Thursday, June 24, 2010

A Love Letter to the US. Part 2.

As I mentioned previously, I've never been much of a 'patriot.' Because of the fact that American politics frustrated me, I was constantly seeking some other national identity, some ethnicity with which to associate. Being, however, a white, European mut, I didn't have much in terms of ethnic support. I romanticized other cultures, India in particular, but also indigenous subgroups; more recently Native Americans and indigenous peoples of Mexico and South America. This is not unusual: many of the readings for my classes had a tendency to view these cultures through rose-colored glasses. Reading I did independently showed the same inclination in terms of the need to 'get back to our roots,' eat, live, and pray like our ancestors did. "YES!" I thought, but my problem was a disconnection between myself and my ancestors, my past, or my 'roots.'

And I don't think this is necessarily an uncommon problem, at least in the US, most of us would be considered multi-racial, multi-cultural, or something along those lines, if not utterly lost, grasping at some elusive idea of identity in our "melting pot." Because of globalization there are very few "pure-bloods" left. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not bashing the co-mingling of cultures, intersecting beliefs, or transforming the tapestry of humanity from a patchwork quilt into a tie dye mess with all the colors seeping into one another. I, myself, was raised by interfaith parents: my father grew up Roman Catholic, my mother, a good ol' Jew, but here's the rub: what am I?

And I guess that's where it gets complicated for everyone, interfaith, multicultural, biracial, or not. But that certainly doesn't help. And while I've only recently discovered a love for my native land (relatively speaking) I am now beginning to explore the land and culture of Mexico. I've always thought of Mexico in terms of Hispanic culture, but I realize now after being here for several days, attending a lecture or two and visiting museums that so much of this world has lost its culture. Colonization has wiped out so many rich indigenous heritages, destroyed native languages and pushed vastly diverse people into discrete categories. There are so many indigenous peoples living in Mexico without recognition who are forced to speak Spanish or who are looked down upon for speaking their own languages. While Hispanic culture is a large part of the history of Mexico, there are also many more roots running deeper in the hearts and souls of the people and in the soil Hernán Cortés's castle was built upon.

Mexico is beautiful in many ways, but I am also painfully aware of the incredible injustice and hardships that face the people here. In a lecture given by an ex-patriot from California (he said he was "kicked out" by Reagan) and currently a professor at the University in Mexico City, Ross Gandy, outlined the socioeconomic history of Mexico over the last century or so. I couldn't possible lay it all out as neatly and understandably as he did, but he drew connections from the educational system to the dietary problems of youth in Mexico to the large corporations of soft drink and the discovery that the water in Mexico is somewhat contaminated with parasites. When this information was made public, government officials subsidized the sugar sales to large soft drink corporations; most significantly Coca-cola (but also 34 others) and thus "solved" the water problem- "let them drink coke!" Then Mexico, the US and Canada signed NAFTA and subsidized corn from the US was cheaper than locally grown crops in Mexico and thus farmers in the countryside, already marginalized, are now out of a legitimate job and are forced to engage in the narco-economy, be street vendors or to be dependent on their children (many in the US, legally or 'illegally'). And then we push them to the wayside because they aren't our problem..?
And that's just the beginning.
The top 10%, superrich of the population in Mexico have nearly full control of the government. Much of this portion of the community is composed of CEOs or beneficiaries of big international corporations (Coke, anyone?). 50% of the population in Mexico above 16 years of age cannot read above a 7th grade level. 1.5% of the population read a newspaper regularly. And here's why. In the 1940's, President Cardenas created 34 teacher training schools in rural areas as a part of a literacy campaign. He wanted residents of the countryside to become teachers in the countryside, and not go to the city for jobs so that those marginalized areas could prosper. During industrialization in the 1950's, those schools began producing intelligent, independent minded radicals, and so the schools were phased out. Literacy down. Now, one half of all electricity is provided free for Mexicans... because the government wants everyone to have a television- it may not have cable or HD, but it will have televisa- the channel that is owned and operated, and censored by the government (which, by the way receives its revenue from that 10%, megacorps.) And so that station runs Coca-cola commercials all day long and telenovellas featuring 'peasants' who somehow climb the socioeconomic ladder and end up living in the lap of luxury. Que bueno, no?

While there is certainly a lot more I could find to say about the socioeconomic position of this country, I'm not sure if I'm able to articulate it all at this moment. It might just make me angry, and that's not productive.

What I can say, however, is that I am thoroughly enjoying my time here. I'll take another post to explain exactly how the time is spent- or not exactly, but mas o menos. I also may begin speaking Spanglish.

On a side-note, for those in Los Estados Unidos, I suggest you turn off your a.c. for a night, sleep with minimal clothing, a thin sheet and the window open a crack. In the morning, take a cold shower - don't think about how cold it'll be, just jump in.

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