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 he’d been to Mexico many times, and he knew
I’d 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 I’d 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 didn’t 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 zócalo.
I’d 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 I’d 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. Isn’t 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
I’d ever been before satisfied my soul. Why? I’m not usually of a terribly
introspective bent, but this was a question that I had to answer.
In my travels around
Mexico I’d 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 I’ve 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 don’t mean to say that
Mexico is for everyone. It isn’t. It’s 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 you’re willing to do that, then Mexico will open its heart to you and
reveal its inner core. You may even come to realize that mañana is a
state of mind that you’ll want to try out some day.
Lastly, you may be
asking yourself which zócalo it was where I first realized my
contentment. Well, it really doesn’t matter, does it?
©1999 Maryanne Wilson