Sunday, June 24, 2007

Observations About the Mexican People

Living in Maine, we really had very little experience knowing Mexican people. As we all know so well, many Mexicans are poor. Manual laborers in Mexico earn an average of $300 per month, while professionals earn an average of about $1000 per month. These are averages. Some earn more, some earn less. One of our primary concerns about moving to a community with lots of "Nortamericanos" was that there was bound to be a big divide between us and the Mexicans. I was concerned that there would be resentment towards us because of the fact that we are here with money to spend, in stark contrast to most Mexicans.

We have been very happy that most Mexicans are extremely friendly and courteous. I am sure there are some resentments; it is inevitable. But by and large, they seem to accept having us here and appreciate the fact that our presence is creating lots of jobs in this area of Mexico. We are living on the West side of town, which is predominantly Mexican, so we have regular contact with many local people. As we would expect, they like it when we speak Spanish and they are very helpful when we don't know the correct word to use. They often go out of their way to help us find what we are looking for. And, of course, they all seem to like Maggie who transcends the language barrier.

The Mexican people we have known and observed work very hard. We have a couple of men working on a roof next door. Now this roof is made up of flat tiles cemented onto a cement roof. It took them over a week to pick axe the old roof off. Now they are mixing cement and putting the new tiles on the roof. It is hot, exhausting work. We've been bringing them ice tea every day, and they are very appreciative. These guys work very hard, but they seem happy and content. We often hear them laughing and even singing as they work. We try to make jokes in Spanish, but I think I usually confuse them. But they are polite and laugh anyway.

We have a young couple, Antonio and his wife Claudia, who take care of the six cottages in our compound. In exchange for a very small casita and $300 a month, Antonio is the caretaker/gardener for the houses, and Claudia cleans all the houses once a week. They are always around and very helpful. I needed to order a new tank of gas to have it delivered, but the people at the gas company only spoke Spanish, so Claudia called and ordered the gas for me. Antonio carried the Buddha in from the car for me and is going to weld a small grate to fix up our charcoal grill so we can use it. They both speak excellent English and politely correct us when we mispronounce Spanish words. It would probably be easier for them if we just spoke English, but they are happy to try to figure out what we are trying to say in Spanish.

Clearly, the most important characteristic of the Mexican people is their devotion to family. Although many Mexicans have family members who have gone to the United States to work, their dream is to come back to Mexico and be with their families. Their lives are not defined by their work, as ours tends to be in the US. They work to live, of course, but they will not give up family holiday time to work, even if they can earn extra money. They are used to making ends meet and I do not think money is the central focus of their lives. This family orientation is evident in their attitude towards their children. You often see tough, macho Mexican men tenderly carrying infants in the plaza or in front of their homes. Mothers always meet their children after school, buy them a sweet snack, and walk them home, carrying their backpacks for them. The children here seem remarkably well behaved. They have little, but they clearly feel loved and treasured.

Although we have not run into any serious problems on the road, a number of our friends here have related stories in which they were stuck in the middle of nowhere, either because of an accident or mechanical problems, and people have immediately stopped to offer help, transportation, food, even a bed for the night, often at their own personal inconvenience. I have yet to hear of any banditos! The culture here, in one sense, reminds me of Italy. Although it is much less formal, and there is less prosperity here, the Mexicans have the same high standard of hospitality. You can sit in a restaurant all night if you choose. You will not be offered the check until you request, "La cuenta, por favor." It is a very civil and polite culture. Although I have noticed that there is a generational difference here. The older Mexicans tend to be more strict about this. Although many younger Mexicans are very open and helpful, some are clearly less so. Things are changing in Mexico as in the US. As more prosperity comes to Mexico, their culture will likely change even more, perhaps to become more like the US. Hmmmmmm.


Karl Trautman said...

It sounds like there is little urgency to life, like there is to a lot of Americans. It sounds very refreshing.

Your observation about bringing iced tea to the workers next door made me think that, if one did this in the US, some might expect something "in return," i.e., part of an expectation that there is some selfish reason WHY the drink was offered. I think this type of thinking is so ingrained in ours system, that it almost goes unrecognized. Perhaps the real difference in thinking begins to occur when there is more urbanization? capitalism? I don't know.

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