Mexico and the US are bound not only because of the common border but by a shared culture and history. ~ Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador
My spouse Larry started his current position in January 2018 – which requires his elongated presence in Mexico City (CDMX) to scale-up his organization’s recruitment strategies. CDMX a first world city with the second largest metropolitan population in the Americas as of 2015, sitting between Sao Paulo – Brazil (first) and New York City – United States (third).
As I type this blog, I am sitting aboard a Delta flight bounded for Atlanta – a connecting city where my final flight to Washington D.C. will originate. This concludes my second trip to CDMX – filled with experiences of eating delicious food – especially the freshest and most flavorful fruit I have ever tasted, imbibing invigorating adult beverages, as well as interacting with some of the nicest and most approachable people I have ever encountered. There are also stories of traversing some of the most treacherous sidewalks I have ever seen like those in Birmingham’s Southside community and sensing some of the foulest smells my olfactory nerves have ever had to process – stenches like those of New York City.
If you let the mainstream media in the United States tell it, Mexico is a country entirely stricken with abject poverty, unimaginable human carnage, citizens hostile to decency and lawfulness, and other poorly contextualized narratives. Granted, some parts of the country fit this narrative as do parts of the United States and other first-world, Western nations. Yet, Larry and my experience in CDMX has been as pleasant as a stay in Chicago or Denver. No one ever treated us with anything other than the utmost respect. There was no other-ing that I could perceive. Why is this worthy of mentioning? We are unmistakably American, an interracial gay couple, who sometimes experience vitriolic vibes from our compatriots in our own country.
Circling back, do all the journalists in the United States perpetuate narratives such as the tone with which I began the previous paragraph? I’m sure the answer is no – enough of them with the largest microphones do.
Mexicans are patient and accommodating. Larry and I have experienced Mexicans’ equanimity and amicableness many times over. Whether it is when we dine in a Juárez restaurant, engage the security guards or receptionist while checking into our Airbnb, or take an Uber (Lyft is unavailable in Mexico) to the local farmers’ market, we have always been treated well. Some people would say, “yeah they treated you nicely; you are money wielding Americans.” I honestly think there may be some validity to that, I also think Mexicans can also be kind and accepting. We do not speak fluent Spanish – our Spanglish is especially cringeworthy. Yet, Mexicans earnestly try to understand our confusing questions and overly burdensome requests dripping of Americana.
I liken CDMX’s culture to Southern Hospitality in the United States. Being a native of Alabama, I take pride in engaging people as if we have always known each other, as if we went to high school together as best friends, or grew up on the same street as supportive neighbors. Genuine Southern Hospitality hinges on the notion we are all family, everyone should be loved, embraced, and fed to the point of sleep-inducing satiety. Approaching people as such disarms them, signifies they are appreciated and valued – that they belong.
Our experiences with Mexicans’ being patient and accommodating is praiseworthy not because I think they are incapable of emoting as such. It has more to do with my witnessing on numerous occasions some of our compatriots north of the border interacting less favorably with people who are fluent Spanish speakers and not well versed in English. Our experience in Mexico was not indicative of slowly shouting Spanish to us while talking with their hands, disapproving deep sighs, eye rolling, or other forms of disapproving body language I have witnessed our compatriots back home self-righteously express when interacting with Spanish-speaking individuals.
For all I know, Mexicans we have encountered may have the same feelings. They have not conveyed them to me and Larry. Hell, other Mexicans who are bystanders to our theatrically ordering food at restaurants, interrogation of cashiers at the 7-Eleven whose credit card machines are slow or otherwise non-functioning, and quizzing street vendors about their delicious mango, have willfully stepped forward (without our asking) to serve as translator many times. Side note – CDMX has far more American chains that I originally imagined. Starbucks, 7-Eleven and Carl’s Jr stores, among others are nearly ubiquitous.
I understand not all Americans are hostile to people who do not speak English fluently – enough of us are, which is problematic. This zero-sums game we play in responding to fair criticisms must stop. It is unrealistic to only discuss all the greatness the United States offer. If we are to become a more perfect Union, our dirty laundry must be overtly and thoroughly aired. I am critical of my compatriots because I know we can rise to the occasion of behaving more benevolently, stand tall in the values we hold dear. I am not critiquing the way we behave because I hate America and should go back to Africa or wherever insecure racist Americans think I ought to retreat.
