A few weeks ago, I posted a little quiz (on May 13 to be precise) after reading an article someone else had posted on a Gringo Mexico-lovers group purporting to offer “The True Story about Cinco de Mayo.” The article they posted was from a Tacoma, Washington newspaper. For one thing, it’s amazing that someone who says theywant to live in Mexico or love living in Mexico would go to a Tacoma, Washington, USA source for the information, even if they didn’t speak Spanish. It's not silly that such an article be in the Tacoma paper. There are Mexicans in Tacoma, but still, this was not written by anyone Mexican or by anyone who knows anything about Mexico. From the point of view of folks living in Tacoma, it was a good thing to do. I can imagine the editor saying, you know we have more and more Mexicans living here. We ought to get to know something about them. And then he handed the assignment to some young reporter and told her to look it up on Google. But come on, the person on the Yahoo group couldn’t go to a source about Mexico in English? MexicoConnect has good stuff, lively to read, for instance.
For an American living in Mexico and claiming to love it, or wanting to live in Mexico and claiming he/she loves it, to use this article just confirms the truth of stereotypes about a lot of Americans in Mexico.
A friend of mine sent me the following link http://www.dissentmagazine.org/article/?article=723 to an article in DISSENT. It is a fairly dispassionate account of her efforts to study Americans in San Miguel de Allende. The author notes that the love Americans who live in American enclaves have for Mexico has little to do with Mexican Mexico: that there is little effort among many to learn the language or the culture, that for many the biggest draw is the lower cost of living and that not only is it cheaper, it is fancier at the lower cost. For instance, you can hire all kinds of servants. Then you can feel righteous at providing low-wage jobs. You can pay your servants the going wage, I would guess always less than $2.00 an hour, sometimes less than $1.00 an hour. I know someone who complained because she moved to a fancier neighborhood and had to pay her new maid maybe 20 cents an hour more than her old one, maybe $1.65 an hour. Americans open small businesses illegally where they hire more low wage workers and don’t report the income. Bed and Breakfasts in places like San Miguel do not necessarily proportionately reflect these lower wages (To say nothing of the fact that American junk food chains pay on the order of $1.05- $1.10 an hour for making burgers that cost what they do in the states.) AMericans take advantage of government benefits: good to excellent medical care provided under the government’s IMSS program as well as low cost and good private medical care. And of senior discounts on the beautiful long-distance buses: fifty per cent off on the already ridiculously low fares. It all sounds so innocent. Yet they all complain about Mexicans and Mexican service and Mexicans trying to take advantage of them and Mexicans lying and Mexicans taking too long. As if they had forgotten completely life in the US trying to deal with realtors and car mechanics and insurance companies and medical expenses and frustrations with medical services and torn up roads and endless menu systems on the phone and lousy public transportation (excellent in Mexico) and how rude people are and so on and so forth.
And it sounds sooo colonialist. A lot of these Americans remind me of the lower-class British whom we encountered in droves in Uganda when we were there in the Peace Corps 40 years ago. Mentioning the lower class part is important not because there’s anything wrong with being lower-class -- most of the world is – but because just after Uganda gained independence, people who had relatively low income teaching jobs in England where they lived economically confined lives could go to Uganda and on the same salary live a lot better: they had maids and gardeners and cooks and belonged to an exclusive country club where the local Ugandans could stand around outside the chain link fence and watch them drink their gin and tonics, play squash and billiards, and gather around the piano on Friday nights eating fish and chips while they sang (with tremendous emotion and nostalgia) old favorites from British music halls. And insulted the Africans who were within hearing range forgetting that they, too, generally spoke English.
Well, this is all just human nature. Mexicans have their own not always fair opinions of USers, too, and of each other: rich vs. poor, poor vs. rich, etc. But I received the article I mention above just after the Senate rejected the immigration bill, really not a bad bill under the circumstances until all kinds of albatrosses were heaped on it. A huge and virulent anti-bill movement swept across the country via the internet. A lot of the people who expressed their fury at the bill were similar to the people who have chosen to settle from the United States in Mexico. And they are ignorant. And, maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that a not insignificant number of those Americans living off the fat of the Mexican land are anti-Mexican immigrant as well. And not just a little. One former Gringo inhabitant of our area who went back to the states because he needed to use the VA medical services had an illegal business and many illegal guns. He insulted Mexicans to their faces and sent horrible anti-immigrant emails around. A notable one had something to do with throwing the mojados into the Rio Grande as crocodile bait.
Here are some complaints made by anti-immigration bill folks in the United States. Mexicans could be making them about Gringos in Mexico:
• Immigrants don’t speak the language and could become a burden on public services that might be needed in time of economic uncertainty.
• Some immigrants hassled (the speaker) on the street.
• Immigrants shouldn’t benefit from our generosity.
• A nephew who works as a house painter had trouble finding high-paying work because of competition from immigrants.
Notice I took out the word “illegal.” The “illegal” part is practically irrelevant. That should get a rise out of some of you.
Ignorance plays a big role in these prejudices. So many people are so blithely ignorant. When you have power and money compared to your neighbors, in Mexico or in the US, it's so easy to be ignorant and thughtless. What a terrible shame. How much damage ignorance can do.
Anyway, those of you who don't want to be ignorant but who did not know the answers to the little quiz will, I am afraid, have to wait a little bit longer for them.