. 

Memories of nursing, the image of the capable chef, or likely childbearing abilities?
Perhaps it is the image of the soft, affectionate, nursing mother that draws Mexicans to curves like American travellers to backpacks and athletic sandals. Maybe it has more to do with the image of the capable cook, the provider of delicious meals, and the perception of “lacking for nothing” that Mexicans love. Studies have shown that men are more attracted to women who appear to be quite capable of bearing healthy children and continuing their family line. These traits are generally recognized by rosy cheeks and wide hips. Whatever the reason, women in Mexico can be seen daily in all their curvaceuos glory sporting xx-small t-shirts and size 4 jeans with their actual 34-38-38 flesh wedged in nicely.
Oprah’s “Women at 30 Around the World”
Oprah does a show called “Women at 30 Around the World” once a year. She asks each international woman what life is like for her in her country, in her family, what is expected of her, etc. Last time I saw it, the Mexican 30 year old representative was a soap opera actress who still ives at home with la familia (see Stuff Mexicans Like #1: La Familia & Stuff Mexicans Like #16: 20 en la Casa; 10 en el Carro; y 5 en la Cama). She said with a laugh, “Women eat as much as we want and we definitely don’t excercise in Mexico. Men like us soft with curves. Diets do not exist.” I think she was onto something.
Exhibit A:
Famous Mexican Actresses & Singers
    
Exhibit B:
Famous UnitedStatesian & Canadian Actresses & Singers
     
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Stuff Mexicans Like #16: 20 en la Casa; 10 en el Carro; 5 en la Cama

2 Jun
Headed to Rosa & Fernando’s wedding at the Rancho.
Mexico is a Catholic country. Very Catholic. It is also, like Catholocism, full of contrasts and contradictions. Ie; It is not ok to be gay. It is not ok to have sex outside of marriage. It is not ok to use condoms or other birth control. HOWEVER, if you are gay and do happen to be having sex outside of marriage, you fall into a lucky loophole which says that you, sir, can use condoms! Unfortunately, poor Sra. Fulana, with 8 small mouths to feed and an overworked, under-paid husband, cannot. Go figure. (Did I mention that it is also not ok to refuse conjugal relations with your mate, even if you are already sleeping 7 to the “matrimonial” size bed, with 2 on the sofa?)
Well, this is orthodox Mexican Catholic thinking, anyway.Which brings me to the topic: highly populated casas, coches, & camas. Thanks to extremely strict catholic sex rules and extremely lax Mexican seat belt laws, one can find 16-24 people in any small home or flat-bed pickup truck at any given time. I go to visit some of my Sanmiguelense friends and while they slip off to the bathroom, people- men, women, teens,  small children, and the elderly- begin seeping out of every nook and cranny like kitchen-counter ants.
“Ummm…. Who was that group of people that just came out of door #2?” I ask inquisitively. Seems like a logical question to me. What people, he says. “That family of 6?” I say. “Oh, probably just my brother or my cousin, Juana.” He tells me. “And the three elderly men out on the patio?” I inquire. “Es el primo y los hermanos de mi mama,” I am informed. (It’s the cousin & the brothers of my mother.)
EL COCHE
When it is time to take a trip to el mercado in Celaya, which we all know is the biggest and most ghetto-fabulous of all Guanajuato markets, anyone and everyone interested heads out to the family’s 3 cylander pickup for an adventure. “You sat by the cab window last time,” whines Tia Carla to Abuelita. Eventually, everyone is squeezed in, often with Popis, the family Terrier-Retriever-Poodle-Rot mix, and a handful of livestock. No one usually falls out along the way, due to Mexican Personal Responsability (see Stuff Mexicans Like #8), but if someone does happen to take a spill on the carretera hacia Celaya (the freeway to Celaya) or at the Pipila Glorieta (the roundabout with the Pipila monument), no te preocupes! (Don’t worry!) Everyone works together to pull Great Grandpa Pablo back to the safety of the truck bed and all cross themselves, giving thanks to La Virgencita (see Stuff Mexicans Like #2), for Seguro Popular (Mexican Free Public Health Insurance). (See Stuff Mexicans Like #6: Personal Responsability.)
I digress. Back to this Mexican Population Mentality. When my 15 year-old niece, Amanda, and I flew back to Seattle after her 6 month stay with me in Queretaro, my sister, Melodie, and younger niece picked us up at the airport. Walking to the car, Amanda and I were still in culture shock over the luxury one can encounter in the SeaTac Airport bathrooms. Things like toilet seats, locking stall doors, and soap had somehow eluded us for a great deal of time. “Oh shoot,” said my sister, looking at her four-door sedan with fatality in her eyes. “I didn’t think of all the luggage. How are all four of us going to fit in the car with three suitcases?”
Amanda and I silently turned to look at one another, then burst into laughter. “What?!?” challenged Melodie. “Actually,” ventured Manda, “I’m pretty sure this vehicle could hold at least 12 or maybe even 13 people. With luggage.” Our thinking had changed. When instructed sternly to “Get your seat belts on!”  by my sister, before even inserting the key into the ignition, Amanda and I exchanged yet another glance that said, “Do not let your mother become aware of the fact that you haven’t worn a seatbelt for 6 months.” Ni modo. (See Stuff Mexicans Like #12: Ni Modo.)
LA CASA
Some 6 months after arriving to Mexico, I found myself with two teenagers, a small dog, and no employment. I reluctantly procured a large room for rent at a local frat house from UVM (Valley of Mexico University) for half of what I was paying in our spacious home. My 15 year-old niece; 13 year-old son; Mercy, the yellow Pomeranian; and I hauled our suitcases and mattresses (no bed bases) into the room with the concrete slab floor and thus began our one-room, “Night, John-Boy,” adventure. (I had to explain to the teens where “Night, John-Boy” originated. They just stared blankly.)
It was fun! At night I would turn on my cell phone flashlight and read short stories and poetry to them from my corner of the room. Though no light shone from under our bedroom door, laughter and loud English could be heard throughout the casa every night. We didn’t feel sorry for ourselves or out-of-place because all my kids’ friends in their new public junior high had the same living accommodations or worse! I did makeovers on my girl and homemade haircuts on my boy. We each dressed in the bathroom after showering. The occassional late-night mellow college party was a welcome distraction from our sparse living conditions; we all practiced our Spanish and dance skills. When we needed space, we headed out to the one of the front yard hammocks or up to the roof to bask in the sun. My now young adult babies still laugh, telling people about the time three of us and a small dog lived on floor mattresses in one frat house bedroom in central Mexico.
Whether it’s 20 to a home, 10 to a car, or 5 to a bed, Mexicans love Family and Togetherness (See Stuff Mexicans Like #1: La Familia).  Night, John-Boy!
Exhibit A:
This family is waiting for the rest of the relatives to arrive so they can leave.    
 On the way to La Placita (Tuesday Market).
Exhibit B: 
Siblings of all ages often sleep together in the same bed.
It’s always nice to snuggle & keep warm on cold nights.
       
