Posted on April 23, 2014


To be an extranjero—foreigner—in Mexico is to live in fantasyland. Even those of us deeply involved in the culture, who speak Spanish, who have Mexican friends/wives/husbands, acquire a special status—a status of exception, immunity.

“As if we’re invisible?” I asked Erick Alamilla.

“Oh no,” he assured me in that suave professional tone that financial advisors use, “you are highly visible. Like the departed who walk among us.”

“Departed? You mean los muertos?”

An amiable shrug of his shoulders, as though discounting a business loss.

“You share space with us, do the same things we do, but you don’t have the feelings we do. Feelings that are a bomb inside us. A bomb always at the point of exploding. The crime. The oppression. The lies. Most of us try to keep it capped, not show it. But you extranjeros—muertos—have an empty bag: nothing to explode.”

Not that we don’t have feelings, we foreigners, but we don’t have that communal cauldron bubbling inside us that gives Mexicans like Erick Alamilla identity. Americans talk about their antecedents as though describing genetically modified agricultural experiments: bloodless amalgamations of English, Dutch, Polish, etc. Europeans connect with the past—their heredity—as though visiting a museum, occasionally dusted and immaculately preserved.

“Split an American open,” an old cannibal joke attests, “and you scrape up the money you find inside and throw away the skin.

“Split a Mexican open and watch out! Bloods and guts splattering all over the place!”

Erick’s smile, though a bit deprecatory, seemed to acknowledge the story’s validity.

Y tù?” I wanted to know. “You don’t seem to be on the verge of exploding.”

Erick frowned and pressed long, thin fingers together.

“Something a very close friend told me when she was pregnant: ‘You have this growing thing swelling inside you but you can’t let it out. It’s not yours to choose to do. You feel abnormal but you have to try to act normal.’

“I don’t know if that’s the way every pregnant woman feels but it describes the way most Mexicans feel emotionally. Oh, we can vent: The national soccer team. The traffic. Our partners. We can laugh. Get drunk. Fight with each other. But it’s only temporary. It’s like, if you’ll excuse the expression, echando pedos—farting. Temporary relief. It doesn’t change what hasn’t changed since before we were born.”

Culturally Mexico’s leaders—the political/entrepreneurial oligarchy—understand this. More than understand it, they are components in this system—heredity, biological—that from birth to death defines emotions, actions, thought. To deal with it, Erick insists, they have to have an outlet for it, to exercise it as power: They dedicate themselves to controlling others. Economically and socially they allow those they dominate to issue pedos but keep birth from happening: birth being change and change being bad because those in charge would lose their domination.

Thus political decisions are imposed not shared. Financial gain excerpt for those in charge is repressed because financial gain could lead to independence and political control requires dependency. News like that concerning corruption or drug war deaths is altered because knowledge, like financial gain, can generate independent thought. Life is a telenovela that everybody needs to watch. Culture is what you’re born with, not something you create. Identity—patriotism—is screaming Sì! Sì! Sì! to whatever the leaders propose. To do anything else is treason.

And we estranjeros—even those of us deeply involved in the culture, who speak Spanish, who have Mexican friends/wives/husbands—remain on the sidelines, walking dead, ghosts from another world which also has corruption, crime, oppression but which we, as though genetically modified agricultural experiments, feel only peripherally.

Nothing inside us to explode.


Scissors & Spackle #12, 2014

Posted in: Life in Mexico