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Why I Love Mexico

January 13, 2019

Whenever I tell people I am Mexico bound the stock response is, but it’s so dangerous. I respond by asking if they follow American news. People die daily in our country at schools, churches, work, a nightclub, a rock concert, a movie, or eating at McDonald’s. You name it — the U.S. is the world’s number one shooting gallery; a place where easy access to guns has, for years, allowed deranged people to slaughter innocent victims for sport.

Mexico, like all countries has problems, but when you eliminate drug cartel deaths connected to control of narco-traffic to the United States, it’s comparably safer than the U.S. Many American cities have dangerous neighborhoods, but I have never felt unsafe in Mexico. Bad things can happen anywhere, but given America’s constant human target-shoots, I’ll take my chances south of the border.

Apparently others agree, as 40-plus million people traveled to Mexico last year. It’s one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, and I’m not surprised.

My first encounter occurred there when we moved to Mexico City in 1971. I was a naive teenager having lived solely in Pocatello and Sandy, Utah. Overnight, I became a “Stranger in a Strange Land.” The word exotic best describes the cultural immersion I experienced in Mexico. It awakened an awareness of a world much larger than my orbit and sparked a desire in me to further explore our amazing planet.

I have since returned to Mexico numerous times and co-owned properties in the Yucatán. My daughter and I also drove six thousand miles together in Mexico after she graduated early from high school. These varied experiences opened my eyes to a very diverse culture.

Like Dorothy arriving in Oz, I knew instantly upon entering Mexico City as a teenager that I was no longer in a place remotely like Idaho, Utah or Kansas.

Back then, the population in the greater Mexico City area was approximately nine million people. It now exceeds twenty-one million making it the most populous metropolitan area in the Western Hemisphere. At nine million residents I was still overwhelmed. It was the first time I had lived anywhere as a minority which was enlightening. I enjoyed watching the diverse ethnic mix that populated this international berg.

The City was vibrant, and I drank of the exotica like a parched man staggering into a desert oasis. My siblings and I did not attend school, but our daily experiences provided a valuable alternative education. We were provided an allowance of ten pesos each per week to explore the city at will. That equated to $1.25 U.S., which was enough to finance 2-4 weekly expeditions.

The cost of living throughout most of Mexico is still a bargain and an estimated million+ American expats live there. That figure does not include the snowbirds who dodge winters by traveling south of the border. You can live comfortably in Mexico on most Social Security checks, but the millions doing that in the US aren’t faring nearly as well.

The daytime temperature in Mexico City is moderate year round due to its high altitude, ranging from comfortable summer warmth, to cool but invigorating spring days. Snow is virtually unheard of except in high mountain locales. There is an annual rainy season (typically June through September) that brings an occasional awe-inspiring deluge. Otherwise, the weather is quite pleasant.

When I lived in Mexico the streets and parks sported colorful flowering trees, and you still see beautiful flowers throughout Mexico. In my youthful head (once covered with Jim Morrison style hair) I still hear the vendors singing out “Flores, Flores.” Back then, they plied the city streets selling a dozen large roses for one peso which was 12.5 cents. I could hear them from the fourth floor of our apartment building melodically pitching their wares down below.

A memory forever etched involves watching Basque players moving gracefully about the netted court at the Fronton. They wore white pants, with a red sash at their waist, and played jai a lai, a game resembling handball, with large scooped baskets (cestas) attached to one arm. The attachments allowed players to propel hard rubber balls at speeds clocked over 180 miles per hour. Some claim jai a lai was inspired by the ancient Mayan ball game where players reputedly played for sacrificial odds.

Sampling food in Mexico is pert near orgasmic. The markets are stocked daily with fresh produce, and the reasonably priced restaurant fare is delicious, as savory smells waft on the air wherever you travel. The flavor of a well-made mole sauce served over enchiladas tantalizes taste buds (it’s made from unsweetened chocolate, various chilis and complex spices). The first chef who swirled these items together was an artist, and I speculate that the concoction has ancestry connected to Mayan royalty.

Taquitos, tamales, chiles rellenos, huevos rancheros, chilaquiles — you name it, the mouth watering choices that will roll off your tongue are endless. Corn and cacao originated in Mexico (Mesoamerica), and, can you imagine a world without chocolate?