  Grandparents are no exception!

Stuff Mexicans Like #11: Ni Modo (Oh well./Nothing can be done.)

21 May
“Ni modo,” I often hear when a friend finishes sharing his or her burdens with me. “Ni modo,” people say after expressing their frustration at the corruption, narco tráfico, and uselessness of voting in Mexico. My neighbor’s daughter had 4 front teeth knocked out after falling down the concrete steps of the Plaza Civica in downtown San Miguel. “Ni modo,” she said, in response to my horrified open-mouthed shock. She had already taken her child to the dental clinic and to her pediatrician, where she was informed that they would not transplant the lost baby teeth. “Ni modo” is a common phrase used in Spanish to express powerlessness and surrender.
The Art of Surrender
On the bright side, the art of Surrender is a critical element in living fearlessly. When I surrender to the way the universe is today, I accept. I am no longer resisting, no longer in friction, no longer struggling. This may allow me to flow and harmonize. Powerlessness can be just what I need to recognize if I have tried every solution on my own with no results. It can be the channel to Faith and recognition of a Higher Power. It can lead to health, wellness, and prosperity.
Helplessness
On the contrary, powerlessness seen as helplessness can be toxic. It can paralize me, produce fear, and keep me from purposeful action on my own behalf or on behalf of a collective group. It can excuse unacceptable practices and tolerate injustices. It can maintain my mediocrity.
Whatever your motive for using it, use it and say it with conviction and sincerity.
¿Mande? You say my Spanish is jodido? Pués, ni modo.” 
So….. What?

Stuff Mexicans Like #10: Las Güeras (WAY-duh: Light skinned/blonde women)

21 May

This is me at my favorite taco joint in Juriquilla. I was cold, so I was permitted to stand at the grill and touch their utinsels. A special guera privilege. 🙂

Most scientists concur that the human race began on the continent of Africa with exclusively dark-skinned, dark-haired, dark-eyed people (the dark hair, skin, and eyes allow protection from the sun). After generations of migration and mixed breeding, however, deviations, adaptations, and mutations or defects began to pop up in the world. Many people who migrated to colder climates with little sun exposure began to produce offspring with hazel, green, or even blue eyes (the lighter the eye color, the more light can be absorbed). Others came out with light brown, blonde, or even red hair (the lighter the hair color, the more sunlight can be absorbed). Little by little, the migrants also produced children with light brown, tan, and even white pigmented skin (the lighter the skin, the more benefits one can absorb from rarely exposed sunlight).
 
