Today and tomorrow, Mexico is celebrating its fiestas patrias , an annual holiday that commemorates the beginning of Mexico's struggle ...
A friend e mailed me the other day to ask if I was ok. She was concerned about my safety here in Cuernavaca because she had read in The Se...
I wasn't planning to write more about drug cartels, but yesterday Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made some comments comparing Mexic...
For the past week, I've been seeing a lot on the national news in Mexico about the terrible floods in some of the coastal areas, whe...
For the past few days, I've seen the same story in a variety of newspapers and online news pages about a 14-year old boy arrested in an ...
I don't normally turn to beauty queens for information about world events, but in this case, Jimena Navarrete, Miss Mexico and now Miss...
No, I'm not talking about THAT Barbie, the All-American doll with the impossibly small waist, perky breasts and feet designed for high...
In Mexico City, the bicentennial celebrations reached truly epic proportions but, like most Mexicans, I watched it on tv. Even through a m...
The other day, Felipe Calderón, the President of Mexico, gave his state of the union address to Congress. One of the first things he said w...
domingo, 5 de diciembre de 2010
martes, 28 de septiembre de 2010
In Mexico City, the bicentennial celebrations reached truly epic proportions but, like most Mexicans, I watched it on tv. Even through a medium where people are used to seeing things larger than life, exaggerated and unreal, these festivities didn't disappoint us. They were bigger, better, flashier, more spectacular than anything I've ever seen, in Mexico or the U.S. The ceremonies began with a pre-Hispanic ritual ceremony know as "The New Fire," where 40 shamans gathered in the zócalo to initiate new solar cycle. According to ancient beliefs, this ceremony marks the end of the old world, and the beginning of a new one. This was followed by a monumental parade with allegorical floats, many of them using advanced technology to achieve splendid results: the giant figure of Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent of ancient mythology, was as tall as the Cathedral and stretched out for a full city block. It was subtly illuminated, like a giant firefly, moving through the night at a slow, serpentine pace, reminding everyone that Mexico's history doesn't begin with Independence from Spain, but stretches back in time for thousands of years. Another float featured giant sized Mexican toys, wooden tops, puppets, the lottery game, along with other colorful and whimsical items, stirring up nostalgia for a pre-NAFTA past, and respect for tradition. There were costumed dancers from every region of Mexico, acrobats, mariachis, and of course, after the President's appearance on the balcony, spectacular fireworks that lasted for at least 20 minutes and set the night skies on fire with magical colors and designs.
The landmark Metropolitan Cathedral became a movie screen, against whose imposing walls technicians projected moving images showing the history of Mexico, including a tribute to Mexican music, where the Cathedral seemed to move in time to the beat of a mambo. A 65 foot statue of the Mexican Colossus was erected in the zócalo, slowly and laboriously rising from the ground to stand tall before the people, claiming a place for Mexico in the 21st century as a strong, independent nation. The message was loud and clear: No longer is Mexico under the thumb of the "Colossus of the North" (the US). The time has come for Mexicans to take a firm grasp on their own future. This magical feat was accompanied by a heart-stopping original musical score specially composed for the occasion. And, like icing on the cake, there was the newly elected Miss Universe, Ximena Navarrete, looking on from a balcony of the National Palace, smiling and waving at the estimated 65,000 people gathered below.
With my mouth practically hanging open in awe, I was speechless at the way the spectacle just kept escalating throughout the night. There were multiple venues for concerts along the main thoroughfare of the city, and the cameras kept switching back and forth from the Mexican Philharmonic Orchestra, to a rock concert, to country-inspired banda music. It was a kaleidoscope of sound, color and movement. After hours of build up, the President finally appeared on the balcony to wave the flag, and give the famous "grito." By this time, everyone present had fallen in love with Mexico, with the very idea of being Mexican, and they were happy to join together to sing the national anthem, despite political differences and overwhelming social, economic and political problems. Not a single episode of violence happened that night, showing Mexicans and the world (if the world cares to notice) that Mexico is not the barbaric and violent place the media likes to portray.
I kept wondering how a nation like Mexico can afford a spectacle like this. People are estimating that the cost of these bicentennial celebrations ran around $230 million dollars. This is in a country where 40% of the people share only 11% of the nation's wealth. Mexico as a nation is not poor: it ranks 12th in the world in terms of its purchasing power, with a GDP of more than $1.465 trillion dollars. Yet, asset-based poverty statistics say that 47% of Mexicans live in poverty. Many people in Mexico must have questioned why so much money was spent on the bicentennial celebrations. A survey conducted by the newspaper Reforma says that 8 out of 10 people in Mexico City thought that it was costing too much. And yet, there they were, filled with pride as they watched the ceremonies. How was I supposed to make sense of these conflicting emotions? A Mexican friend inadvertently offered me an explanation through an old refrán, or popular saying: she told me that in Mexico, poverty knocks people down, but pride lifts them up.
