Mexico

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Let’s start with the essential: Tacos.

They are infinitely better in Mexico than in the US. The corn tortillas are tiny and bite-sized and you can eat a dozen before you realize you’ve made yourself sick. And why do we waste our time with those hard taco shells up north? Why are our tortillas not nearly so good? We have a lot to learn.

Burritos though, there the Americans have the edge. We’ve perfected that up north in our own way. Though an American burrito with a good Mexican corn tortilla… could be magic.

Quesadillas are pretty much the same everywhere – there is only so much you can do with a tortilla and melted cheese it seems.

Everything else – tamales, taquitos, tostadas, empanadas, etc. – is better in Mexico; you could eat every meal here for a year and never repeat the same dish twice. Though that does not forgive other, more worrisome culinary trends, like mayonnaise on corn, or chili sauce on fresh fruit – and definitely not chili in beer. I don’t know who started that one, but it’s just not okay…

Since our last update, we left Puerto Vallarta for Guadalajara, and then continued on to Mexico City, Oaxaca, and San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas. It’s hard to imagine that the scorched desert we crossed in early June is the same country as the chilly mountain forests we’ve been traveling through the past few weeks. Not to mention that in the middle of the two was one of the biggest cities in the world…

Some things are the same throughout this country though – the aforementioned delicious tacos, for one.

For another, Mexicans everywhere seem to mistrust their government and have nothing but contempt for its “War on Drugs.” Our first night in Hermosillo, our couch surfing host brought us to a bar where there was a poster on the wall proclaiming, “This war isn’t against the drug cartels, it’s against the poor. It’s no coincidence that in Juarez only the poor are killed. Get the soldiers off the streets, no peace wit hout justice.”

In Guadalajara friends joked about how every little problem in the country is now blamed on the drug syndicates. Trash pickup is late? It’s the Narcos’ fault…

In Mexico City, a veritable tent city was occupying the central square, demanding the resignation of the president and the end to the war on drugs.

In Chiapas, we heard again and again of government paramilitaries murdering local people and spreading dissent in indigenous areas, officially as part of the war on drugs, but in the minds of locals just another way to continue its fight against the poor and the indigenous. In the latest round, the government has apparently blamed the indigenous people for climate change. Yes, you might have thought that Mexico’s contribution to global warming had something to do with having one of the largest and most polluted cities in the world in its center, or all that industry in the maquilladores along the US border, but no: it’s the villagers in the forest who have lived on the same land for millenia without trouble that are destroying the planet…

As foreigners though, especially foreigners who just came from 16 months in Africa, there was a somewhat blasphemous thought that kept coming to mind – actually, the Mexican government looked pretty good to us…

We really came to appreciate this in Guadalajara, when for the first (and not the last) time a Mexican told us that it was easier for us to travel since we came from a first world country where everyone was rich – Mexico on the other hand was a third world country and so people had to work to get by. Good news for any Americans reading this – have you heard? You don’t have to work anymore to get by!

We’d heard the same line in Africa and we never quite knew what to think. Sure our lives are easier than the average African, and we have more opportunities to save money and to travel than they do. But the US and Europe are not the paradises that they seemed to think they were.

And then coming in Mexico, it just seemed so out of touch with what we saw day by day around us – blackberries, iPhones, functioning bus terminals, clean city parks, exceptional museums…

You’re not a third world country if your bus stations are nicer than New York City’s airports. Or if your cultural history is preserved in your own country rather than in a European capital. You’re not a third world country if your trash is picked up regularly, and if your public parks are well maintained… I could go on and on.

Compared to Africa at least, life in Mexico is quite good; the government clearly delivers a lot of services for its people. Which is not to diminish the downsides – there is serious poverty as well, and a government which can legitimately be accused of killing its own citizens to chase them off their land isn’t a good one by any measure. But sometimes we forget that there is poverty in the United States too, and that we have our own corruption, every bit as insidious and destructive. And Europe is no different – cycling in eastern Europe in 2008, Anna and I passed through Roma villages that were at least as poor as anything we saw in Mexico, if not worse.

And while the US government does not have paramilitaries wandering the jungle killing its own civilians, it’s far from the “land of the free” that the rest of the world sometimes thinks it is – two years in prison for preventing the government “of the people, by the people and for the people” from illegally auctioning off the people’s land to mining companies is hardly a perfect democracy.

And Europe isn’t much better – as I write this, the president of France is still pushing forward mass expulsions of Roma, often the poorest people in Europe, in blatant disregard for even the loosest concept of Human Rights.

If anything, the mass protests we have seen in Mexico, with villagers bearing socialist banners camped out in the central plaza in Mexico City or San Cristobal de las Casas, seem far more democratic and open than anything we have seen back home. Just remember the NYPD infiltrating protestors at the Republican National Convention and then starting fights to create a pretext for arrests… And where are the street marches in France in defense of the Roma? Where are the Americans camping out in front of the White House for Tim DeChristopher?

One of our favorite moments in Mexico was going to see Lucha Libre in Mexico city. It’s like vaudeville meets halloween meets Terminator 2. I didn’t expect to like it as much as I did – the wrestlers are real athletes and the crowd gets so into it that you can’t help but be dragged along, rooting for the good guys (los tecnicos) to come from behind and beat the bad guys (los rudos).

It was only later that I decided that I think the lucha is the key to Mexican culture. All that anger at the government, all that cynicism, it’s just that people here don’t take any shit. They have in the past, they’ve been through dictatorships and wars and immigration and corruption, and they’ve clearly decided that enough is enough. It’s time for the tecnicos to rally and toss the rudos out of the ring and then to climb up on the ropes and throw themselves spread-eagled on top of the reeling enemy, pulling his legs up and pinning him down and taking his mask off!

And while I don’t think the real world is that simple – human nature is far too complex for there to be good guys and bad guys, and hearing Marx and Lenin quoted in political discussions without a hint of irony as has happened over the past few months is always a little disquieting – the fight is admirable. In the US and Europe, we have become so accepting and blasé about so many things, from injustice to inequality to environmental destruction, that shouldn’t be accepted ever, anywhere.

We could learn a lot from la lucha.

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