These “defects” with light skin, light hair, and light eyes were rare, unique, and therefore highly valued and coveted. Although there was no intellectual, emotional, physical, or spiritual superiority to these people (in fact, they were inferior physically due to their vulnerability and inability to adapt in warmer climates), they were treated as though they were better than others. They were given better education, treatment from family and society, and offered more opportunities because of their unique pigmentation alone. Even today, having blonde hair and blue eyes is the epitomy of desirable physical features and is associated with the highest social status one can achieve.
 
White Privilege
We all know that being white has its benefits. One can count on one hand the amount of societies conquered by dark-skinned peoples. One does not have enough fingers on both hands to count the number of brown-skinned societies conquered by light-skinned persons. White is synonymous for Power, Prestige, and Wealth. In her now famous 1988 essay, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” Peggy McIntosh broke down some of the most common but often overlooked unearned priviledges/birth rights given to anyone happening to be born white. Here is an excerpt: 

 1. I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.

2. If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area, which I can afford and in which I would want to live.

3. I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me.

4. I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.

5. I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.

6. When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.

7. I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.

8. If I want to, I can be pretty sure of finding a publisher for this piece on white privilege.

9. I can go into a music shop and count on finding the music of my race represented, into a supermarket and find the staple foods which fit with my cultural traditions, into a hairdresser’s shop and find someone who can cut my hair.

10. Whether I use checks, credit cards or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance of my financial reliability.

11. I can arrange to protect my children most of the time from people who might not like them.

12. I can swear, or dress in second hand clothes, or not answer letters, without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty, or the illiteracy of my race.

13. I can speak in public to a powerful male group without putting my race on trial.

14. I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race.

15. I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.

16. I can remain oblivious of the language and customs of persons of color who constitute the world’s majority without feeling in my culture any penalty for such oblivion.

17. I can criticize our government and talk about how much I fear its policies and behavior without being seen as a cultural outsider.

18. I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to “the person in charge,” I will be facing a person of my race.

19. If a traffic cop pulls me over or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven’t been singled out because of my race.

20. I can easily buy posters, post-cards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls, toys, and children’s magazines featuring people of my race.

21. I can go home from most meetings of organizations I belong to feeling somewhat tied in, rather than isolated, out-of-place, outnumbered, unheard, held at a distance, or feared.

22. I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having coworkers on the job suspect that I got it because of race.

23. I can choose public accommodation without fearing that people of my race cannot get in or will be mistreated in the place I have chosen.

24. I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help my race will not work against me.

25. If my day, week or year is going badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether it has racial overtones.

26. I can choose blemish cover or bandages in “flesh” color and have them more or less match my skin.
http://nymbp.org/reference/WhitePrivilege.pdf

Baby Dolls in Mexico
Almost all little girls, by natural instinct to nurture and create, are attracted to baby dolls and Barbies in childhood (and beyond) and playing the role of the Mother. Most Mothers want to provide dolls for their little girls, to develop these innate abilities and satisfy these natural urges toward caretaking. However, what effect does it have on a young girls mind, emotions, and beliefs if none of her dolls look like she does? Is there a difference if the little girl comes from a conquistador group (white!) and plays with dolls representing los conquistados (dark-skinned) vs. little girls from a conquered society (brown-skinned) playing only with dolls from the conquistadores (white)?
 
A dark-skinned, dark-haired, dark-eyed child has little-to-no chance of producing a light-skinned, light-eyed, light-haired baby in the future. Knowing this, why would a Mother give her daughter dolls to play with with these unattainable features? What psychological effect does this have on that little girl? What does it tell her about her own color and her own babies who do not posess these features? How is her self-esteem affected? Her World-View?    
 
http://danielhernandez.typepad.com/daniel_hernandez/2011/12/mexico-racism-1.html “Mexicans Confront Racism with White Doll/Black Doll Video” (December 2011)
 
In an informal survey of dolls and race in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, our town located in central MEXICO, where the overwhelming majority of citizens have dark hair, dark skin, and dark eyes, I counted the number of dolls (large babies as well as Barbie dolls) with dark colored eyes, hair, and/or skin in the two largest, most popular chain stores in town: Mega (Comercial Mexicana, owned by the owners of Costco) & Bodega Aurrera (Walmart, owned by the owners of Sam’s Club). The results were startling, but much better than two years ago, when I could not find even ONE doll with dark eyes in either store to purchase for my dark-eyed Mexican daughter.
 
