June 10, 2011

Un hombre verdadero

A couple weeks ago I saw a post claiming that a study in Michoacan, Mexico revealed that 40% of the middle school girls in that state wished they had a narco for a boyfriend. Wow, I thought, how messed up is that? I can't comment much on this reference to the article, which criticizes education and media policy's role in this type of problem. First of all, I'm not yet a citizen, so it's not my moral or legal place to do so. I also don't feel like I've been here long enough to make in-depth analyses about what's uniquely dysfunctional about Mexico, especially considering how my own country is embarassingly involved with their illicit affairs. 

But that doesn't mean it doesn't get me thinking and talking it over with folks here. When I brought it up at the dinner table with my husband and another native of Queretaro, we agreed that while it's a difficult problem with complex causes; ignorance, misguided priorities, and lack of self-respect are to blame. I'm not here to question certain Mexican girls' aspirations—if what they want is money for fake nails and gold hoops at whatever cost, that's their prerogative. I certainly will be doing my best to inculcate values in my daughter to allow her to see broader horizons, and I feel for the families that are helpless to steer their kids in a different direction, that is if they aren't also caught up in the same game.

Articles like this get to me because they just add credence to the notion that Mexico is the pits, as if there's nothing else going on but narcos and tequila. Perhaps more importantly, it overlooks the fact that there are a lot of people here who have more important things to be worried about, such as working in legitimate professions, raising their children to be productive members of society. That's the Mexico I know and love, especially the one that's proud of itself and its roots.

No one inspires me more in that regard than my husband. Although he was subject to the same type of poverty (if not worse) as the young women so inclined to love narcos, he managed to escape that lifestyle. As the ninth son of fourteen in a farming family, he had to shove off from school to help his dad with his herd of cows. In the barrio where he grew up, there were plenty of opportunities to become an alcoholic or glue addict, but although he hung with many young men who got sucked in, he always refused to partake. While he wasn't an angel in his youth, one thing he did not do was fall victim to the illusion that intoxicants (or selling them) were the way to success in life. Ten years ago, when we first began dating, after hearing the stories he'd tell me about his youth, I was amazed he turned out as he did. To the present day, I am still impressed (sometimes exasperated) with how straight and narrow he is, simply concerned about making a clean living, caring for his family, and enjoying the best that life has to offer. I feel fortunate to have such a great partner.

When I ask myself (or him) what was that allowed him to resist the degrading forces that so many other youth succumb to, the only thing that really stands out is his fierce individualism, and level of self-respect. Having grown up on the land, working it with his bare hands, he is humble in an earthy sort of way, but he has this unashamed attitude about his roots—mestizo, campesino, moreno, whatever—he is proud of who he is, and doesn't want to be someone else.

These mamis don't need narcos for a good time
Last week we were at a festival of local indigenous dance troupes. It was the Celebration of the National Day of the Chichimec Dancers, and it was our daughter's first attendance at an event like this. It's rare to see fairly authentic events such as these (at least in Queretaro state), but they are glorious to behold when they happen. The incredible talent, gorgeous costumes, obvious adoration of ancient customs (Aztec, in the case of the local troupe we saw) left me feeling inspired for what is still held sacred here. It seems as if more "native pride" kind of events could go a long way toward rebuilding Mexico's reputation which has been taking a beating in the media lately.

But that might be a bold statement coming from a foreigner, since things aren't quite the same here as they are where I'm from. My husband and I first talked about this when we met in the U.S., and I asked him what tribe his ancestors were from—he was sporting long, black hair at the time, and with that and his dark cinnamon skin, it was obvious that he was of indigenous heritage. "I'm not really sure," he had responded. But he saw all the ethnic and cultural pride that many people have in the U.S.—be it Asian, gay, black, Native American, or Irish—the results of the Civil Rights movement are evident to a person from a country where that same movement hasn't yet occurred. I was shocked when I found out many Mexicans don't embrace their ancestry.  He explained that "many people in Mexico consider indio an insult, because they think it means ignorant. But I'm not ashamed to be indio, that's who I am," he said. Thank god, I thought, because I want to raise my daughter to be proud of her roots.

There are plenty of things that frustrate him about his home country. But that doesn't mean he will trade in his integrity for bling, or his morality for a shiny new truck. With one foot planted firmly in the past, the other in the future, and his head squarely on his shoulders in the present, he'll keep putting his nose to the grindstone to "sacarnos adelante" however modest this chapter of our life might be. I asked him "what's left of the Aztecs now?" on our way home from the dances. "The food, the plants...the land," he answered wistfully. I'd add, real men like you, baby—"hombres verdaderos." Happy Birthday mi amor.

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