‘La Gente’ – Mexican Musings #2

We’ve spent a lot of time in Mexico. I thought it might be fun to post an occasional story about our experiences there. Nothing particularly themed or structured. Just ‘musings’…

A short review of recent Mexican history reveals a turbulent continuity of invasions, takeovers, wars, revolution, and good and bad economic times. Such a history would understandably engender a distrust, a closedness, an aloofness to foreigners in its people – but I’ve observed exactly the opposite.

Respect, civility and honesty are deeply ingrained in the Mexican people, in my experience. I know many readers will be surprised and some will dispute me, pointing to the drug trade and its violence, or corruption in local and national politics but I’m referring to the mass of ‘ordinary people,’ and I’m not sure that, with our own inner city violence, our demand for the drugs transiting Mexico and our own deeply corrupted political system, we can comfortably point the finger at the substantially poorer and pressured society to our south.

Mexican values, if one can generalize, seem to me to almost exactly mirror those with which many of us grew up: the importance of family and friends; a hopeful and optimistic outlook; sociability and a love of music and laughter – a sense of fun, that life is
to be enjoyed more than it is to be exploited.

In Mexico, sociability is vital, most openly demonstrated at the weekend when you really witness this society’s enjoyment of life. The venue or excuse may quite simple, a walk, a boat ride, church, maybe a meal out. Families spend time together, all the generations, sharing food, drink, music, laughter and an open affection both real and touching. Big groups. Lots of noise!

Amigos are important, valued. Our Mexican hosts are openly proud of how many friends they have and will willingly tell all about their amigos; and should you be called “amigo,” you can be sure that is heartfully intended.

Given the current turmoil in the country, Mexicans’ optimism is remarkable. I asked Francisco, the young man who was washing Poseidon, about his life and work. He replied, “Se vive bien.” One lives well. He continued that this is a good time of year, with plenty of ‘yates’ to work on but even when summer comes and the ‘yates’ leave, he thought this year would be better than last – and by the way the fishing looks good. “Si,” said Francisco, “se vive bien acqui.”

Linda and I were in a restaurant. The mariachis had just played a wonderful rendition of ‘Malaguena Salerosa,’ followed by ‘Paloma,’ played beautifully on a harp, by a man with the fingers and voice of an angel. The musicians moved to another table and asked some visitors if they wanted a song. The man said no, indicating his watch. No time for music. One of the players smiled and turned away, his sad look speaking volumes: how can it be possible that there is no time for music?

I said ‘lots of noise,’ earlier. And lots of whistling. In fact, I’ve never heard so many whistles. Workers are directed, and respond, by whistles. Each one is unique just as each whistler is unique. It’s a language of its own – and one I would have to learn if I were to remain here. The problem is, as my daughters will tell you, I cannot whistle and was never able to learn how.

I guess that makes me an irredeemable gringo.

John Andreotti
Aboard MV Poseidon