                                  MEGA                    BODEGA AURRERA
Total Dolls:                 128                        104
Brown Skinned:          15 (11.7%)             5 (4.8%)
Dark Haired:               18 (14%)               18 (17%)
Dark Eyed:                  20 (15.6%)            17 (16%)
 
The remaining 85% + of the dolls in both stores had blonde or red hair, white skin, and blue, green, or purple eyes, a vast discrepancy with the real-life Mexican society physical representation. You may be saying, “But Michelle, we are in San Miguel, “Mexico Light,” where there are more than 5,000 light-skinned foreigners here in town on any given day, thus the high number of light-skinned baby dolls.” NO! San Miguel actually has more dark-skinned, dark-haired dolls than the rest of the republic! We foreigners with dark-haired, dark-eyed children purchase more of these dolls than Mexicans, thus the higher availability here in town.
 
Supply & Demand
My friend, Adriana, owns a Papelería here in town that also offers a nice variety of toys. She tells me that the two dark-skinned official Barbies she has in the store have been there collecting dust for more than two years while the blonde dolls, even the poorly made generic ones, fly off the shelves. She’s stopped buying dark-complected dolls for resale. I asked Adriana’s sister why she thinks people don’t want buy the “dark” dolls at the store and she said it’s because everyone just wants “pretty dolls.”
 
Little Mommy Doll
My three-year-old, María, has always wanted a Little Mommy interactive doll by Fisher Price. They are widely available here in town, but generally sell for more than $850 pesos. A month ago, I found one at la Placita (the Tuesday/Sunday market) that was a better model with more features than any offered here in San Miguel. She sits down, stands up, speaks, responds when you touch her, sucks on her bottle, and commands you to do things. I couldn’t believe my good fortune! “Cuánto es?”  I asked, getting mentally prepared to talk her down to 500p (about $40 USD) for the little treasure. “Esteeee….. 200 pesos,” said the booth keeper. I stared at her in disbelief, wondering if I understood correctly. “Bueno… 150.” (approximately $12 USD)  She lowered the price on her own, figuring I was having second thoughts. I snatched her up and María is still quite happy playing with Paola regularly.
 
Paola is brown.  
 
Being called güera/güero by anyone is considered a compliment, while being called morena/moreno (dark-skinned), or worse, negra/negro or prieta/prieto, (black skinned) is a depreciation. Racism is alive and well in Mexico, although rarely recognized or challenged. Perhaps 2012 will bring the much promised, much hoped for Mayan prophesy of a Drastic Change of Universal Consciousness. Until then, enjoy the steals on expensive American dolls in Mexico. Brown dolls only.

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. 🙂

Stuff Mexicans Like #5: Manners

18 May
  
Having and using good manners is perhaps the number one value in Mexican society. This manners business ranks higher in importance in Mexican society than logic, honesty, kindness, bravery, intelligence, or hard work. If I lie, cheat, and steal, but always say “buen provecho” when I see someone eating;“qué te vaya bien” when someone leaves; and “con permiso” when joining and/or leaving a group of people, I am on my way toward Mexican cultural fluency. This instantly puts me in good with Mexicans and assures my quick acceptance.
 
Maleducado is one of the worst things things one can be in México lindo. Being grosero is one of the seven dealy sins. Note that maleducado (poorly educated) has little to do with formal studies or education level and everything to do with your manners or lack thereof. I can be extremely bieneducado/a (well-educated) with a third grade education level. If modales (manners) is #2 on list of important assets, conocimiento (knowledge) is #43. Using the right phrase at the right time with the right people is imperative to your acceptance into Mexican culture/society. If it sounds dripping sweet with honey when your neighbor or dentist invite you in for a visit, consider yourself fortunate. This is the highest complement one can receive. Return the favor! Make “para servirle” part of your regular Spanish vocabulary if you haven’t already. “Estás en tu casa” should be your standard response when your Mexican guest asks if you mind loaning them your bathroom or regalandole a glass of aguita. To start slowly, just start using diminuitives as frequently as possible. ¿No quieres salir por un cafecito? Me regalas un vaso de aguita? ¡Provechito! Etc.
 
