If you wonder why some of us can travel Mexico without being affected by the apparent poverty of some Mexicans, this story's for you. Mexico is no more all poverty than it is all high-rise hotels. The real Mexico is somewhere in-between. There is a real, growing middle-class that those who focus on the poverty aspect miss. Don't be so judgmental. Learn from the Mexicans.
When I drove my first ex-wife's powder-blue '65 Ford Mustang with the back seat removed, my trips were fast and utilitarian. In it, I learned about the soul of Mexico. I was on my way to being an import-export millionaire. I didn't. I did become the Whip King of New Orleans, though. But that was long ago and in another country.
Julian was a young ambitious fellow who rented a stall in Monterrey's old market invited me to his house to cement a trading arrangement. He wasn't a corporation and I wasn't either. We were just two young guys with big dreams and the freedom to pursue them. Our different nationalities were what made us need each other.
His house had a tin roof and thin plywood walls. Some of his neighbors had cardboard walls. Windows were squares cut out of the plywood, with a red-green-blue cloth remnant mailed over it. When the wind howled, it waved at us, blocking a little of the gray-ash cinders from the cooking fires and the steel smelter that operated there, then. A red candle illuminated our meal of tacos and beans. His wife was young, shy, silent. She washed the blue plastic plates in a green bucket. Water came from two silver square cans that once held cooking oil. I didn't ask where the water came from.
The tacos were good. The beef was stringy, the sauce full-bodied and chock-full of jalapeños. Little rivulets of grease flowed from the hot yellow corn tortillas to the plate when we raised them to our mouths. They were real tacos. I drank beer then. So did he. He sent his oldest boy, a thin, dark, nervous lad of 6, off to get us a couple of cervezas. Bien fria, (good & cold) he hollered after the boy. He proudly and gently showed off his children to me. His older daughter was 7, demure, who, like her mother, kept her eyes downcast. His baby was less than a year. She was quiet for a baby. The mother handed her to the proud papa, but never took her eyes from her. Mexican women are like all women they know better than to trust men to be responsible. The beers came, sweating from having been in the tienda's (store's) ice-bucket. They were closer to al tiempo (room temperature) than bien fria, but I knew enough to appreciate the effort more than the results.
Maybe that's the secret to enjoying Mexico. We drank and schemed by that one candle until we were lit and it wasn't. We shook hands on a deal that would start us both on the road to riches. Julian walked me through the colonia's maze of dirt streets to an unmarked corner where the bus stopped. He waited for it with me. Mexicans are good at waiting. I was learning then.
We were both silent as we stood in the pitch dark so black we couldn't see each other. Disembodied voices drifted like fog around us, wraiths of humanity. Barking dogs grounded us in reality. He was probably thinking that his share of our profits would buy him a vehicle, a truck most likely, and a TV set and better clothes for his kids. Shoes would have been nice. I was thinking how odd it was; that I'd been given a glimpse into real life in real Mexico that I could never have seen if I hadn't been a capitalist pig. I was just beginning to understand that money isn't good or bad, but can be either or both.
The bus came, its pale, sickly yellow headlights hurting our eyes. It illuminated the rutted streets, the ramshackle houses and the road out of there. What it couldn't show was the dignity in my friend, Julian, and the warmth of the people in those houses. Some people ask me how I'm able to stand the poverty in Mexico. I see it, but I see beyond it. Mexicans are proud and while many may not be where we are materialistically, they are on the road. Give them a chance and they'll pass us. More importantly, they have the riches of an attitude of acceptance, humor and sharing with others. I’d trade that for money in the bank any day.
© "Mexico" Mike Nelson 1996-2011
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