Saturday, February 24, 2018

Learning from Yucatán and Quintana Roo

As we started driving out of Cancún, I couldn't help looking for patterns. How is this place the same or different from the parts of the U.S. and Germany that I know? After a week with my family in Valladolid, Tulum, and Playa del Carmen, I still have more questions than answers.

In Puerto Morelos yesterday, I bought a book called "Mañana Forever? Mexico and the Mexicans" from a lovely bookstore called Alma Libre. I'll see if I can put together some answers.

I'm not looking for the "national character" of Mexico or of any place, just patterns of prevailing beliefs of the people who live there. Before diving into that book, here are my initial observations and hypotheses.

More people smile back to me in Mexico than in San Francisco.

People spend more time face to face with friends and acquaintances. They share a vehicle, sit together without devices, talk and laugh. I saw three young women in the Tulum library doing crafts together.

People "give it everything they've got" as [xxxx] put it in [xxxx link]. Yet they also rest more consistently.

People spend a lot of their time tired or happy or both. Most don't try to hide these feelings, except in more polished service jobs, where they put on happy faces like in the U.S. with which they only partially convince themselves and their patrons.

People living in shacks across the street from our Tulum hotel are certainly poor, but in a particular way which rarely exists in the San Francisco Bay Area. The closest I've seen was the squatter settlement on Albany Bulb before it was shut down. These are working poor people, in a lifestyle which could be sustainable if job and health allow. The book [squatter cities xxxx] has influenced my perceptions.

Like anywhere, the written rules and the unwritten ones overlap and coexist. I would like to learn the different ways Mexicans feel and talk about rules and laws.

Official communications from the government make it sound like Mexicans are proud of their government institutions, but I haven't yet noticed that vibe from individuals. National treasures like Chichén Itsá and Sian Ka'an are possible exceptions.

I talked the most with Joaquín. He is writing a multilingual primer on a contemporary Mayan language. Mayans are proud of their culture, but resent a pattern of lack of access to opportunities.

People resent smug entrenched wealth, represented not just by US tourists like me but also by Mexican oligarchs and corporations. When I am kind, someone like Santos our boat pilot can feel good about me as a person while continuing to resent the inaccessible wealth that I represent. Building these bridges requires two people to communicate; it doesn't extend to two degrees of separation.

I expected conversations to land more decisively on English or Spanish. It took me a few days to become comfortable switching between Spanish and English within a single conversation or even a single thought, whatever got the message across. This pattern was quite common where we were.

Only in our last evening in Playa del Carmen I realized that the insulated tourist zones are legitimately part of Mexico, just as San Francisco is so different yet a genuine part of the United States. (Moxie convinced me over dinner.)

These are all first impressions. I've not had enough experiences to be confident about any of these generalizations, even within the communities I visited.

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