Pinches Gringos Groseros
A final warning: it is easy to offend by accident or omission as a non-Mexican. Women should greet other women with a kiss on the left cheek and a hand shake/head nod for men. Men should greet women with a kiss on the left cheek only if the woman intitiates it or she is a good friend of yours. This is also true when you are leaving a group of people. It is customary to kiss every single person in the room or casa before you leave and to say “con permiso” as you walk out in case you missed anyone. Your response to someone’s “Con permiso” (with permission)should be, “propio” (you have your own permission). Be careful with your assertive, direct ways as an English-speaking foreigner in a Spanish-speaking country! This is grosero in the worst kind of way! Think oblique; always kind; sweet; and semi passive-aggressive. This is your new attitude as an extranjero, pero bien educado! 

Stuff Mexicans Like #4: La Television

18 May
Watching television is the #1 past-time for Mexicans, according to the super unscientific Garrison Survey of 2004- 2012. In fact, if you ever get out to the campos and ranchos where extreme poverty abounds (like, for example, say… my neighborhood), you may find communities with corrugated plastic roofs and concrete slabs for floors. There will be no refrigerator, no stove, and rudimentary plumbing. Children may be sleeping on a bean-filled mattress on the floor. But you better believe that every family has a television set! I’ve seen tin foil antennas, extension cords creeping out front windows to be rigged directly to the power lines, but it is essential in Mexican culture that every citizen be connected to every other Mexican via the medium of tv. Try to find a true Mexican restaurant or taco stand or tiendita or Mexican home that does not have a television on and blaring at full volume at all times. You’d be hard up to locate one. It is just common Mexican sense. It is good service and good entertainment. It is the most basic necessity of any business or casa. In the US, we might ask ourselves, “How can I open my new business without a phone line and a phone number so my customers can contact me?” In México the question is, “How could I open a business without a tv? What would I do when there are no customers? What would give my customers ganas to stick around and spend money?”  My friend here in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, informs me that at his last visit to El Seguro, (the “nicer” health clinics for people with insurance), there was no soap or toilet paper in the bathroom…. but there was a television set in the waiting area!
 
The Government Loves TV, too!
“La television es nuestra cultura. Leer libros requiere mucho trabajo y atención. La television hace el trabajo por ti.”  (Television is our culture. Reading books requires a lot of work and attention. The television does the work for you.) This is a common sentiment my Mexican friends have shared with me over my time here in México. One of my buddies in his mid 20s in Querétaro made the following comment upon learning that I was opening a bookstore in San Miguel,”Lo que pasa es que después de la conquista de los indígenas, el gobierno Méxicano le declaró a la gente, ‘No es necesario que lean Uds. De hecho, ni es importante que sepan leer. Nosotros vamos a ser sus representantes. Tenemos estudios y educación; nosotros leeremos por Uds. y les diremos lo que necesitan saber. No se preocupen por estudiar ni dominar el español. Lo haremos por ti.’ Así que la gente no tomó la iniciativa de aprender a leer y escribir y el gobierno no hizo nada para apoyar el aprendizaje del público.” (What had happened was that after the Spanish conquest of the indigenous, the Mexican government declared to the people, ‘It is not necesary for you to read. Actually, it’s not even important to know how. We will be your representatives. We have studies and education; we will read for you and we will tell you what you need to know. Don’t worry about studying or dominating the Spanish language. We’ll do it for you.’ So the people didn’t take the initiative to learn to read and write and the government did nothing to support the education of the general public.) Today we continue receiving information hand-selected by the government, via the television. 
 
Knowledge is Poder
In most Mexican homes, the television is located in the center of the sala as a kind of shrine, as the one consistent source of information. of Education. of Knowledge. of Power. If I have a 4th grade education level and still can’t read or write well, at least I have the faithful television to keep me in-the-know. Just as my insightful friend in Querétaro stated, the government/church (can we even make a distinction in México?) is still choosing and interpreting the information it deems acceptable for the average Mexican to know. Whereas in the US we may find important news on the front of a newspaper, magazine, book, public radio show; in México the culture continues to be anti-reading. But no fear, it’s all on the television set.  
 
Happy tv watching!  See below for recommended viewing on the Televisa/Telemundo channels:
  • Laura: talk show representing women and children’s rights: Televisa M-Th 3pm central Mexico (see photo above)
  • Por Ella Soy Eva: telenovela/comedia about a cross-dreesing man who does so to win back his girl: Televisa M-F 8 or 9pm central Mexico
  • 100 Mexicanos Dijieron: Family Feud style celebrity game show: Televisa Sundays at 5or6pm central Mexico
  • Pequenos Gigantes: childrens Talent Show Competition: Televisa Sundays at 8 or 9pm central Mexico
  • Hoy!: Daily show: Televisa M-F 9am central Mexico