This article is from the June 1999 The Mexico File newsletter.
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Why Mexico?

by Maryanne Wilson

A frequent contributor to The Mexico File, Maryanne Wilson is a Manhattanite who spends as much time as she can exploring the special people and places of Mexico. She reads Mexican literature and loves mariachi music. She contributed an article on Frida Kahlo which appeared in the May 1999 issue.

This year marks an important anniversary for me. Ten years ago I fell in love quite unexpectedly. The affair started innocently enough at a travel trade event. After dinner, a drawing was held and I won two Aeromexico tickets. Why, I moaned, did I win Mexico? All around me my fellow travel agents were winning tickets on British Airways Concorde, Air France, Alitalia, TWA, SAS, etc., etc., etc. Me? I won Mexico! A fellow agent, Paul Williams, who was sitting next to me, was terribly excited. He said hed been to Mexico many times, and he knew Id simply love it. I scoffed and told him if he wanted the tickets they were his. He suggested that we go together.

I agreed, grudgingly, on condition that he plan everything, and Id just show up for the flight. So, a couple of months later off we went. By the end of the trip I was in love....not with Paul (fine fellow that he is), but with Mexico. Now, after ten years of travels in Mexico, my friends often pose the question, Why Mexico? I don't know, or Because it's not New York, are my usual off-hand answers. For a long time I really didnt know the answer, nor was I inclined to analyze my reasons. As an compulsive traveler, I simply told myself that I went to Mexico because it was relatively easy to get to, was inexpensive, and besides, I adore Mexican food. But in reality the answer is much deeper and more complicated than that. I just wasn't willing to share that knowledge with non-believers.

The truth was revealed to me one afternoon several years ago while enjoying a liquada on the zcalo. Id been out and about all morning, the air was starting to heat up and I opted for some time out at a table in the shade. As I sat there watching the paseo I suddenly felt as if Id taken a combination muscle relaxant/tranquilizer. I just sat there trying to figure out what was happening to me. Was I having a heart attack? Was I going to faint? Was my blood pressure dropping? Then BAM, it hit me! The answer was startlingly simple: I was relaxed! I was content! I was happy to be where I was, doing what I was doing. Isnt this how life should be all the time? Yes, of course!

It was at this point that I started examining the reasons why Mexico made me feel like that. I'd been traveling for years to various destinations around the world mostly within Europe, except for two trips to the Middle East. While the explorer in me loved every minute of it, no place made me feel like Mexico did. No place Id ever been before satisfied my soul. Why? Im not usually of a terribly introspective bent, but this was a question that I had to answer.

In my travels around Mexico Id seen blatant discrimination, a native population still living under the boot of the conquistadors, political corruption, a minimum daily wage of $3.00, and third-world poverty with all its attendant ills malnourished children, an excessive rate of infant mortality, lack of sanitation and clean water, illiteracy, old and young people begging on the streets. I am appalled and saddened by all this, and Ive shed many tears over the years. The problems are legion and seemingly intractable.

Through all the helplessness and hopelessness I've also seen some amazing things multi-generational families out for an evening stroll; children playing happily with a balloon or chasing pigeons; barefoot babies dressed in tatters but with big, wide smiles on their faces; teenagers uncomplainingly taking care of their younger siblings; courting couples slowly and shyly out for a stroll; all members of a family, no matter how young or how old, working at whatever they could to support themselves.

All of this made me think about the families in my neighborhood yuppies who must have the latest 4-wheel-drive vehicle even though they only drive on paved streets and highways; mothers screaming at their young children in anger; fathers who work such long hours they never get to see their children; parents afraid of their own children for fear of alienating them; spoiled teenagers who insist on designer clothing, laptops and cell phones; older family members who live in fear of being sent away to a nursing home; the incessant, unrelenting quest for material things.

On a less cerebral level I must say that my Mexico is more of what I would consider the "real" Mexico...a land of native Indian tribes - including Maya, Mixtec, Tarascan, Zapotec, Tarahumara and many, many more. Mexico is also a land of beautifully preserved or restored colonial cities (several of which are U.N. World Heritage cities), splendid baroque churches, a tradition of native folkart, pyramids to rival those of Egypt, and glorious regional cuisines.

Mexico also has many visually stunning land- and seascapes: the snow-capped, flume-spewing volcano near Puebla; the old road north from Mexico City...where the mountains keep coming at you like seemingly endless rows of shark's teeth; the almost surreal colors created on the land and sea by passing clouds; glorious beaches...nothing is more delicious than the turquoise waters of the Caribbean between Cancun and Chetumel; the thundering surf of the Pacific coast at Puerto Escondido.

But, in the end, it is the native peoples of Mexico that embody its heart and soul: the muy elegante women of Tehuantepec who dominate all aspects of life in this truly matriarchal society...they are tall and splendid in their long skirts and colorful huipils; the pescadores of Lake Patzcuaro, their canoes laden with succulent whitefish; the Triqui women of Oaxaca who weave fantastic items of wearable art on their back-strap looms; Abigail Mendoza Ruiz, who cooks traditional Zapotec dishes at Tlamanalli, her family's restaurant in Teotitlan del Valle; Eufemia Martinez, of Xoxocotlan, her fingers flying as she creates beautiful shawls; the family of Juan Sosa of San Martin Tilcajete, who create fantastical wood carvings; the women of Chiapas who travel all the way to the Pacific coast to sell their weavings along the beachfront; Paul Bravo, a vendor at the Sunday market in Tonala, who makes three dimensional papier-mache animal jewelry...lions, horses, zebras among them; and all the nameless men and women who set up tables along the highways and byways of Mexico selling frutas tropicales and aguas frescas. 

I dont mean to say that Mexico is for everyone. It isnt. Its only for those who are willing to shed their preconceived ideas and to sit back, relax and open their minds to new experiences...not to see and judge everything from a Europeanized point-of-view. If youre willing to do that, then Mexico will open its heart to you and reveal its inner core. You may even come to realize that maana is a state of mind that youll want to try out some day.

Lastly, you may be asking yourself which zcalo it was where I first realized my contentment. Well, it really doesnt matter, does it?   

1999 Maryanne Wilson