People commonly feast on crisp tortilla chips served with guacamole and salsa (all freshly made). Most people enjoy this appetizer with superbly crafted, cold, limey beers. Sharing this fare with friends on a powdery-white sand Caribbean beach is a treat. The turquoise waters perpetually lap the land while you are caressed by breezes from Africa. Some of my American amigos are coming to experience the Yucatán soon, and I am confident they will want to return.

Pocatello has a famed legend that pulls people back while Mexico is known for another curse — Montezuma’s revenge. That experience doesn’t call tourists fondly back to Mexico, but it can be avoided by most with a “dash” of caution. Foreigners coming to the U.S. experience similar dietary distress which is likewise caused by exposure to different bacterias. It is a country-wide recommendation in Mexico though to drink purified water and brushing your teeth with bottled water is a good practice.

Although life is hard in Mexico due to extensive poverty, joy flows from laughing children as they play in the parks while their parents vend hand-made products. Many of the children also help their parents to sell the creative wares. Families of two or more often walk together, protectively holding hands (including brothers and sisters). Having the opportunity to observe this caring affection is touching as close families are the norm.

Festivals are held somewhere in Mexico virtually every day of the year. The colorful Mexican clothing worn daily on the streets, and during festivals, radiates an exuberant love for life. Despite great poverty, no one would ever call Mexico a dour place.

Pride is evident throughout Mexico where long-honored traditions are maintained. You have never fully experienced Christmas or the New Year until you spend them in a Colonial Mexican town. If the opportunity arises — get ready for an extravaganza that equates to a two week party.

The southern half of Mexico is laced with spectacular stone ruins from the Aztec, Toltec, Mixtec, Olmec and Mayan cultures, and more. Indigenous people wear eye-catching garb when they leave their isolated communities to enter modern cities. The Spaniards never reached many of these distant places during their conquest, and one Mayan woman proudly told me there isn’t a drop of Spanish blood flowing in her small “pueblecito.”

The topography in Mexico is also diverse. Magical beaches, tropical mountain rain forests, plunging canyons, crystal clear cenotes (lagoons found in limestone terrain) and verdant jungles filled with ruins yet to be discovered, are but a few of the vast choices awaiting those looking for adventure.

Mayan dialects are spoken more frequently than Spanish in much of the Chiapas region (near Guatemala) where I am volunteering. These ancient cultures recorded an uncanny precision and understanding of the cosmos. Genius is evident in the mathematical etchings found amongst many of the cities whose buildings were aligned with the stars.

Sadly, the Spanish conquerors saw fit to destroy thousands of Mayan books as being the work of pagans. Who knows what treasures were lost in that bonfire. It is reported the Mayans cried watching their books burn, and hearing about that loss of knowledge is still worth shedding a tear. In my book, people who burn literature to control others are frightened despots.

I recently sat at a roadside cafe in San Cristobal de Las Casas watching an elderly man hobble down the street using a walker. He had a juke-box attached to his contraption and belted out songs to beautiful back-up music. Numerous Mexicans dropped pesos into his cup as the melodies flowed while he struggled onward. The dignity he exhibited crooning his way down that street moved me.

Mexicans work long hours to make a living with few complaints. We are equally lucky in America to have Latinos contributing to our culture and prosperity. Hopefully Mexico will never agree to build a wall that would keep us out of their beautiful country.

However, not everything about Mexico is beautiful. As a teenager, I was troubled by the hoards of beggars, including severely disabled people, who worked the streets along with young children selling chiclets for centavos (pennies) to keep from starving. That situation remains unchanged, and it helped me realize in 1971, and even now, how so little can be so much and, unfortunately that so little progress has been made when it comes to ending poverty in a world filled with abundant wealth.

We take “mucho” for granted in the U.S., and we are wasteful in comparison to most of the world. Traveling to Mexico and living there opened my eyes to profound beauty, and the contrasting painful struggle of those living in poverty. Having your eyes opened is a good thing.

I love my country and I cherish Mexico. My teenage awakening will forever call me back to this magnificent culture, especially when it’s snowing in Idaho. You have to love a place where a young man could, for one peso, buy a dozen fresh roses for a beautiful señorita.

Jesse Robison is a Pocatello native who has lived in Mexico and other places. He was educated at Idaho State University and University of Idaho. Robison works as a mediator and insurance law consultant, but his passion is public art. He has spearheaded numerous art improvements throughout Pocatello, including the Japanese garden located at Pocatello Regional Airport, and he serves on the Bistline Foundation. Robison currently resides in Pocatello.

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