In 1976, when I moved to Mérida, the stars shone in my eyes and butterflies fluttered in my belly. Yes, I was totally in L-O-V-E and I just knew life would be absolutely P-E-R-F-E-C-T. In actuality, living abroad has proven to be so much less and so much more than I anticipated.
Expecting utopia is a tall order and of course I soon became disillusioned. As my reality check adjusted I discovered that this path I’d chosen would not be easy. Learning Spanish; navigating the complex social networks; adapting to the hot, humid climate; fitting in with a family who did not fully embrace me –indeed, the rapid assimilation I had imagined was certainly not to be. This is what I mean by less.
What I’ve gained through this life-long process is invisible to the outward eye but all-encompassing to me. Like a pre-embryo that splits to form twins, my very being developed two distinct ways of perceiving, evaluating and reacting. While still fully intact, my Canadian core now shares space with an equally developed set of Latin values. Over the decades, I have become a bi-cultural person who fully understands and deeply feels the northern and southern perspectives. This is what I mean by more.
As a west coast girl, I grew up in a naïve, mono-culture. Very little racial and cultural diversity was to be found in my North Vancouver habitat. When I went out into the world, I felt intrigued by the differences I encountered. I’d not been raised with negative conditioning. From what I can see, now-a-days, young people reside in a multi-cultural Petri-dish. Yet in many cases, they are not taught to respect and value one another’s differences. Because of rapid changes in the west’s racial mix and the economic downturn, some parents tend to equate one, as the cause for the other – mistrust has grown and been passed on to the young. There is an atmosphere of fear – xenophobia actually.
A tendency to look for a scapegoat is also firmly in place. It is easy to point a finger at other nations and blame them for social problems that exist in the backyards. México being the case in point…
The country certainly has its issues but contrary to established beliefs, most of the population is young and ambitious. They want a better life for themselves and their families. But they are saddled with political corruption, inadequate education, stifling religious rules and a stagnant economy. Many possess an exaggerated idea of what would be available to them if they lived in another country. They travel northward by the tens of thousands, hoping to enter the USA and from there, some go on to Canada.
And so we have a check-mate. Blame ricochets across the borders. For their own benefit, politicians and the press fan the flames of controversy; and the problem escalates to the point where serious effects are felt by citizens who have nothing to do with the underbelly of society.
In México, the wave of damaging media reports has impacted all economic activity. In the northern countries, there are dire warnings about travel to the south. The tourism industry is in crisis and manufacturing, food services, entertainment venues and retail are floundering. Jobs have been lost and families are hard pressed to stay afloat. This leads to still more illegal immigration and crime – the cycle continues to repeat itself in concentric circles.
While it is true that Mexico has violence, this is not the case in the tourism areas. There is a very visible police presence which alone is a deterrent. Over the past few years, I have visited many states in the country and have not been confronted with difficulties. Mind you, in a foreign country, one needs to be a prudent tourist. Years ago, an “old Latin American hand” gave me some excellent advice,
“If you see a bunch of people gathered around, turn and walk the other way. If it is important you will read about it in the paper the next day. And always, keep your wits about you!”
Isn’t it time to stand up and defend ourselves? Those of us who live in México and those who appreciate the country as one of the most culturally diverse and wonderful places on earth need to fight back. When we read an offensive or unbalanced article in a newspaper or magazine, we should write to the editor and make our opinions known. We need to shut down the negative attacks. We also need to petition our leaders to work towards an equitable solution to the immigration problems between our nations.
One person alone cannot have much effect but many can do so. If informed citizens from the developed countries would take just ten minutes, once a week to counteract one biased article or write to their congressman and petition a change in the misaligned immigration act, I think we’d see BIG changes occur. We cannot live our lives in a society based on fear, we need to open our hearts to the world beyond our borders and embrace the concept of a multicultural world.
Photos by Carlos Rosado, from my albums and from Google Images