After having such great and welcoming experiences in a country where I do not fluently speak the dominant language, I find the way we treat some Spanish-speaking people – especially Mexicans – hard to reconcile with our positioning the United States as a nation welcoming all who share our values. Other than an effective political talking point to rev-up racial animus among “real” Americans, sharing our values does not necessarily mean fluently speaking the language that dominates our culture. This is especially the case when it relates to those temporarily visiting our country or undergoing the initial steps of becoming naturalized citizens.
Do I find being unable to clearly understand someone speaking to me frustrating? Sure, I do. However, my frustration is due more to my impatience with not being helpful – an opportunity for growth that has been very well articulated by Larry and others. My impatience is neither grounded in racism, xenophobia, nor a false sense of American superiority. Oh, for the so-called patriots who think any criticism of our nation is unacceptable, I will not move to Mexico permanently because suppposedly “I love it so much and hate America.” I can criticize my country and my compatriots without being treasonous or otherwise unAmerican. Grow up.
For the sake of clarity, I do think individuals seeking citizenship in the United States should learn to speak English even though the United States Constitution does not overtly label it as our official language. My point is people should not be dehumanized if they do not. There are a lot of things we “should” do yet forgo doing so. If we are a country welcoming everyone, we should first start with being more patient with those who are making an earnest effort to acclimate to a foreign land, with a foreign language, yet shared values and equal amounts of humanity.
Mexico City is a beautiful first-world megalopolis. Home to over 21 million residents – where CDMX serves as the principal city anchoring the metropolitan statistical area (MSA) – Greater Mexico City or Valley of Mexico includes the adjacent states of Mexico and Hidalgo. The population distribution, commuting patterns and economic composition of the Valley of Mexico resembles that of our own federal district, Washington D.C., and its suburbs that spill over into the states of Virginia, Maryland, and West Virginia. CDMX offers rich culture, beautifully colorful landscapes and buildings, great food, as well as awe-inspiring art. Larry and I have frequented the Juárez, Cuauhtémoc, Tabacalera, and Roma Norte communities among others within CDMX. Roundabouts are celebrated. Statues of historically significant Mexicans abound – accentuated by amazingly colorful beds of vibrant flowers. Major thoroughfares crisscrossing the city are lined with palm trees and other greenery, offering sidewalks with cool reprieves from the sunlight.
Larry and I frequent CDMX’s Jardin del Arte. This area has an outside art gallery or sorts that reminds me of the annual Dogwood Festival held in Atlanta’s Piedmont Park. Vendors from all over the Valley of Mexico, I presume, set up their art work for all to see. A difference I noticed in Mexican art is how openly nudity is celebrated. When I say nudity, I mean the parts that are (un)flattering – non-perky breasts, uncircumcised penises, and vaginas donning pubic hair. I was more studious of such features than Larry – mesmerized by the public display of features deemed to taboo for such openness in the United States. There is a level of comfort with nudity and imperfect, non-chiseled bodies reflected in the art.
Maybe such publicly celebrate art galleries exist in the United States – I am no art expert by any stretch of the imagination. The comfort with which Mexican artists celebrate bodily features unrelated to oft celebrated European physicality reminds me of the pride with which African American artists illustrate features of black bodies mainstream America casts as undesirable. Such features include full lips, rotund buttocks, kinky hair, and dark skin – equivalent Mexican physical characteristics are pronounced in the art work we have seen.
The weather in CDMX resembles that of Southern California. Humidity is nonexistent. Ample sunshine is commonplace. Gentle breezes constantly massage the skin. Afternoon rain showers – at least during my second visit – are expected. The jacket I donned when leaving DCA last week remained in my bag during my entire stay in Mexico. In all fairness, it was shoved into my checked luggage once I reached Atlanta and remained there while I visited relatives in Alabama and returned for my flight to CDMX. The sunsets in CDMX are nice yet mostly obscured by tall buildings and mountain ranges encircling the city – a geography reminiscent of the Las Vegas Valley. However, Larry’s Airbnb and We Work office space are situated on floors high above the ground – 17th and 41st floors respectively. This offers great views of the city, including sights of awesome sunset afterglows. Admittedly, Southern California, Pacific Northwest, and Western Michigan sunsets are far better.