Before the event, I saw many articles forecasting doom and disaster, worrying about the violence that was bound to happen, telling Mexicans that "there's nothing to celebrate." But when events went off without a hitch, it wasn't newsworthy. Instead, foreign papers looked at cancelled celebrations in Ciudad Juárez along the northern border, and reminded readers of a bombing incident in Morelia in 2008. Rather than celebrate, they said, Mexico should focus on its problems with migration, unemployment, poverty, and- of course- drug-related violence. This struck me as arrogant, since we do a lot of celebrating in the US despite our own internal problems. But it also made it clear that peaceful events don't make the news. I see that Univision is showing the Mexican bicentennial on cable tv in the US "on demand," so Mexican-Americans can see what's happening back home, but non-Spanish speakers in the US tell me that they didn't hear anything about the celebration. It didn't make the nightly news, and even National Public Radio, famous for reporting international news, talked only about the music and cultural events, not about the political significance of it all.
Why do we care about all the violence in Mexico, but we ignore non-violent events? Why are we fascinated with drug cartels but don't care about parades? Violence and drama sell newspapers and attract readers to internet sites, but these kinds of reports distort reality. I remember the protests and manifestations leading up to the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, where students, workers, and housewives took to the streets to protest the money that the government was spending on preparations for the Olympics while ignoring the needs of so many of Mexico's poor. Like many people of my generation, I admired the passion and conviction of people who were fighting for social justice. But, I also remember that this ended in the massacre of many people at Tlatelolco Plaza on Oct. 2 that year. This event rocked the nation and caused a huge rift in society that has perhaps still not been completely healed. And, yes, it made the international news. I'm glad that Mexicans didn't repeat that cycle of history this year with the Bicentennial celebrations. Yes, the money perhaps could have been used to better purposes, and maybe they did spend too much, perhaps it was all for show and didn't mean a lot in the day to day lives of the ordinary people. Still, when I remember seeing the crowds gathered below the presidential palace on the night of Sept. 15, and I remember the joy and happiness they felt at that moment because they were so proud to be Mexican, I understand how it was possible for there to be a night in Mexico when violence and poverty didn't exist. Was it worth the cost? I don't know, but I do know it was worth remembering, and I wish more people in the US could have witnessed it. It would have transformed the way they think about Mexico.
miércoles, 15 de septiembre de 2010
jueves, 9 de septiembre de 2010
martes, 7 de septiembre de 2010
Here in Cuernavaca, we don't have any serious problems related to the rain. I might complain that I got wet when I went to the street fair in Tepoztlan on Sunday, or that yesterday when I went for a walk, it started to rain before I got back to my house. My feet got wet, and my clothes were damp, but I wasn't in any danger of being washed away. The floods are happening to people I don't know in places I don't normally visit. What do they have to do with me? Why should I care? Do we have an obligation to follow the news about people who are strangers to us? Maybe not, but in Mexico, the news doesn't stop at city, state or even national borders. When people in any part of the world are facing serious problems, it's a newsworthy topic. There's a sense of being connected to a larger world. When floods hit the U.S., Pakistan, Guatemala, or parts of Mexico, you hear about this on the news. People here express concern, and worry what will happen to all those people who've lost their homes? How will they survive? Natural disasters that impact hundreds of thousands of innocent people get the attention they deserve. People organize and send relief if they can. People express solidarity, even if they can't help out in material ways. This kind of news isn't as dramatic and thrilling as new of shootouts between rival drug gangs, but it's a more accurate portrayal of life in Mexico. These are real people who are going through hard times, for no fault of their own. Don't they deserve more attention than the goings-on of drug dealers? Why does the U.S. media devote space to photos of shootouts between federal troops and drug lords, but not photos of Mexican soldiers rescuing children from flooded areas?
