Where is the Mexico of My Childhood

This morning, June 6, 2016, I heard a story on the car radio from the regional NPR station from Mexico. I always sit up and listen whenever I hear anything about Mexico as I have a lifelong fondness for anything Mexican, in contrast to the lamentable anti-Mexican, anti-immigration hyperbole that seems so common nowadays much to my personal regret.

The piece was from an “inserted” American radio journalist who described riding in a several car private “convoy” of cars traveling over 250 miles into Mexico, up to Reynosa at the US-Mexican border. The families apparently made this trip several times a year. the families had moved to the US in the last several years, transplanting, themselves, their businesses and lives to the US out of fears for their own safety in the narco-terrorist dominated realities of Mexico. I was somewhat shocked to hear that the extended families had indeed experienced some of their relatives being kidnapped in past years which clearly influenced their collective decisions to relocate to the US. They returned to their hometowns to see older relatives, participate in family reunions and hometown gatherings and festivals. They did so taking extreme precautions  usually arranging for police car escorts for defense and safety against bandits, kidnappers and the like. On this occasion, they were not able to have police escorts and the journalist’s anxiety and fear was tangible. Fortunately for all, they arrived safely in Reynoso. However, they experienced one close call when just behind them three young men stopped a car behind them.

I am from the Southwest, born in New Mexico, having lived in Arizona twice, in Texas and having one of my world traveling family’s home bases in El Paso Texas where my mother was from. My father was from East Texas and that was another family anchoring point for us all. I attended a Catholic day school for boys in El Paso run by Catholic brothers, and it was one of my favorite schools; it was where a number of my mother’s male relatives had attended. It is still in existence with a proud history now almost 100 years. The school was half Hispanic, and many of the students were actually from Cuidad Juarez. They attended commuting daily, sent by their parents to have a better education. One student was enormously wealthy and heir to the Mexican beer company makers of Dos Equis, Modello and I believe Bohemia. He was the exception as the rest of the Mexican lads were quite poor and often on scholarship. I visited many of their homes across the border.

That leads to one of the major points herein. I remember when it was perfectly fine and safe to commute from El Paso to Juarez. My parents had met and attended college at the then “Texas School of Mines,” as the present University of Texas at El Paso was called then. That’s why that university’s sports teams are called the “Miners.” My father was a mining engineering major, while my mother was in geology. They often went across to Juarez to dine and visit with their best college friends who were from Juarez. They also had their own favorite Juarez restaurants, and one jewelry store, “Chicolito’s” run by the owner of the same name who I met many times growing and visiting there with my parents. It was a sentimental place for my parents as my father purchased my mother’s engagement and wedding rings from Senor Chicolito who was an incredibly warm man. He also was a student of fine gemstones and my mother, the geologist, often returned to his store until her death over 20 years ago. For me, Juarez was a favorite and treasured destination of my youth.

All this began to change over 15 years ago when I returned to the Southwest and learned that we would not be journeying from El Paso to Juarez and was informed in serious tones by my relatives that it was no longer safe. Old friends who still resided in Juarez came to El Paso to visit with me out of respect for my safety. I was shocked beyond belief and felt that I had truly lost a part of my youth and was quite saddened.

since then I have paid much more attention to any story about the travails of Mexico, the growing failure of the country coming to be labeled a near “failed state,” and the rise of the drug cartels. Several years ago when I began to participate in the eReader revolution when I was ill for several months and unable to work, and needing a more readily obtainable source of reading material (through the Kindle and Amazon’s Whisper network [I am not reimbursed for this plug/mention], one of the first ebooks that I bought, detailed the growing strife, unrest and hazards of daily life in Juarez entitled, “The Dead Women of Juarez.” It was an agonizing read and the first real detailed encounter I had with the growing realities of the increasing precarious quality of life in my beloved Juarez and Mexico in general.

Since that time I have had a very different feeling and view of the immigration issues of Hispanics in Mexico. Several years ago, when my family and I were able to live on the western North Carolina Cherokee reservation, my wife’s ancestral home, we had near neighbors who were undocumented Hispanic immigrants. They were a delightful family with two beautiful preschool girls and very hard working parents. We took them under our wing and I was able to practice my atrophied Spanish; we babysat the girls and came to know the plight of the family who immigrated to the US and North Carolina to escape violence and fashion a better life for themselves. Winning the trust and becoming acquainted with them further increased my appreciation for what drives many illegal immigrants to risk everything and come here. It was not only economic but also a quest for safety. I often wondered what I would do in similar circumstances.

I view with great sadness the endemic scapegoating that seems to be such common discourse in this country, the frankly xenophobic rhetoric toward Muslims and Hispanics nowadays. I still listen to my favorite “Tejano” and “Conjunto” Mexican music. Whenever I have a scanning study, I do what my father did many years ago. With his dry sense of humor, he flummoxed the MRI techs before undergoing an MRI. He told me shortly after that they had inquired of him what kind of music he would desire to be played in his headphones while in the “doughnut,” to relax him [which he thought was absurd as he was not only unafraid of the scanner but avidly interested in it as an engineering marvel]. He asked what sorts of music they might have. They rattled off a couple of dozen choices and he wryly asked for “Tejano” and of course they had no idea what that was. I do the same at every scanning occasion and have the local hospital trying to obtain such. And they should as we have an appreciable, vibrant Hispanic community.

Spanish was my first preschool language. My parents retired to “Southmost Texas,” the McAllen-Pharr-Mercedes area along the border. They would spend five months a year residing in the Jalisco expatriate American community. They had several retired friends who had been ‘high-up’ officials in the Mexican government until the 1980’s, in the Army and a former Minister of the Bureau of Mines, a man known to me throughout my youth. I attended festivals in Mexico on travels with my parents many a time. So I had many lasting permanent imprinted memories of the Mexican culture that I would not trade for anything. I still listen to my favorite “Tejano” and “Conjunto” Mexican music. Whenever I have a scanning study, I do what my father did many years ago. With his dry sense of humor, he flummoxed the MRI techs before undergoing an MRI. He told me shortly after that they had inquired of him what kind of music he would desire to be played in his headphones while in the “doughnut,” to relax him [which he thought was absurd as he was not only unafraid of the scanner but avidly interested in it as an engineering marvel]. He asked what sorts of music they might have. They rattled off a couple of dozen choices and he wryly asked for “Tejano” and of course they had no idea what that was. I do the same at every scanning occasion and have the local hospital trying to obtain such. And they should as we have an appreciable, vibrant Hispanic community.

But the Mexico of my youth is gone. It has been perverted and taken over by the reality of the drug cartels, the inconceivable wealth attendant to the drug trade. I also would hope that our leaders and media start to appreciate the realities behind the wishes of citizens of those violent worlds who wish to seek safe haven for their families. In this country, in spite of the recent years of increase in mass shootings, we have been graced with not having to live by and large, with such endemic violence [forgive me residents of places like Compton, where the realities are indeed different]. I have no souitions for the dissolution of Mexico. But I do not think we can chastise Mexico in self serving, falsely righteous ways. We can help and we should not add to its problems. It is the interest of all us collectively, and after Mexico is our neighbor. And I have never treated any neighbor as we have recently treated Mexico.

 

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