Watching the Mexican people face hardships with dignity and determination reminds me once again that Mexicans are strong and brave people. The stories we see in the U.S. about Mexican drug cartels, or coyotes who smuggle migrant workers across the border, don't give us a complete picture of the country and the people here. I, for one, would like to see a more balanced presentation in the media, one expressing solidarity with the Mexican people. Now is a time for us to show some of the kindness and concern that Mexicans showed Katrina victims in 2005.
sábado, 4 de septiembre de 2010
Mexico is, technically speaking, a developing country, a country still in the process of construction, as the President said. But this terminology really just refers to technological, scientific and economic progress, the economic infrastructure of the country. The President spoke with pride about all the highways that have been built, the creation of telephone, television and internet services in places that formerly had none, the number of new jobs that have been created. These are important achievements for Mexico, but they don't really address the narrow way that the modern world measures wealth. In terms of culture, tradition, history, creativity, resourcefulness, and plain old-fashioned good manners and human kindness, Mexico is one of the richest countries in the world. If we measure achievement in terms of what Mexico offers the imagination, the mind, and the heart, it's probably more "developed" than we are in the U.S.
When the first English settlers were building their log cabins on the eastern shores of what would later become the U.S., Mexico was already an empire. The first successful British colony was in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607. The Pilgrims arrived in 1620. Spain was way ahead in terms of colonizing and settling the new world, including many territories that today are part of the U.S. They settled St. Augustine, Florida, in 1565, and New Mexico in 1598. Before the U.S. gained its independence from Great Britain, Spain had settled California. But the most significant difference between the Spanish and British colonies in the "New World"is not what the European settlers did, but what was there before? U.S. territory was made up of indigenous tribes that were mainly hunters, gatherers, or farmers, living in small villages or living a nomadic lifestyle. While they had developed enough technology to help them carry out their daily chores, they weren't interested in creating a huge empire and all the infrastructure required to govern it. In Mexico, however, there were cities and empires that could rival major European powers. When Europe was in the Dark Ages, there was a thriving civilization in Mexico that's known today as Teotihuacán, the city of the Gods. This is the famous archeology site outside Mexico City that millions of tourists visit today, known for the impressive pyramids of the Sun and the Moon. When Rome was fighting off Barbarians and struggling to keep its culture alive, Teotihuacán had around 200,000 inhabitants, making it one of the most important cities in the world at that time.
Other important civilizations grew up in Tula, Monte Alban, Chichen Itza, and Tenochtitlán, to name only some of the more well-known ones. Before the arrival of the Spanish conquerors, Mexico had seen the rise and fall of some of the greatest civilizations in the world, the Toltecs, the Maya, the Aztecs. Built into the collective memory of the Mexican people is the knowledge that life goes in cycles, that nothing lasts forever, and change will always come. There will be good times and bad times, and while we can all hope that life will become better and better for all, there will be setbacks and disappointments, and many problems to face. When the Spaniards conquered Tenochtitlán in the mid 1520s and the mightly Aztecs were brought to their knees, it was part of a broader cycle. The construction of the new capital, today Mexico City, on the ruins of the old Aztec capital, was visible proof to many that the new civilization was rising out of the ashes of the old, and that despite the radical changes going on around them, life for the survivors settled into a pattern after a while, and life went on.
Without going into the past 500 years of history, it's clear that Mexico has seen a lot of ups and downs and even in this modern age, most Mexicans know that the world doesn't stand still. You don't create a country and then stand back and say, "Ok, it's done, now our job is to conserve it as it is and not let it change." Change is scary, it's hard, it's sometimes destructive, it can bring both good and bad to people. But it's inevitable. Most Mexicans, at least the ones I know, don't think that the country is finished with its own construction. Instead, they see more things that need to be done, and problems from the past that have to be corrected, and they go through their day to day life with the knowledge that things aren't going to be perfect. This makes them realistic, practical and patient, but also very creative, willing and able to resolve problems themselves, and it brings out an ironic humor in them that lets them laugh at themselves, their politicians, their own country, without losing an ounce of pride in being Mexican.
This past week, someone in the US posted a cartoon on a blog showing the Mexican flag dripping blood. The national symbol, the eagle, had been shot and knocked off his perch on the cactus, destroying one of the most beloved images in Mexico. While no doubt the cartoon's author thought this was a witty commentary about Mexico's drug violence, it's hard to explain to someone who's not Mexican how sacred the Mexican flag is. People here love the flag, it means something to them, and despite all the problems that exist in the country, they would never think about treating the flag with disrespect. For a foreigner to do it is nothing short of a major insult. It made me wonder: what right does this person have to make fun of another country's flag? Where is this attitude coming from? I think it goes back to what I was saying earlier, that people who live in the "developed world" think they can tell everyone else what's wrong with their countries. It's a kind of arrogance that comes from living in a place where so many people enjoy material wealth and privilege. Personally, I'd like to see a little more respect for countries like Mexico that have a rich history, an amazing and complex culture, and a healthy dose of humility, where respect for others is a way of life for the majority of the people.